Mansfield Chief of Police Gary L. Fowler is opening an investigation into a local pet store after the NBC 5 Investigates Consumer Unit was alerted to claims by several families that they purchased puppies that were sick with parvovirus.
Three families who all said they bought their puppies at PetOrama in Mansfield told NBC 5 that their animals were diagnosed with parvovirus, a very contagious, aggressive virus that attacks a dog’s intestinal track.
According to the families, two of the puppies had to be euthanized while one survived after an aggressive veterinary treatment that cost them more than $1,000.
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While Fowler, who oversees animal control for the city, originally told NBC 5 he had no records of complaints against the store, he said he now plans to open an investigation.
In an unrelated move, PetOrama said it will stop adopting out puppies, but is holding one last adoption event this weekend to sell the remaining dogs at the store.
Families Claim Store Sold Them Sick Puppies
“Truly, I never thought that when you go into a pet store like that you would purchase a sick dog,” said Penny Rivera, a Mansfield resident.
Rivera bought a shepherd-mix puppy named Leo as a Christmas present for 13-year-old Andrew Caraveo and his 21-year-old sister Jenny who had lost their beloved dog only a few months before.
“I picked Leo because he just looked really cute,” said Jenny, who said she knew her brother would be delighted by the holiday surprise.
And he was. Andrew immediately fell in love with the dog and made little Leo a doghouse out of a cardboard box. He doted on him like any 13-year-old with a new puppy would.
But a few days later, Leo was vomiting, had diarrhea and was lethargic.
“He looked very sick,” Andrew said.
A trip to the vet revealed Leo had a severe case of parvo. Andrew and Jenny then made the gut-wrenching decision to put Leo to sleep.
“I knew how he looked and how tired he was, he wasn’t going to make it,” Andrew said.
“We just said, ‘Goodbye.’ I mean, it was just really hard. There was nothing we could really say to him,” said Jenny, as tears streamed down her face.
Joanna McCoy and Phillip Kriesman know that pain. The couple bought a long-haired dachshund named Hudson at the same Mansfield PetOrama and it was love at first sight.
“As soon as I picked him up I knew he was my dog,” said McCoy. “I loved him. I was so happy.”
They paraded Hudson to McCoy’s mother’s house and showed him off to other relatives. But that evening they rushed Hudson, who was throwing up, to an emergency veterinary hospital. The veterinarian told the couple that little Hudson had parvo.
They too made the decision to put Hudson to sleep.
“I just couldn’t feel myself afterwards. It was just so weird and upsetting,” Kreisman said.
PetOrama to Stop Puppy Adoptions Due to Complaints
NBC 5 called PetOrama and spoke to Rochelle Browning, the daughter of the owner who said she manages the store for her father.
She insisted she takes good care of the puppies and that her dogs are checked by a veterinarian.
“My veterinary bills are outrageous,” Browning said.
Browning admitted that Hudson, who died shortly after leaving her store, had parvo when she sold him. PetOrama’s owner did refund McCoy and Kreisman for Hudson and she paid their vet bill, but they said it’s little consolation.
“It’s a heartache that no one should have to go through,” said McCoy, who thinks about Hudson every day.
As for the other dogs, she believed they may have gotten sick after they left her store. Browning said her staff sanitizes cages daily but does not dispute the fact that parvo has up to a two-week incubation period.
The families said Leo and Hudson were visibly sick within days of being purchased.
Browning then became emotional, telling NBC 5 she’s under extreme stress because so many puppies have gotten sick with parvo and customers have been very upset.
“I’ve never seen this before in my life. Emotionally, I’m spent,” Browning said. “I can’t listen to people cry over the phone anymore.”
On the company’s Facebook page she told customers that PetOrama has decided to “stop adopting out puppies.” But there will be one last adoption event this weekend to sell the remaining dogs.
“It’s hard when you love pets like we do and have taken all the measures possible trying to prevent illness, but then get treated badly by customers when they do get ill,” she wrote.
Parvo is extremely contagious because a dog can shed the virus before it ever shows signs of the illness.
“It’s really hard to kill the virus. It’s resistant to common disinfectants,” said Dr. Nancy Turner, the Dallas District Director of the Texas Veterinary Medical Association. “It’s resistant to heat. It’s resistant to sunlight. So, really, it’s a tough bug essentially.”
Turner, who practices at Bent Tree Animal Hospital in Dallas, said that by the time one puppy shows the signs there is a good chance other dogs could be infected.
State Offers No Legal Remedy for Purchase of Sick Dogs
Unlike some other states, Texas does not have a Lemon Law for dogs.
“There’s no regulation of pet stores of any shape, form or fashion at the state level,” said Skip Trimble, a Texas Humane Legislation Network board member.
Trimble’s organization advocates for state animal welfare legislation. While there are rules and regulations for larger breeders at the state level, as of now, individual cities and towns may or may not have ordinances that can help pet owners.
“You’re just totally at risk and virtually there is no warranty on these dogs,” Trimble said.
The City of Mansfield does have an ordinance that gives animal control the authority to inspect pet stores. It also mandates that anyone with care and control of an animal “maintain the animal in good health.”
Fowler said that if a pet store fails to maintain the health of their animals they can impose a fine.
Fowler originally insisted he had no record of any complaints against PetOrama. But McCoy said she called animal control and spoke with an officer several weeks ago.
"He said that unfortunately it’s not in their jurisdiction and there’s nothing that they could do for me,” McCoy said.
However, after speaking with NBC 5, Fowler said he is now opening an investigation.
Rivera said Browning did not give her a refund for Leo or help with the vet bills.
Craig Haemker said he also received no help from the store after a puppy he purchased, Sophie, was diagnosed with parvo and required a $1,000 aggressive medical treatment to be rid of the virus.
Today, Sophie is a happy, healthy dog, but Jenny and Andrew are still reeling from losing Leo.
“That dog just meant the world to us,” said Jenny.
They want to make sure other families don’t suffer like they have. That, they said, is Leo’s legacy.