Action 9 investigates pet store accused of selling sick puppies

ORLANDO, Fla. — Two local families claim days after buying puppies at a pet store chain, they were hit with thousands of dollars in vet bills. Both customers say veterinarians told them the dogs were not fit to sell.

When the store refused to cover all their losses, they contacted Action 9 consumer investigator Todd Ulrich for answers.

“I just, it's hard, it's not like she's not moving,” Allison Navigato was crushed four days after buying a silver lab puppy.

Veterinarians said it needed to be euthanized because of a genetic defect.

“She's licking your face and I feel, I'm about to kill her and I wanted to love her,” Navigato said very emotionally.

Hours after buying the puppy from Petland in Waterford Lakes, Allison and her fiancé rushed the dog to the emergency vet. They thought she was choking to death but were told the puppy had a genetic defect that's usually fatal.

“Two vets told us they should not have sold it. It was unfit for sale,” Navigato said.

She spent $3,000 in vet bills and the dog cost another $3,000.

The couple thought Florida's Pet law covered their losses for a genetic defect but Navigato said at first Petland only offered a $1,500 credit.

“I was devastated,” Navigato said.

She complained to the Florida Attorney General and so did eight other consumers.

The Petland store in Waterford Lakes is rated D at the Better Business Bureau. Eight customers claimed they were sold sick dogs and the vet bills were not covered.

“You expect it to be a great experience and it was a nightmare,” Stacy Parreno said.

She complained to the state after her puppy was diagnosed with a genetic lung defect the week she bought it from the same Petland. Parreno returned the dog after spending $5,000, including vet bills.

“It was a big mistake,” Parreno said.

Ulrich went to the store for answers.

“Now they're stuck with vet bills. How is that fair?” Ulrich asked a manager.

“We do have warranties and everything, but I'll get her,” replied the manager as she walked to the back of the store.

Later Petland's owner said congenital defects are rare and customers failed to use store's selected vet clinics or give the store proper notice. The owner also said that after both customers complained, Petland covered their vet bills up to the cost of the dog.

Parreno and Navigato claim Petland didn't include nearly $1,000 it charged in mandatory add-ons, like training, so they still lost out.

“It's just about money for them,” Parreno said.

The company said its contracts require mediation to settle disputes and that never happened.

Customers can choose to take the dogs to their own vets. Florida's pet protection law requires the consumer to notify the store within two days if the vet finds the dog not fit to sell.

Petland response:

Alison Navigato is the purchaser and only owner of the puppy listed on all signed paperwork documents showing ownership at the time of purchase on 9/18/18.  Customers are provided with a network of 4 vet clinics to have warranty coverage through, Econ River, Seminole, Curry Ford, and Union Park Animal Hospitals.  We believe this is a great value to our customers and on the Puppy Purchase Verification sheet, Ms. Navigato initialed and signed that “I fully understand Petland does not pay emergency or other vet bills from any other clinic, other than:Econ River, Seminole Animal Hospital, Curry Ford, and Union Park vet clinics.”  Econ River is open 7 days per week and the other 3 in-network hospitals are also open 5-6 days per week. Econ River Animal Hospital is about 20 miles from the listed customer’s address in Cocoa, FL and would provide the closest coverage for her and her pet.

According to a complaint to FL Dept of Agriculture (enclosed and filed on Oct 23, 2018), John Lester Matthews, who is not a listed legal owner of the puppy, claims that on 9/19/2019, the puppy was seen by their local vet.  This vet visit, where nothing was diagnosed, was not previously reported to our store or claims department.  On 9/21/2018, he claims they returned to their local vet, who “told us to rush her to the emergency animal hospital.”  All vet records thereafter, were from the emergency clinic.  We believe the local vet who is not identified in the complaint, bears some responsibility for the mishandling of this case.  Further in the complaint, John Matthews claims, “9/22/2018 continued communication with warranty company”  Records from our claims department (letter enclosed response to John L. Matthews FLDA complaint) show that no contact was made between the owner and our claims department until 9/24/2018, when customers informed them that the were having the puppy put down.

John L. Matthews, who is not the owner, has made several social media attacks, as well, under several different names, and we have kept documentation of these attacks.  Despite his attacks, we have attempted to negotiate a fair settlement, in good faith with Ms. Navigato.  In fact, as the response letter to John Matthews indicates, our store offered them a refund of the puppy’s purchase price along with a replacement puppy, which the customer declined as well.  This offer is above and beyond the requirements of state law in F.S. 828,29 and their response letter stated, “The only resolution we a full reimbursement of all costs associated with this tragic event.”  Under FL law, the store is afforded the right “to have animal examined by another vet.” and once our store heard of the customer’s desire to have the puppy put down on the late afternoon of 9/24, we began discussion with in-network vets so that we could present an alternative for the customer and to save the puppy’s life.  Tragically, once we had sent the information for the vet to ascertain a treatment solution and were told she was confident she could treat the puppy successfully, we were told that the family had already euthanized the puppy.

It is never the intention that any pet experience a health issue and for a customer to be faced with a difficult situation after purchasing their new puppy, we only wish that our customers would give us the chance to respond to any situation, as is our legal right to do so.  Had we been updated between the time of 9/21 and 9/24 when vet records were finally sent by the customer and were informed of their decision to put the puppy down, we believe that this situation could have been resolved sooner without the necessity of euthanization.  The vet clinics we offer through our warranty are a caring and skilled team of veterinarians who could have provided us with options for Ms. Navigato had we been given the time to respond.

We hope you will give us time to hear our side of the story.  The breeder this puppy comes from has also provided us with extensive Genetic Analysis reports on the Dam showing no genetic predispositions to issues and both the sire and dam have been certified as excellent hips by the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA).  These are meticulous genetic tests that show this breeder’s commitment to healthy parents.  Knowing this to be the case with the Sire and Dam and that the puppy is from an AKC-registered litter, it is was very surprising to hear from the customer’s vet that the puppy was diagnosed with megaesophagus, which is why we really wanted the opportunity to review his/her findings and give additional options to the customer. Congenital issues in puppies are extremely rare and we always try to do the best we can to resolve these issues.

Based upon some preliminary info our managers were able to provide, Emmanuel Parreeno was issued a refund check for above the amount of the purchase price of the puppy and she contacted our claims department, saying she wished to return the puppy after the refund was processed and we obliged her wishes.  As is the case when any puppy is returned, the puppy was checked by a licensed veterinarian and the health certificate was signed so that we could adopt the puppy out to another family, which is required by Florida law.