NECN INVESTIGATES: Sick Puppies: Are State Regulations Strong Enough to Protect Dog Buyers?

Ally Donnelly investigates some major violations

After losing his beloved Rottweiler last year, it was a big step for George Tevepaugh to buy a new puppy - a 15-week-old Yorkie named Bubbie.

“Oh, he was a cute little thing. He was so small,” Tevepaugh said.

Last summer, Tevepaugh bought Bubbie for $750 from Just Pups. It's a home pet store in Tyngsboro, Massachusetts, owned by Susan Robson and her husband Dave, who also hapens to be the town's animal control officer.

Tevepaugh says at first, the Yorkie was playful and happy, but within days...

“My wife called and says, he's real sick. She says, ‘the pup's dying,’” he said.

The Dracut couple rushed Bubbie to a nearby animal hospital, where he was diagnosed with Parvo, a highly contagious, potentially fatal virus. He says the veterinarian told them if the puppy got aggressive care, the prognosis was good, but it would cost thousands of dollars. Tevepaugh decided to return the puppy after he says Robson promised to bring Bubbie to her vet.

Last week, Robson was arraigned on one count of animal cruelty in Lowell District Court. Investigators say Bubbie died three days later because Robson never got him medical care, and only took him to the vet to dispose of his body.

She did not respond when we asked her, “Can you tell us anything about what happened?”

Her lawyer Lawrence Beane said, “My client pled not guilty. She's devastated the dog got hurt.”

After Robson's vet reported the Parvo death to the state, investigators went to check on her other dogs. Robson buys them from out-of-state breeders, and by law, each puppy must be quarantined for 48 hours and then checked by a vet to declare them healthy for sale.

But when inspectors reviewed the paperwork of 30 puppies, they found that more than half had not been quarantined. Sixty percent were not examined by a vet after 48 hours - including the Parvo puppy - and 56 percent did not have their required health certificates.

According to the state report, Robson's vet also told investigators that Robson removed unsigned health certificates from her office without permission. One of the inspectors was concerned that Robson was forging health certificates for puppies in her store.

The veterinarian would not talk to necn on camera, but says that she broke ties with Robson, concerned that she was selling sick puppies.

A former customer tells necn she returned a wheezing puppy to Robson last fall two days after she bought it.

“Those are very, very major violations,” says Mike Cahill, director of the state's Division of Animal  Health.

Although the state has not yet released the annual inspection reports that necn requested for Just Pups, Cahill confirms this is not Robson's first major violation.

In 2007, she paid more than $3,000 in fines for operating an unlicensed kennel. And in 2014, another puppy died in her care. According to records obtained by necn, Robson removed a sick puppy a customer had brought for treatment from the MSPCA's Angel Memorial in Boston. Robson allegedly told hospital staff it was too expensive and she would take it somewhere cheaper. Against vet orders, Robson took the dog and later told state investigators it had died in her car on the way to the animal hospital. Investigators say Robson had sold that sick puppy with no valid health certificate.

We asked Cahill, “The state could have brought her in for a hearing, suspended her license, taken away her license - did any of that happen?” Replied Cahill, “No. We just issued the financial penalties based on the paperwork violation.”

The state fined Robson $300 for the health certificate violation, but Robson's check bounced last year and they let the matter drop. They made sure, Cahill says, to include that fine in a closed-door settlement they just made with Robson. They fined her $5,000 for the violations after Bubbie's death and suspended her license for 6 months.

The state has, however, allowed Robson to continue to sell dogs - in fact, she's been given until the end of the month to sell the six puppies she still has.

That's a shock to George Tevepaugh, who says Robson should not be allowed to sell any more dogs.

“Terrible,” he said, “How many more pups are sick?”

The state tells us they have required Robson to show them valid health certificates for the remaining puppies before she sells them.

And if Robson is convicted on the animal cruelty charge, her license will be automatically revoked. She's due back in court in next month. 

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