LANCASTER COUNTY, PA - A Peach Bottom dog kennel is once again the
target of a state investigation after 12 consumers complained of
buying sick dogs.
Puppy Love Kennels was visited last week by officials from the
Pennsylvania Bureau of Dog Law, a division of the state Department
of Agriculture. By week's end, dog law officials said no citations
had yet been issued, but that the investigation into conditions at
the kennel was continuing.
Meanwhile, the 12 consumers, who hail from Pennsylvania, New Jersey
and Maryland, have partnered with a New Jersey-based animal advocacy
group and demanded that the Pennsylvania attorney general's office
crack down on Puppy Love.
Officials say the attorney general will follow up on the claims.
A Philadelphia TV station is also reportedly conducting an
investigation of Puppy Love, and is said to have undercover footage
shot inside the kennel.
Puppy Love, owned by Raymond and Joyce Stoltzfus, has been the
subject of numerous investigations and fined thousands of dollars
over the past two decades. But in recent years, state officials say
conditions at the kennel have improved.
Speaking through their attorney, Mike Winters, the Stoltzfuses say
they are in compliance with the Pennsylvania Dog Purchaser
Protection Act, also known as the "Puppy Lemon Law," but that they
are considering taking extra steps to make sure that consumers are
getting healthy dogs.
Animal activists, however, still want to see the kennel shut down.
"It is a disgrace that a business like this can thrive while hurting
so many," said Bridgette Summa of Springfield, one of the 12 who
said they bought a sick dog from Puppy Love in recent months.
"I do not want anyone [else] to have to go through what we did."
In a letter sent earlier this month to local media outlets as well
as state officials, Summa said she first heard about Puppy Love via
an ad in the Philadelphia Inquirer listing Yorkshire terrier puppies
Summa called the number and was told several Yorkies were available.
But when she arrived at 267 Riverview Road, Peach Bottom, on Dec.
27, she said Joyce Stoltzfus told here there were none; so she wound
up buying a male Pomeranian for $600.
Summa said she received paperwork stating the dog had all its
vaccinations, and a certificate of good health. But when she took
the dog to the vet later that day, the vet told her the dog was
underweight and had fleas.
Over the next few days, Summa said, the dog got much worse.
The puppy had a runny nose, was sneezing, not eating and developed a
hacking cough. She scheduled another vet appointment for Dec. 31,
four days after buying the dog. But at 5 a.m. Dec. 31, she said she
was "awoken by the sounds of my puppy crying."
"When I went to get him from his crate, he was not moving and was
lying in a puddle of his own urine," she said.
She rushed the pup to an animal hospital. The puppy was having
convulsions because of low blood sugar, and had an upper respiratory
infection, diarrhea and roundworms. The vet recommended leaving the
pup at the hospital for four to five days, at a cost of more than
Summa wasn't prepared to pay such expenses. So, as provided for in
Pennsylvania's "Puppy Lemon Law," she took the dog back to Puppy
Love and received a refund of the purchase price of the dog.
"I cannot begin to tell you how hard it was for me to hand over the
puppy," she said, "but I felt as if I had no other choice,
considering I could not afford the vet bills."
The other consumers who complained to the attorney general tell
similar stories. All say dogs sold as healthy turned out to have
respiratory infections or parasites, kennel cough, parvovirus,
distemper or other problems.
The complaints were collected and sent to the attorney general's
office by Libby Williams of Lebanon, N.J., a former Pennsylvania
cruelty investigator who runs an organization called New Jersey
Consumers Against Pet Shop Abuse, or NJCAPSA.
In addition, she wrote letters to the attorney general's office and
the state Department of Agriculture.
In both, she asks: "What can be done about Joyce Stoltzfus and Puppy
Mary Bender, director of the Pennsylvania Bureau of Dog Law, said
that in response to the complaints, inspectors last week paid a
visit to Puppy Love. "There is some follow-up action taking place,"
said Bender. She declined to specify what action might be taken due
to the ongoing investigation.
Jurisdiction over breeders and dog sellers in Pennsylvania is split.
The Bureau of Dog Law is responsible for making sure kennels like
Puppy Love are licensed and kept clean and free of overcrowding, in
accordance with state laws. If a dog becomes sick after a buyer
takes it home, it becomes a consumer matter; the attorney general's
office is responsible for enforcing the Puppy Lemon Law, which
guarantees consumers a refund of their purchase price
and "reasonable" vet fees as long as the dog is returned within a
set period of time: 10 days for illness or disease, 30 days for
congenital or hereditary defects.
Over two decades, state and federal officials have cited Puppy Love
for numerous violations. In 1997, Puppy Love was sued by the
attorney general for selling "defective" dogs between 1992 and 1997,
many of which died or had to be put down. The case was settled in
2000, with Joyce and Raymond Stoltzfus agreeing to pay $30,600 in
restitution, while admitting no wrongdoing.
The attorney general sued Puppy Love again in late 2003, alleging
that it again was selling sick dogs. That case is poised to go to
The problem, said Mike Winters, the Stoltzfuses' attorney, is that
consumers and dog lovers are often offended by conditions that are
within the boundaries of the law.
Working outside the boundaries of the law can lead to trouble, as
the local Humane League discovered in June 2003 when a botched raid
on Puppy Love led to two humane officers being fired and prompted
legislation to restrain overzealous investigators.
During the raid, 29 animals were seized, along with business
records. But a local judge later ordered the records returned, and
Puppy Love was not cited.
Fox 29 in Philadelphia is reportedly preparing an investigative
piece on Puppy Love, including footage shot inside the kennels.
Libby Williams of NJCAPSA said she saw the film; Fox 29 did not
return a message seeking comment.
Puppy Love has been the target of several newspaper and television
exposes over the years.
But in an agricultural state where dog laws are comparatively lax,
conditions that look bad on film aren't necessarily illegal.
Attorney Winters said the Stoltzfuses understand that consumers feel
aggrieved, and want to do something about it. In the future, they
may take additional steps to make sure that dogs are healthy,
perhaps by having a health certificate provided by a veterinarian,
as well as doing even more to ensure that consumers know what their
rights and redresses are under the law.
"They feel as though they have been responsive to complaints, but
they want to prevent any further misunderstandings between them and