Buyer beware: parking lot puppy peddlers

By Carolyn Roy – bio|email|Twitter

BOSSIER CITY, LA (KSLA) – A Doyline man is regretting his 'drive-by' puppy buy, after shelling out more than $450 for a 'designer puppy' out of a Bossier City parking lot.  "I thought I was getting a good dog," says  Colton Stanley, who bought the ten-week-old Maltese-Yorkshire Terrier mix from a vendor set up on the corner of Airline Drive and Melrose Avenue on April 16. 

Stanley says he and his girlfriend had been looking for a small, "inside dog," and they'd seen the puppy seller set up in the old gas station parking lot across from Wal Mart before.  This time, they pulled in and picked out a tiny black "Morkie."  "We were going to call him 'Titan,'" He bought Titan a kennel and a bed, food bowls and the best puppy food he could find, and brought the little black pup home.

But the next morning, Stanley says Titan was lethargic, had diarrhea and wouldn't eat.  When he called the man who sold it to him, he says he was told hypoglycemia is common with smaller dogs like these, "and you have to get 'em to eat or their blood sugar will get low. If it does, just give 'em honey and it would rejuvenate him."  Several days later, there was no improvement. Stanley took the near-comatose puppy to his veterinarian, Dr. Alan Cameron, who quickly diagnosed a parasite known as Giardia.  "His was so bad there was even blood coming because he had so much damage to his intestinal tract," explains Cameron.  "It's easily treated if you diagnose it. But just don't let it get too bad like this puppy. This puppy, if we could have seen it when we first got it, we could have treated that puppy and it would probably have been all right."

But the damage to tiny Titan's intestines was already done by the time he arrived at Dr. Cameron's veterinary hospital in Minden.  Two days later, he was sent home with an IV bag and antibiotics.  There was nothing left to do but hope the severely weakened puppy would pull through.  "He couldn't even move," recalls the 24 year old oil field worker. "I was trying to get him to take water and food and he just couldn't even swallow the medicine and everything they gave us.  So he just didn't make it.  I think I sat in there and he just...I watched him go."

Dr. Cameron says he sees these types of cases all too often.  "Once a week, we see it at least.  We can usually see it following a flea market deal or something like that where people go and buy puppies that they don't know anything about, and when they bring 'em in here, then we find the problems" like parvo and other serious conditions that can be deadly if left untreated.  Some can also be picked up by humans, like scabies and some parasites, including giardia.

That's why Dr. Cameron believes buyers should beware of street-corner puppy sellers.  If they still choose to plunk down hundreds of dollars for a pet from a parking lot dealer, he strongly suggests they go straight to the vet with their new purchase. "Before they even close the deal, bring the puppy to us and let us check it before you spend that kind of money.  But they just don't know to do that. They just see a cute little puppy and that's all they got on their mind right then, and they take it."

While many breeders and dealers offer a 72-hour health guarantee, says Dr. Cameron, "They don't tell you to take it to the vet, so most people wait.  They don't move within three days."  The "Puppy Purchase Agreement Guarantee" that came with the puppy Colton Stanley bought requires the puppy be checked within 72 hours of purchase to validate the guarantee, but stipulates that it does not include any "Parasites, Worms, Hypoglycemia, Respiratory Infections, Coccidiosis, Giardiasis, or Genetic Defects." It also warns that there are no refunds, only replacement with another puppy of equal value. 

The seller is listed as Rockin R Ranch, with an address in Bonham, Texas. When KSLA News 12 called the number listed on the agreement, we spoke with the same man named Russell that Stanley says sold him the puppy on April 16.  Russell told us he has customers all over Louisiana, and he stands by every dog he sells.  He also informed us of his intent to honor the guarantee.  Before we could ask why he was willing to do so in spite of the puppy's condition and that fact that it had been more than three days since the purchase, Russell abruptly hung up.  We were also unable to ask him if he had a permit to sell the puppies in Bossier City, as required by city zoning regulations and ordinance for peddlers and 'itinerant vendors.'

Metropolitan Planning Commission Executive Director Sam Marsiglia says there is no record of any applications for such permits during that time period.

It was complaints about parking lot puppy peddlers, and Stanley's story in particular, that prompted the Bossier City MPC to crack down on itinerant vendors starting this week.  "Lately it's been the dogs, seems to be a lot of that on Airline Drive," says Marsiglia,  But it's not just Airline.  They tend to target all of the city's busiest thoroughfares, including Barksdale Boulevard, Benton Road and East Texas Street, counting on the heavy traffic to increase their odds of an impulse sale.  But since they tend to set up shop on weekends when city inspectors are off, Marsiglia says the laws have not been strictly enforced. "Usually it's not that big a deal, but when you're involving people with big-ticket items, having a hard time with recourse if it doesn't work out, we've just decided to become more aggressive about it."

He's asked the Bossier City Police to keep an eye out, "and if they see one, even on weekends, they're going to contact me or the inspectors in my office, and we're going to meet them out there and issue all the citations that they're supposed to get."

Peddlers are also required to get notarized proof of permission from the property owners where they set up to sell their goods.  The property on Airline Drive was purchased by Raising Cane's, Inc., more than three months ago.  A representative with the Baton Rouge-based restaurant chain says they never received or granted a request for permission to peddle on their property.  Messages left at the number for Rockin R Ranch have not been returned.

Stanley says Rockin R Ranch has called him back, however, and agreed to refund the money paid for the dog.  Stanley says he hasn't seen the money yet, but he's hopeful.  Whatever happens, he says the whole experience has been a painful and expensive lesson: "If you buy a dog from a breeder, the first thing you better go straight to the vet!"  And he says he'll be more careful about who he's buying from in the future.

The USDA regulates "volume" commercial dog breeders and whole-sale dealers, but not backyard and hobby breeders. States have the authority to create and enforce their own laws to regulate animals sold by pet stores or individuals directly to the public, but there are no such laws in Louisiana or Texas.

Calls to both Bossier and Caddo Parish Animal Welfare offices indicate there are licenses and permits required, even for backyard and hobby breeders, but that those laws are rarely enforced mainly because there is not enough manpower to go after every breeder who deals through the classifieds and operates out of their home.

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