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Defunct pet store Pets of Bel Air fined $4.8 million in lawsuit alleging it sold puppies obtained from puppy mills

A puppy at Pets of Bel Air

A default judgment in a lawsuit filed in 2007 against the now-defunct L.A. pet store Pets of Bel Air will award $4.8 million to customers who bought puppies there.  The judgment by Superior Court Judge John P. Shook came about eight months after the attorney representing Pets of Bel Air left the case; in the time since the attorney's departure, defendants have failed to respond to court motions. 

The lawsuit was filed by attorney Wayne S. Kreger, who purchased a Chihuahua puppy at the store in 2007. Within 12 days, the puppy had died of parvovirus.  Later, the suit was amended to include additional plaintiffs who also said they had also purchased sick animals at the store.  About the time the plaintiffs moved to classify the suit as class-action, the store quietly removed wording on its website stating that its puppies were not obtained from puppy mills, according to court papers.  In October, Shook approved the suit's class-action status.

"We are pleased that the court has held the defendants accountable for their fraudulent advertising and unlawful business practices," Peter J. Farnese, the plaintiffs' attorney, told NBC Los Angeles after Shook's default judgement was announced.  "We hope this case has helped to expose the practices of their industry, and that this judgment will protect other consumers and serve as a deterrent to other pet stores in California and elsewhere who obtain puppies from puppy mills."

In December 2007, the Humane Society of the United States disclosed the findings of an undercover investigation it conducted on the store's business practices.  Despite the store's claim that its puppies were all obtained from private breeders, the investigation revealed otherwise, demonstrating that many had came from puppy mills.  Further, some of the suppliers of Pets of Bel Air's puppies had been cited for their failure to comply with animal welfare regulations, including, in one case, a faulty waste-management system that allowed  "the waste to flow out onto the ground and on other animals," the Humane Society said.

Shortly after a press conference in which the Humane Society made its case against Pets of Bel Air, the Los Angeles Department of Animal Services shut down the store for selling puppies without the proper permit and for failing to provide veterinary records to the department.  But the store's owner, Tom Demick, told our colleague Carla Hall that he had simply forgotten to pay for the permit and would rectify the situation immediately.  As for a video the Humane Society provided as evidence of the store's wrongdoing, Demick called it "twisted" and insisted that the group had "cut that segment short." 

According to NBC Los Angeles, Judge Shook will decide later this month how best to notify some 800 other Pets of Bel Air customers (which reportedly have included celebrities like Paris Hilton and Britney Spears) of the judgment. 

At least one good thing has come from the pet store's closure: a new pet store, called Woof Worx, opened in its place.  Woof Worx, which is owned by a former Pets of Bel Air employee, deals only in needy animals obtained from L.A.-area animal shelters and rescue groups.

-- Lindsay Barnett

Photo: A puppy on display at Pets of Bel Air in December 2007.  Credit: Spencer Weiner / Los Angeles Times

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I find this entire affair somewhat strange.

First a business in good standing with few if any complaints comes under fire from an out of town grand standing 501C, that is or has been under investigation for fraud here in California itself...Claiming the store was fibbing to its customers about the puppies as to where they came from.

Strange to me as I don't think it is against the law to buy your inventory from anyone or anywhere you choose as a business. The 501C seems to think this had merit.

Of course the sales people embellished the trade, it is only natural for sales people wanting to sell a product to do so, it is part of the art of selling..

Just think if you were selling cars, how many cars do you think you would sell if you explained to each customer, that in this car last year 6000 people lost their lives, 9000 were maimed or seriously injured. I don't think too many cars would be sold if you discussed death and injury associated with the car... do you.. well of course not.

The store did close down for a few hours, not because the animals or anything to do with he animals a local tax permit had expired and was simply over looked at renewal time...not a big deal and the problem was corrected in a couple of hours.

The 501C claimed the store said then puppies came from loving breeders!.. So tell me how do you identify non loving people opposed to loving? Getting weird here..

The truth about the majority of all breeders it is a cottage industry and most are Mom and Pop Breeders, Who must be inspected and licensed by the Govt to be in business.. The 501C acts as if a breeder who is licensed is not a breeder??? and the courts bought it..
Now that is strange.

Let's see the supplier must be federally licensed and inspected to be in business to even sell to a pet store, who is not violating any laws and is following federal law...but the 501C outfit, felt compelled to bring a class action against the pet store???

Well the more I study this goofy affair I am of one thought... I think the Pet Store is keeping it's powder dry and is going to hammer the 501c so hard the grandfather of the president of the 501c will get a headache..

Now if you have read this far... you might want to know who the 501C is... It is the HSUS,

If you have a sense of justice and fair play you will be cheering when the owners of Pets of Bel Air prevail, God I hope so and I hope they get busy going after these clowns really soon...This misuse of the media and the courts by of a so called charity, goes against the grain of everything good and honest in this country.

The Humane Society of the United States must be closed
down and their 501C status revoked and in those cases where fraud has occurred or theft of personal property the officers must be hauled in to court and fined and jailed for the misery and heartache inflicted on so many honest hard working people. I am sure if we look hard enough we can even find one honest well read judge to hear the case.

May God help the poor people who have been harmed by the HSUS,

Pet stores know that people are much more likely to feel they aren't being sold a bill of goods if they believe a puppy is coming from a small, private breeder. That conjures up images of fluffy puppies frolicking with their mom in a pen, filled with toys and plentiful food and water.

What they are buying--the what they bought at Pets of Bel-Air-- bears no relation to that whatsoever. They were buying puppies born into cramped cages with wire bottoms, making it difficult for the dogs to stand up.

The reason the cage bottoms are wire is so the urine and feces can go directly into a trough which runs underneath the rows of cages and don't require labor-intensive individual cage-cleaning. The dogs are hosed down in their cages and left to air-dry, even in the coldest weather.

The puppies are removed from their moms and shipped off to middle-men like the Hunte Corporation, the largest puppy broker in the US. Hunte has aircraft hangar-sized buildings filled with puppy mill dogs to be distributed all over the US.

Some puppy mill animals go directly to stores where employees are told to lie to prospective buyers about the dogs' background and history.

Moses states that "the majority of all breeders it is a cottage industry and most are Mom and Pop Breeders." I'm not even sure that is still true but it's irrelevant. Pets of Bel-Air and their ilk don't get their puppies from those breeders; they get them from puppy mills but WANT customers to believe their puppies are from "cottage-industry" breeders and go out of their way to perpetuate that myth.

This is more than the kind of embellishment people expect as part of doing business. It's not even just deceptive advertising. It is downright fraudulent and companies which perpetrate fraud are acting illegally. Businesses get busted every day for such nefarious practices and pet stores should not be exempt.

The pet store owners know that admitting their animals come from puppy mills is an instant turn off so they commit fraud. They deserve to get into trouble and Pets of Bel-Air did.

The vet for that store had his own "Our Vet" page posted on the POBA website until the day the store was exposed in the media. He was making a lot of money from the sale of sick dogs.

The day after the expose, that web page was removed. The page was down so quickly that a lot of people, including the media, didn't know he had been involved so he wasn't put on the spot and asked why he worked with a business selling puppy mill dogs.

I don't care for a lot of what HSUS does, specifically its involvement in maintaining the status quo in the country's animal shelters and animal control departments.

However what the HSUS does well is expose perpetrators of cruelty to farm and domestic animals and work on legislation advocating improvements in the animals' care.

If Moses doesn't think HSUS should be a 501(c) then neither should the nonprofit arms of the American Kennel Club nor PIJAC, the pet industry lobby, both of which are 501(c) nonprofits.

You can't close down one while allowing the others to continue operation just because the one you're criticizing is doing something you don't like!


I like that affected air of "confusion" that quickly gives way to Humane Society-bashing. You aren't fooling anyone. Everybody who reads pet news quickly becomes accustomed to the breeders who come out of the woodwork at every opportunity to pretend that the real abusers are rescuers, no matter how little sense that makes.

For the benefit of those who may read your disingenuous post it should be pointed out that large-scale puppy breeders (i.e. puppy mills) are subject only to the loosest and most rarely-enforced USDA codes. The USDA allows dogs to live their entire lives in cages no bigger than twelve inches longer than their body length. It allows lifetime confinement, wire floors that destroy dogs' feet, no human contact, and many other abuses. Puppy stores still exist because buyers don't get the full story on the inhumane conditions those puppies come from, and in which their parents stay until they outlive nonstop breeding, at which point they are dumped or killed. Laws that protect animals once they become pets do not protect puppy mill dogs at all.

As far as the now-defunct Pets of Bel Air goes, it is simply false to say there were "few if any complaints." But as you say, honesty and truth don't matter. Who cares if the sales people lied about where the puppies came from? They're just products, aren't they? If they suffer and die of preventable diseases, just chalk it up to the price of doing business...

You can chase your puppy mills Google alerts for as long as you want, and plant as much disinformation as you want, eventually you will be put out of business. And that won't be the fault of the Humane Society, it will be because you chose to make your living off the misery of dogs, but times are changing.


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