Last week, I told you the story of Ziva, a dog purchased from Petland who lived only a short time, leaving her family heartbroken and in debt. The sad reality is that Ziva’s story is only one among thousands that discredit the shameful puppy mill industry still thriving in the U.S.

Our Stop Puppy Mills campaign has received 7,887 complaints from people who bought puppies from pet stores and breeders over a 15-year period. And these stories need to be told. We compiled a Puppy Buyer Complaints report that summarizes the suffering perpetuated by the cruel puppy mill industry. Not only did many of the puppies described die or suffer from debilitating illnesses, but families reported suffering from trauma, depression and financial disaster after trying for days or weeks to save the lives of sick or dying puppies who had come from a pet store or puppy mill.

One family only had their puppy home for three days before having to rush her to the emergency vet where she tested positive for parvovirus, a disease that can be deadly. “She barely survived and cost us thousands of dollars.” Another family discovered that their new puppy was born with a congenital deformity that wasn’t allowing him to digest food and required surgery, which cost over $7,000. “He will need special care and medicine [for] the rest of his life.”

Another family discovered their new puppy could barely breathe because of a serious infection. “The first 2 weeks with him the vet [scheduled] appointments every day.” The illness compromised the health of the family’s other dog, who ended up catching the infection from the new puppy.

Unforeseen costs in both money and time affected many of the families who reported problems with their puppies or with the financing plans pet stores offered them. “We were also told we would pay only $12,000, which is still excessive, and when I looked over the [pet store] contract again it said we would end up paying $16,000 in total.”

And, of course, the emotional costs to families are immeasurable when the worst occurs: “Sunny passed away yesterday,” one family wrote in their buyer complaint. “We are absolutely traumatized.”

Fifteen years’ worth of these complaints show several striking patterns:

  • Dogs frequently suffered from parasites, respiratory issues and infectious diseases such as parvovirus and distemper.
  • Complaints about sick puppies from Petland, the only national chain of pet stores that still sells puppies, rose 30% in 2018-2022 compared to the previous five-year period.
  • The most complaints about pet stores came from Florida, Illinois and Ohio, the state where Petland is headquartered.
  • The most complaints about bad breeders came from Missouri, California, Ohio and Texas.

Looking at the 15-year period also revealed some hopeful progress: Humane pet store laws are working and have helped to prevent incalculable cruelty and heartbreak. For example, complaints about pet store puppies have trended down over time in states where communities have passed large numbers of ordinances prohibiting the sale of puppies in pet stores, like New Jersey, and in states that have statewide laws in place, like California and Illinois. As more states pass laws to end the sale of puppies in pet stores, we are confident that we’ll see positive trends continue. At the same time, we must raise awareness about emerging harmful commercial channels and markets for dogs, such as puppy-selling online websites and the puppy mill industry’s newest outlet, social media.

To avoid supporting a puppy mill, sign our pledge to always consider adoption first, and make sure to meet any breeder in person. If you or someone you know purchased a sick puppy from a pet store or breeder, let us know. And join us in advocating for humane pet store ordinances,which are good for dogs and those who care about them.

Follow Kitty Block on Twitter @HSUSKittyBlock.