A dead puppy in the freezer. Puppies with hacking coughs and runny noses. Sick puppies confined to isolation. Overcrowded cages. These are just a few of the shocking details our undercover investigators found at two different Petland, Inc. pet stores last fall.

It’s been 10 years since the Humane Society of the United States first investigated Petland, the largest puppy-selling pet store chain in the country. At the time, we linked Petland to mass production puppy mills, sparking nationwide demonstrations. Since that investigation, the number of Petland stores in the country has dropped sharply, from 140 U.S. stores in 2008 to only about 80 today.

In the years since, we’ve continued to receive complaints about sick puppies sold by Petland -- more than 1,200 since 2006 -- indicating the pet store has continued to source animals from problem producers and dealers.

That’s one of the reasons why, in the fall of 2018, we sent two undercover investigators with hidden cameras to work at Petland stores. One investigator worked at the Petland in Kennesaw, Georgia, in September and October, and another worked at the Petland in Las Vegas in November. What they documented was heartbreaking.

In the Kennesaw Petland near Atlanta, an employee admitted that she sometimes came into work and saw puppies who had “passed away.” She told our undercover investigator that she tried hard to save the lives of puppies who were dying. Our investigator, upon hearing these stories, became suspicious about a black plastic bag in the freezer. When the investigator opened it up, there was a dead puppy inside.

There were other shocking findings at the Georgia store, including:

  • Sick puppies routinely kept in barren isolation room out of sight of customers. Some had hacking coughs, runny noses or diarrhea.
  • The store was still buying many of its dogs from a distributor, Blue Ribbon Puppies, that the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently linked to a massive drug-resistant disease outbreak that made more than 100 people sick. Blue Ribbon was found selling to all five of the Petland stores in Georgia, and numerous other Petland stores across the country.
  • Cages were overcrowded, with five or six puppies sometimes occupying a cage that would be suitable for two.
Our undercover investigator at the Petland store in Kennesaw, Georgia, found a dead puppy in a plastic bag in the store's freezer. A kennel employee said she knows of several pups that have died in the store.
Photo by the HSUS

Records obtained from the Georgia Department of Agriculture in November 2018 indicate the Kennesaw store was inspected multiple times due to puppies with parvovirus, respiratory infections or Giardia. The store passed most of those inspections, even when sick puppies were found, because it could show documents indicating sick puppies are were being monitored by a veterinarian. But our investigator witnessed puppy veterinary “exams” in the store that only lasted about 15 seconds.

Our investigator at the Petland store in Las Vegas reported similar findings. A very sick Maltese puppy was confined in a cage in a back room and employees said he had been there for about a month. They indicated he had been to a veterinarian but that his problem wasn’t curable. An employee told our undercover investigator they were waiting for him to die because he had been born with “a hole in his throat.”

After finding out that the Maltese was about to be sent back to the Missouri distributor involved, Pinnacle Pet, so Petland could get a refund, our investigator asked the manager about buying or adopting the puppy, and giving him a loving home for Christmas even if he might die. But Petland’s manager told our investigator that he had already received a credit for the puppy, and refused to sell him. When asked what would happen when the puppy was sent back, he said, “I have no idea.” The incident flies in the face of Petland’s website’s claim that “Every puppy finds a home” at Petland.

The undercover employee also filmed a bird with a broken wing and another bird with a head injury, both of whom were stored in a glass aquarium in a back room, and reported the concerns about the birds and the Maltese to local law enforcement.

Truckloads of puppies were delivered weekly to both of the stores from out-of-state brokers (re-sellers), which Petland calls “distributors.” Some of the puppies in the Las Vegas store, including the sick Maltese puppy, were linked to the distributor Pinnacle Pet, where nine puppies died after being left on a hot truck in 2015, according to USDA records. The two stores we investigated aren’t the only stores buying from Pinnacle Pet and Blue Ribbon. The HSUS acquired shipping documents linking hundreds of puppies from one or both of these distributors to Petland stores in Florida, Kansas, Pennsylvania and other states.

Puppies in pet stores are often sick, because many of them come from inhumane and unsanitary puppy mill operations. The animals are crowded onto large trucks with scores of other puppies for shipment across the country, making it easy for a single sick puppy to infect many others.

The reason we do these investigations is not just to document the cruelty, but also to inform consumers, who can make a real difference to end the suffering of animals by not buying puppies from pet stores or from internet sites, which often source their animals from puppy mills. This holiday season, if you want to bring home a new companion, consider adopting from an animal shelter or a reliable breed rescue. If you decide to purchase a puppy, please buy only from a small-scale responsible breeder who will show you the conditions in which the puppy was born and raised.