Puppy Dog Tales

Ever hear of coccidia, giardia, or kennel cough? Buy a dog from a pet store and you will.

Diaz, whose works have been included in many international exhibitions and hang in the permanent collection at the University of Miami, his alma mater, admits to embarrassment at not knowing the gender of his pet. But what happened next, he says, was even more disturbing.

After prescribing some medication for the dog, Diaz says Cepeda turned his attention to the dog's master, sitting down next to him "and coming on to me in a sexually threatening way." When he rebuffed Cepeda's advances, Diaz says, the green-smocked tech jumped up, cursed him in Spanish, and then ordered staffers outside the consulting room to call the police. For the next hour, Diaz says, he was held in the office, against his will, as several All Pets' employees stood in the hallway to prevent him from leaving. During his detention, Diaz says he telephoned Jesus Canoura and told him what was going on. Canoura says he advised Diaz to call the police himself.

The police did arrive, but no charges were filed. Instead the cops suggested Diaz see a lawyer. He did.

Nelson Diaz with Francis, er, Frances Bacon
Steve Satterwhite
Nelson Diaz with Francis, er, Frances Bacon

In a May 10 letter to All Pets' owner Pedro M. Diaz, attorney Keith M. Stern alleges a prima facie case of false imprisonment and threatens to file a civil lawsuit against the firm if Nelson Diaz is not compensated for his "emotional distress and humiliation" by a payment of $15,000. "The rage. The anger. The disappointment. I felt like I had been stripped naked," explains Diaz, a soft-spoken man who has temporarily shuttered his New York studio to work on a new collection of paintings here. "I have traveled everywhere, but I have never felt more humiliated. It was one of the worst experiences I've ever had."

Pedro Diaz and Jesus Canoura, neither of whom was present during the May 1 incident, say Nelson Diaz's claim is laughable. All Pets' attorney Jay R. Tomé responded with a letter to Stern saying Diaz is lucky he was not arrested for trespass and assault and battery. "He went crazy, calling the staff whores and faggots," Jesus Canoura says in Spanish.

Pedro Diaz said Nelson Diaz is simply trying to extort money from the clinic, and invited him to sue. Says Nelson Diaz: "I'm thinking about it."

Ironically Nelson Diaz, along with Cindy Karp, Marlene Kutza, and Gabrielle Carella, insist that despite their disgust and anger with Puppy Kingdom and All Pets, bringing a dog into their lives was one of the best decisions they ever made. Frances, sleek and frisky, is "an extension of my life," says Diaz. To Karp, 50 years old, a well-known photojournalist whose work has appeared in Time, People, the New York Times, and other major publications, Jake is the child she never had.

Kutza, who is 21 years old, works in the office of Coconut Grove veterinarian Michael Marmesh, who over the past two years has treated dozens of dogs from Puppy Kingdom. "It's to the point where if we get a healthy dog from there it's rare," comments Marmesh. And Kutza admits she was aware of that reputation when she went into the shop to look around. Still she fell in love with a dog she named Max. "I don't regret it," she says of Max, whom she describes as wiry, hyperactive, and way overpriced. "I'd rather have him with me than having him there."

After Oso died, Carella says she returned to Puppy Kingdom and asked for a refund. The Canouras refused but did offer her another, more expensive dog. She picked what was billed as a purebred black Labrador. She named her Locita -- little crazy one.

But at ten months, Carella says, Locita weighs only 27 pounds and has parasites. "No way is this a purebred Lab," she says. "I am happy with the dog, but I don't like being lied to. I talk to as many people as possible, wishing they don't have to go through the same experience I had."

Puppy Kingdom is not the only pet shop with unhappy customers, and the puppies they sell may be no more sickly than puppy mill products sold in any other pet store. In the past three years, seventeen complaints have been lodged against pet sellers, according to Patrick Smickle of the Miami-Dade County Consumer Services Department, but only one against Puppy Kingdom -- for failure to supply AKC papers. And Florida is one of at least fifteen states with a "Puppy Lemon Law," which in some cases gives buyers the right to return a sick or dead dog for a refund or replacement.

But these laws don't stop puppy retailers from targeting first-time dog buyers who, like neophyte parents, rarely grasp the work and responsibility involved in having a full-time dependent. Among new puppy owners, buyers' remorse is as common as poop on the rug. "We see the aftermath of these impulse buys all the time," says Donna Hernandez, office manager at the Country Club Animal Hospitals in West Miami-Dade. Those regrets are compounded when dealing with dogs from puppy mills, she adds, which frequently have parasites and even develop viruses for which they should have been vaccinated.

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