"Habitual Offender" Dog Shop Fights to Stay Open After City Passes Anti-Puppy Mill LawEXPAND
Courtesy of Snappy Goat

"Habitual Offender" Dog Shop Fights to Stay Open After City Passes Anti-Puppy Mill Law

Puppy Collection Inc., a Broward County pet shop with interior decor like a Barbie Dreamhouse, sells a range of “teacup puppies” — the extremely small, $1,000 dogs you might find in Paris Hilton’s handbag. The store, whose slogan is “Where celebrities buy their puppies,” says it's a pet seller to the stars with “over 100+ celebrities” as clients. Its website boasts a long lineup of alleged A-list customers, ranging from Ariana Grande to Dennis Quaid to '70s-era NASCAR executive Bill France (who died in 1992; the store opened around 2011).

But the pink-painted venue is owned by James Anderson, who has a long, well-documented history of abuse allegations, ties to puppy mills, and lawsuits over allegedly deceptive sales practices. Now the City of Oakland Park is trying to put him out of business via an ordinance designed to shutter his shop.

“This is not new. [Anderson] is a habitual offender. He just moved from his store to his garage and back to his store,” Hallandale Beach Vice Mayor and Animal Defense Coalition President Michele Lazarow says.

In February, Anderson hit back in court with a suit that claims the law is “unconstitutionally vague." His attorneys insist that the shop isn't tied to puppy mills and that the law, which prohibits the sale, trade, or commercial transfer of cats and dogs, goes too far.

“The city passed this ordinance on a knee-jerk reaction,” says Roberto Stanziale, an attorney for Puppy Collection. “They are breaching my client’s right to do business. It’s a constitutional issue. If they put this to vote, if the citizens of Oakland Park were given all the proper information, I’m sure they would vote not to ban it.”

The court battle is the latest test yet for a national movement aiming to crack down on puppy mills, which critics such as the Humane Society say churn out unhealthy pets from filthy, overpacked facilities, by outlawing local pet shops — a movement that has already reached dozens of other cities around Florida.

Anderson's name is well known among activists in that movement. He first opened the Oakland Park location of Puppy Collection, which also goes by the names Teacup Puppies Store and Puppy Boutique Store, almost seven years ago, according to Stanziale. But Anderson has been running pet shops by various names for nearly two decades.

“If you just Google 'Jim Anderson,' you can see that this goes back all the way to the early 2000s when he had a store called the Wizard of Claws,” Lazarow says.

During its heyday, Wizard of Claws, a strip-mall pet retailer and online “breeder network,” sold roughly 200 puppies a month for $1,000 apiece. Anderson and his wife faced more than 20 lawsuits, six federal violations of the Animal Welfare Act, and 52 complaints to the Southeast Florida Better Business Bureau (which eventually revoked Wizard of Claws’ membership). There was even a drive-by shooting of the shop, which the Andersons blamed on their enemies.

In 2009, Anderson settled a class-action lawsuit by admitting he had deceived customers by selling sick animals from puppy mills — commercial dog breeders that house their animals in inhumane conditions. The couple closed their shop and filed for bankruptcy. According to the Sun Sentinel, however, the former Wizard of Claws owner went back into business only six months later, with an operation that would become Puppy Collection Inc.

Allegations of abuse continued to dog Anderson and his new business. In 2013, Puppy Collection faced two lawsuits over deceptive salesmanship and inhumane treatment of animals. The first suit resulted in an injunction requiring that Anderson report where he purchased his dogs to the attorney general’s office once a month. The second suit resulted in a six-figure fine. The Puppy Collection Inc. Yelp page includes numerous one-star reviews and photos of allegedly sick puppies.

“Up until recently, there was really no way to stop someone who was selling puppy-mill puppies," Lazarow says. “The best you could do was put in regulations. [Activists] met with the [attorney general] a while back. He put some bogus rules in place, but they were too broad to be effective.”

In the late 2000s, however, a few counties across the nation began to implement stricter laws that banned the sale of animals in pet shops. By 2012, almost two dozen counties had new pet-shop prohibitions. That year, Lazarow decided to bring the growing grassroots movement to Florida. She helped pass a ban in her own town of Hallandale Beach in 2012 and then took her campaign to other South Florida cities. In almost six years, she has brought about similar legislation in more than 50 municipalities.

Lazarow’s campaign caught the attention of Donna Watson, a South Florida chiropractor and founder of Dr. Donna’s Pet Foundation. Watson approached Lazarow about bringing an ordinance before the Oakland Park City Commission. The city's commissioners had been wary of pet-shop prohibitions in the past, but Watson believed that new evidence of abuse could persuade the officials to take action. Through a series of public records requests, Lazarow and Watson had obtained a receipt linking Puppy Collection to Lansdown Kennel, a breeder in Missouri that an undercover video had outed as a puppy mill. The video and the receipt of purchase are dated within ten days of each other. (Stanziale denies the shop purchases any animals linked to puppy mills.)

"Habitual Offender" Dog Shop Fights to Stay Open After City Passes Anti-Puppy Mill LawEXPAND
Courtesy of Snappy Goat

Watson approached the Oakland Park commissioners in October 2017. By December, in a 3-2 vote, the town passed a law barring any pets stores from selling dogs or cats within city limits.

“Many animals produced in these facilities are purchased by retail pet stores for sale to the public,” the ordinance reads. “The City Commission believes that puppy mills and kitten factories continue to exist in part because of public demand fueled by the availability of dogs and cats in pet stores leading to ‘impulse’ purchases of animals.”

Shortly after the ordinance was passed, Puppy Collection sued in Broward civil court to ask for an emergency injunction against a law the company claims is "unconstitutionally vague." The ordinance, Stanziale says, unfairly targets Puppy Collection, which is the only pet store in Oakland Park. By prohibiting animal sales point-blank, he argues in the complaint, the law doesn't allow any middle ground for puppy businesses with humane breeding practices.

But Lazarow says that middle ground doesn’t exist. The distribution of puppy-mill animals by pet stores, she says, is extremely difficult to legislate without a full prohibition.

“There is no way to [partially] regulate it because pet stores have no other product but puppy-mill puppies. Those are the only people that would sell to pet stores,” she says. “No good breeder sells to a store. Any store that tells you, ‘I don’t get my dogs from puppy mills,’ is a liar.”

Puppy Collection denies allegations that it purchases mill-raised puppies. (“Puppy Collection has absolutely no relationship with ‘puppy mills,’” the complaint says.) But the store continues to face allegations that it has sold sick puppies. The day the ordinance was signed into law, the store received a complaint email from a customer in California named Justin Bragg.

"I was told the Yorkie that I purchased for $2,644.97, which they mentioned it was a perfectly healthy puppy that I would be receiving. They shipped in on December 2 and flew in California the same night," Bragg wrote in the correspondence shared with New Times. "He was consistently throwing up throughout the night, took him to the vet the very next day to get a checkup and the vet said he had symptoms for parvo [a serious illness in dogs]. They ran the test and came out to be positive."

Puppy Collection later reimbursed Bragg's veterinary bills and credited his initial payment.

Stanziale says the lawsuits and online complaints don't paint a fair picture of the business, though.

"My client has just unbelievably meticulous methods to ensure the breeders are clean, to make sure they have USDA approval, to provide the best possible puppies he can provide," Stanziale says. "But if you do purchase a puppy from a retailer and that dog is sick, there are many remedies... Florida has one of the strongest puppy lemon laws. My client follows them."

The pet shop's attorney also argues that Oakland Park's law scapegoats stores, when the bad breeders themselves are the real villains.

"[The law] doesn’t do anything," Stanziale says. "If you get rid of these stores, people just buy [puppies] online, and they get shipped in. In cities where they pass these bans... people are still getting the dogs they want, but now they’re getting them in states far away, they don’t know the seller, they’re not protected by the puppy lemon law, they don’t have the ability to go into the store and say, 'Hey, I have a problem with my puppy.'"

In February, Broward County Circuit Judge Raag Singhal denied Anderson's motion for a temporary injunction, but the lawsuit remains open. As of May 3, Puppy Collection also remains open and continues to offer puppies for sale.

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