From its South Florida headquarters, Purebredbreeders.com matches up thousands of pet lovers around the country every week with purebred puppies through a "network of responsible and professional dog breeders" that sell "happy and healthy" canines, according to the company's website.
The problem, according to a new lawsuit filed in Miami-Dade Circuit Court, is that the firm and its owner, Jason M. Halberg, actually sell sick dogs from urine-soaked, abusive, unsanitary puppy mills. "This is the new way for puppy mills to do business," says Jonathan Lovvorn, chief counsel for the Humane Society of the United States, which is representing some of the plaintiffs.
The company, though, calls the suit bunk and says the Humane Society rounded up disgruntled customers to carry on its activist work against online dog sales.
"Unfortunately, the Humane Society has an agenda to push and we don't fit in the agenda," says Keryn Rod, director of customer care for Purebred Breeders, LLC. "They don't believe anyone should ever be selling a dog."
Since it was founded in 2005, Halberg's firm has grown into one of the largest online dog sellers. It employs more than 75 folks in Cooper City, north of the Miami-Dade county line.
But plaintiffs say they were misled by the site. Take Philip Michas, a New Yorker who says he paid $1600 for a puppy named Happy. The puppy arrived covered in feces and urine, Michas says, and later tested positive for "two ailments common to dogs bred in unsanitary, overcrowded puppy mills."
What's more, the Humane Society says the site has sold dogs from a number of known puppy mills, including a firm run by an Arkansas woman named Edna Hanegan, who was found in April 2011 to have 90 dogs stacked like shipping crates.
"People need to understand that buying a dog over the internet isn't a good way to get a family pet," Lovvorn says.
Not so, Rod says. The firm cut ties with every breeder mentioned in the suit when they learned of the problems and has refunded money to all the plaintiffs.
Most of the employees in Cooper City work to inspect breeders and ensure puppies are safely shipped, she says.
"We've done a lot of footwork in vetting out the best breeders. I couldn't work here if I didn't know we strived every day to do the right thing."
Update: The Today Show aired a full report on the lawsuit this morning, speaking to several of the plaintiffs and also a former saleswoman for the company.
Oddly, the lead plaintiff in the case -- Jennifer Papa -- is the wife of NBC Olympic commentator Bob Papa, which does raise some questions about how close the network is to this lawsuit.
Here's the video:
Update 2: A Miami-Dade circuit court judge dismissed the suit on Sept. 12, according to court records. Purebred released a statement through its adviser, Brent Gattis, condemning the suit and the Humane Society.
"Purebred Breeders experience in defending itself against legal claims is typical of the attacks other animal organizations and individuals have endured at the hands of HSUS's large stable of attorneys," Gattis says. "HSUS's strategy against legitimate entities is this: force them to defend themselves in protracted legal battles over meritless claims, while also creating a false public perception of the group being attacked."
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