CHICAGO (CN) - Six puppy owners claim in a class action that the Happiness Is Pets chain store misrepresents that its puppies come from small-scale breeders, though they actually come from "some of the most despicable and horrendous puppy mills in the Midwest."
Lead plaintiff Jane Clifford seeks punitive damages from 18 Happiness Is Pets branches in the Chicagoland area, and their owner Ronald Berning.
"Plaintiffs purchased sick puppies sold by Happiness which falsely represented that its puppies were healthy and came from private and reputable breeders. In fact, the puppies at Happiness are often sick and come from some of the most despicable and horrendous puppy mills in the Midwest," the complaint states.
It adds: "On information and belief, many puppies, no more than 8 weeks old, arrive at Happiness in crowded vans, packed in crates covered with feces and urine, shaking and visibly stressed, many sick. Happiness employees are directed to bathe and groom the puppies and administer antibiotics and deworming treatments daily, in an effort to mask the unhealthy condition of the puppies to unsuspecting consumers and of which dangerously jeopardizes the puppy's immune system."
The plaintiffs' attorney Edward Clinton Jr. said in an interview with Courthouse News: "We received so many calls from so many people who had problems with Happiness pets that we thought it incumbent on us to file a lawsuit."
The plaintiffs claim that "the breeders used by Happiness fit perfectly within the definition of 'puppy mill' as defined by Happiness. Many of Happiness' breeders are cited by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) for violations including but not limited to failure to provide veterinary care, lack of exercise, and improper housing enclosures. For example, the USDA reported that 'Breeder A,' a main breeder used by Happiness, failed to provide veterinary care to a blind dog with crusty eye discharge and to another dog with no teeth."
The class claims that "the USDA reported an inventory count of another breeder used by Happiness, 'Breeder B,' of 890 dogs and 315 puppies. ...
"'Breeder B' is not a private, small-scale breeder as Happiness falsely represents, and it is a mass producing dog facility.
"An investigation by the Companion Animal Protection Society (CAPS), a nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting companion animals, further revealed a burn pile of puppies at 'Breeder B,'" according to the complaint.
The plaintiffs say: "These deceptions are perpetrated so as to prevent plaintiffs from realizing the obvious - that purchasing a puppy from Happiness is a terrible idea and is financially and emotionally burdensome."
Plaintiff Bryan Phillips says he bought his puppy, Dakota, from Happiness in December 2011 for about $809.
"Shortly after Phillips' purchase, Dakota tested positive for distemper," the complaint states. "Dakota showed signs of illness immediately. He took Dakota to Happiness' recommended vet who dismissed her symptoms as a common cold and gave her a drug. Dakota's symptoms quickly worsened and Phillips took Dakota to his family vet, who noticed the signs of distemper instantly. A further X-ray showed Dakota had pneumonia as well. Dakota suffered from tremors, seizures, vomiting, severe diarrhea, coughing, eye and nose discharge, sneezing, respiratory problems, conjunctivitis and corneal ulcers."
Plaintiffs Lissett Dzieglo and Mark Jillich say they bought their puppy, Gunner, from Happiness in January this year, for $976.
"Gunner showed signs of illness immediately, including a severe cough, difficulty breathing and congestion," the complaint states. "Gunner was taken to the vet approximately five times in a matter of weeks. The coughing quickly worsened and elevated to bronchitis, eye and nose discharge, increased breath, clumsiness, lack of energy, and yelping in pain."
The other plaintiffs say their puppies suffered similar health problems.
"Our first goal is to get a class certified," Clinton said.
The plaintiffs seek punitive damages for fraud, negligent misrepresentation, and breach of implied warranty, and want Happiness enjoined from continuing its allegedly deceptive practices. They also seek refunds of the price of the puppies, including all items associated with the purchases, and veterinary expenses.