KOLO 8 News Now Investigates Pet Store Claims

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RENO, NV - Warning: some pictures in the story might be disturbing.

Employee outrage over the conditions of local puppy stores has highlighted holes in Nevada law governing pet shops.

Employees have come forward revealing what they call filthy conditions.

Animal Control initially investigated and closed the case, finding no wrongdoing. But now, officials are saying they have an "open inquiry."

The store's owner says a vet regularly monitors the puppies.

What employees have described may outrage many of you, but Animal Services, Code Enforcement and Fire Prevention found no violation in the way animals are treated.

This story was brought to our attention by Heather Walker, whose puppy got sick about three days after Walker bought her....and her story prompted KOLO 8 News Now's Angela Chen to investigate.

When Heather Walker saw the little black daschund, she knew she was the one.

"We saw Muffin, and we fell in love with her," said Walker.

But just three days after, the puppy started having health problems.

"She started having bloody diarrhea. That's when I called the vet. They rushed us in at 5, and they did a Parvo test, and it came back positive," said Walker.

The puppy was diagnosed with Parvo, roundworm, and pneumonia, and euthanized about a week later.

The problem, Walker says, was the store she got Muffin from, Pets R Us in Meadowood Mall.

From what she's learned, Walker believes Muffin was sick while in the store.

Her vet at the emergency clinic noted in paperwork that the puppy "most likely acquired infection in the pet shop."

Livid and suspicious of the store's operations, Walker pushed for answers from the employees, who described inhumane conditions in this store as well as another -- Best Friends, which has the same owner.

"The rate of death is so high because these stores are just unhealthy," said Matt Roseborrough, a former employee.

Since this interview, Matt has quit his job at the stores, and he's written statements to animal control, which included stories of sick puppies left to die to save on vet bills.

"The dogs aren't euthanized," said Roseborrough. "They sit in the back until they die, not moving, not moving their heads, pooping black, throwing up blood, pooping blood, and just wasting away and dying, growing cold."

Another employee, Steven Quinn, who also quit since the interview, wrote a statement saying:

"The puppies, they'll come in sick, dehydrated, and to save money on vet bills, we'll try to sell them sick as well."

Five other current employees also wrote statements to Animal Services chronicling their experiences with the poor health of the puppies.

So how high is the rate of death?

For the month of November 2013, a current employee, choosing to stay anonymous, shared files revealing that out of 60 puppies, 10 died... almost 17% of the month's arrivals.

Barry Brode, Animal Services director, says they currently have an "open inquiry" on Pets R Us.

KOLO's investigation also led Reno's Code Enforcement division to inspect both stores, which are owned by Joe Young.

Best Friends ended up being shut down for building violations in wiring and plumbing.

Young says the claims are not true.

"Our animals actually get better care than some people," said Young. "We give them constant vitamins. I have an area in the back for my puppies and an area in the front for my puppies where there's total separate heating, air conditioning, ventilation systems."

The stores' veterinarian says it's unlikely Walker's dog got Parvo from the store because no other puppies got sick.

"You can't say exactly that the virus emanated from the store," said Dr. Henry Kostecki. "That's totally impossible. Just like cancer never reveals its origin."

"A puppy is like a newborn baby," said Young. "I have a baby myself that's 3 years old, got out of the hospital. He was back in there for a month. No immune system. It's just what happens."

In their Animal Control statements, employees shared a specific story about a dog with a prolapsed rectum they claim suffered for days because it wasn't treated. A photo of the dog is in the video.

But when Young was asked about the case on video by KOLO 8 News Now reporter Angela Chen:

"According to the employee, there was someone willing to pay for vet bills if she could keep him for free, but you said no and then according to this, the dog suffered for three days before he lost his life," said Chen.

"I'm unaware of that one, actually," said Young.

The employee also shared vet records showing the dog did exist.

But how ever these puppies are treated, it seems no laws were broken. Nevada doesn't have much of a legal structure concerning sick animals in pet stores.

State laws have no existing language on what pet store owners are required to do if an animal falls ill. When they get hurt or sick, there's no law on how soon they have to be treated.

A City Council member spoke to us while not commenting specifically on the stores.

"It's almost like an oversight that the retail operation was omitted from the existing NRS, and we absolutely need to review that and correct it," said Councilwoman Sharon Zadra.

KOLO's investigation alerted City Council, and they are now exploring legislation specifying treatment protocol for sick animals in pet stores.

City Council members say they will research the ordinance for a couple months before the council can vote on it, but that ordinance could go a long way in keeping animals in pet stores healthy.

The store owner did refund Walker her money for the dog she bought.

As for why these employees continue to work at the store if they disagree with the practices, one employee's statement read:

"I have cried night after night feeling like a monster for working there, but these dogs depends on us. I have to stay."