AURORA, Colo.-- An Aurora pet store is being accused of not taking care of the puppies they’re selling. Denver7 went undercover to get an inside look at their living conditions and spoke to a customer who had a horrible experience bringing his dog back to health.
The customer would like to remain anonymous, so we'll call him John.
"We saw a lot of dogs that were really filthy, covered in their own filth," said John. "It was just so dirty in there and such cramped living conditions."
That was his first impression of Pet City, the pet shop inside the Town Center of Aurora mall. John and his partner really wanted a dog, but they never planned to buy one from the mall -- until they saw her.
"We saw Ellie in the back corner. It seemed like she was in a discount bin," John said.
The price was marked down from $1,100 to $400.
"You can imagine a lab puppy in a very small kennel with another 4-month-old German Shepherd, just crammed in there," he said.
They took her home, with medical records showing she had all her vaccinations and had been treated for kennel cough, but the next few months proved otherwise.
"She had worms, she had a really bad cough, she had kennel cough. She had Giardia. She had some other type of bacterial infection in her gut,” said John.
According to the Colorado Department of Agriculture, Pet City is one of their problem shops.
"We get a lot of complaints about them and it's related to location because they’re in a mall setting. So there's lots of foot traffic. People go in and they may see the puppies in conditions that are kind of gross,” said Department of Agriculture spokesperson Nick Fisher.
Denver7 went undercover and saw fair conditions. We requested complaints from the Department of Agriculture spanning the last two years. Records show reports of sickly dogs appearing to struggle with their breathing; some seemed lethargic and were rolling around in bloody diarrhea. Others were overcrowded. Customers complained of thousands of dollars in vet bills, and in one instance in 2016, a dog actually died after coming home with its owner.
The state wrote up violations because employees were even treating some of the animals without consent from a vet, and housing sick dogs with healthy ones.
"If there's sick dogs with healthy dogs, that's what we require. Isolation. That's part of our rules," said Fisher.
Pet City owner Casey Ellis responded to our questions, saying on average she has 60 to 70 puppies at a time, with a staff of 3 to 8 people cleaning up every 15 minutes.
"If I have eight on meds, then I feel I am doing my job to not sell sick pups. We have a completely separate quarantine room where pups are put if they have a transferable illness."
She also told Denver7 that she and a manager walk by the kennels and check them every day.
“If someone seems ill, we move them to quarantine and immediately start medications,” said Ellis.
After all of that, Ellie is now 1 1/2 years old and doing well.
"I hope that there are rules and regulations in place that can either make them change their business practices or put them out of practice, I think."
John wants others to learn from his experience and not purchase dogs from pet shops.
"You can criticize someone, but we still gave them our money and we are a part of keeping this place going. I think that was really hard for us accept," he said.
When asked about exercising the dogs, Ellis also told Denver7 that the larger and older dogs get exercise daily.
“Unfortunately, the best wat to exercise small-breed dogs -- especially older ones is in the petters down the middle of the store," Ellis said. "Yes, I feel this is effective because they get more attention. They sell faster and people pay more attention to them.”
Pet City has been in business since 1942 as a family business. Ellis says thousands of people have purchased pets from their store, including repeat customers.
The Pet Animal Care Facilities Act (PACFA) Program is a licensing and inspection program under the Department of Agriculture, dedicated to protecting the health and well-being of those animals in pet care facilities throughout Colorado. Pet City has only failed one inspection in 2017 and was fined $200 for having too many puppies in an enclosure.
A pet shop is allowed three failed inspections within one year before its license can be suspended or revoked. A facility is also given 20 days to come up with a plan to correct a violation.
Casey Ellis confirmed that she has purchased dogs from a breeder in Kansas that has been previously listed on the Humane Society of the United States' "Horrible 100" list of puppy mills.
"If you are referring to Shelli Kershner, she had some issues over 10 years ago. Since then [she] has been compliant. [The] last several inspections [were] 100-percent compliant. I did not buy from her 10 years ago. I keep a close eye on all USDA reports of my breeders," said Ellis.
The Department of Agriculture can only regulate USDA-verified facilities in the state of Colorado. So if a pet shop purchases suspected "puppy mill" dogs, that would be outside the department's jurisdiction. Fisher says it's up to the customer to ask about a dog's history.
“Under our rules, they can request to find out where their dogs came from. They have to be a prospective purchaser or adopter, but the facility has to give them that information," said Fisher.
If you're concerned about a pet shop or any facility that sells animals, you can file complaints with the Department of Agriculture here.