|NBC 6 has uncovered unhappy customers who say their dogs are sick or genetically defective.
Wizard of Claws, based in Pembroke Pines, claims it sells only the best of the best dogs. That's why they go for up to $10,000 each.
So, NBC 6 wanted to find out why some customers say their dogs are getting sick, or dying, soon after they buy them.
NBC 6 went undercover inside what critics call a puppy mill -- factories where illness and in-breeding can be problems. From this very place came Nacho.
But after arriving at his new home, his owners, who paid $5,000, say Nacho became gravely ill and was diagnosed with internal parasites, severe arthritis, dislocation of his kneecap and more.
"I cried. I really cried," "V" said (name removed per individual's request). "I understood at this time why he was so sick. It really broke my heart."
"V" hand fed Nacho for months, and "V" claims she even contracted the parasite from Nacho.
"For three weeks, I had to take antibiotics," "V" said.
The family bought Nacho from Wizard of Claws in Pembroke Pines, which boasts top quality purebreds, trendy teacup-sized puppies, celebrity clients and happy, healthy dogs.
But an NBC 6 investigation uncovered where some of those dogs actually come from.
They are the kind of places that the Humane Society of the United States says breeds dogs with an elevated risk of congenital defects like other dogs sold by Wizard of Claws:
# Terminator and Parker: Both were diagnosed with knee defects called patellar luxation.
# Lily: a liver problem called Porto systemic shunt.
# Piglet: a skin disease called congenital canine lamellar ichthyosis.
# Indiana had hip dysplasia.
"Are you selling defective dogs?" NBC 6's Jeff Burnside asked Jim Anderson, who operates Wizard of Claws.
"No. Absolutely not."
Anderson and his sales team emphasize his dogs come from select private breeders he's known for years, including some who raise puppies in their homes.
"We buy these dogs strictly off breeders that my boss had done business with," one of the salesmen said when NBC 6 went into the store. "Their dogs are from breeders. They're not from puppy mills."
"We buy the best of the best. We buy the premium," Anderson told NBC 6.
But NBC 6 traced dog after dog that Anderson purchased on Internet auctions, sort of an eBay for dogs.
NBC 6 cameras rolled as a van packed with tiny puppies -- there were at least 32 -- were delivered to the backdoor of Wizard of Claws from Missouri, 1,300 miles away.
"Let me show you some video," Burnside said to Anderson during the interview.
NBC 6 traveled to Edgar Springs, in rural Missouri.
Using hidden cameras, NBC 6 went into a dog breeding operation called Puppy Trax. We traced 50 of Anderson's purchases to Puppy Trax, including dogs that later became sick, and one died, although it's impossible to pinpoint where they got sick.
Burnside was shown dogs in cages and cowering dogs in a wooden hutch.
"The baby Yorkie is five. That's a good price," Puppy Trax owner Debbie Mace said to Burnside, pointing to two dogs for sale.
"These two are breeding stock. They look terrified of people," Burnside said as he observed two dogs in cages. "The water bowl ... is frozen over from the temperatures in the teens last night. There's no visible sign of any kind of heating element back there. They're shaking right now and the morning sun has already been up for an hour or two."
Mace says blue barrels keep the dogs warm enough.
"They should clearly be reported and it's someone I would not buy a dog from," Anderson told NBC 6 after watching the video.
"Shouldn't you know, though, the facilities that you buy a lot of dogs from, such as Puppy Trax?" Burnside asked Anderson.
"Shouldn't you know where you bought them shoes from?" Anderson said.
Puppy Trax was cited by Missouri for not fully sheltering dogs from weather and was suspended by the America Kennel Club for submitting "false" records about breeds.
"Can we sit down and do an interview with you guys?" Burnside said to Mace when he returned to Puppy Trax after going undercover.
"You (get) out of here or I'll call 911," Mace said.
"I'm sure there are substandard facilities that I've purchased from. Not puppy mills," Anderson said. "Look in the dictionary. Look very carefully in the dictionary."
"Well, let's use your own definition of a puppy mill," Burnside said to Anderson.
On the Wizard of Claws Web site is a long description of a puppy mill describing precisely what NBC 6 saw.
"Isn't it a fact that you are buying dogs from puppy mills?" Burnside asked Anderson.
"Not with my belief. No," Anderson said.
"But you're implying to your customers you do know where your dogs are coming from."
"I'm not implying to my customers," Anderson said. "Most customers don't really ask, most don't really care."
NBC 6 also went undercover to another Wizard of Claws supplier, Lanelle Eclair's breeding operation in Oklahoma. It's been repeatedly cited by a federal inspector.
"She tells me do something, I do it. Most of the time, she writes me up for some little something," Eclair told Burnside.
Violations include "adequate vet care", and cages that need to be "sanitized" and "repaired," some so small, big dogs "could not stand" up, according to federal inspection records.
"Have you ever been there?" Burnside asked Anderson.
"No. Absolutely not," Anderson said.
"How do you know that it meets your exceptionally high standards?" Burnside said.
"I don't. I don't," Anderson said.
"Would you call that a puppy mill?"
"I'd refer to that as a puppy mill. I would call that a puppy mill. I didn't know she had that many dogs. I clearly didn't know she had that many dogs," Anderson said.
Burnside showed the video to Wayne Pacelle, president of the Humane Society of the United States, the world's largest animal welfare group.
"If it looks like a puppy mill, smells like a puppy mill, sounds like a puppy mill, it sure is a puppy mill," Pacelle said.
Pacelle knows. He testified before Congress about puppy mills.
"What we saw in your video were dogs that were too frightened to come, or that were just manic or just wanting human attention, repetitive motion, and they're at the point of even going a little bit mad," Pacelle said.
"In fact, there's a direct line from puppy mills to Wizard of Claws," Pacelle said. "So, the public is being hoodwinked. And they're being told one thing when the reality is something starkly different."
Anderson says, among the thousands of dogs he sells, he has many happy customers and pays vet bills, and has given refunds. His former long-time vet, Dr. Jan Bellows, says the exam for a health certificate does not necessarily catch all illnesses or genetic defects.
Reporter Jeff Burnside, Investigative Producer Scott Zamost, photographers Pedro Cancio and Robert Hernandez
Air Date: Feb. 8, 2006
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