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  A South Florida pet store is advertising itself as the "No. 1 celebrity kennel in the world," but an NBC 6 investigation, "Puppy Heartbreak," found some of those celebrities are calling it something else.

Maybe you've seen the ads or visited the Web site.

Wizard of Claws sells thousands of the prized teeny tiny dogs, touting happy celebrity clients.

"What do Jon Secada, Jennifer Love Hewitt, and Eddie Jones have in common?" the Wizard of Claws commercial says.

"He markets his Web site to celebrities," said Paul Zimmerman, who bought a dog from Wizard of Claws. The store even have billboards.

"My husband said, 'I remember seeing this billboard, Wizard Of Claws,'" said Leslie Finkelstein.

Finkelstein and Paul Zimmerman were drawn in by the image, but when they bought puppies, Nikki and Lucy quickly became severely sick.

"We were very concerned," Zimmerman said. "Tuesday, first thing in the morning, we brought her in, admitted her here, they put her on the IV."

"I was hysterical my puppy was going to die," Finkelstein said.

In fact, NBC 6 found unhappy Wizard of Claws customers across America who claim they got dogs that were sick or genetically defective.

NBC 6 wanted to know, if there were a lot of unhappy "regular" customers, why were the celebrity customers so happy? So, we called them. It turns out some weren't so happy after all.

The drummer for Aerosmith, Joey Kramer, told NBC 6 his dog was so sick he had to give it to his veterinarian and never got his money back.

"As a matter of fact, we had some problems with the dog," Kramer said. "And they wouldn't stand behind the dog."

"Was it ill?"

"Yeah. The dog was ill," Kramer said.

Jennifer Love Hewitt's publicist told NBC 6 her dog has been "sick as hell since she got the puppy."

Pro baseball player Mike Morse said his veterinarian told him his dog would have died had he not sought urgent car.

And, perhaps the most famous of all Wizard of Claws celebrity dogs, Baby Doll Pliner -- the icon for the famous line of shoes -- grew twice the size the store promised and, as soon as they bought her, she, too, became very ill.

"It was really bad," Lisa Pliner told NBC 6.

All of Baby Doll's lower teeth had to be removed.

The Pliners, who could afford the thousands of dollars in vet bills, grew suspicious of Wizard of Claws over something else.

"The biggest problem was getting the papers," Donald Pliner said. "I mean, continuously, continuously calling, 'Where are the papers? Where are the papers to prove where the dog actually came from?'"

"What's the most you've ever sold a dog for?" Burnside asked Jim Anderson, who runs Wizard of Claws.

"Uh, $10,000," Anderson said.

"$10,000?" Burnside asked.

"$10,000, absolutely," Anderson said.

Anderson said an expensive dog is like a Chanel jacket: you get what you pay for.

"We buy the best of the best," Anderson said.

But do they always?

NBC 6's hidden camera investigation went inside two of the Midwestern dog breeding operations that supply Wizard of Claws. Experts called them puppy mills.

"You think you're getting the best of the best. What you're getting is oftentimes a very sick animal with genetic defects who came from a puppy mill," said Wayne Pacelle, president of the Humane Society of the United States.

"Would you call that a puppy mill?" Burnside asked Anderson after showing him video of two dog breeding operations in Missouri and Oklahoma from where some of his dogs came.

"I would refer to that as a puppy mill," Anderson said.

As a result of NBC 6's story, Anderson has decided not to do any business with the two dog breeding operations.

Some celebrities are happy: the Osbournes and basketball player Eddie Jones, for example.

But, most celebrities NBC 6 spoke to told us they never gave Anderson formal permission to use their images to promote or endorse Wizard of Claws: not Aerosmith, not Jennifer Love Hewitt, not Jon Secada, not Mike Morse.

"Do you want me to go on?" Burnside asked Anderson.

"Yeah, you can go on," Anderson said.

Not rapper Uncle Luke, not actor Enrique Murciano, not NASCAR champ Jeff Gordon, and certainly not the Pliners.

"It's our reputation," Donald Pliner said. "It's like anything that I do, people that has my name on it. People don't know. They might see that we're part of that."

"In essence, almost none of these celebrities that you're using in your marketing are satisfied customers or got healthy dogs," Burnside said to Anderson.

"Your communication with them -- NBC -- and the forwarding of this negative information to them changed the way they think," Anderson said.

But, the celebrity clientele no longer impresses customers like Paul Zimmerman.

"They sold us a sick dog that's only gotten sicker," Zimmerman said. "What was supposed to be something really nice turned out to be something really terrible."

Both Lucy and Nikki are doing fine, and Anderson maintains that most of the dogs he sells are healthy. NBC 6 received e-mails and calls about "Puppy Heartbreak" from around the country, and will continue to follow the story.

Airdate: Feb. 10, 2006
Reporter Jeff Burnside, Investigative Producer Scott Zamost, photographers Pedro Cancio and Robert Hernandez



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