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  MIRAMAR, Fla. -- After the groundbreaking NBC 6 investigation of the link between Midwest puppy mills and a South Florida pet store that sells dogs around the world, NBC 6 heard from hundreds of viewers. Many wondered what they would do if they wanted to get a dog but not support puppy mills.

NBC 6's investigation of the pet industry ended at shelters across America where pets are waiting to be adopted.

A third are purebreds. Many are from high-priced pet stores, which is where NBC 6's investigation begins.

Wizard of Claws is a South Florida pet store that sells thousands of expensive dogs.

NBC 6 tracked down unhappy customers nationwide, many who say their dogs quickly became seriously ill. Some died.

"We buy the best of the best," said Jim Anderson, who operates Wizard of Claws.

Anderson can charge up to $10,000 per dog because, he says, he buys only from select breeders.

But NBC 6 went undercover to trace the origin of many of his dogs to so-called puppy mills. They are the kind of places where experts say sickness and inbreeding are a problem -- major suppliers of many pet stores.

"The answer is with consumers so the marketplace constrains the activity and causes them to shut down," said Wayne Pacelle, president of the Humane Society of the United States.

People picketed Wizard of Claws after NBC 6's investigation. Many viewers wanted to know how to buy a dog without supporting puppy mills.

Sara Pizano, director of Miami-Dade Animals Services, has an answer. Getting a companion animal from a breed rescue group or a shelter avoids indirect support of the puppy mill industry. And, she said, it saves lives.

"And if people could just see their beautiful faces and know how desperate they are, just for love and attention, and it's my mission to educate people about that so that more shelter animals are adopted," Pizano said.

Every dog that comes into a shelter, even purebreds, runs the risk of not being adopted. Shelters can't keep them forever. They have to make room for new dogs coming in every single day. Eventually, if no one wants them, they're euthanized.

Yvette Rosada just adopted Coco for $60. She said she doesn't trust the pet stores.

"I'd rather get a dog from here any day," Rosada said.

Arlene Schnell and her granddaughter said they wish they'd gone to a shelter. They bought a dog at Wizard of Claws and left it there for a grooming. When they returned, they said, they were handed a different dog.

"They tried to trick us," Schnell said. "They tried passing off the other dog. They said, 'Your dog had a seizure when it was being groomed, and it died five hours later.'"

Pizano said dogs are there because of people problems, not dog problems. They don't match the new couch, or the condo won't take pets but they moved there anyway. At the Miami-Dade County shelter, they get 96 new arrivals every day.

NBC 6 called Wizard of Claws for comment on this story but did not hear back.

Of the 35,000 pets arriving at Miami-Dade's animal shelter each year, only 2,000 are picked up by their owners.

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Animal Advocates of Howard County | PO Box 1403 • Ellicott City, MD 21041
(410) 880-2488 •