GREENE COUNTY, Va. (CBS19 NEWS) — When Tiny Paws Pet Shop opened in Ruckersville earlier this month, animal advocates said they saw several red flags.
The number of breeds available concerned them, and store employees refused to let them take pictures or to answer questions about where the puppies came from.
Animal advocate Rose Lemaster fears they were coming from puppy mills.
"A lot of the dogs that are shipped to pet stores in our area are coming from these operations," Lemaster said.
Identifying the owner of Tiny Paws wasn’t easy because his name isn’t on business filings with the state or Greene County, but CBS19 finally reached him. He's Staunton resident Zack Deibert.
He declined an interview citing safety concerns, and he wouldn't provide any documentation about the dogs, but he did provide a statement.
"In most animal activists’ eyes, even a hobby breeder with four dogs is a puppy mill because they breed to sell companion animals," Deibert's statement read.
It says he has received threats since the controversy began and says he requires the breeders he uses to go above what the USDA requires of its commercial breeders.
Deibert also provided pictures of healthy looking dogs he says are the parents of Pomeranians and Poodles the store is selling.
Greene County Commonwealth's Attorney Matt Hardin says he hasn't received any complaints about Tiny Paws. But he says Virginia laws around selling dogs aren't very strict.
"Everything is at most a class three misdemeanor and some are only civil violations of the consumer protection laws, so these generally aren't taken very seriously by the law," Hardin said.
However, if a pet store lies about where a puppy came from, that could be a felony, depending on the value of the dog.
“If you sell somebody something and you tell them it's a diamond ring, it needs to be a diamond ring. Otherwise, you're committing a crime,” Hardin said. “You're obtaining their money on the false pretense that it's not. And so that could come up in animal cases as well."
The founder of a nonprofit working to stop puppy mill puppies from being sold in Virginia says her group has had some success.
"We were able to pass legislation so each dog cage has to have what breeder, what broker, where the dog came from," said Jaimie Ashton, of Virginia Pawsitivaty Initiative.
Ashton says customers also have the right to see the dogs' full file upon request.
"That would have the shot records, the breeder, the broker, and it should also have the date of birth," Ashton said.
Virginia law says puppies must be at least eight weeks old before they can be sold.
Ashton would like a full ban on puppy mill puppies in Virginia, and Hardin agrees.
"Maybe this is another example of where our laws are a little bit behind our ethics,” he said. “I think that most people would say puppy mills are not the way to run a business and we shouldn't be funneling our dollars into a system that treats animals that way."
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