I-TEAM: Couple says Jacksonville pet store should foot bill of puppy’s surgery

St. Augustine couple says after visiting vet, they learned dog’s heart murmur was more serious than store disclosed

After purchasing a puppy from Jacksonville pet store, a St. Augustine couple told the News4JAX I-TEAM that they were soon met with hefty bills after the dog required a life-saving heart surgery.

The husband and wife agreed to speak with the I-TEAM, on a condition of anonymity.

“We had no idea she was on death’s door,” the wife said. “That’s what the specialist here told me. He said when he did her surgery, her heart was so enlarged.”

The couple that purchased Ella, a Cavalier King Charles spaniel, believes the owner of the Puppy Avenue pet store should be responsible for paying the dog’s medical bills, saying they were misled about the severity of a heart murmur.

The husband and wife said they got the dog as a Christmas gift for their two young children, replacing the family’s previous dog, Bella, who was 17 when she died of old age. The husband said the store wanted $3,500 for the dog, which a manager offered to lower to $2,500.

News4JAX asked the husband if any medical issues were disclosed at the time of purchase.

“She (the manger) said she (Ella) had a slight heart murmur, but the dog we had for 17 years had a slight heart murmur and she lived for 17 years, so we said, ‘Ah, that’s no big deal,” the husband said.

According to the store’s website, the puppies have two health guarantees.

“So you’re buying a healthy puppy. That’s why the website says healthy puppies, She’ll be fine,” the wife said.

But after a day or two had passed and the children started to bond with Ella, their mother began to wonder why the price for Ella was reduced by $1,000. She said she did a Google search of the store to read customer reviews.

“Bad review after bad review. Dying puppies. Puppies with parvo,” the wife said.

So she took Ella to a veterinarian in St. Augustine and learned Ella’s heart murmur was a lot more serious than the pet store disclosed. The vet suggested Ella see a heart specialist at an animal emergency room in Jacksonville where the couple later learned more.

“She had a blood vessel that, if not fixed, she would not see her first birthday. She needed emergency surgery for almost $3,600,” the wife said.

Ella had the surgery and was released from the hospital Wednesday afternoon. The couple feels the store owner bears responsibility for the medical costs.

“I feel he should have to pay for all these bills because now I’m up to over $8,000,” the husband said.

Better Business Bureau President Tom Stephens says seven different complaints have been filed in his office alleging the sale of sick puppies, and they all have similar complaints.

“(That) the store sold an animal that was sick. Several had died a week or two after they received the pet or shortly after and they all had multiple vet bills to try and keep the animal alive,” Stephens explained.

Stephens says Florida has a lemon law that states if a breeder or animal store sells a medically ill pet, they have to adhere to two options to remedy issues with the purchasers.

“Refund the money and pay reasonable vet bills or offer a replacement animal,” Stephens explained. “In my opinion, their (store) seems to be violating the state puppy lemon law.”

The owner of Puppy Avenue would not grant us an interview. He did, however, tell us over the phone that he would be willing to work something out to remedy the issue, but that he would only do that with the husband since it was the husband who paid for the dog.

The Better Business Bureau recommends looking up online reviews before making a pet purchase. Checking its website is one way to search for filed complaints.

Have you experienced health issues with puppies purchased at this store, or other puppy stores? Send Erik Avanier an email -- EAvanier@wjxt.com.

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