Who, age What Where When Last Known Address
Robert V. Fink(1) inadequate ventilation & more space for pup litters at Laughlin Kennels

Oxford, MA

Worcester County

March, 1993  
Bridggette L. Fink(1) inadequate ventilation & more space for pup litters at Laughlin Kennels

Oxford, MA

Worcester County

March 1993  
Robert V. Fink(2) 5 complaints of sick pups bought from Laughlin Kennels, 1 dies, 1 had hookworm, 1 still had stitches from umbilical hernia, undescended testicle & earmites

Oxford, MA

Worcester County

October 1, 1994  
Bridggette L. Fink(2) 5 complaints of sick pups bought from Laughlin Kennels, 1 dies, 1 had hookworm, 1 still had stitches from umbilical hernia, undescended testicle & earmites

Oxford, MA

Worcester County

October, 1, 1994  
Robert V. Fink(3) noise complaints regarding barking dogs from neighbors

Oxford, MA

Worcester County

July 9, 1996  
Bridggette L. Fink(3) noise complaints regarding barking dogs from neighbors

Oxford, MA

Worcester County

July 9, 1996  
Robert V. Fink(4) women purchased sick pup, want kennel shut down; kennel owners filing defermation lawsuit

Oxford, MA

Worcester County

March 9, 2007  
Bridggette L. Fink(4) women purchased sick pup, want kennel shut down; kennel owners filing defermation lawsuit

Oxford, MA

Worcester County

March 9, 2007  
Robert V. Fink(5) man purchased a sick pup for $2,034, wants kennel to pay the veterinary bill of $2,500

Oxford, MA

Worcester County

October 7, 2009  
Bridggette L. Fink(5) man purchased a sick pup for $2,034, wants kennel to pay the veterinary bill of $2,500

Oxford, MA

Worcester County

October 7, 2009  
Robert V. Fink(6) woman purchased a lab pup for $1,400; pup had a small hernia and kennel cough

Oxford, MA

Worcester County

October 10, 2015  
Bridggette L. Fink(6) woman purchased a lab pup for $1,400; pup had a small hernia and kennel cough

Oxford, MA

Worcester County

October 10, 2015  
Type of Crime Other Crimes #/Type of animal(s) involved Case Status Next Court Date /Courthouse
   

(2)1 miniature schnauzer, 1 Welsh corgi

(3)55-65 dogs

(4)1 pup

(5)French bulldog

(6)Lab Pup

(1)MSPCA inspection notes changes

(2-6)No charges

 

Peter D. McArdle, chief of the state Bureau of Animal Health, has scheduled a meeting January 19th, 1995 to discuss customers' complaints against a local kennel.

McArdle said five complaints have been filed in the past year and a half against Laughlin Kennels of Larned Road, a state-licensed pet shop that sells about 800 pups a year. The complaints are from customers who charge that pups they bought from the kennel turned out to have health problems.

Some customers say they want the kennel closed. But McArdle said he visited the kennel recently and sees no reason to close it. He said he does not believe the kennel was at fault in the most serious of the complaints, in which a pup died after it was returned to the kennel, and may not have been at fault in the others.

McArdle said last week he expected 2 of the 5 complainants and Laughlin Kennel owners Robert V. and Bridggette L. Fink to attend the meeting."

Asserting that he is not taking the complaints lightly, McArdle said he hopes the private session, scheduled for his Boston office, will satisfy all parties in what he described as an emotionally charged situation. "There has to be some common ground here," he said. He said what makes handling such cases so sensitive is that people quickly bond with animals and are reluctant to return or exchange sick pets. And the kennel, like other pet stores, is under no obligation to pay vets' bills for animals it has sold.

The situation came to a head this past fall. On October 1st, 1994, Lorraine Karol of Canton bought a miniature schnauzer, which she named Maydee, from Laughlin Kennels for $450. On October 14, 1994, she returned her pet, asked for a refund, and included a note from a veterinarian saying the dog was ill. The next day it died. "I fell in love with it and I wanted to keep it, but it was so sick," Karol said, tears welling in her eyes. "I returned it and I was told (by a Laughlin Kennel employee) it would get intensive care."

When Karol learned the pup had died, she asked for the autopsy report and was refused, became suspicious of the Laughlin Kennels and started investigating. She found 4 other complaints against the kennel since it opened in March 1993, and an inspection report from the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. The MSPCA recommended better ventilation and more rooms for separating litters.

Karol and 2 other complainants, Paula and Brian Kutcher of Bellingham, say the complaints and inspection report are reasons enough to close the pet shop.

McArdle, however, said the Finks run a clean, humane, though imperfect operation and are improving their kennel to deal with the MSPCA's recommendations. He said 5 complaints are not a lot for an operation Laughlin's size, and he is satisfied with the Finks' explanations.

Karol said she believes the Finks did not adequately care for the pup, and that it was incubating disease when she purchased it. But the Finks said the autopsy report proves that the pup contracted an upper respiratory infection after it left the kennel.

Karol said she worries about other dogs because she believes the Finks let Maydee die. But the Finks said the dog was given an antibiotic and intravenous fluids, seemed to rally, but died. Their veterinarian, Marilyn Whitney of Dudley, said she cannot discuss the case because of professional confidentiality, but has conferred with McArdle.

Two other complainants, John and Barbara Pini of Needham, aren't calling for the shop to be closed, but are vocal about their dissatisfaction with the kennel. A pup they bought from it had hookworm, which they said made it quite ill and interfered with the pup's normal weight gain. The Pini couple bonded with their pup immediately and did not want to return it.

Robert Fink said the kennel has only had 1 other case of hookworm, which he said is common among dogs. Bridggette Fink said she learned from the Pini case and now uses a more effective hookworm medication than she used on the Pini pup.

The Kutchers purchased a male Welsh corgi with stitches on his abdomen. The Finks and Kutchers disagree about whether the Finks told the Kutchers about the surgery, which was for an umbilical hernia. The law does not require written disclosure, according to McArdle. The Finks said, however, the complaint has taught them to write every medical intervention on the purchase contract.

The Kutchers' dog also has an undescended testicle, which will require surgery, and was treated for ear mites, according to a veterinary report. When the Kutchers told the Finks about the medical problems, the Finks told them they could return the dog for a full refund even after the 14 days allowed in the contract. "Returning the dog wasn't an option for us," Brian Kutcher said. "We got attached right away," he said. Paula Kutcher said the surgery would cost $500, and she wanted the Finks to pay the veterinary bills. But Bridggette Fink said that although returning a pup is not a satisfying option to new pet owners, it is the only one she can offer.

As imperfect as that option is, given the emotional attachments, it is far more than independent breeders offer, McArdle said. He said he advises pet shop owners to stick with a return-and-refund policy and not pay veterinary bills. While state-licensed pet shops are required to provide money-back health guarantees, breeders are not required to offer any return, refund or exchange, McArdle said.

The Finks breed some of the dogs they sell, but import most of the dogs from breeders in the midwest, they said. Of 12,000 pups imported into Massachusetts from the Midwest annually, McArdle said, he receives about 100 complaints. All complaints are investigated in person or by telephone, MaArdle said.

Update 7/9/96:
Several neighbors of the Laughlin Kennel on Larned Road left the selectmen's meeting last night with no immediate solution to the past 3 years of complaints about barking dogs, but they did get a mediation session scheduled for July 9th between complainants and kennel owners.

Selectman Ann M. Mercier will mediate the session. If that doesn't result in a neighborly compromise between the kennel's right to house dogs and the neighbors' right to peace, selectmen will take action, Selectman David A. Bigwood Jr. told those on both sides of the issue.

The exterior of Laughlin Kennel, 11 Larned Road, Oxford. Worcester Telegraph and Gazette/Chris Christo

Three families living near the kennel owned by the Finks told selectmen that the 55 to 65 kenneled dogs bark, sometimes incessantly, disrupting daily peace and making a needed daytime nap impossible.

But no complaints have been received from several other neighbors who live as close to the kennel as the complainants, according to Animal Control Director Sigmond Barnard, who questioned how bad the barking could be if some residents are not disturbed.

The problem, Selectmen Chairman John G. Saad told both sides, is that noise tolerance varies from one person to another. Selectman Ann M. Mercier suggested neighbors should adjust to the barking, since the kennel was there before they were. Larnard Road resident Lorraine Scola told Mercier that the kennel on the same site in 1992 had enough room for 14 dogs, not dozens. The issue, Finks' lawyer John Anastasi told selectmen, is that the Finks have a legal right to operate a kennel on that site, and where there are dogs, there will be barking. He and complainants presented differing opinions about whether the barking was excessive.

Last week and this week, one of the five-member board was absent, and selectmen said they would not vote without a full board present.

Update 3/9/07:
What started off as pup love between Laughlin Kennel and prospective pet owners in Oxford has turned into a no-love-lost fight between the seller and the buyers.

Cathy Denaris and Tina Mastrototaro charged the kennel with selling them a sick pup, and began a public campaign to warn other prospective pet owners of their experience.

Supporters of the kennel subsequently mounted their own campaign singing the praises of the kennel, and questioning the motives of Denaris and Mastrototaro.

The kennel, meanwhile, arguing that Denaris and Mastrototaro are trying to shut them down, is suing the 2 women for disturbing their business and for defamation of character.

What appeared to have been an easily resolvable issue has spiraled out of control, primarily because the disagreement has tapped into the volatile debate among those in the pet industry who distinguish between what they term "reputable dealers" and "pet mills."

Chris Landers of Spencer sums up the debate this way: "Most reputable breeders belong to their `parent' or `local' breed club. They know the dogs they are breeding. They have seen the ancestors. They own the mother. They have spent a good deal of money getting all the genetic clearances for their particular breed. "They have chosen the best possible male, sometimes a dog very far away, to produce the healthiest, soundest pups possible. "They are present at the whelping, help raise the pups in their home, make sure they are well socialized and screen the potential homes. They make sure the right pup is paired with the right home. "After the pup is sold they are there for the new owners for the life of the dog. If at any time and for any reason the new owners cannot keep the dog, they will take it back and find another good home for it.

"Kennels are run as a business ...They are pup brokers buying pups from places like puppymills, backyard breeders etc. They have no idea of what genetic problems exist and the breeding stock which produced these pups was not tested. "They have never seen the parents; they don't know how they were raised, if they were socialized etc. The first person with the money to purchase gets the dog, even if the dog is all wrong for them and their lifestyle."

Bridggette Fink, owner of Laughlin Kennel, doesn't agree with that characterization of kennels, at least not of hers. Laughlin Kennel breeds 6 different types of dogs and in, addition, is the broker for more than 20 other breeds of dogs. The kennel, she noted, has been in business for 15 years. She estimated her business has sold more than 15,000 dogs during that period, and mainly to satisfied customers. She acknowledged, however, that once in awhile, the kennel has sold dogs with health problems. "In those cases, we have done everything we can to resolve the problem," she said, adding that the kennel, among other things, offers all clients the option to return their dogs and get a refund. "We want people to be happy," she said. "We like selling dogs. There is no better feeling than to help a person pick out a pup with which they can have a long and enjoyable relationship."

Denaris and Mastrototaro, who have since given their dog to another family (because they couldn't keep up with the medical cost of taking care of her), were given that option, Fink said. The 2 women, however, said they didn't want to give the dog back, because it had already bonded with the family. They also said they were afraid that the kennel would euthanize the pup.

That was understandable. Most pet owners are unwilling to part with an animal once it is in their possession. Patti Johnson of Spencer, who said she purchased a golden retriever at the kennel about four years ago, opted to "spend thousands and thousands" of dollars to nurse her dog through a series of medical and psychiatric issues, rather than return it to the kennel. "They told me I could return the dog, and get another, but I had already bonded with Madison," she said.

Brad Mitchell, director of regulatory services for the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources, said the quick bonding between pets and their owners underscores a major flaw in the usual contracts struck between the pet buyer and seller. "Most kennels will offer you a refund, but you can't treat pets as though you are buying a toaster," he said. "People bond quickly with their pets. It is hard to give back a pet which you have bought."

Unfortunately, besides checking for contagious diseases and the general cleanliness of kennels, the state does little in resolving problems between sellers and buyers beyond ensuring that contracts and the warranties are being followed, Mitchell said. Given the significant amount of money a pet owner can potentially expend in nursing a sick pup to good health, it would appear that the state has an obligation to ensure that both the interests of the pet owners and those who sell these animals are protected. However, while the Legislature has talked about addressing this issue, it has yet to act, Mitchell said.

And it is this absence of state oversight that is largely responsible for this "lose, lose" situation - anonymous petitioners using the Internet to shut down a business that has been operating for 15 years and 2 women being sued for $50,000 because they spoke out about a sick pup they bought.

Update 7/7/09:
A Missouri man who delivers animals to pet stores was arraigned Thursday, July 8th, 2009 on animal cruelty charges after police rescued what they said were weak, limp and sick pups from his van.

John T. Clayton, 44, of Missouri told authorities he left Missouri Monday night, and the pups had not been walked since then, police said.

Police said 27 pups were crammed into small cages, surrounded by animal waste, filth and flies, in a locked box truck parked in front of a Main Street pet store Wednesday afternoon July 7th.

Before his arrest, Clayton had just delivered 10 pups to Elite pups, 172 Main St., and had delivered 9 pups to Laughlin Kennel in Oxford, according to police. He may have dropped off pups at other New England locations as well.

The pups are primarily designer and toy breeds, according to Wooliscroft, and there was 1 Weimaraner. Most of the pups appeared to be about 5 weeks old, according to authorities. A clerk magistrate went to the scene and a search warrant was issued, according to police. At least 51 tags were in the van, and Sgt. Kelley said there may have been 51 pups when the van left Missouri Monday night. Police found 24 that had not yet been delivered. The pups came from different states, according to the information on the tags.

Puppy Ship is the name of the Missouri-based company that brought the pups to New England, police said.

A manager at Laughlin Kennel in Oxford, who would only identify herself as Christine P., said 9 pups from the same van were delivered about 8:30 p.m. Tuesday. She declined to give her last name. "The driver really does a great job for us," Christine said. "We haven't ever had any issues with him." She said he brought a huge water jug for them to fill Tuesday night. The manager said the Oxford kennel typically gets a delivery of pups from Puppy Ship every week. "As far as I know, he picks up pups from Missouri," Christine said. "Wow, it freaked me out when I heard this; we never have any issues with him." The manager said any dogs delivered to the kennel are quarantined for 2 days and a veterinarian checks them before they are put up for sale. Read the full casefile on Clayton & Puppy Ship here

Update 12/28/09:
David Barsoum of Westboro alleges Laughlin Kennel sold him a sick pup. He is one of a number of people who have complained about getting sick pets from the kennel on Larned Road during the 17 years it has been in business.

The owners of the kennel say the business has been targeted through the years by activists and critics who suggest they run a "puppymill." Robert and Bridggette Fink say they have been responsive to Barsoum's complaint.

Michael Cahill, director of the Division of Animal Health for the state Department of Agricultural Resources, finds no fault with Laughlin Kennel. He said it is a successful business, selling as many as 30 to 40 pups a week, according to the store owners. With that volume of sales, Cahill said, some customers will be unhappy. "When you're dealing with ... animals, there are unforeseen circumstances and you can run into problems that you wouldn't necessarily be aware were present at the time of sale," Cahill said. "Because they do such a large number of animals, regardless of the circumstances, a certain percentage of them may have a problem." If the animal looks healthy as it goes out the door - and has a valid health certificate from a veterinarian - a store can't be faulted, Cahill said.

As for Barsoum, he bought the pup October 7th, 2009 for $2,034 and said he has spent $2,500 in veterinary bills as of earlier this month. He wants reimbursement for the expenses and suggested a scathing article be written by Christmas - so that a child wouldn't wind up with a sick dog as a present.

The Finks offer a different story line: "Sometime in the next month or so, somebody is going to buy a dog," Fink said. "After they buy it, it will become ill. They will get a vet bill. They won't like that. They'll think I should pay it. I won't pay it." The store gives a standard 14-day health guarantee. The customer signs a contract that says the animal is in good health to the best of the store's knowledge. But if a vet finds something wrong within 2 weeks of the sale, the customer can return it for a full refund or replacement animal. Mrs. Fink said it is less expensive for her store to take care of a dog if it's returned. Otherwise, they have no control over what vet is chosen, or the vet's competence, decision-making and style.

Just as you wouldn't return a sick child, Barsoum argues, you wouldn't return a sick dog.

Cahill agrees, saying dissatisfied customers usually won't return a sick dog to a store. People get attached to the animal, unlike, for example, a defective appliance, he said. Unfortunately, however, the same rule applies: returning the animal is the only recourse. The real problem, Cahill said, is "how do you set up sort of a foolproof warranty so that it benefits the animals and it allows the store to continue to operate?"

Fink points to a line in the company's standard contract that says Laughlin Kennel doesn't pay vet bills. "Return the dog for a refund and we'll take care of it," Fink said. "If you want it back, we'll resell it to you. In the meantime, it has to be our dog. I can't take care of somebody else's dog."

For 4 percent of the pup's cost, the kennel offers a 1-year guaranty. It will replace the pup if there's something physically wrong with the animal that disqualifies it as a pet - such as hip dysplasia or a heart murmur. Barsoum opted against that protection.

A letter from Barsoum's veterinarian, Dr. Susan B. Gillham of Westboro, said his French bulldog, Abigail, had shipping fever. During an October 14th examination, seven days after Barsoum bought the dog, the pup was found to have serous nasal discharge and was given amoxicillin. Barsoum said Abigail will have permanent lung scarring. Several more vet visits followed. On December 14th, the pup's white blood cell count was elevated and her doses of medicine were increased, Barsoum said.

Dr. Susan B. Gillham & animal assistant Rebecca Keddy tend to Barsoum's French bulldog Abigail. Barsoum alleges Laughlin Kennels sold him a sick pup. Photo courtesy of Dan Gould/Worcester Telegraph & Gazette.

Mrs. Fink said Barsoum's veterinarian treated Abigail no differently than hers would have, but "we would have started (treatment) much sooner.""He's going to keep (the pup) and make us pay his vet bills," Fink said. "That's not my agreement with him. That's not the agreement the state makes me make. That's not the law." Fink says fewer than 1 percent of his customers are dissatisfied."We do a lot to avoid selling sick dogs," Fink said. "It's like a day care. There will be respiratory infections going around."

The store has 11 rooms for the dogs. Fresh air is funneled into each one, and stale air goes out, Fink said. Mrs. Fink said a shipment of dogs stays together as long as possible, which cuts down on cross-contamination.

The store has an A-minus rating with the Better Business Bureau. Over the last 3 years, the bureau has received 16 complaints.

Update 1/3/16:
Cheryl Rodriguez alleges the pup she purchased in October, 2015 from Laughlin Kennel was sick when she bought it. Rodriguez said she had just lost a lab, Roxy, to cancer that she had for years and spent thousands of dollars on veterinary care. She purchased a lab pup she named Hennesey from Laughlin for $1,400, she said. Unbeknownst to her, Hennesey had a small hernia and kennel cough, she said. “The next day (October 10th), she started coughing,” Rodriguez said. “By Monday (October 12th), she was really sick. My vet gave her an antibiotic and pill and said she should get better — to give it time and let the antibiotic kick in. By Thursday, she was not eating and she was admitted.”

She was able to take her home the following week, she said, but the pup relapsed. By October 20th, she said the pup's condition deteriorated further. “I was already crying for my other dog Roxy, and now I was trying to save this pup,” she said. Laughlin Kennel told her to bring Hennesey back, but the pup was in an oxygen tank at her vet’s.

My vet said she (Hennesey) was sick prior to sale.” The incubation period for the disease is generally 3 to 10 days, she said. After 19 days of struggling to keep Hennesey alive, Rodriguez said she had to make a hard decision. “I couldn’t take it anymore — emotionally I couldn’t do it,” she said. “I paid $1,400 for her and another $1,100 for vet care, and had already spent $5,000 to try to save Roxy. My vet cut me a check for $1,400 and said he would try to save Hennesey and adopt her out. I never asked if she died. Laughlin told me they would give me another pup Sunday and tried to make me bring a dead dog to them.”

Robert Fink, who owns Laughlin Kennel with his wife, Bridgette, denies allegations of selling sick pups.

Dr. Bartholomew M. Murphy, who has been a vet for 32 years and works at Westside Animal Clinic on Mill Street in Worcester, treated Rodriguez' pup. Dr. Murphy said Hennesey had severe pneumonia and was in an oxygen cage. The kennel did not give Rodriguez any viable options, he said. "Her warranty was almost up and she didn’t return it,” Dr. Murphy said. “But, she was responsible for all the costs incurred and wouldn’t get any money back if the dog passed away. If I took her off the oxygen for a few minutes for her to go to the bathroom, she turned blue. When I called Laughlin, they said they had oxygen there, which seemed strange. Then, I got a call from an attorney — I am not sure who he represented — who said I had to release the dog to her (Rodriguez) and she would have to take it back there if she wanted a refund. She was trying to recoup some of her loss from the purchase, but she didn’t want to send the dog there. She was getting pressure from both sides.”

Rodriguez with 9-week-old German shepherd pup, Rocko, recently purchased from a different local breeder. Photo courtesy of Christine Hochkeppell/Worcester Telegraph & Gazette.

Dr. Murphy offered to buy the pup from Rodriguez for what she paid for her and told Rodriguez he would adopt the dog if she got better. Dr. Murphy said the pup died from pneumonia a few days later. “It broke everyone’s heart,” he said. “We used IVs and nebulized her and she was still so friendly and lovable. Everything you did, she was still wagging her tail.”

He alleged that Laughlin Kennel does what a lot of pet stores do — buy dogs from all around the country to resell at a “pretty good markup.” For example, he said some pet stores can often buy pups for $50 each and sell them for $1,000 to $1,500. “When you get dogs from Laughlin Kennel, the first thing you think about is that you have to go over this one really carefully, but you don’t want to send it back if there is a defect,” he said. “You’d rather have people own it, than send it back there.” The “pup lemon law” that provides customers with a 2 -week warranty only makes matter worse, he said. “They don’t end up having to pay for the situations they put people in if they may have problems,” he said. “If they are getting lots of dogs from all over the country transported in box trucks with poor nutrition for several days — even if they did that to me I don’t know if I would be in the best of shape. If one dog gets sick, everyone has it.”

Oxford, MA Town officials are confused about their authority to regulate the business, and a state official says such a business in its current location would not now likely win state licensing approval.

And some customers of the kennel and pet store continue to allege they were sold sick pups - some that died shortly after they bought them. Moreover, the customers say local and state officials ignore allegations of poor treatment of the animals at the business.

Numerous complaints are on file with the town from neighbors and customers and written complaints with the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources, attorney general’s office and animal-advocacy organizations about kennel conditions and sick dogs purchased from the kennel. There have also been several protests outside the business, including by some members of the group Massachusetts Coalition to End Puppy Mills.

A puppymill is a negative phrase to describe a commercial dog-breeding facility in which the health of the dogs is sometimes disregarded to maintain low overhead costs and maximize profit, according to the Humane Society of the United States. Dozens of U.S. jurisdictions have banned retail pet store sales in an effort to curb commercial breeding, the organization says.

Fink, who owns Laughlin Kennel with his wife, denies allegations of inhumane conditions at the business. Fink also said he does not sell sick pups. All pups are confined in cages that are suitable for their size, and larger pups are taken outside for exercise, he said. Every pup is examined each week by a licensed veterinarian, he assured.

The kennel opened in 1992 when the Finks bought a home and kennel on the property in a residential zone.

Kathleen A. Casavant, a retired Oxford High School teacher who lives across the street, remembers the family who lived there before the Finks. They raised pet German shepherds that they took to shows, Casavant said. They never had more than about 8 dogs at a time, she said.

“When the Finks came in, they subdivided the kennel and got more dogs,” she said. “They started off small initially, breeding their own dogs. I had no problem with that. I knew when I moved in there was a kennel there.” The town has no regulation to limit the number of dogs in a kennel, she said.

Then the Finks started bringing pups in on crates in trucks, she alleged, for a pet store operation in the home. pups were kept in the basement, she said. “Trucks started coming and they started advertising all different breeds and that is when it got really bad,” she said. The noise, the smells, delivery trucks at all times of the day and night idling while pups cried inside, she said, made life difficult for her and her family.

Casavant said she and neighbors turned to the town, but nothing was done. “Selectmen were appalled by the number of dogs,” she said. “They said they would monitor it for 6 months and then to come back. We went back after 6 months, but selectmen were not interested in seeing our report. It is like a switch was flipped. Instead of being sympathetic, like they were 6months earlier, they didn’t want to hear it.” The town only has the authority to license and inspect the kennels and breeding operation; and the DAR licenses and inspects the pet store, the DAR explained.

One of the issues is that Oxford has no regulation to limit the number of dogs in kennels, Casavant said. On the town’s kennel application, there are 3 choices: 4 dogs or less, 10 dogs or less, or 10 dogs or more. When asked Town Clerk Lori A. Kelley why there was no upper limit to prevent kennels from having hundreds of dogs, she replied that it was state law not to limit it.

However, according the DAR, that is not accurate. "The town has the authority to place an upper limit. That would be up to the ACO (Animal Control Officer) and the Town Clerk," DAR spokeswoman Katie Gronendyke said.

Casavant said Laughlin has more than 100 dogs at a time and the Finks moved out of the house years ago. According to the Worcester District Registry of Deeds, the Finks purchased a home on Marsh Road in Sutton in 2010. Laughlin Kennel employees - often teenagers - are on site from about 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., Casavant said. No one is there after 5 p.m. to take care of problems that might arise, she said.

Casavant and others also complained to the DAR but received no help, she said. She recently sent a letter to local legislators and Gov. Charles D. Baker Jr. regarding the conditions at Laughlin that she says have deteriorated in recent years. "The barking that comes from there at night is sometimes unbelievable," she said. "Every Tuesday or Wednesday, the trucks arrive from the puppymills to unload their cargo. We can hear the pitiful crying of the pups as they sit in cages in the cold darkness of the trucks in the winter or the sweltering heat of summer, sometimes for hours.”

Former employees took videos and photos showing the conditions at the business, she said. Some were sent to the DAR, she said. “One of the things that has been most notable is the state’s lack of concern regarding this situation,” she wrote. “…I would ask that you investigate this matter and demand an accounting from the MDAR as to why they have ignored the myriad of complaints regarding sick dogs purchased from this place that not only receives dogs from puppymills but seems to be running their own homebred version of a puppymill.”

Neighbor Steven R. Thorton has lived across the street from Laughlin for 20 years. He said he is the only neighbor who doesn’t have a problem with the barking. “It doesn’t bother me at all. Like it or not, they do a great business over there,” Thorton said. “Everyone says, ‘Puppymill this. Puppymill that,’ but they’ve got to come from somewhere. How else will everyone get a dog? Like any other business, nothing runs smoothly. I’m sure they are going to have sick dogs."

Courtney L. Derochea, research director for the Massachusetts Coalition to End Puppy Mills, said reports of sick pups purchased from Laughlin and families stuck with thousands in vet bills are common. The coalition works with the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals’ advocacy department.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has authority over commercial breeding operations that supply pet stores with pups. But, Derochea said a 2010 audit of the USDA revealed inspectors were not doing their job and not enforcing the Animal Welfare Act. “A lot of these stores rely on telling people their breeders are USDA-regulated,” Derochea said. “It makes people feel better where their pups are coming from, but in reality ‘USDA breeder’ does not mean it’s not a puppymill. A lot of breeders are inspected every year and some of them have received final notices from the USDA for not complying with the Animal Welfare Act."

On their website, Laughlin Kennel says they are a pet shop licensed by the DAR and have a kennel license from the town. They say they buy from USDA licensed breeders, but there is no indication they are inspected by the USDA. Federal regulations require breeders who supply pups to pet stores to be inspected and licensed by the USDA.

"Justin and La Nae Jackson, who own a kennel in Clifton, Kansas, supply Laughlin and have been on the Humane Society’s ‘worst puppymill list’ every year for years," Derochea said. "They have years of violations and were given a final notice from the USDA in 2014 that said if they had anymore violations they will get their license taken away.”

Violations the Jacksons were cited for include repeated failure to provide adequate veterinary care to an injured animal; make an adult available to accompany inspectors; maintain surfaces so they can be readily cleaned and sanitized or are disposable; and keep water receptacles clean and sanitized. In 2015, despite another violation, the Jacksons are still breeding and Laughlin continues to purchase from them, Derochea said.

Another problem customers encounter is that the name of the breeder is often not provided until a purchase is complete, she said, which gives prospective buyers little or no time to research where the pup is coming from. Many people turn to her group for help, she said, but it is often hard to research breeders, because when they have violations, breeders change their address and name of the kennel, and some families have 2 or 3 different kennels.

According to the Humane Society of the United States, Laughlin also gets pups from brokers - pup warehouses where many times pet stores have no idea where the pups are coming from. Kathleen S. Summers, director of outreach and research for the puppymills campaign at the Humane Society, based in Washington D.C., said the organization has received dozens of complaints about Laughlin.

According to documents received by the society, Laughlin gets shipments of pups from out-of-state, including from Missouri brokers. “They are claiming they know where all of their pups came from, but when you are buying from a broker or re-seller, that is not entirely truthful,” Summers said. She said one such broker is Pinnacle Pets, a large broker in Missouri, licensed by the USDA to buy and resell pups. “We’ve recently reported Pinnacle Pets to the USDA for possibly receiving underage pups,” Summers said. “They are under investigation.”

Pups must be at least 8 weeks old before leaving a breeding facility, she said. The Humane Society has submitted a complaint, she said, that Pinnacle is getting pups from breeders from Ohio that sell underage pups - some only about 6 weeks old at risk of becoming sick, she said. In those cases, very young pups take the journey by truck from Ohio to Missouri and then are resold and shipped by truck to Laughlin and other pet stores in the Northeast, she said, traveling more than 1,850 miles. “There are thousands of pups moving through Pinnacle yearly,” Summers said. Also, the society has documentation that Pinnacle buys from unlicensed breeders, she said.

One of the breeders Laughlin buys from directly also was not licensed by the USDA, she said, though the business claims all of their breeders are licensed. “We pull a sampling of small animal health certificates that travel with the dog when it crosses state lines,” Summers said. “According to these documents, one person doesn’t have a USDA license.” According to inspection reports, Summers said, one of their breeders, Karen Schmidt from S C R Kennels in Hartville, MO., was cited for repeat violations in 2015 and denied inspectors access to the breeding facility twice. In 2013, the same breeder was cited for a strong odor of rodents’ feces and urine in the food storage area, and feces near and around food surfaces. She did pass an inspection in February, 2015. She has not been inspected since, she said.

“We get a lot of complaints from people who went there (Laughlin) and didn’t like what they saw,” Summers said. “Pups are pulled out of the basement, not in good condition. It is a facility we are concerned about. There seems to be a number of red flags. We often hear they won’t let people see where they keep them in the basement and people are concerned what it is like down there.”

Michael Cahill, director of the division of animal health at the DAR, said there is an “unwritten” policy not to license pet stores in homes any longer because inspectors have had trouble gaining access to some in the past. He said there are only a “handful” left in the state. As far as conditions go, Cahill said there is no limit to how many pups pet stores can keep in 1 cage, or for how long, as long as they have proper ventilation and lighting, and the cages are cleaned at least once a day. Also, he said there is no limit on the number of dogs a pet store can have; no staff-to-pup ratio; and no requirement that staff is on site 24-7. Moreover, pet stores are not required to ever take the pups out of the cages, even if they are not sold for weeks, he said. It is up to the veterinarian who works with the business to recommend if more exercise is required, he said. However, Cahill said he was not aware Laughlin staff was allegedly bringing breeding dogs from the kennels into the pet store in the basement to have their pups in whelping rooms. The kennel and pet store operations are supposed to be kept separate, he said. “You are hitting on a point I am not aware of — that there (allegedly) is whelping occurring in the shop,” he said.

Fink says every complaint made to the DAR was “investigated contemporaneously and found to be without merit.” “We sell about 30 pups a week,” he said. “We have 90 to 120 pups in house at any given time.” He added, “The cages are designed so that nothing can fall from one cage to one below, as is required by regulation.” “Our immunization protocols and all treatments are prescribed by our veterinarian and are administered by us,” he said. “This is not only legal; it is required. It is how our regulators, and anyone else who cares about the pups would want treatment to be done.”

Oxford Animal Control Officer Kelly Flynn said she has inspected the kennels and was allowed into the basement at Laughlin, but said she has never entered a whelping room because she did not want to disturb mothers giving birth.

Oxford Selectman John G. Saad said he was not aware the town has the authority to limit the number of dogs at a kennel. He said he thought the state took over permitting kennels. When Saad was told Fink said the business has 90 to 120 dogs at a time, Saad was shocked. “If the town has the ability to set limits on the number of animals it is incumbent on the town to do something about that,” he said. “If a facility right now is overcrowded to the point it affects the health and well-being of an animal, I agree (with those who oppose it) something should be done. The town has the responsibility to do it and we should do something. On the surface, it doesn’t sound like the way you would want an animal to be treated.”

Chloe Gotsis, spokeswoman for Attorney General Maura Healey, said her office has received 12 complaints against Laughlin Kennel since 2009, including 3 this year.

The complaints “generally regard allegations that it’s a puppymill and that there is inhumane treatment of animals,” Gotsis said.

In response to questions about ongoing complaints about his business, Fink said that all animals are healthy when sold and go home with a 14-day money-back guarantee. “Our record with the state Department of Agriculture is very good,” he said. “We are not a problem facility which can be verified for yourselves by contacting the Department of Agriculture Resources, Division of Animal Health,” he said.

He added, “To ensure the health of our pups, we do the following. New arrivals are quarantined for 48 hours. They are vet checked after that period and then every subsequent week until they go home. Any hint of illness disqualifies the pup from sale by us. At the time of sale, we examine the pup ourselves and request the purchaser to do so as well. Everyone must agree that the pup is healthy to all appearances, else we do not sell the pup.”

In 1 complaint, on file in the town’s Board of Health office, Christina K. Holman and her boyfriend Paul T. Arnold Jr., an attorney from Forestdale, who tried to buy a Boston terrier pup from Laughlin in 2013, said in a letter to the attorney general’s office that they were concerned about inhumane treatment of the pups at the facility. After putting a nonrefundable deposit down on a pup, the couple said they were told it had lost weight and were given inconsistent statements by staff at Laughlin. The couple said they were also told they could not see where the pups were kept, were not given a direct answer as to how the pup was weaned and were not provided the vet's name as requested.

“I also asked for the breeder’s name and was given the name of Brigete Rucker from Macon, Missouri,” the couple's letter said. “This raised tremendous red flags for us because we discovered online that pups transported from Macon, Missouri, to Massachusetts kennels, and Laughlin was one of them, the pups were treated in a very abusive manner (cramped, nonventilated quarters, undernourished, lying in their own and others’ waste, low weight, to name a few allegations.) Please find enclosed the article on animal cruelty charges involving Laughlin Kennels.”

The couple enclosed several photos, 4 r pages of negative reviews of the business and 2 news articles, including 1 about a Missouri man who was charged with animal cruelty after delivering pups to the Oxford business. Police said that 27 pups were crammed into small cages, surrounded by animal waste, filth and flies, in a locked box truck parked in front of the now-closed Elite Puppies on Main Street in Webster. It was reported that there appeared to be 5 pups in each cage and 1 was unresponsive. A manager at Laughlin Kennel said 9 pups from the same van were delivered there that night.

Elite Puppies closed earlier this year after a series of protests outside the business. Some Elite Puppies customers had made similar complaints as Laughlin customers that the Webster business was allegedly selling sick dogs. The DAR fined owner Jennifer L. Gardner $3,000 on November18th, 2014, for violations. It was the first administrative actions taken by the agency against Elite Puppies despite dozens of complaints about sick pups purchased there over 8 years.

Fink confirmed that Gardner now works for him at Laughlin. “When I hired Jen Gardner as my assistant, I immediately notified the Department of Agriculture. They were glad to hear that she had found employment. They gave me no warnings or cautions regarding her employment here,” Fink said. to read the full casefile about Jennifer Gardner & Elite Puppies click here

Reference:

Worcester Telegram & Gazette MetroWest Daily News