Who, age What Where When Last Known Address
Jennifer Gardner(1) selling sick pups

Webster, MA

Worcester County

July 7, 2009  
Elite Puppies(2) selling sick pups

Webster, MA

Worcester County

July 7, 2009  
Andrea Moolenbeek, DVM(3) selling sick pups

Webster, MA

Worcester County

July 7, 2009  
Type of Crime Other Crimes #/Type of animal(s) involved Case Status Next Court Date /Courthouse
    600+ pups

(1)Fined by the MA Department of Agricultural Resources

(2)Store closedas of July 2015

(3)found negligent


A Missouri man who delivers animals to pet stores was arraigned 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 puppies 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 Elite Puppies a Main Street pet store Wednesday afternoon.

Before his arrest, Clayton had just delivered 10 pups to Jennifer Gardner& Elite Puppies, 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. To read the Clayton casefile click here

The owner of Elite Puppies, Jennifer Gardner, said the store does not bear responsibility for the condition of the dogs delivered by Clayton. She said the incident has led to death threats against her. Gardner said the pups in her store were healthy, and she had no problems with the pups delivered by Clayton. Elite Puppies is a family-run business that deals with private breeders, according to the company's Web site.

Photo courtesy of Rich Dugas/The Worcester Telegraph and Gazette

"My pups are fine," Gardner said. She has owned the store for 3 years. She said she has not had problems with the delivery driver, and the pups came with water. "None of my dogs were sick."

Gardner declined a request to have photos taken of the pups delivered Wednesday. Board of Health officials inspected the store, and officials from the state Department of Agriculture also investigated, according to authorities.

The pups are primarily designer and toy breeds and there was 1 Weimaraner. Most of the pups appeared to be about 5 weeks old, according to police.

Update 9/18/09:
Two out-of-state customers say they didn't know about a Webster pet store's widely reported shipment of sick incoming dogs in July.

They wish they had heard about it. The customers, from Connecticut and Rhode Island, say they bought sick dogs in recent weeks at Elite Puppies & Grooming. The pups came down with pneumonia and needed to be put in oxygen chambers. The customers found each other via the Internet and came forward this week. Their 3-month-old boxer pups are brothers.

Timothy E. Blais of Norwalk, CT, said he and his fiancee bought Brutus on September 7th at Elite Puppies. They couldn't resist its cuteness. "An impulse buy," Blais called it. On September 11th the puppy was at the veterinary center, where it remained until last night. Blais said the final bill was more than $8,000, but an official at VCA Veterinary Referral and Emergency Center in Norwalk, citing policy, would not confirm information about the pet. "I kicked myself for having not done my research on the front end about the pet store. On the other hand, if I had, this dog would be dead anyways," Blais said.

Debbie Costa and her boyfriend, Mark San Souci, of Warwick, RI, bought Ziggy on August 27th. He got sick September 3rd and has amassed more than $7,000 in bills at Ocean State Veterinary Specialists. An official at that facility confirmed the amount yesterday.

Elite Puppies, 172 Main St., faced scrutiny July 8 after Webster police intercepted a shipment outside the store. Puppy Ship LLC of Missouri delivered the sick dogs, and its driver was charged in Dudley District Court with animal cruelty. Store owner Jennifer Gardner said Wednesday she no longer uses Puppy Ship and defended her business's policies on ailing dogs.

Blais' dog, Brutus, came to Elite Puppies from Missouri last month, so Brutus was not on the Puppy Ship truck. "The dogs from the truck in July had the same symptoms and diseases as my dog, who was delivered in August," Blais said. "Obviously, the breeder is delivering sick dogs and the pet store is continuing to sell them."

Blais, a 27-year-old financial analyst, said yesterday was Brutus' first day off oxygen, and he will be on antibiotics for the next 3 to 8 weeks. depending on response. He still needs another set of X-rays in a few weeks to get a better picture of what was in his lungs, Blais said.

Elite Puppies wanted Blais to return the dog so it could tend to his medical needs. The store offered a refund. "First of all, I would never let those people touch my dog again," Blais said earlier this week. "Second of all, he wouldn't live long enough for me to cart him (more than 2 hours) to Webster. He'll die without the oxygen."

Costa, a 28-year-old who works in manufacturing, said her vet "wouldn't allow the dog to leave the hospital" unless travel arrangements with oxygen were made to return it to the Webster store. "It was definitely sick by the time we purchased him," she said. "There's no way. They were both sick and they both went to different homes in different states with the same condition."

The store policy will provide a substitute dog or full refund within 14 calendar days of the sale to customers who have had the dog examined by a licensed veterinarian who determines the dog is diseased or has a congenital disorder. Customers must bring back the dog and proof of sale within 2 business days of the examination, the policy says.

The store also provides a 1-year warranty on a congenital defect so serious that the customer's and store's veterinarians agree the condition "disqualifies" the puppy as a pet.

Gardner said Costa telephoned the store a few days after the sale and said a veterinarian had given Ziggy a clean bill of health. The store owner was also angered by Blais' suggestion Elite Puppies would have Brutus put down. "It was never mentioned, nor would we ever do that," she continued. "He's spreading that all over the Internet. It's a complete lie."

Blais said he and his fiancee found Costa and others who had had bad experiences with the store on the Internet. Blais said he was considering bringing a class action lawsuit and would contact People for Ethical Treatment of Animals and the Massachusetts Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

About the perception her store has sold dogs from puppymills, with Missouri known for that dubious distinction, Gardner said, "I've answered that question 1,000 times. I use USDA-licensed breeders." Elite Puppies has been in business 3 years and has many satisfied customers, the owner said. She declined to provide information about weekly or monthly sales.

About criticism on the Internet, Gardner said, "Everybody has a right to their opinion, absolutely. When they're writing and posting stuff that's not true, there's a legal issue at hand."

Gardner says her staff is up front about the July delivery incident. Blais said his father asked about it and was told the store had no involvement. Gardner says no one in the Blais family group asked. Blais said Gardner wasn't in the store at the time. "Do you honestly think I would have bought the dog knowing that they were the store?" Blais said.

Less than a week after Blais bought his dog, his father, David A. Blais, of nearby Woodstock, visited the store to inquire about a discount for his son, or at least help paying veterinary bills. Gardner claims the elder Blais was hostile, "screaming in our 19-year-old girl's face. ... We had to call the police on him.", Blais denied being confrontational. He said he wanted to speak face-to-face with the store's owner, who was not there. ,He waited outside for police, he said, but they never arrived. He later talked by phone with a police sergeant and they had a cordial exchange, Blais and the sergeant said this week.

The younger Blais says he's "gonna make a stink and somebody is going to hear it. I just don't want these people to continue to sell sick dogs." The store has a B+ rating from the Better Business Bureau, but Blais says, "How can that be? This place is terrible."

Update 9/18/09:
Two days after she bought her Maltese puppy, Yoda, Samantha Lyons knew something was wrong. "He had stopped eating completely, he couldn't walk on his own," said Lyons, 21, of Stoughton. Yoda also had a severe cough. Lyons said she rushed the puppy to a veterinary emergency room in Walpole, where veterinarians admitted Yoda, and placed the dog in isolation.

The 2-month-old puppy, which had been imported to Massachusetts from a breeder in Iowa, had a severe case of pneumonia, Lyons said. Lyons said she incurred $2,500 in veterinary bills - on top of the $1,000 she had spent to purchase the dog from Elite Puppies & Grooming in Webster. "They pretty much told me it was my problem," Lyons said, citing a contract she signed that stated the pet store "will not pay for any medical bills at all, no exceptions."

Yoda Photo courtesy of Emily J. Reynolds/The Enterprise

The case highlights why consumers should be cautious when looking for a new pet, said Amanda Kennedy, director of the MSPCA animal care and adoption center in Boston. "You definitely want to do your research about where you are getting that animal," Kennedy said. Lyons said the store gave her the option to return the puppy and get her money back - but Lyons said she had already spent her dollars on the veterinary costs. She chose to keep Yoda.

Jennifer Gardner, owner of Elite Puppies & Grooming in Webster, said she offered to have Lyons return Yoda to the store, where they would refund her money and the puppy could receive medical treatment at their facility. Then, "when and if" the dog was fit for sale again, "we would sell it back to her," she said. "If there is a health issue, we encourage (customers) to bring the animal back. I don't want to see anybody spend that much money out of their pocket," Gardner said. Lyons said Gardner "never once said anything about reselling the dog to me when it was healthy."

In cautioning consumers generally, Kennedy told how this year the MSPCA quarantined 20 pups that were sickened with canine parvovirus, a highly contagious disease. The dogs, which had been imported into Massachusetts from breeders in other states, received treatment at the MSPCA and were later put up for adoption, she said. "They were shipped on trucks for days at a time," Kennedy said.

Gardner, the pet store owner, said she cares for pups that become ill. "Animals unfortunately do get illnesses and we treat them," Gardner said. "People do bring the dogs back, we refund them and then we treat the animal. Then, people are welcome to repurchase the puppy."

Lyons, the dog's owner, contacted the state Department of Agriculture, which sent representatives to Gardner's business. "They came down and inspected and there's no issues," Gardner said. Lyons said she also will contact the Better Business Bureau and the state Attorney General's office. "I'm just doing it on principle. I don't want other people to get a sick dog," she said. Meanwhile, Yoda is doing well at her Stoughton home, Lyons said.

Kennedy, of the MSPCA, encouraged people to adopt pets from local shelters instead of buying a pet from a breeder or pet store. Oftentimes, purebred pups are purchased at a pet store and then surrendered months later at a shelter by its owner, who cannot care for it, Kennedy said. "There are a number of rescue organizations and shelters across the state that are filled with dogs looking for a home," she said.

Update 12/7/14:
After years of complaints and hundreds of documents filed at the state's Department of Agricultural Resources about pups purchased from Elite Puppies who were allegedly sick, or became ill shortly after bringing them home, the state has fined the business. It is the first administrative action taken against Elite Puppies' owner Jennifer L. Gardner by the DAR.

There were more than 600 pages of DAR records on Elite Puppies, from 2011 to 2014. Numerous customers complained about pups they purchased that were sick or became ill shortly after bringing them home. The health issues included ear mites, ear infections, giardia, nasal discharge, pneumonia, kennel cough, parasites, vomiting, diarrhea, parvovirus, roundworms, coccidian, lethargy, congenital defects and hypoglycemia. There were 67 complaints received by the DAR about Elite Puppies from 2007 to 2014 – the most of any pet store, according to the DAR, but the business sells more pups than most, officials said.

DAR only keeps records on pet stores for the current year and 3 previous years, so there are no records from when the pet store first opened to date, a DAR spokesperson said. The DAR said $2,000 in fines imposed on November 18th were the first administrative actions taken by the agency against Elite Puppies despite dozens of complaints over 8 years.

From May to August the agency received 3 complaints of pups allegedly purchased with illnesses. On June 16th, the DAR sent a letter to the Main Street business advising it not to ignore symptoms of potential disease. The agency also discovered that the business has no record of where one puppy it sold was born. DAR fined Gardner $500 per dog, for offering 3 pups with “obvious signs of an infectious disease''; and $500 for failing to maintain a record for the location of birth for a Great Pyrenees puppy.

Gardner denies the state's claims and said she has never knowingly sold a sick puppy. She said she is appealing the action. The notice to Gardner says she violated the law when she allegedly sold a 15-week-old border collie on April 25th with a gagging cough that was diagnosed as kennel cough shortly after purchase; sold an Aussie-Husky mix on May 6th with nasal discharge; and sold a Great Pyrenees puppy on July 4th that was coughing when purchased and was diagnosed with fleas, diarrhea and moist cough shortly after purchase.

Additionally, the notice says Gardner violated the law because she had no record of where the Great Pyrenees puppy was born and had the wrong name of the breeder on documents. However, Gardner said Linda Baker of Okie Pets Online in Ketchum, OK, where she got the dog, took full responsibility for the paperwork error. Baker's employee, Kim Parsons, listed herself as the breeder incorrectly, Gardner said, because she is not familiar with the form. According to documents from the DAR, however, Parsons is a broker who has been investigated before.

In the review of the piles of documents about Elite Puppies, 3 of the pups that customers complained about had died, records showed. Customers also reported poor conditions at Elite Puppies, and 1 customer said he was told the puppy he purchased was sick because it was “trampled by other pups.'' Another customer said his puppy had blood coming from its rectum and later passed a wood chip and sneezed out another.

In the complaints, customers allege that the veterinarian Elite Puppies uses, Dr. Andrea Moolenbeek at the Natick Animal Clinic in Natick, was negligent and failed to note several obvious defects. In one case, another veterinarian re-examined a puppy with 2 congenital defects allegedly missed by the Elite Puppies' vet.

Dr. Christine Monroe of Framingham Animal Hospital, said that, “It sounds like she (Dr. Moolenbeek) didn't do a thorough enough exam to be able to tell,'' DAR documents said. Dr. Moolenbeek held the puppy up in the air, but did not stand the puppy on a table to watch it walk, so she did not observe the “abnormal stance or hypertension of the carpi and therefore can't say if it was present at the time of her exam,'' Dr. Monroe said. Dr. Moolenbeek, however, said she spoke with Dr. Monroe and the puppy's owner at the time and denies missing the congenital defect. She said there has been no follow-up regarding the allegation by the DAR.

Additionally, Dr. Moolenbeek said she spends 1 to 2 hours every week at Elite Puppies thoroughly examining every dog. Medical status of an animal can change quickly, she says. “If they don't show signs while I am there I don't see them,'' she said. “A person can feel well in the morning and feel sick in the afternoon. It's so variable. How many times does the school call about a sick child that was fine that morning? Jen is excellent about detecting symptoms and isolating a pup if she feels it is not well. There is absolutely no benefit to her at all to sell a sick dog.''

The complaints say when customers called Elite Puppies requesting reimbursement for veterinarian bills, Gardner was furious. Instead of offering customers refunds, they said, she would try to give them replacement pups they did not want.

Gardner said she requires customers with pups who become ill to return them so Dr. Moolenbeek can try to treat them at her cost and gives them the option of buying the pup back. She is not required by law to pay for outside vet bills, she said, and does offer a 14-day warranty. She refunds customers who return pups with a veterinarian's note in certain situations, she said. If customers do not have a vet's note for a clearly sick puppy or it is outside the 14-day period, there is no recourse, according to Gardner's customer contract.

In an email to his colleagues at the DAR regarding a female Pomeranian purchased from Elite Puppies on February 17th, 2012 that had hypoglycemia, Michael Cahill, director of the Division of Animal Health, wrote, “Jennifer's conclusion was to send the dying dog back out the door in any case when a purchaser has shown up without a written statement from a vet. She has informed me that she will do that with police assistance if necessary.''

The state enforcement action against the puppy store is too little, too late for Patrick J. O'Brien and his family. O'Brien, a financial advisor from Woodstock, CT, lives just 5 miles from Elite Puppies and drove his 3 sons ages 3, 7 and 8 to Elite Puppies to pick out a new puppy on October 5th around 1 p.m. while his wife Erica J. O'Brien, an optician, was at a conference.

He and the boys narrowed the pups they liked down to two French bulldogs and a Boston Terrier and drove home. When Erica O'Brien came home around 3 p.m., they decided to go back to Elite Puppies to look again, and drove home around 4:30 p.m. with a female Boston Terrier they named Zoey that they purchased for $1,300. By 7 a.m. the next morning, Zoey was dead. “The puppy was passive at the pet store and sat on the floor shaking, but we just thought she was a little nervous,'' O'Brien said. “When we got her home, she just sat on the floor in the kitchen and didn't move too much, and didn't drink or eat.'' Zoey had diarrhea and would just lay in family members' laps that evening, he said. O'Brien woke up twice that night to take Zoey outside, he said, before laying her in her dog bed in the living room before leaving for work. When she returned home, Zoey was in the same position on her dog bed O'Brien had left her in, he said.

“My 8-year-old told my wife, 'I don't think she's alive,''' he said. “My wife realized she had died. I was on my way to work in Hartford, and she called me in shock.'' He called Gardner, he said. “Her reaction was, 'Did one of your kids step on the dog?''' O'Brien said. “That was the first thing she said. Not, 'I'm sorry.' I said no and that I didn't know why it stopped breathing and asked her if I should take Zoey back to the store or to a vet or dig a hole in the backyard. She told me to bring her to a vet and get a written statement of what she died of. She said, 'I think it died from internal injuries from someone stepping on the dog.' That is not a reaction you would expect from someone you think is a compassionate person selling a living thing.''

Cynthia Smith, a veterinarian at Putnam Animal Hospital, examined Zoey at 8 a.m. and immediately said she was confident she died from the parvovirus, he said. Test results received the next day confirmed it, DAR documents said. “It is highly contagious and a death sentence to other animals that come into exposure to it,'' he said. “We were concerned about other animals that came into contact with her. We called the vet who checked the puppy out 2 days before we bought the dog. How could she approve a dog for sale 2 days prior, not noticing the symptoms of the virus that killed it? She said the dog seemed fine and there was nothing noticeable. She said a lot of these dogs come from puppymills and go through a lot of trauma in transport to the retail store.''

Gardner offered them a replacement dog, but O'Brien said the family didn't want another potentially sick dog from the store. He said he called the Webster's animal control officer, who told them she was aware of previous issues with Elite Puppies. The officer said she was concerned about the spread of parvo, he said, and advised him to call the DAR to report that the puppy tested positive. When he told the DAR Gardner did not offer him a refund, he was told she is required by law to provide a refund within 14 days, he said. “She (Gardner) doesn't care,'' O'Brien said. “She doesn't want to refund in a short time. The bigger picture is, it could happen again to someone else. This business has zero compassion for the animals it is selling. It is like selling toasters to them.'' He said his sons no longer want a puppy.

Cooper O'Brien, age 3, of Woodstock, CT, snuggles with Boston Terrier pup Zoey. The pup died 12 hours later. submitted photo

Gardner said she felt horrible about what happened to the O'Brien's. She said she only buys from reputable licensed breeders, not from puppymills. Most of the pups listed on the complaints to the DAR were transported by truck from breeders in Missouri.

Gardner maintains she only sells healthy pups and also offers a warranty, though she is not required to. She said there is a group of people targeting her business who don't like to see any pups sold at pet stores. “You don't stay in business 8 years and not sell healthy pups,'' she said. “People keep saying there is an abundance of homeless dogs in the Northeast, but why are shelters and rescues bringing them up from the South and Puerto Rico? I feel it is the same. Some of the shelters are basically a pet store, but I have more regulations on me. The breeders I work with also work with shelters and rescues. It is better I take them and offer a warranty. I have to have my dogs checked every 7 days. If they are from out of state, the pups only have to be checked once at the shelters after they are quarantined and that is it.''

Robert A. Halpin, spokesman for the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, said the vast majority of pet stores are obtaining dogs from puppymills. It is the mission of animal protection groups to focus on reducing the homeless pet populations by spaying and neutering homeless animals and placing them into homes, he said. Massachusetts has stricter animal protection laws, he said, so it is cheaper for pet stores from the area to buy from out-of-state breeders. The pups are separated from their mothers at a very young age, put in a van and driven to Massachusetts, he said, which is traumatic and takes a toll on the pups.

“People need to know when they go into a pet store, the owner is not there to protect the welfare of the animal,'' he said. “The owner is there to wring out every possible penny in profit. The source is usually unregulated, unlicensed, shady breeding operations, otherwise known as puppymills.'' He said the fact Gardner did not have the correct breeder listed on paperwork calls her credibility into doubt. “These dogs would never be brought into existence if she was not selling them in her store,'' he said. “I have sympathy for the people who experience problems when they buy a dog from a pet store, but this is what happens when a dog's value is measured by how much profit they can bring in. People need to know when they go to pet a store, they are enriching the owner at the expense of the animals.''

Update 7/15/15:
A pet store in Webster, MA. has closed its doors after allegations it was selling sick pups to customers. Elite Puppies, located on Main Street, now sits empty, undoubtedly bringing cheers to those who protested endlessly to shut the store down.

The owner, Jennifer Gardner, is still allegedly selling the sick pups from the store, however. Two neighbors of Gardner's allege she is now selling the pups out of her home. One neighbor, who wanted to remain anonymous, said she has witnessed box trucks pull up with barking pups and make a delivery to Gardner's home. Another neighbor, Elaine O'Donoghue, has called animal control on Gardner for pups being left outside without food, water or shelter.

Neighbors say Gardner is selling pups out of her home

Gardner has been verbally abusive to anyone who confronts her. She has failed to show for court appearances and has several civil warrants against her. Gardner has filed lawsuits against those complaining about her or her business practices. She has even retained a court order against Webster Animal Control Officer Michelle LaFleche, who can no longer enter Gardner's property to check on the welfare of the animals there.

Numerous complaints of sick pups sold from Elite Puppies have been filed over the years with the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources – 67 complaints in just 7 years. The pet store was cited for several violations and Gardner was fined thousands of dollars. In the last 5 years, 8 suits were filed with the court against Gardner for allegations of selling sick or dying pups.

Because of loopholes in the law, it can be difficult to win a lawsuit regarding sick pups being sold from a pet store. It is equally difficult to charge an individual for being a “backyard breeder.” State regulations allow Gardner to sell pups out of her home if the breeding dogs are her pets. Only if there is a complaint about her buying new dogs, and there is proof, can the DAR look into it.

So while many are cheering the closing of Elite Puppies, many fear for the lives of the pups still being sold by Gardner.

After Elite Puppies closed Gardner went to work for Laughlin Kennel. To read the Laughlin Kennel casefile click here

“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,” said Robert Fink, owner of Laughlin Kennel in Oxford, MA.


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