Heartbreaking undercover investigation reveals sick puppies at Lexington Avenue pet store in New York City

NEW YORK CITY (Dec. 8, 2021)—A heartbreaking undercover investigation by the Humane Society of the…

NEW YORK CITY (Dec. 8, 2021)—A heartbreaking undercover investigation by the Humane Society of the United States at American Kennels pet store in Manhattan revealed sick and dying puppies stored in the designated sick rooms and a basement, hidden from the public. Some of the ailing dogs were sold to customers who were not made aware the puppies were sick and sourced from cruel puppy mills. The investigator documented that at least one puppy died in the store. The store, which has been in business since 1954, claims on their website their tradition of “providing healthy and happy pets to clientele from around the world.”

The Humane Society of the United States turned over these shocking findings to the NYC Department of Consumer and Worker Protection. The agency—formerly called the Department of Consumer Affairs—worked on an earlier case based on a 2017 HSUS investigation that resulted in a record $4 million fine against the Chelsea Kennel Club in 2020.

The investigator went undercover for six weeks as a worker at the Lexington Avenue American Kennels store from October through early December 2021 and documented dozens of extremely sick dogs and at least one puppy who was not eating on her own. The dog died after being left in the store with only intermittent, inadequate care for about 24 hours between Thanksgiving morning and the next day. Prior, the investigator had repeatedly asked management to take the visibly sick toy goldendoodle puppy to a veterinarian, but the employees refused to do so. A coworker said that the dog had not been eating for days unless she was force-fed. At any given time, there were approximately 60 puppies in the store, with 12 to 20 of them hidden in sick rooms and the basement.

John Goodwin, senior director of the Stop Puppy Mills campaign at the Humane Society of the United States, said: “Our undercover investigations have repeatedly proven that pet stores like American Kennels get their dogs from puppy mills and are no place for fragile young puppies. These animals cannot receive the proper care they require in a retail store that has 50 or 60 puppies at a time, leaves them alone for long periods of time, and does not take them for urgent care when they are critically ill. How many times do we have to see puppies sick, suffering and dying in these shops? New York must join the five other states where laws have been passed to end the sale of puppies in pet stores.”

Kitty Block, president and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States, said: “The neglect, filth and lack of appropriate veterinary treatment that these frightened young puppies are forced to endure in this store is unacceptable. And these dogs were born into suffering: Puppy mills mass produce puppies to fill retail shelves as if the animals are nothing more than products. Responsible dog breeders do not sell their puppies to pet stores because they know the truth—puppies do not belong in an environment where profit is placed over animal welfare.”

Patrick Kwan, senior advisor on animal welfare for the NYC Mayor’s Office, said: “Bringing a pet home should not bring devastating heartaches and big, unexpected vet bills. The City of New York has no tolerance for puppy mills and will take action against pet stores for violations of our city’s laws to protect animals and consumers.” 

The investigation at American Kennels also found:

  • Up to 20 sick puppies at a time were hidden away in “sick rooms” in the back of the store or in the store’s cold basement rather than being immediately taken to a veterinarian for urgent care.
  • Some of the dogs were sick and suffering for weeks with symptoms suggesting infections, pneumonia, abscesses, diarrhea, parasites and more. They were often treated in the store with ad hoc remedies such as bulk medications that were not individually prescribed and being force-fed if they were too sick to eat on their own.
  • Many sick room cages were smeared with so much excessive feces that the puppies inside them had no clean place to stand.
  •  Pet store staff medicated sick dogs with drugs the store had on hand. In one case a fragile toy poodle weighed a little over 1 pound when she arrived and was not eating. Instead of rushing the dog to a veterinarian, an employee force-fed the puppy baby food and injected her with fluids. The puppy later developed an abscess where the worker injected the fluids. The dog was not promptly taken to a veterinary hospital for professional care. She was finally taken to a veterinarian only after she had suffered in the back room for weeks.
  • A shih tzu with obvious skin pustules and hair loss was kept in the sick room, and later the basement, for weeks without being taken to a veterinarian for a diagnosis and urgent care.
  • When the store’s sick rooms were full, some sick puppies were moved to the sales floor. The store then knowingly sold some of the sick puppies to unsuspecting families. Some families who purchased sick puppies later returned them to the store, where they were placed back in sick rooms instead of being taken to a veterinarian immediately. 
  • In apparent violation of New York City’s pet shop law, the store purchased puppies from at least three brokers (resellers) who hold B dealer licenses with the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
  • Some store staff refused to share information about the breeders of store puppies to potential customers who asked—another apparent violation of the city’s pet store law. 
  • Some large-breed puppies, such as a chow, Labrador retriever and a golden retriever, were kept in tiny cages meant for toy-sized dogs such as Yorkies, and the investigator never saw them taken from their cages for regular exercise.

The Humane Society of the United States linked American Kennels pet store to documented puppy mills in Kansas, Missouri and Nebraska and other states known for puppy mills—including at least three breeders who were previously listed in the HSUS Horrible Hundred reports on known, problem puppy mills.

The New York State legislature has twice considered legislation to end the sale of puppies in pet stores statewide. The Puppy Mill Pipeline Act, A.4283/S.1130, sponsored by Assemblymember Linda B. Rosenthal (D-Manhattan) and Senate Deputy Majority Leader Michael Gianaris (D-Queens), passed the New York Senate this year and next year will continue to be considered in the legislature. Similar bills ending the sale of puppies in retail stores have already passed in five other states (California, Maryland, Maine, Illinois and Washington) and more than 409 localities nationwide.

“This investigation demonstrates why it is imperative we pass my legislation to ban the retail sale of dogs, cats and rabbits. With so many good animals in need of rescue, there is no need for pet stores to sell animals supplied by abusive puppy mills,” said Senate Deputy Leader Michael Gianaris. “Our four-legged companions should be treated with respect, not like commodities.”

“The horrific conditions and treatment of animals at American Kennels revealed by the Humane Society of the United States’ investigation are shameful. It’s no secret that puppy mills breed cruelty, and by buying animals from pet stores, one is unwittingly supporting puppy mills. The vast majority of dogs, cats and rabbits sold in New York State pet stores come from factory-like mills and we have seen countless families duped into buying sick animals from these stores,” said Assemblymember Linda B. Rosenthal. “Over the years we have tried to regulate pet stores, but the industry continues to prioritize profits over the welfare of animals. The only way to finally shut down puppy mills is to end the puppy mill to pet store pipeline. I thank the Humane Society of the United States for its groundbreaking investigation, and look forward to working together to pass legislation banning the sale of dogs, cats and rabbits next session.”

The Humane Society of the United States urges anyone who has purchased a sick puppy from American Kennels or any other store in New York, to contact the New York State attorney general’s office. Buyers can also report a sick puppy to the HSUS and to their local humane law enforcement agencies.

Learn more about puppy mills.

INVESTIGATION VIDEO/PHOTOS

PRODUCED VIDEO

FULL INVESTIGATION REPORT