By McNelly Torres
South Florida Sun-Sentinel
Posted June 19, 2007
The U.S. Humane Society filed a class-action suit against Wizard of Claws on Monday, alleging the Pembroke Pines pet store, in violation of state laws, has defrauded customers by selling them sick animals with genetic diseases without full disclosure.
The suit filed in Broward County Circuit Court against the pet store and its owners, James and Gilda Anderson of Fort Lauderdale, alleges Wizard of Claws engages in unfair, deceptive and illegal trade practices. The suit charges that the store claims to sell animals from reputable breeders but the pets are in fact bred in "puppy mills,"commercial breeding facilities where they are kept in deplorable conditions, are poorly socialized and more prone to health problems.
James Anderson did not return calls from the South Florida Sun-Sentinel seeking comment.
Dozens of pets, which in many cases suffered from severe health problems and genetic defects, died shortly after they were brought to their new homes, according to the suit.
Plaintiffs include members of the Humane Society, in addition to 100 pet owners from throughout Florida and 13 other states who claim they spent hundreds or thousands of dollars on medical expenses.
Under state law, pet stores must reimburse consumers the costs of medical care for their pets if an animal dies or if a licensed vet finds it to be unfit because of illness, disease or parasites.
The suit is seeking unspecified damages for consumers who bought pets from the store.
"This case highlights a nationwide epidemic of greed and deception in the puppy mill industry," said Jonathan Lovvorn, chief attorney for the Humane Society. "Pet stores and dog dealers like Wizard of Claws reap huge profits by pushing sick and dying animals on the public every day."
Weil, Gotshal & Manges, a law firm with offices in Miami that worked closely with the Humane Society and its attorneys, spent months tracking down Wizard of Claws customers and documenting their experiences.
Lovvorn said the investigation found serious and systematic violations of Florida's animal and consumer protection laws surrounding the sale of
puppies with life-threatening genetic defects and highly contagious parasitic infections.
Investigators also found that Wizard of Claws refused to reimburse customers the purchase price of sick pets or veterinary treatments for them.
The lawsuit also lists several sites thought to be connected with or owned by Wizard of Claws that sell pets online, including www.puppiesforsalebynet.com, www.tiny-puppies.com, pomeranianpuppies.bygilda.com, www.puppyboutique.com, www.bygilda.com, www.nextdaydogs.com, www.nextdaypets.com and www.pets4you.com.
On its Web site, Wizard of Claws, at 9113 Taft St. in Pembroke Pines, advertises itself as one of the top dog boutiques in South Florida. The site, www.wizardofclaws.com, depicts pictures of puppies wearing dresses and pearls while sitting inside teacups.
Ed Webb, 61, a retired airman, found the Web site while shopping for a Christmas present for his wife, Linda.
"It seemed as a reputable place, so I had no reason to question that," Webb said.
On Dec. 6, 2006, Webb paid $1,075 for a Maltese, which the couple named Vanna. The dog got sick soon after, and a vet diagnosed the puppy with a liver defect and parasites. The pet's health continued to deteriorate, and the vet recommended euthanasia to spare it from further suffering. "My wife was devastated," Webb said, adding that Anderson refused to reimburse his money for the dog.
The Webbs signed on to the class-action suit after learning the pet store had been the subject of several lawsuits from unsatisfied customers and investigations by the state Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. "I thought shame on me for not doing a little more research," Webb said. "It looked like a healthy puppy, but appearances can be deceiving."
Last year, Florida's Office of the Attorney General filed a lawsuit against Wizard of Claws alleging the pet store defrauded customers in violation of the Florida Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act. The case is pending, said Sandi Copes, a spokeswoman for the Attorney General's Office.