A Vancouver Island couple who paid $1,800 for a nine-week-old puppy from a breeder in Langley, British Columbia, said the dog died four days after picking it up.
“It was a little ball of butter, so fluffy.” said Cam Meads, 34, of Deszi, the pup he and partner Gabrielle Grauer brought home.
“It almost fits in my hand.”
Now Meads and Grauer want breeder Roberta Henry to provide another puppy or return their money. They signed a contract with Henry, which states that if the puppy had a birth defect, the seller will replace the dog.
Henry says she sold the couple a healthy dog and doesn’t know why Deszi died.
In British Columbia, dog sales are generally handled by private contract. If a dog dies or buyers are dissatisfied, the only recourse is to the courts. The absence of licenses for breeders leaves a vacuum for consumers. Buying expensive cars or appliances usually comes with a warranty. This is not the case with expensive dogs.
Even with a contract, the onus is on buyers to prove the dog is defective.
Meads and Grauer say the experience left them with heavy breeder and vet bills. They say the industry should have a license and wonder if it’s worth going to court.
“I don’t really know how long I can keep fighting before I have to move on and forget about it,” Grauer, 34, said. “But I’m not ready to give up.”
It is difficult to estimate how many dog breeders operate in British Columbia because there is no registry. Animal experts – ranging from veterinarians to lawyers – say regulations are needed.
“There are people who raise animals not because they love animals but because they can make a lot of money with very little effort.” said Maple Ridge veterinarian Adrian Walton, adding that his comments did not directly refer to the case.
On December 22, Grauer and Meads picked up the Morkie – a cross between a Maltese and a Yorkshire Terrier – from Darling Dogs, Langley.
On the way back to Saanich, the dog started vomiting. The couple had been warned by the breeder that the puppies often suffer from motion sickness, so they were not alarmed.
On December 26, the puppy stopped eating and drinking. They took him to a veterinary hospital in Victoria where he was diagnosed as severely dehydrated. Within an hour, Deszi suffered a seizure, his heart stopped and he died.
“I was shocked,” Grauer said. “I burst into tears.”
In addition to the cost of the puppy, the couple had an $800 vet bill. They said they couldn’t afford to pay $500 for a necropsy. Accordingly, there is no conclusive cause of death.
The breeder says the first time she heard of a problem was when Grauer called the day Deszi died.
“I was devastated,” said Henry, who wonders why they didn’t see a doctor sooner. “Puppy is not eating or drinking. Call me. Call a vet.”
Henry said “out of compassion” she offered the couple a $400 refund but they refused.
Case of small claims
In February 2017, BC Liberals passed legislation to toughen animal cruelty regulations by establishing a licensing system for dog and cat breeders in the province.
The current NDP government has yet to implement the changes.
British Columbia Agriculture Minister Lana Popham, who oversees the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, said the government is consulting with stakeholders.
Animal rights lawyer Rebeka Breder said the couple could have a case in small claims court, saying it was unlikely the couple had done anything to harm the dog.
Breder says judges have evolved when it comes to deciding cases involving animals, recognizing them as a unique type of property.
But Breder doesn’t think tougher legislation would affect a contract between two parties.
“Really, it’s a contractual issue,” she said.
Dewdney Animal Hospital owner Adrian Walton reviewed Deszi’s medical report for CBC. He says the pup was dehydrated, hypoglycemic and showed signs of inflammation.
Walton said it’s impossible to determine what killed Deszi because there was no autopsy, but the hypoglycemia could indicate a congenital problem found in the small dogs, or he could have contracted a virus.
Meanwhile, Grauer and Meads say the dog’s death broke them.
“He just put the biggest smile on my face,” Meads said.
“We loved him so much already,” Grauer said.