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Sick puppies dog some online purchasers

Puppy-provider to the stars has some unhappy customers

By Greg Hunter and Pia Malbran

Tucker, a Shih Tzu, was bought online and had several health problems.



Jon Secada

PEMBROKE PINES, Florida (CNN) -- Actress Jennifer Love Hewitt, singer Jon Secada and the Osbournes, known for their hit MTV show, all have one thing in common: They bought dogs from the same place. But a CNN investigation finds the company that sold them their pets has many unhappy customers.

The Wizard of Claws, also know as Celebrity Kennels, is based in Pembroke Pines, Florida. The company is run by husband and wife team Jim and Gilda Anderson.

They've been in business about five years and offer what they describe as top-of-the-line teacup- and toy-size dogs on the Internet, for as much as $5,000 each. (Watch an investigation into the puppy business -- 7:42)

They advertise that their company is the nation's premier supplier of puppies to the stars and claim annual sales of up to $5 million. The company does not breed dogs, but sells them on the Internet and at its Florida location.

Jennifer Pura of California bought a Shih Tzu from the company in January of 2005.

The dog that Pura named Tucker cost $3,500. But Tucker immediately had several health problems. Vet records show Tucker had internal parasites, inflammatory bowel disease and daily seizures.

To treat Tucker, Pura had to fork out another $5,000 in vet bills over the next year. Pura says to make up for some of the costs the company sent her a second dog, a Yorkie named Romeo, free of charge.

But Romeo was even sicker and died within a month.

CNN made repeated requests to interview Jim Anderson. He agreed to a telephone interview in which he said: "There's no financial motives or gain from sending out sick dogs. Dogs get sick from shipping caused by stress." He estimated that only 8 percent of his company's 9,000 sales over the past five years have generated complaints.

The president of the Companion Animal Protection Society, Deborah Howard, suggests that instead of buying a dog on the Internet, deal directly with a reputable breeder.

"When you go to a reputable breeder, you're not going to find a lot of dogs that have kennel cough, that have giardia and coccidia [internal parasites]."

Howard claims many dogs sold online come from puppy mills, where dogs are bred in mass quantities and where conditions are often crowded and unsanitary. And, she says, there is very little oversight by any federal or local agency. The federal government licenses breeders but not pet stores.

Still, buying a dog on the Web is a growing trend. According to the trade organization American Pet Products Manufactures Association, 150,000 dogs are bought online annually.

CNN has learned Celebrity Kennel's Anderson is a convicted drug felon, and in 2003 he was slapped with six violations under the Animal Welfare Act. The violations included failing to provided proper vet care and selling animals less than 8 weeks of age, against Florida law.

The Florida attorney general has an open investigation and several dissatisfied customers have filed lawsuits against the company. A Web site started by a dissatisfied customer is called "stop-wizard-of-claws." Anderson is suing that customer for $4.4 million and wants the site shut down.

As for the celebrity customers, a spokesperson for Jennifer Love Hewitt told CNN the dog she received from Celebrity Kennels had several health issues that required costly vet care. The Osbournes, however, told CNN they had no problems with their dogs.

Singer Jon Secada and his wife Mari bought their first family dog, a Maltese named Sunshine, from Celebrity Kennels last August. The Secadas trusted they were in good hands because of the company's other famous customers.

But their $1,000 dog ended up having kennel cough for more than a month and a tooth problem that cost another $1,000 to fix. The Secadas were also told their dog came from a specialized breeder.

But CNN discovered that Celebrity Kennels actually bought their dog on an online auction. The Secadas say they'd never buy a dog from the company again.

Meanwhile, Tucker still has health problems. "Every time Tucker sneezes or is laying around too much. I'm constantly worried that something is wrong with him, which is not the way it's supposed to be," Pura said. "It's supposed to be fun and it's supposed to lighten up your life and instead it's made it sad and hard."

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