Chain accused of selling dogs from puppy mills

Associated Press
Updated 2/17/2012 5:38 PM

A half-dozen puppy owners have filed a lawsuit alleging that the Chicago-area Happiness is Pets retail chain sells ailing, disease-prone puppies from squalid, overcrowded puppy mills.

Visibly sick, distressed puppies have been transported to Happiness Is Pets stores in crowded vans, packed into crates, covered in feces and urine, according to the lawsuit.


Stores duped customers, the lawsuit claims, by assuring them the animals came only from small, reputable breeders.

"In fact, the puppies at Happiness are often sick and come from some of the most despicable and horrendous puppy mills in the Midwest," the lawsuit says. "Plaintiffs were deceived into buying sick puppy-mill puppies."

The chain has sites in Arlington Heights, Downers Grove, Lombard and Naperville.

An observer at one puppy mill that allegedly supplied dogs to the stores saw what's described in the suit as "a burn pile of puppies."

Several messages left for Happiness is Pets owner Ronald Berning at different locations around Chicago on Friday were not returned. A message left at a residential telephone number for a Ronald Berning was also not returned.

The company's website says its stores sell only puppies -- more than 50 breeds, from beagles and Yorkie-poos to pugs and cockapoos. The website says the chain has been "providing the Chicago area with healthy, happy puppies for over 20 years."

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"We take pride in dealing exclusively with the best private breeders throughout the Midwest," the website says. "A full 50 percent of our business comes from satisfied customers and referrals."

But the lawsuit says the plaintiffs have suffered both emotionally and financially as they were forced to take their ill puppies for frequent veterinarian visits. They are seeking compensation for their losses and punitive damages.

Happiness Is Pets sought to conceal the poor condition of puppies, the lawsuit asserts, by having staff carefully groom and deworm them, and also by administering antibiotics that mask underlying ailments.

Plaintiff, Jane Clifford describes buying her puppy, Missy, two years ago from Happiness Is Pets for $798 -- only to discover once she got the dog home that it suffered from a urine infection, kennel cough and other illnesses.

"Had Clifford been aware that Missy was sick and came from a puppy mill, she would never have purchased Missy," says the lawsuit, which did not identify the dog's breed.

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