A Long Island pet store, with sites in Hicksville and Lynbrook, sold seriously ill puppies, many of whom died within weeks of purchase, while fabricating health certificates misrepresenting the animals' health, according to a lawsuit filed Thursday by state Attorney General Letitia James.
The lawsuit, filed in Nassau Supreme Court, argues that Shake A Paw sold dogs acquired at poorly maintained puppy mills, lied about their health and pedigree, and failed to provide refunds, in violation of the state's Pet Lemon Law.
"Imagine a family taking home one of these pets," James said at a news conference outside of the Hicksville shop Thursday. "Imagine a child falling in love with a puppy and then the anxiety as the puppy sickens. Multiple trips to the veterinarian, each with a hefty bill. Or worse that puppy dies just days or weeks after coming home, leaving a family heartbroken."
The suit, James said, seeks restitution for Shake A Paw’s "unfair and deceptive conduct" and civil penalties. The attorney general also filed a temporary restraining order to prevent the company from selling additional pets and freezing its accounts.
In a statement, Shake A Paw said the company does not purchase dogs from puppy mills and that on the "rare occasion" that an animal takes ill it provides refunds or replacement puppies.
"Shake A Paw is the attorney general’s target … because it owns and operates Long Island’s two largest and most successful pet stores," the statement read. "Shake A Paw has never knowingly sold a sick puppy, or knowingly misrepresented the pedigree, or breeder from whom the puppy was acquired."
A company attorney shared recent state inspection reports which found the shop was in compliance with laws and regulations.
In 2019, the Nassau SPCA seized nine sick puppies from a delivery truck outside Shake A Paw's Hicksville location, said Gary Rogers, the agency's executive director.
The attorney general's investigation found Shake A Paw knowingly sold puppies with serious illnesses or congenital defects, despite receiving health certifications signed off by the company's contracted veterinarians, oftentimes days before sale.
James' office said it obtained testimony from a veterinarian who worked with Shake A Paw, but ended the relationship because of concerns over the number of sick animals being sold.
Investigators analyzed 408 veterinary records and found that more than half of the puppies sold had breathing problems, coughs, upper respiratory infections or were infected with parasites. Almost 10% were diagnosed with pneumonia, the suit said.
Erin Laxton, 20, of Valley Stream, said she purchased Merlin, a 5-pound Chihuahua-dachshund mix from Shake A Paw's Lynbrook store last year. Merlin became ill immediately and died, likely of pneumonia, after just a month, she said.
"The month I had with Merlin was one of the happiest … because I finally had a little puppy filled with unconditional love," Laxton said. "But it was also one of the most stressful."
Matt Bershadker, president and chief executive of the ASPCA, said 500 dogs and puppies, living in "horrific conditions" at a USDA-licensed commercial breeding facility, were rescued last month. The puppy mill breeder, who was indicted by federal prosecutors, sold animals to Shake A Paw, he said.
"These animals are not seen as pets," Bershadker said. "They are not seen as animals born to give love and to receive love but as products to be produced and shipped at the lowest cost to the breeder and the highest cost to the animal."