128 Federal Rd
Danbury, CT 06811
Date and time of CAPS investigation: 4/22/19; 15:04
Approximate number of puppies observed at time of investigation: 25
Puppies were in open-topped enclosures with solid floorings covered in shredded newspaper. Puppy enclosures had breeder information posted above their enclosures, with breeder/brokers names, towns, states, and zip codes, and USDA license numbers, but not street addresses. A consumer rights sign and sign offering breeder information on puppies was posted behind the clerk counter facing the entrance, and a USDA inspection report folder was set up at the corner of the clerk desk in plain sight. The reports, however, were in no discernible order. They weren’t arranged alphabetically or based upon breed and seemed to be put into the folder randomly.
I saw several puppies at the store that had signs of being sick, including two Bichons in pen number eight that had slight green mucus discharge from their nostrils, a Poochon in pen number nine that had a raspy cough, an Australian Shepherd in pen number 24 that had thick green mucus discharge from the nostrils, and an Italian Mastiff in an unnumbered pen adjacent to the Australian Shepherd (pen closer to the entrance of the store) that also had thick green mucus discharge from the nostrils.
I spoke to the store manager (Caucasian female, about 45 years old, 5’8”, 140 lbs., with long, curly black hair, who spoke with a thick New England accent) USDA inspection reports for Lesli Mecom, noted as a breeder of a particular puppy. I said I couldn’t find the reports in the folder, so she gathered paperwork for the breeder that showed Mecom’s name, USDA license number, a registry form and veterinary records for the puppy, but no USDA inspection reports. I then asked her if she knew about specific conditions of her breeders. She told me, “So I’ve actually visited a lot of the breeders. I go to Missouri, Kansas, Iowa.” She added, “So, I work with legislators. I’m actually from New York. I traveled here. The reason why they brought me to this store is just because I work with all these legislators, and I passed a lot of laws to prevent puppies from being bought from puppy mills. So, that’s why they gave me a lot of money to come here.” She claimed that legislators in Connecticut have “teamed up” with pet stores to prevent the stores from buying from puppy mills.
She claimed that stores in Connecticut can’t buy from breeders with direct violations, explaining, “A direct violation is, let’s just say if you go to a breeder’s home, and in their kennel, they have, their facility might have webs. Right. That is a direct violation. Now I can’t buy from you for two years.” She then explained indirect violations as, “An indirect violation is, they can have two or more indirect violations. That now becomes one. But, how it is that, an indirect violation is if there’s flies flying around the outside of the kennel. I have flies flying around the outside of my house. But if they have flies flying around the outside of the kennel that’s an indirect violation. If they get that twice that now becomes a direct violation. “’
I asked her if the breeders keep their dogs in cages. She then showed me pictures on her phone of the store’s breeders, showing dog runs on tiled floors and dogs playing in grassy fields. She said, “These are lot of the breeders’ homes, in different states. This is what their kennels look like. And the crazy thing about it is, the reason they have tile floors is just because it’s easier to clean. Now they all have a doorway, each of those doorways, that way they can go out in a field.” I asked her to clarify if that was all of the stores’ breeders, and she said, “All of them, yep.” I asked, “So you’ve been to all your breeders?” She responded, “Yes.” I asked, “And all of them are like this?” She responded, “All of them are like this, correct. This is a small breeder, and this is all the puppies, and they have a play area.” She made the statement while showing me pictures of puppies playing in a grassy yard.
I then asked her, “Do you know if they breed them for years and years and years, or if they retire them at a certain age?” She said, “No, so what happens is, what they do, is they breed them until they’re six. Then they retire them and they put them up for adoption.” She then claimed, “And sometimes they’ll call me, and they’ll say, ‘Hey, I got a dog, she’s six years old, do you know of anybody? I’ll start making phone calls. Family, somebody you know that is looking to adopt an older puppy.”
An employee (Caucasian female, about 40 years old, 5’6”, 185 lbs., with shoulder-length blonde hair) told me that puppies are delivered to the store by Choice Puppies.
I called the Connecticut Department of Agriculture on 4/22/19 to notify them about the sick puppies. On 4/24/19, Officer Gregan called me to say that he was responding to the incident. Gregan called me on 4/25/19 to notify me that the Mastiff was still in a pen for sale when he arrived on 4/24/19, and that he fined the store for having the sick puppy for sale.
Evidence of false statements and misrepresentations of breeders by store:
The manager’s claim that a direct violation includes webs in a kennel is false. Direct violations relate to things that directly impact dogs’ healthy, such as veterinary care and handling violations. Her claim that indirect violations mean flies on the outside of a kennel building is false. Indirect violations include numerous things, including webs in a kennel. Her claim that two indirect violations make a direct violation is false. The USDA has no such policy for violations.
The manager’s claim that all of the store’s breeders have indoor tiled dog runs and outdoor play areas is false. A USDA inspection on 9/11/13 revealed that the store’s breeder Timothy Wittmer (32-A-0455) has dogs in concrete runs and puppies in cages with wire floorings. https://nopetstorepuppies.com/dog-breeder/wittmer-timothy-0
The following were obtained from breeder cards posted on puppy enclosures:
Breeder / Broker
- AJ’s Angels, Cushing, MN, 41-A-0484 / Choice Puppies, Goodman, MO, 43-B-0123
Clearwater Kennels, owned by Wanda Kretzman (formerly McDuffee; she owned Happy Tails with then husband, Gary, which CAPS investigated in 2005; USDA fined them $7,000 shortly thereafter) was the largest dog breeding kennel in Minnesota, housing over 1,200 dogs and puppies. Kretzman agreed to pay a fine of $25,000 and to drop her license, which she did on March 9, 2016. The same day, USDA granted a license to AJ’s Angels to operate the kennel on the same property. Angie McDuffee is the daughter-in-law of Wanda Kretzman.
- Lesli Mecom, Keota, OK 74941, 73-A-2777 / Choice Puppies
- Albert Troyer, Clark, MO 65243, 43-A-6158 / Choice Puppies
- Timothy Wittmer, Montgomery, IN, 32-A-0455 / Choice Puppies
- Suzi Livengood, Dixon, MO 65459, 43-A-4659 / Choice Puppies
The following was obtained from a USDA inspection report in the store:
- Albert J Troyer, 374 Audrain Rd, Clark, MO 65243, 43-A-6158 / Choice Puppies
Choice Puppies, Goodman, MO
The Hunte Corporation (now doing business under the name Choice Puppies), is a broker (USDA “B” license) in Goodman, MO. Before Andrew Hunte passed away and his wife sold the company to new owners, Hunte was the largest broker in the country, shipping as many as 2,000 puppies a week to pet shops. A CAPS investigator worked undercover at Hunte for six months in 2004. They use numerous breeders in the Midwest, some of whom CAPS investigated. Booking agents, some of whom work directly for Hunte and others who are small brokers, work directly with the breeders to “book” the puppies. The booking agents transport the puppies from around the Midwest to Hunte.
Undercover at Hunte – An Expose of America’s Largest Supplier of Pet Shop Puppies
From Puppy Mill to Pet Shop – What the Hunte Corporation Doesn’t Want You to Know
Below is information on Pet Connect from our report, A CAPS Investigation of California Pet Shops 2019. In the first quarter of 2019, CAPS investigated 19 pet shops that were still selling puppies after the 1/1/19 enactment of The Pet Rescue and Adoption Act, which bans the retail sale of dogs, cats, and rabbits. Sixteen (13 currently) of these pet shops were using two fraudulent rescues that obtain puppies from two USDA-licensed dog brokers, including Pet Connect in Joplin, MO. The 8 to 16 week old purebred and designer puppies in these pet shops sell for $1,000 to $6,500. Financing plans are available and warranties can be purchased.
A CAPS Investigation: California Pet Shops Selling Fake Rescue Dogs
Pet Connect, incorporated on 1/26/18, is registered with the Missouri Secretary of State under Alysia Rothman. On the board is Mrs. Rothman, her husband Ray, and one other person. Ray and Alysia live in a small home in Neosho, which would not be a good site for a true rescue. He is a sales manager for The Hunte Corp. Hunte was the largest dog brokerage facility in the country for many years. The Rothmans also own Puppy Kisses in Danbury, CT under Rothman Enterprises. They filed articles of organization with the Missouri Secretary of State for Puppy Kisses on 11/24/15.
The Joplin address is a PO box. We suspect that the puppies are coming from Hunte Corp, where we worked undercover for six months in 2004. After Andrew Hunte died four years ago, his wife sold it. The facility is still at the same location in Goodman, MO, has the same USDA broker number of 43B-0123 and ships probably around 1,000 puppies a week to pet shops. The company is still 100 percent owned by Hunte but doing business under the name of Choice Puppies per Missouri Secretary of State documents.
Ray Rothman filed articles of organization with the Missouri Secretary of State for RC Transporters, LLC on 10/5/16 and RAK Transport, LLC on 4/12/18. We suspect that the RAK Transport is transporting puppies to California pet shops. The purpose listed for RAK Transport is “broker transport of cargo.” CAPS is turning over evidence to the Missouri Attorney General and requesting an investigation of Pet Connect.
Pet Connect, per the law, has a cooperative agreement with Mountain Haven Animal Rescue in Accord, NY. This appears to be a legitimate rescue. Their Facebook page, however, has October 2018 photos of “rescued” purebred and designer puppies. CAPS has August 2018 Certificates of Veterinary Inspection (CVIs) showing that Mountain Haven received young puppies from Pinnacle Pets, a broker in Neosho, MO. New York is no longer posting CVIs, so we don’t have them for the batch of puppies that arrived at Mountain Haven in October. Dr. Bill Oxford, the veterinarian who signed the August CVIs, was a veterinarian for The Hunte Corp.