Originally created 03/27/04

Pet shop had other complaints



ATLANTA - The pet shop where an employee allegedly beat a sick dog to death had been the subject of other complaints, twice quarantined in the preceding months and repeatedly inspected by the state.

A review of files at the Department of Agriculture by The Augusta Chronicle showed that Wendt's Pets in Augusta Mall, which conducted business under the franchise Petland, was never fined or penalized but was cited twice for poor record keeping. The first time, owner Larry Wendt told the state inspector he had never been told what records needed keeping, but an inspector nine months later noted the same problem.

State files also show he twice failed to report the outbreak of a contagious virus within 24 hours as required by law, though he apparently received only verbal warnings each time.

The alleged dog killing has thrust the shop into the public spotlight and resulted in Mr. Wendt and two employees facing criminal animal-cruelty charges. That instance was the only one in which he faced any penalties from the department, and he agreed to pay a $5,000 fine, institute worker training, submit to more inspections and reapply for his animal-dealer license by Thursday.

As of Friday, the department hadn't received his new application, and Mr. Wendt didn't immediately return a phone call asking about it.

Petland stripped him of his franchise, and he can no longer do business with his animal supplier, Pine Springs Pets Inc., of Atoka, Okla.

It was a complaint from an employee, who subsequently quit, that led to the cruelty charges. But others had complained before that.

On Oct. 31, an anonymous caller reported suspicions that puppies at the store were infected with parvovirus, which attacks the intestines, white blood cells and sometimes the heart. Dogs infected with parvo can die within 48 hours of showing clinical signs of the virus.

A department inspector three days later was given a letter by Mr. Wendt from a veterinarian who wrote that he had euthanized the infected puppy. The inspector concluded the shop's staff had taken proper precautions to quarantine the puppy and sterilize conditions for the other animals.

"At present, all animals appear to be receiving humane care," inspector Kim O'Neill wrote.

But her report notes that she warned Mr. Wendt that he should have reported the infection to the state veterinarian.

A month later, Ms. O'Neill faxed her boss asking for advice because four cases of parvo had been traced to the same store. The department ordered the shop's first full quarantine of all dogs until the danger of spreading the disease passed.

Mr. Wendt again failed to report a parvo outbreak when a beagle puppy tested positive March 7, according to the files, even though he was in the agency's Atlanta office the next day for a hearing on the dog-killing allegation. The March outbreak resulted in a second quarantine.

The complaints were not all about parvo.

On Jan. 26, a caller complained that a "poodle puppy (was) accidentally dropped," said one handwritten note in the file. A typed note recorded the caller reporting a bad smell and dogs looking sickly.

The investigation into that complaint was closed after receiving a copy of a vet report showing the puppy has received emergency treatment and the inspector observed the dog as healthy. Again, the inspector said the shop appeared clean and well run and didn't have an odor.

The department has 14 positions for inspectors to oversee 3,500 licensed pet dealers across the state, and three of the positions were vacant at the time of the alleged dog killing.

Agriculture Commissioner Tommy Irvin said complaints against pet shops are frequent because they are so visible, but serious cases are rare.