On the cold morning of Monday, Dec. 10, Frances DuBrel made a stop at the Missouri Flat Road Wal-Mart on her way to a meeting. At the entrance, she encountered a Latina woman with her daughter. They were selling what DuBrel was led to believe were 8-week-old miniature poodles from a blanket-lined shopping cart. DuBrel would soon find out that not all was as it seemed.
“There were three puppies,” DuBrel recalled, noting that the woman said there had originally been six. “They were real teeny; they weren’t covered with the blanket.”
DuBrel and her boyfriend, Scotty, had been talking about getting another dog as a companion for their 5-year-old miniature pinscher, Marty. DuBrel began asking the woman questions, thinking this would be the perfect opportunity.
“I asked about shots, how old they were, if they were healthy,” she said. “All that kind of basic stuff.” The woman replied that they were 8 weeks old, they were eating solid food soaked in milk, they were purebred, but they did not have shots. She was selling them for $100. DuBrel picked up one of the dogs and found it was covered in urine. This, however, did not deter her.
“I went ahead and I purchased a dog. I brought it home, gave it a bath and it napped for an hour,” she said, noting she ended up skipping her meeting. While she initially believed she had picked out a female, her dog was, upon further inspection, a male. She nicknamed the dog JoJo. JoJo started to mouth DuBrel’s finger “and I realized JoJo has no teeth. That’s not good, he’s not 8 weeks old,” she said. “I immediately loaded the dogs into the car, around 2 p.m.” She called Animal Control, but they were unable to get an officer to the Wal-Mart in time, she said.
She took JoJo to Dr. Alton Raymond at the Placerville Animal Wellness Clinic. The veterinarian told her the dog was not 8 weeks old and was closer to three weeks, “too young to be away from the mother,” DuBrel said. At that young, DuBrel was told the dog could suffer from hypothermia, malnutrition and dehydration. Knowing this, and knowing there were two other dogs in the cart, with at least one of those sold, she gave a statement to Animal Control.
What the woman selling the dogs did could be illegal, said Henry Brzezinski of Animal Control, especially if she is a breeder. As defined by the Penal Code, a breeder is someone who has sold at least three litters or 20 dogs in the past year. Federal laws also deal with the wholesale setup, he said.
“We did an investigation after we received that complaint,” he said, referring to DuBrel’s call. “We take it quite seriously.” Going off information they had, they followed up on a lead. “We suspected a particular person and followed up,” he said, “but it was not that person. If we do find the person, we will take them into custody.”
Brzezinski also noted that 8 weeks was too young for a puppy to be sold. “It’s too young to take away from its mother,” he said, “for the health of the puppy.”
He noted some breeders “try to push (the puppies) out at six weeks, but they need immunities” that they get from the mother, “and from a socialization standpoint, they need interaction with the other puppies.” He said selling the dogs too early could lead to a “plethora of problems.”
The sale of the puppies in front of Wal-Mart could also be an infraction or misdemeanor, he said, as it is considered “roadside” selling. Under Health and Safety Code 597.4, it is illegal to “Display or offer for sale, or display or offer to give away as part of a commercial transaction, a live animal, if the act of selling or giving away the live animal is to occur on any street, highway, public right of way, parking lot, carnival, or boardwalk.” This is in addition to, he said, certain types of dogs requiring a permit to sell, as well as zoning issues for where the dog is being sold.
In all, with Christmas days away and the practice of giving children a new puppy under the tree, DuBrel simply wanted people to be aware that dogs have been sold underage. Double-check for any indicators that the dog may not be 8 weeks old, she warned, or unintended expenses — such as the costly vitamins and special food required for JoJo — could be incurred.