Warning about buying puppies online

Published: May. 15, 2012 at 3:42 AM EDT|Updated: May. 20, 2012 at 3:42 AM EDT
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Some people spend thousands of dollars on purebred puppies bought over the internet — only to cough up even more after getting a sick dog from what may have been an unlicensed puppy mill.

One woman said not only was the puppy she found on Craigslist ill, but wasn't even the kind of dog advertised.

More people now are complaining to the Humane Society of the United States about puppies they've bought online that were either sick or not what they paid for. One Dinwiddie woman experienced both.

Miley came into Angie Cole's life two years ago under strange circumstances. She wanted a small dog for her son Drake.

A Craigslist ad for puggle puppies caught her eye.

"Drake saved up his money for his birthday and Christmas and we said okay."

Cole said she thought the woman behind the ad was doing her a favor by meeting in a restaurant parking lot with three pups to choose from. She handed over $250 for Miley.

"I met Miley, she was so adorable we bought her and brought her home and took her to the vet and the vet laughed at us when I told her it was a puggle."

It's believed Miley is a Lab-Shar Pei mix.

When Cole questioned the woman behind the ad, Cole said she was emailed pictures of a beagle and a pug — Miley's supposed mom and dad.

"She gave me papers that said she was registered, and when I showed the vet they just laughed at them — they're fraudulent."

Cole spent another $800 on unexpected vet bills.

"Within two months she had a virus that resembled parvo but it wasn't multiple ear infections and mange."

Humane Society's Laura Donahue warns against buying dogs online, but said if you're going to — see for yourself the condition the breeding mother is in and get your hands on vet records.

Donahue showed NBC12 undercover video of an unlicensed puppy mill in Virginia.

"The mother dog, they have a litter and they go off and get sold, but it's the mother dogs... the breeding dogs — they live years of misery."

In the last year and a half, about a dozen people in central Virginia reached out to Donahue after buying a puppy over the internet that turned out to be sick.

Donahue said, while this state has the strongest puppy mill laws on the books, "the USDA does not regulate puppies sold online."

She pointed to online seller "Purebred Breeders Corporation" — which we've confirmed is being sued by nearly a dozen people under consumer protection laws.

"The company making promises that these are very healthy, well-vetted animals and then this puppy arrives in the mail being shipped across country being very very sick."

Donahue said purebred breeders has nearly 800 web sites with prices on pups in the thousands.

"You see all these listings for Virginia Labradors."

Donahue, who rescued her own dog Sampson from a puppy mill, recommends adoption.

"Nationwide, one out of four dogs in shelters now are purebred dogs."

Cole said she tried that first. After her ordeal with Miley, she reported her experience to the Humane Society.

"We wouldn't trade her for anything, it worked out fine. I'm just concerned about where they keep these puppies — are they in healthy conditions."

A spokesman for Purebred Breeders said they do everything possible to provide healthy puppies — that every breeder is screened.

He said the lawsuit is an attempt by the Humane Society to raise donations through media attention to false accusations. Purebred Breeders asked the court to dismiss the lawsuit, but no ruling has yet been made.

The USDA is proposing a rule change to close a internet loophole in Animal Welfare Act regulations.

The new rule would require large-scale commercial puppy breeders to abide by the same standards as those who sell wholesale to pet stores.

Copyright 2012 WWBT NBC12.  All rights reserved.