A tale of two puppies
SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. – With small yelps sounding in the background, Broc’s Puppies store manager Gary Emerson holds an Old English sheepdog puppy above a scale while he takes the animal’s temperature.
The puppy squirms, ready to run around the bare concrete floor instead of hovering above the metallic weighing device.
Emerson tells the puppy’s measurements – weight and temperature – to Henry Kostecki, a holistic veterinarian who examines the dogs. Under California law, a puppy must be examined every 15 days.
The doctor pronounces the fluffy bundle of energy as healthy and Emerson takes the puppy back to the row of cages where the rest of the animals are barking.
He’s aware of the image problem that faces Broc’s Puppies.
This month protesters picketed the store. The South Lake Tahoe City Council created a ban in April on the retail sale of cats and dogs in response to claims that pet stores like Broc’s are selling dogs raised from high-volume breeders known as puppy mills.
The store’s one-time operator Dennis Franks faces three misdemeanor counts and possible felony charges. Three small claims suits have also been brought against Franks.
Franks denies he owns Broc’s Puppies, and city records list Broc Alexander Franks as the owner.
“We are trying to get everyone’s problems taken care of and start basically anew,” Emerson said.
After four employees were arrested from the store on Jan. 9, Emerson said he came back to the store, where he had worked previously. Emerson said he is acting as the current store manager.
“It’s been absurd,” he said Jan. 14. “I’ve been back four days and I am finding out information from people and tracking down things.”
“I’m really trying to get the store to change its image and reputation,” he said. “My goal is to never have a sick puppy come from this store.”
But tales of Broc’s reputation fill the courts and in some cases spread through word of mouth.
In late October 2009, Angel Miller went to Broc’s Puppies to purchase a new pet – a toy Pomeranian. Her three exotic cats had just been euthanized after nine years.
“I called around looking for a pet and I told everyone it was very, very important that the animal I get is not sick because I just went through a really mentally crazy time,” Miller said.
Broc’s Puppies called her back, and said they had a toy Pomeranian. She said she was cautious about buying a dog from Broc’s.
“I heard in the past that there was a problem but I went on and trusted what they were saying and I fell in love with the puppy,” Miller said.
She purchased the dog – Sasha – on Oct. 24, 2009. The signature on the dog’s statement of health is David Franks.
David Franks, Dennis’ brother, was among those arrested on a fugitive warrant at the store in January.
When Miller purchased the dog from Broc’s, Kostecki also provided her with a hand-written note stating that Sasha had “no abnormalities found.”
All dogs are given exams every two weeks, Kostecki said, but he encourages new pet owners to take the dog to their own vet within a few days to run more extensive tests.
“We don’t check for every possible disease,” he said.
After Miller brought Sasha home, she began to notice the dog was lethargic. She took the dog back to Broc’s and was referred to Kostecki.
Miller said Kostecki gave her a vitamin supplement to give to Sasha.
“Conventional medicine excels at diagnostics, however holistic medicine can sometimes treat ailments that traditional medicine cannot in a safer, non-toxic way,” Kostecki said about his holistic veterinary practice.
Kostecki owned a share of Broc’s Puppies for about three months, but sold it to David Franks.
However, by Nov. 5 Sasha was still sick and Miller took the dog to Alpine Animal Hospital. The veterinary notes report Sasha had “runny eyes and sneezing” and soft stool.
Sasha was back at the vet again Nov. 11 and then Nov. 14. At the second appointment the veterinarian at Alpine Hospital diagnosed Sasha with Giardia – an infection of the small intestine caused by a microscopic organism that can be transferred to humans.
“She could have died,” Miller said. “Something told us take this baby to our own vet. They did real tests and they found she had a parasite and that is why she was about to die.”
While Sasha is healthy now, Miller said she is still angry at how she was treated at Broc’s. She said when she went to the store with her veterinary bills and asked them to compensate her, David Franks refused.
“He told me all puppies are born with parasites,” she said.
Miller also bought an 1-year animal warranty from PAWS, a Colorado company, when she purchased Sasha. She said she has not been able to claim her warranty and that PAWS has not returned her calls.
South Lake Tahoe residents Laura Hanson and Dallas Gillaspey purchased Little Missy in June 2008 from Broc’s Puppies. The two wanted a pure-bred female Yorkshire Terrier to breed with Gillaspey’s male Yorkie.
Little Missy was meant to be a tan and black Yorkie, but most of her torso is covered in pewter hair.
“He (Dennis Franks) told us the black hair would grow in,” Hanson said.
All of Little Missy’s paperwork from Broc’s puppies is signed by “Broc’s Puppies,” not an individual.
However, as Little Missy began to grow, her coat stayed the same color. In May 2009, Hanson and Gillaspey took Little Missy to their veterinarian and had a DNA test done on the puppy by Wisdom Panel, a division of Mars Veterinary.
The test reported that Little Missy was not a pure-bred Yorkie – she had pointer and other unknown breeds in her genetic makeup.
Dennis Franks called Hanson’s claim “ludicrous.” He questioned the validity of the DNA test results and said “all Yorkies don’t turn one color.”
“That’s just a beautiful, rare dog,” Franks said. “That’s a rare type to find.”
However, a small claims court ruled in favor of Hansen Dec. 11 and ordered Franks to pay $1,081 to Hanson for the cost of the puppy and the cost of the DNA testing.
Despite the different coloring, Hanson said Little Missy is a permanent part of her life.
“I’d never give her up,” Hanson said.
Emerson said Thursday that Broc’s Puppies had contacted Hanson and offered her a new Yorkie, free of charge.
“I want to completely overhaul the whole image,” he said.