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A group of dog owners have filed a puppy mill lawsuit against Chicago-area pet store chain Happiness is Pets. The group accuses the store of falsely claiming the animals were healthy and came from reputable small-scale breeders.
Instead, they say the disease-prone puppies were purchased from overcrowded puppy mills and arrived at the stores visibly sick and covered in feces and urine. Employees were allegedly instructed to hide the poor conditions with grooming and by administering antibiotics.
The allegations come from 6 pet owners whose dogs suffer from health issues, explains ABC News. Some of the pets have genetic diseases, while others needed treatment for urine infections, kennel cough and a variety of other illnesses connected to poor living conditions.
The group seeks a full refund, reimbursement for veterinary care and related expenses, and punitive damages. They allege violations of consumer fraud statutes and negligent misrepresentation.
Whether they win the puppy mill lawsuit will in part depend on how Happiness is Pets advertised its dogs. There's a fine line between false advertising and puffery. Puffery refers to statements that are subjective in nature and from which no truth or falsity can be determined.
For example, on Happiness is Pets' website, it claims to "deal exclusively with the best private breeders throughout the Midwest." No one knows for sure which breeders are the "best" -- it's a subjective inquiry and opinions may differ. The statement is thus unlikely to be actionable.
However, if the company had instead claimed to only deal with small, licensed breeders that follow USDA standards, it would likely have violated the law. These are objective criteria that can be proven false.
We'll have to wait and see just how the puppy mill lawsuit turns out. But as of now, Happiness is Pets is denying all allegations, and told ABC News the store stands by its dogs.