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December 8th 2011 6:37 am
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Karen Leland spent three years trying to find a small beagle to keep her aging Labrador retriever company.

While she didn't want to buy a dog sight unseen, she couldn't resist a photo of a tiny dog with huge brown eyes that popped up on Less than a week after it arrived at Palm Beach International Airport, the sickly puppy died in her arms.

The Tequesta woman is one of 11 people nationwide who succumbed to the slick Internet marketing of a Broward County firm that set up 800 web sites to peddle puppies to the public, says a lawsuit filed in Miami-Dade County Circuit Court.

The lawsuit, filed by Palm Beach Gardens attorney Ted Leopold in cooperation with the Humane Society of the United States, accuses Purebred Breeders and owner Jason Halberg of intentionally deceiving the public by claiming its dogs come from reputable breeders.


Instead, the suit claims, many come from puppy mills, lucrative mass breeding operations where dogs are kept in cramped, filthy cages and crank out pups that are prone to a host of maladies.

"It's fraud and misrepresentation," Leopold said of Purebred, which serves as a dog broker, connecting breeders with potential buyers. "We're going to do everything we can to shut them down."

While only 11 unhappy customers are named in the lawsuit, he and Humane Society officials, which investigated Purebred, suspect there are many more. Selling about 20,000 puppies a year, it is one of the largest dog sellers on the Internet, said Jordan Crump, a Humane Society spokeswoman.

That they could find only 11 dissatisfied customers speaks volumes about the validity of the lawsuit, said New York City publicist Lonnie Soury, who represents Purebred. "We have thousands of customers," he said.

He also questioned why the lawsuit was featured Wednesday on NBC's Today show. He accused the society of trying to gin up publicity to increase donations.

"I don't think anyone out there provides the services that we do," he said.

Each puppy comes with insurance to cover veterinary bills for 30 days. If a customer decides he doesn't want a dog, Purebred will take it back or offer a refund, he said.

After paying about $1,400 for the beagle she named Zoey, Leland said she was offered $500 for another dog. Disgusted by their tactics, she said she had her credit card company cancel the purchase. She was still out the roughly $1,000 in vet bills she rang up even after the doctor predicted Zoey would die.

Soury said Purebred records show Leland was offered a full refund, less $280 for shipping. She may not have been reimbursed for vet bills because she didn't take the dog in within 48 hours. Then, after seeking treatment, she took it home at night rather than let it stay at the animal hospital.

Leland bristled at the criticism. Zoey arrived the night before Thanksgiving when no vets were open. She took Zoey home at night, hoping human touch might save it. She said she doesn't want money.

"It's about stopping this horrible business," she said. "It's about stopping evil."





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