Their youthful exuberance comes with the promise of a lifelong companion.
Denise Lindsay, “just wanted to get a dog that’s a puppy so we can help that puppy develop the personality and fit into our family.”
The Lindsay family already has one dog, Tinker Bell, who recently lost her own lifelong companion.
‘Tink’s brother passed away in September’, Denise explains. “She had never been alone in all her life that we’ve had her, and she just went completely crazy and barked so much that she lost her voice.”
Knowing that Tink needed a friend, they went to Town Pets on Flamingo Rd. and Durango Dr. looking for a purebred pup, and they brought home Bella Donna.
“We ended up paying, with taxes and all, a little over $1900 for what we thought was a purebred Yorkie.”
One of the main reasons they wanted a purebred dog was to make sure it was hypoallergenic.
“My husband, Ken, is very allergic to dogs with fur. He’s totally allergic to hair. If he holds her without long sleeves, welts break out on his arms.”
They also needed a small dog and were told that Bella would only weigh seven pounds when fully grown, but she is not yet a year old and already weighs 18 pounds.
“Her owner wanted and bought her because she wanted a small companion animal, and unfortunately she got this larger animal that has a lot of health issues,” said Bella’s vet, who did not want to be identified.
Both Denise and her vet say Bella’s health problems have only gotten worse.
“The day after we brought her home, she had a lot of worms,” Denise said.
They took Bella to the pet store’s contracted vet to treat that and then handed her care over to their own vet.
“And when our vet first saw her, she was like, this isn’t a Yorkie. And I thought, what do you mean? I paid for that!”
Denise’s vet told 13 Investigates that so-called purebred dogs are increasingly being misrepresented.
“More often lately. It’s becoming more common.”
She recommended that Denise take a DNA test on Bella.
“And it came back that she’s a mixed race. She has seven different races in her.” Denise read the test results and explained, “She’s 48 percent Yorkie, 22 percent Miniature Schnauzer, she has Black Lab in her, and it goes back to Shih Tzu and other mixed breeds.”
Nearly 17 percent of Bella’s DNA is listed as “Supermutt,” meaning there may be small amounts of DNA from distant ancestors, including the Pomeranian, Dalmatian, and Australian cattle dog.
“I feel betrayed because I went in with confidence and it’s not what they presented,” said Denise. “It’s not what she’s supposed to be.”
“If I get a ‘purebred’ Yorkie,” the vet said, “I’ll treat it and look for certain illnesses that come with being a purebred Yorkie. However, in Bella Donna’s case, she’s clearly not a purebred Yorkie and so it brings challenges as this is a mutt and not what we expected.
Bella’s had numerous health problems, including a growth that caused repeated infections and resulted in an expensive and more invasive sterilization surgery.
And when that doesn’t work, Denise says, “It’s another surgery that’s going to cost another $3,000-5,000. And I don’t know how… We can’t possibly afford that.”
The vet says one of the reasons Bella is unhealthy is in her pedigree.
The Town Pets pedigree provided shows significant inbreeding.
“In her case, she has had multiple birth defects,” explains the vet. “There’s no really clear answer to what she is or how she was bred. And that has caused her a lot of worry and cost her owner a lot of money.”
As required by Nevada law, Town Pets provided Denise with Bella’s breeder’s name, which appears on four different documents.
They refer to Glen Schmitt as a “hobby grower” who is exempt from USDA licensing.
His address is a PO box in Magazine, Arkansas.
Town Pets told 13 Investigates it was not authorized to provide the breeder’s phone number.
“I’m just angry that the breeder sold this dog to the pet store and the pet store didn’t do any research or verification,” Denise said.
When Denise tried to get answers from Town Pets, she was told to go through their claims process.
An email exchange with Puppy Claim says, “The pet store cannot guarantee pet size,” adding, “All dogs come from other breeds” and “DNA testing is not 100 percent accurate.”
Bella’s vet disagrees, saying, “DNA tests that we know are reliable. There are plenty of DNA tests in veterinary medicine.”
Under the Town Pets contract, Denise is entitled to compensation up to the full purchase price of her pet for hereditary and/or congenital problems.
She went back and forth with Puppy Claim in early December asking for that refund.
“This has to stop!” said Denise. “You sold me something it’s not! And that’s not fair to the dog. It’s not fair to us.”
She didn’t really get anywhere until 13 Investigates got involved and the store owner, Joe Shamore, called. He turned down our multiple requests for an on-camera interview.
MORE: Clark County Commissioners pass ordinance banning puppy sales in pet stores
Over text, Shamore called Denise’s claim that Bella isn’t a purebred “fake,” but when we questioned the inbreeding in Bella’s pedigree, his tone changed.
While suggesting there could be a typo in Bella’s pedigree, he wrote, “We don’t tolerate inbreeding. I don’t understand why the manager accepted the puppy. We will investigate this matter.”
Then, later the same day, Puppy Claim emailed Denise to buy her silence and kill our story.
They wrote: “In light of new findings in your case, we have been instructed that you receive a full refund and that you keep the puppy, provided it remains between you and the pet store.”
When she wrote back that she couldn’t stop the story, they relented, writing, “Either way, we’ve been instructed to help you. You’ll be compensated.”
“I just don’t get it!” exclaimed Denise. “I do not understand!”
Despite the headache and heartache of this experience, the Lindsays are determined to love Bella no matter what.
Team Town Pets sent out the following statement:
“All our pets get one Shared Lifetime Health Agreement since no one can predict a disease; it’s just unrealistic to believe otherwise. No other pet store, breeder or other organization offers such a guarantee to customers. We do this because our main concern is that our pets live happy lives with the right family. As written in the contract, which is signed by our client, each person should discuss any issues with our claims department. Emailing ensures the accuracy of what is being communicated.
The breeder in question is a hobby breeder who must also comply with government regulations. In some cases, a hobby breeder is preferable to USDA because some feel that USDA is not doing their job properly. Some people prefer not to work with show breeders because of their opinion of a breed if it is out of specification. Show Breeders of all different kinds of species practice line breeding since it is not against the law. They believe,’It is to perfect the breed‘. We do not support this form of breeding.
DNA tests are not 100% accurate per BV Medical Scientist and registry companies. The primary purpose of a DNA test is to identify potential breed-specific hereditary problems. All breeds are mixed with another breed at some point, dating back to the origins of the wolves, creating today’s specific breeds. In some cases, the original genes will appear generations later. It does not mean that the puppy is not purebred.
Pets are not commodities, but rather family members, even if they are out of spec by show breeder standards. We are working with our client and investigating her claim to ensure that everyone adheres to our standards.
While we have made many people happy with our pets over the past 3 decades, we strongly believe that ‘All pets should be equally loved.”
In December, Clark County commissioners voted to ban the sale of dogs, cats, rabbits and pot-bellied pigs in pet stores.
The stores were given a year to adapt their business model.
Pet store sales remain legal in Henderson and the city of Las Vegas, which passed a ban but later repealed it.