Pet store owner denies wrongdoing after agreeing to plea

The Westchester Puppies & Kittens pet store on Central Avenue. 

A Westchester pet store that recently settled a lawsuit with a Scarsdale couple admitted last week to deceptive advertising about the health and wellness of animals.

New York Attorney General Letitia James announced May 3 the state had struck a plea with Westchester Puppies & Kittens in Hartsdale, which was accused of falsely advertising and claiming that it specialized in the sale of high quality, responsibly bred animals. In reality, the store sold animals that were bred at large-scale commercial “mills.”

Under this agreement, Deborah Koehler, owner of Westchester Puppies & Kittens, is prohibited from making false representations about the quality of the breeders and kennels from which she obtains animals for sale. She will also pay a civil penalty of $7,500.

“Deceptive marketing and advertising will never be tolerated, including for the sale of animals,” James said. “Not only were consumers lied to about the origins of their pets, but also the health and wellness of the beloved animals they were bringing into their homes. We will continue to crack down on any and every abuse of animals.”

In 2018, the office of the attorney general began an investigation into Westchester Puppies & Kittens based on reports from customers who said their pets suffered from things like kennel cough, giardia, distemper and parvovirus, which are often side effects of puppy mill breeding.

One of those complaints came from Valley Road residents Seth and Margreta Morgulas, who bought a 3-month-old mini-schnauzer from Westchester Puppies & Kittens on Jan. 17. Within three weeks, the puppy died and the Morgulases sued Westchester Puppies & Kittens, alleging the dog they purchased was unfit for sale.

The two parties settled in April. When reached for comment about the lawsuit, Seth Morgulas declined to comment.

Koehler, who feels people are spreading lies and slander about her company, expressed her displeasure with the situation.

“We never misrepresented the health of our animals and the term ‘puppy mill’ has no legal definition, nor is it a term that is stated anywhere in the content of this settlement,” she told the Inquirer. “This would be overtly clear to anyone who actually reads the settlement itself, and not the slanderous statements being published. The uninformed public, haters and animal activists will have you believe that we committed a serious crime when the reality is, we made a technical error in our advertising.

“We are proud of our track record and we have brought joy to thousands of homes and even more joy to the pets we have placed with loving, caring and compassionate families,” Koehler continued. “Customers have the right to shop or adopt, but the safest way to buy a dog is from a local New York brick and mortar pet shop because of the enormous amount of regulations in effect.”

Westchester Puppies & Kittens is located at 26 South Central Ave. in Hartsdale. The store advertised on its website and on social media that it sells “home-raised” animals and only deals with “certified breeders.” The store’s website stated, “Our puppies and kittens are home-raised and responsibly-bred for temperament and good congenital health.” It also stated that Westchester Puppies & Kittens “specializes in the sale of healthy puppies and kittens from certified breeders.”

The attorney general determined that “certified breeders” or those who “home-raise” animals were not being sold to the public as advertised by Westchester Puppies & Kittens. Instead, commercial breeders and puppy mills, including Kuddly Kritters of Atkins, Nebraska, were the source of the animals. Kuddly Kritters has been cited by the USDA for its below standard conditions.

The attorney general’s investigation also found that employees of Westchester Puppies & Kittens made false representations to customers about the breeding of the animals for sale, leading them to believe they would be purchasing a healthier animal than from any other pet dealer.

During the course of the attorney general’s investigation, Westchester Puppies & Kittens removed from its website and social media false and deceptive language about the breeding of animals its sells. The store no longer claims that it sells animals that are “home raised” and obtained from “certified breeders.” It has also instructed its employees not to make such claims. The settlement ensures that these practices will be followed going forward.

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