Scarsdale couple sues pet shop after dog’s death

Count Otto the puppy

Valley Road residents Seth and Margeta Morgulas bought a 3-month-old mini-schnauzer on Jan. 17. Within three weeks the puppy died and the Morgulases are suing Hartsdale-based Westchester Puppies and Kittens, the store that sold them the puppy.

Two days after bringing home “Count Otto,” the Morgulases took the puppy to their usual veterinarian at White Plains-based Dakota Veterinary Center as instructed by Westchester Puppies and Kittens. There, Otto received a parasite screening, some vaccinations and a general welfare checkup.

The next day, when Otto began to vomit and have diarrhea, the Morgulases took the puppy to the Veterinary Emergency Group in White Plains, where he received fluids and medication for nausea and vomiting. 

Otto’s condition didn’t improve, so the Morgulases brought him back to Dakota Veterinary Center where he was diagnosed with canine parvovirus, a lethal and contagious virus that affects a dog’s intestines.

Otto stayed at the veterinary center from Jan. 21 to 31 and was sent home after showing some improvement. However, he died five days later on Feb. 4.

After the Morgulases learned of Otto’s diagnosis, they attempted to contact Westchester Puppies and Kittens to request funding for the treatment Dakota Veterinary Center provided for Otto — treatment that cost more than $13,000.

The Morgulases claim they tried to contact Westchester Puppies and Kittens multiple times but got no response. Eventually, they filed suit in Westchester Supreme Court against the company after obtaining a document from Dakota Veterinary Center stating Otto had been unfit for sale.

The question at the center of the case is: when did Otto get the virus and did he die from it?

According to Cornell University’s College of Veterinary Medicine, the incubation period for parvo is “three to seven days before the onset of first symptoms.”

The Morgulases purchased Otto Jan. 17. Per the lawsuit, his aggressive diarrhea and vomiting — symptoms of parvo — began Jan. 20.

Margeta Morgulas told the Inquirer Otto was suffering from a lighter case of diarrhea when they bought him, but they assumed it was because he was very young.

Morgulas said she spoke to multiple friends and veterinarians — including vets at Dakota Veterinary Center — all of whom believed Otto must have had the virus when the family bought him.

The parvovirus more commonly occurs in unvaccinated puppies that come in contact with the virus, said Dr. Alison Abramson of Scarsdale-based Central Animal Hospital. She said usually puppies are vaccinated for parvo at eight, 12 and 16 weeks (or 2, 3 and 4 months of age).

Abramson also said parvo is a fecal/oral transmission virus — meaning dogs can pick it up if they lick the place where an infected dog’s feces had been.

Abramson said parvo is very hard to kill when it ends up on surfaces and only bleach has been proven to kill the virus.

Margeta Morgulas said when they brought Otto home, they kept him isolated from their other dogs.

Westchester Puppies and Kittens is pushing back on almost all of the Morgulases’ claims.

The pet store told the Inquirer in a statement it believes in vaccinating its puppies for parvo at six weeks, eight weeks and 12 weeks. “The puppy was sold in perfect health with all vaccinations up to date,” read the shop’s statement.

They also noted records from Dakota Veterinary Center show the center granted Otto a clean bill of health when he went for his checkup Jan. 19.

The vet center gave Otto three vaccines that day — a parvo vaccine, a caravan vaccine and a leptospirosis vaccine — and administered a flea, tick and heartworm preventative.

“It is not normal practice to administer three vaccines and topical heartworm preventative to an 8-week-old puppy all on the same day,” said Westchester Puppies and Kittens. “This is quite an overload for the immune system of an 8-week-old puppy and is generally frowned upon in the veterinary community.”

Further, noted the pet store, the records from the Veterinary Emergency Group — which the Morgulases visited the day before Otto was diagnosed with parvo — stated Otto’s symptoms are likely from a “secondary reaction to vaccines and/or hypoglycemia.”

Like the Morgulases, Westchester Puppies checked with its own set of veterinarians who suggested Otto’s ailments came from receiving too many vaccines in one day.

Westchester Puppies owner Deborah Koehler provided the Inquirer with emails in which she reached out to the Morgulases and stated they will refund the purchase price of Otto after she receives Otto’s medical records.

“Mr. and Mrs. Morgulas continue to send numerous emails and [Better Business Bureau] complaints making the overtly false claim that we have never responded to [Seth], when in fact we have responded clearly, professionally and thoroughly via email,” read the statement.

Westchester Puppies provided a receipt to the Inquirer to show the store  refunded $2,399.26 to Otto’s purchasers.

The Morgulases have no plans to drop their lawsuit. Margeta Morgulas said they are awaiting a response in court from Westchester Puppies and Kittens.

She said, despite the fact she and her husband are both attorneys, they do not believe in arbitrarily filing lawsuits. The couple also said they do not regret doing everything they could to save Otto and they, per their research, believe he had the disease before they bought him.

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