Smiley’s Flea Market in Macon was among those identified as allowing unlicensed dealers to sell puppies that were sometimes not vaccinated, but the market manager says all puppy and kitten sales were banned about a month ago.
Smiley’s was among five problem flea markets in Georgia listed on a report released Wednesday by The Humane Society of the United States.
“It works for lamps and it works for refrigerators but it does not work for puppies,” Wayne Pacelle, president of The Humane Society of the United States, said of the selling of puppies at flea markets.
The investigation grew from allegations of inhumane, commercial dog breeders, or puppy mills, selling at flea markets. From March 2014 to July 2015 undercover investigators with the organization visited 21 flea markets in 10 states from the South to the Midwest, speaking to and recording interactions with sellers. Of the 125 sellers identified, only four were found to be USDA-licensed.
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Carl Dorego, the manager of Smiley’s, said the selling or giving away of puppies and cats at the market was banned about a month ago.
“We felt it was not the right thing for the community,” he said. “We felt it was not the place to be doing it. We do care about dogs and everything.”
The other two Smiley’s locations in Florida and North Carolina have done the same thing, he said.
Cson Johnson, interim director of Macon-Bibb County Animal Welfare, said Smiley’s had been a common source of complaints over sick puppies that were purchased there. However, she said the owner, Ben Campen, has been cooperative in trying to resolve the issues. She said Campen’s decision to ban the sales was unrelated to the Humane Society investigation.
For the past year, she said, they have discussed various rules that could be implemented to reduce the problem, but Campen ultimately decided a complete ban was the best way to go.
“We are absolutely pleased because no matter how hard he tried to monitor it, it’s very difficult to verify the animals are healthy,” Johnson said.
Another on the list is South Augusta Flea Market. A market owner told investigators they could skirt the state’s kennel licensing law by selling only one litter at a time. At the time of the visit, only one dealer was selling and he was state-licensed. Despite the low number of sellers discovered during the visit to Augusta, Melanie Kahn, senior director of the Puppy Mills campaign at The Humane Society of the United States, said there is still a significant problem with selling and enforcement in Augusta and throughout the state.
“There are a lot of locals selling in this area,” Kahn said of Augusta.
Augusta’s other large flea market, the Barnyard Flea Market, has already phased out puppy sales at its five locations in Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina.
Other flea markets identified as problematic in Georgia include J&J Flea Market in Athens, Keller’s Flea Market in Savannah and Pendergrass Flea Market in Pendergrass.
The USDA has started to regulate breeders who sell puppies unseen over the Internet and in pet stores, but flea markets are one of the only remaining unregulated marketplaces.
A loophole in the Animal Welfare Act exempts breeders who conduct face-to-face transactions, meaning puppy mills that sell to flea markets are almost always unregulated and unlicensed by the USDA. At the unregulated kennels, no one inspects the conditions and safety of the animals and shoppers have no assurance of the animal’s condition, according to a news release. Georgia and Texas are two of the only states visited that have state-level kennel inspection programs.
Although many of the sellers throughout the investigation claimed to be “small hobby breeders,” the Humane Society investigators visited the breeders’ properties to find animals in rusty cages without adequate food, water and shelter. The puppies up for sale are often infected with worms, unvaccinated, have congenital disorders or deadly infectious diseases such as parvovirus. Some of the diseases can easily be spread to other animals or humans. The investigation also revealed that unsold dogs are often abandoned or killed.
“This isn’t only an animal welfare concern. It’s a public health concern,” Kahn said.
In some cases pet stores purchase their animals from flea markets for resale.
No legal action has been taken against any of the sellers. The Humane Society is calling upon state legislators to ban sells of puppies at flea markets and are asking consumers to avoid flea market puppy purchases.
A previous version of this story misstated what the Humane Society report said about Smiley's Flea Market. The report said that puppies sold were from unlicensed breeders and that puppies were found to have not been vaccinated.
Telegraph writer Wayne Crenshaw contributed to this report.