If you’re a student at the University of Tennessee and have an Instagram account, you’ve likely come across the notorious Puppy Zone picture.
Students posing with the puppies for sale at the store.
Sydney Moore, an undecided freshman, is one of these students.
“I go there to look at the cute puppies and play with them,” Moore said. “They’re always so happy to see people.”
Visitors to the store seem to be unaware of the conditions the puppies are kept in.
Rolling cribs, wire cage bottoms and rabbit water feeders make up the habitat that the dogs of Puppy Zone reside in. Signs on the wall ask customers not to wake sleeping puppies, but other than that there is no other rule in place regarding the handling of the puppies. Children are able to poke, prod and pick-up whichever dog they choose. In the back of the store, two play areas are set up for people who wish to play with the puppy of their choosing.
Open from 12-8 p.m. five days a week, 12-6 p.m. on Sundays, and closed on Tuesdays – this can be a rough life for a puppy, especially when they are almost constantly being handled and kept in a confined space.
Karen Dypolt is one of the founders of Dames for Danes, a Great Dane rescue group located in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. Dypolt was disgusted by the condition of Puppy Zone’s puppies. After noticing a Great Dane puppy in the store, the rescue group decided to raise $1,500 to purchase the dog.
“(The dog) had been left there out of the litter. They had had him so long, he was developing joint issues from being in the crib,” Dypolt said.
“And when people would go, after it was closed, he was wheeled up to the window, and when they would knock on the window he was completely out of it, not like a puppy.”
Dypolt believes that the puppies of Puppy Zone are drugged to keep the puppies in a sedated state. Acepromazine, as the drug is called, is a medication used on animals as a tranquilizer typically for extremely anxious animals during veterinary or grooming visits – not on puppies in a pet store.
Although blood tests were ran on the puppy after Dames for Danes obtained him, there were no traces of drugs in the system. Acepromazine, Dypolt said, would have already run its course through the puppy’s system by the time of the test. It was, however, speculated by the veterinarian that examined the puppy that the dog was put on the tranquilizer.
Dypolt said the puppy was fortunately saved from Puppy Zone within the right time frame, and was able to develop as a Great Dane should. The puppy was soon adopted out to a loving home in Knoxville.
For some puppies purchased from Puppy Zone, their fate was not so lucky.
“I do have another set of adopters that purchased a (Great Dane) from them a year prior that had complications from the beginning,” Dypolt said, “and he ended up dying before his first birthday. He had cardiac issues.”
WATE reporter Don Dare did an investigation of Puppy Zone in 2010.
The untimely deaths of puppies from Puppy Zone is not unheard of, the store itself only gives a one-year warranty on its dogs.
Puppy Store Buyer Complaints--Data From The Humane Society of the United States, 2007-2011.
Between 2007 and 2011, The Humane Society of the United States collected data from The Humane Society's puppy mill campaign. More than 2,479 complaints were gathered from puppy buyers. The complaints came from people who had purchased puppies from pet stores, breeders and middleman dealers. The complaints consisted of puppies with illness, puppies with congenital defects, puppies that had to be returned due to illness, puppies with temperament issues and death.
Where Puppy Zone obtains its puppies remains a mystery; although many, like Dypolt and Lauren Biloski, suspect the dogs are from puppy mills, flea markets or even back-yard breeders on Craigslist.
Lauren Biloski had organized a protest of Puppy Zone on National Puppy Day in 2013. Having adopted a five-year-old West Highland White Terrier from Westie Rescue of Tennessee, Biloski became familiar with the horrors of puppy mills.
Biloski learned that her dog had been seized from a puppy mill in Missouri.
“She has a lot of health problems and she was five when I got her, and she had never seen grass or been outside or been able to play.
“After I got her, I got involved in trying to stop the conditions that these animals are raised in,” Biloski said.
Biloski and several rescue groups gathered a group together and stood on the public sidewalks surrounding Puppy Zone. With knowledge of the protest, Puppy Zone had hired two off-duty canine officers to stand guard at the entrance. Biloski said the owner of Puppy Zone refused to communicate with the protestors.
Biloski expressed interest in doing another protest. Something she believes it is important due to Tennessee legislature failing to renew The Commercial Breeder Act. The Commercial Breeder Act was set in motion in 2009, but failed to be renewed in March, 2013 and was allowed to expire in June, 2014.
“(The Commercial Breeder Act) used to be in place to prevent people in Tennessee from having multi-dog, kind of puppy mill situations; but that did not get passed again last year. So now, it’s going to be free-range pretty much to have these type of situations here.”
Biloski expressed concerns of overpopulation since rejected renewal of the act will ultimately result in more pet stores and more people breeding puppies, when there are already thousands of homeless animals in the U.S.
“With all the high rates of euthanasia, especially down south, nobody is spaying and neutering, and how many animals are available at the shelters; it’s kind of outrageous that people are going there and paying thousands of dollars for a puppy,” Biloski said.
Amy Johnston, director of outreach and volunteer coordinator at Young-Williams Animal Center, explained the importance of spaying and neutering an animal – something she is unsure Puppy Zone asks its customers to do.
“Some good breeders will say you have to show a receipt of spay or neuter at six months or one year or whatever; I don’t know if Puppy Zone does that as well, I doubt it,” Johnston said.
At Young-Williams, the animals that are taken in are homeless. They are run through extensive veterinary examinations and when they are of age (if they aren’t already) they are spayed or neutered.
Young-Williams is an open admission shelter, meaning they take in animals from the city and county animal control. Regardless of health or temperament, Johnston said, “we take in everything”.
“In the opinion of Young-Williams, it is always better to consider adoption because there are so many homeless animals out there that need homes versus buying a dog from a pet store. We’re not going to say anything negative or positive about Puppy Zone, but what we will say is positive things about adopting and what that does,” Johnston said.
“There’s lots of different things; you save lives, these animals are homeless, and you’re not contributing to the overpopulation of Knoxville.”