WEST PALM BEACH - What began with one picture turned into an all-out love affair for John Pickett.
“My wife and I don’t have kids so our dogs are our kids," he said.
But shortly after “Birdie” arrived, Picket says, so did the truth about her health.
"Birdie had trouble walking and seemed, at times, to walk with a limp," he explained.
A vet would confirm their West Highland Terrier has a hip problem and is also partially blind, victim to a hereditary disease. Picket says, he was never told about the dog’s conditions when he purchased her from Purebred Breeders, one of the country's largest online dog brokers.
"It’s just not fair. It’s not fair to the animal, it's not fair to the people they sell it to," he said.
As a result, the Picketts are now among more than 60 dog lovers across 20 different states suing the Purebred Breeders.
"We have been inundated with calls. There are hundreds more who have been contacting us," said Attorney Ted Leopold, representing the plaintiffs.
At the heart of the lawsuit are claims the Fort Lauderdale based dog broker is misleading customers by selling sick puppies from substandard breeders.
Karen Leland's beagle died, just 8 days after it arrived 3 years ago. She is also part of the lawsuit against Purebred breeders.
"She howled really loud, twice and then she was gone," she told the Contact 5 Investigators in December.
The Human Society of the United States, who also filed the lawsuit, spent three months capturing undercover video at the some of the company’s breeders. The video captured scenes of dogs stacked in wire cages and in filthy conditions, signs, they declared of puppy mills.
But Kerry Rod, Communications Director for Purebred Breeders, vehemently denies the accusations. She says the company has a strict screening process for its breeders and the 61 plaintiffs represent a small fraction of the company’s business.
"When you're dealing with live animals there are going to be issues and when you look at the thousands of dogs that we have placed, over many years, it's actually a very small percentage."
The Pickett's have had to adjust to Birdie's health issues, but it's Birdie they say, who is the ultimate victim.
"I can defend myself, my wife can defend itself, but how can a 12 week old puppy defend itself? It can't and that’s the real shame of it.”
Any consumer who purchased a sick puppy from an online seller is encouraged to fill out the following form: http://www.humanesociety.org/forms/puppy_buyer_complaint_form.html
Copyright 2012 Scripps Media, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
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