INDIAN RIVER COUNTY, Fla. — Neighbors in a Vero Beach neighborhood are reacting to the arrest of a couple that the Indian River County Sheriff's Office said were operating a puppy mill out of their rented home.
Sheriff Eric Flowers said Michael Mendez, 26, and Shelby White, 25, listed puppies for sale via roadside signs through the Treasure Coast and Space Coast. They also made "for sale" posts on Puppies.com and Craigslist, advertising the dogs as healthy purebreds when they weren't.
"They were charging $1,500 to $2,500 per dog, basically for dogs they had bred from a variety of species living in deplorable conditions," Flowers said. "The dogs were just so sick, and all of them are still under care."
Flowers said the couple even dyed the dogs' fur in some cases to match the species they advertised.
"There was one dog that was sold as a chocolate lab that was actually a chihuahua mix," Flowers said. "I mean it's that far off."
NewsChannel 5 on Wednesday went to the house the couple rented, and saw the owner of the home cleaning out piles of trash and debris, including dog cages, bags of dog food and a garbage can full of fish and both human and dog waste.
The owner didn't want to go on camera but said he had been cleaning it out for days.
Many neighbors told NewsChannel 5 they weren't shocked by the news and had been reporting the couple for weeks.
Others, like Davene Madsen, couldn't believe the news.
"It's shocking because I've never in my life ... I mean, I read the story today, and I thought, 'that's sick,'" Madsen said.
Madsen lives just down the street from the home.
She and James Quinzer, her neighbor across the street, told NewsChannel 5 they had seen several people complain about Mendez and White, and added they often saw dogs running around the neighborhood.
"I don't know much about a puppy mill, but you see dogs barking," Quinzer said.
"It kind of … freaks you out," Madsen added.
Flowers said the investigation has been going on since 2020 and said his deputies have been working hard to build a case against the couple ever since.
"Fortunately our team has been able to make a great case against them and get them behind bars," Flowers said.
Madsen and Quinzer recalled seeing deputies arrest the two a few days earlier.
Flowers said deputies discovered and rescued two dogs inside the home during the arrest, but believes Mendez and White may have had an inkling that deputies were coming. He believes the couple had many more dogs inside the home and knows many others have been sold from the house.
He also said their reach goes far beyond just Indian River County, saying the agency has known of cases in Polk County and Brevard County, noting the reach could have gone even farther with the ads up on the Internet.
"People could have seen them from anywhere," Flowers said. "People could have traveled from other states even."
NewsChannel 5 contacted Puppies.com, who confirmed that White had an active account for a month before being banned from the site. A spokesperson said the company "does not tolerate puppy mills," adding they have "zero tolerance for such individuals."
Flowers said he believes a lot more victims are out there and urged anyone who has fallen victim to come forward.
"We'll get those charges even further enhanced and make sure they spend a lot of time in prison," Flowers said.
Madsen said she hopes that happens, clutching her own recently adopted puppy a little tighter.
"It's heartbreaking," Madsen said. "It's totally heartbreaking to think people can do this."
Flowers said deputies also received reports of two children living inside the home but said when deputies arrived, they did not find any children. However, he said his deputies have called in the Department of Children and Families.
Flowers said White posted her $91,000 bail, however, Mendez did not. As of Wednesday, he was still in custody under a $185,000 bond.
Mendez and White now face several charges, including:
- Organized scheme to defraud
- Felony animal neglect (two counts)
- Selling a dog less than eight weeks old (three counts
- Selling a dog without a certificate of veterinary inspection (eight counts)
- Unlawful use of a two-way communication device
- Felony driving while license suspended (habitual traffic offender)
If you have purchased a puppy from either Mendez or White that was not as advertised, sick or without a proper health certificate, you're asked to contact the sheriff's office's agricultural/marine unit as soon as possible at (772) 978-6240 and reference case number 2022-81715.