GREENE COUNTY, Va. (CBS19 NEWS) -- A new pet store in Ruckersville is selling puppies, and some local animal advocates say they have concerns that the dogs may be coming from puppy mills. The store owners are not offering many answers.
The public Facebook page for Tiny Paws Pet Shop and Grooming shows photos of a variety of breeds, and a Facebook post on that page said the puppies only come from breeders "that we have personally met and inspected.”
But animal advocate Rose Lemaster doubts that claim is true. And she says when she learned about the store, she saw warning signs that the puppies may have come from a puppy mill, a commercial breeding operation where, according to the Humane Society of the United States, conditions for the dogs are often deplorable.
"A lot of the dogs that are shipped to pet stores in our area are coming from these operations," Lemaster said.
She says the fact the store sells multiple breeds was a red flag for her, and the store's response to some social media posts also raised an alarm.
"Anyone who would ask about the breeding background, the parents, health certification, anything along that nature, their comments were immediately hidden," Lemaster said.
Animal advocate Elizabeth Huffman is also concerned about the origin of the puppies and says her questions on the store's Facebook page were taken down.
So she went to Tiny Paws to see what she could find out. She says she was kicked out by a store employee who told her she was banned from the business.
"And I said, ‘Why,’ and he said, ‘Because you've been contacting people and telling lies about our store, about the puppies.’ And I said, ‘Well, prove me wrong.’ And he said, ‘I don't have to prove you wrong,'" Huffman said.
CBS19 reached out to the store's management. But instead of hearing back from the owners directly, we heard from a public relations firm hired by the owners. In an emailed statement, the owners denied our request to visit the store, citing safety concerns.
"Our store is committed to maintaining the highest standards of welfare for the puppies in our care, and that extends to our firm expectations for the breeders from whom we obtain puppies," read the statement. It encouraged customers to "talk with our team to learn more about the responsible breeders we work with."
The email also said Tiny Paws obtains some of its puppies from AKC compliant and platinum USDA breeders who have had no violations in the past two years. In other words, the puppies come from commercial breeding operations.
In Virginia, that's not against the law, but Greene County Commonwealth's Attorney Matthew Hardin says there’s a catch.
"if you sell someone something and you tell them it's a diamond ring, it needs to be a diamond ring, otherwise you're committing a crime."
CBS19 will air part two of this story including more on Virginia law and puppy mill puppies later this week.