The former manager of a now-closed Petland store in Fairfax County, Virginia, where our undercover investigation revealed a pile of dead rabbits in the freezer and a shocking lack of veterinary care, has pleaded guilty to animal cruelty and three other charges of failing to provide adequate care for the animals.
Former Petland manager Kareem Koshok was sentenced to 12 months in jail by a Virginia court for the animal cruelty charge, with 10 months suspended—a sentence he’s appealing. He will also reportedly pay $1,500 in fines for the other charges.
Unfortunately, the court dropped all charges against Kareem Koshok’s brother, Ayman, who was also partly responsible for the store’s operations. Ayman Koshok has since reportedly taken steps to open a new puppy store in Virginia.
The Humane Society of the United States undercover investigation, carried out between November 2018 and March 2019, revealed the Fairfax Petland store managers often didn’t take sick animals to a veterinarian. One investigator, who worked at the store for three months wearing a hidden camera, found at least 14 dead rabbits in the store’s freezer. Another investigator traced most of the store’s rabbits to a filthy and unlicensed “rabbit mill” in Maryland, which was keeping hundreds of bunnies in dirty and decrepit conditions.
The store shut down just days after we released the investigation, and charges were filed after local law enforcement performed their own investigation and found even more dead rabbits and a dead puppy in the freezer.
Our findings at this store were similar to those at seven other Petland stores we have investigated around the country in recent years. At each we observed a pattern of callous disregard for sick pets. Often, puppies who became sick were placed in small cages in the back room in Petland’s stores and treated with do-it-yourself remedies, or simply sent back to their brokers without adequate treatment, if they survived at all. Customers who bought animals sometimes were not told about illnesses the animals appeared to be suffering from or for which they had recently been medicated.
The spotlight we turned on these stores led, in some instances, to local law enforcement officials taking action, as they did in Virginia. In Frisco, Texas, a Petland was cited for violations of the city’s animal control ordinance following our investigation that showed, among other abuses, a sick rabbit left to die in a cardboard box rather than being rushed to a veterinarian. Sick and underweight puppies were often force-fed or given ad-hoc remedies rather than receiving professional veterinary care. At Petland stores in Tyler, Texas, and Kennesaw, Georgia, our investigators found dead puppies in freezers. At a store in Las Vegas a puppy was left in a back room because he had “a hole is his throat” and was expected to die; the puppy was eventually shipped back to his broker for a refund without receiving any treatment for his condition.
There have been more shocking instances of abuse cited in the media. In 2009, an Ohio Petland employee pleaded guilty to animal cruelty for drowning two rabbits in a Petland store—she posted a photo on social media that showed her smiling while holding up the two dead bunnies. In 2015, a Petland store in Lakeland, Florida, was abruptly shut down after the owner and her husband, a veterinarian, were arrested for allegedly forging health records for puppies. Several dog breeders who have supplied puppies to Petland stores in the past have been shut down, sued or have had their licenses revoked. Ex-employees have also accused Petland of mistreating animals, and more than 1,400 puppy buyers have complained to us about sick puppies they purchased at Petland stores, or puppies who weren’t the kind of breed promised, unfair lending practices and other problems.
Last month, seven families who allege they were duped into buying sick puppies filed a lawsuit against the Petland franchise in Summerville, South Carolina, and the Petland corporation. Petland stores in other states have been sued for similar reasons.
Such misdeeds by pet stores, including Petland, which is the largest national chain that still sells puppies, kittens and rabbits, has led to more than 360 localities across the United States prohibiting the sales of puppy mill dogs in pet stores. Three states—California, Maryland and Maine—have also acted to stop such sales.
Virginia, too, is in desperate need of such a law. We, along with other animal advocates in the state, have repeatedly encountered pet stores selling sick and dying animals, including puppies from puppy mills. An HSUS investigation of 18 Virginia pet stores in 2014revealed almost all of the stores were selling sick animals or puppies from puppy mills, or were concealing the sources of their puppies in violation of state law. In 2015, in a highly publicized case, authorities seized approximately 50 sick and underage puppies from one store, Dreamy Puppy.
We are happy that the Fairfax Petland manager is being held accountable for his actions in causing so much animal suffering. But as this case and our other pet store investigations highlight, there is no justification for allowing pet stores anywhere to continue selling animals sourced from commercial mills. These businesses will always put their profits above the well-being of the animals. We’ll be hard at work to keep up the pressure on Petland, and to pass laws in Virginia and other states that cut off the puppy-mill-pet store pipeline for good. Please join us in this fight by telling Petland to stop selling puppies, kittens and rabbits in its stores.