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Former Meridian pet store connected to at least a dozen parvo cases

Posted: 5:42 PM, Mar 22, 2020
Updated: 2020-03-24 17:49:41-04
Puppies from Surf's Up Puppy Shack diagnosed with parvovirus.

MERIDIAN, Idaho — Since October, 6 On Your Side has looked into allegations made against former Meridian puppy shop, Surf’s Up Puppy Shack.

Our media partner, the Idaho Statesman, reached out to 6 On Your Side to share information and investigate claims made against the former store while comparing it to Idaho laws and city codes.

Together, reporters Nicole Blanchard (Idaho Statesman) and our Frankie Katafias were able to confirm that from October 2019 to January 2020, there were twelve puppies diagnosed with parvovirus within days of going home to their new families. All of them coming from Surf’s Up Puppy Shack.

In January 2020, the former owner of Surf’s Up Puppy Shack, Matthew Milligan sold his business to Justin Kerr. Kerr, the new business owner re-decorated and re-branded the puppy store. It’s now called Puppyland, his third Puppyland location in the Pacific Northwest.

Kerr’s sites are in Washington State.

Since the change in ownership, there have been no reported cases of parvovirus from their Meridian location.

But, despite the change in ownership, customers of Surf’s Up are unhappy, and one couple is hoping to protect others from purchasing a sick puppy from a retails store.

Brian and Jessica Bishop purchased their Goldendoodle, Molly, on November 29, 2019. By December 4, 2019, a veterinarian diagnosed Molly with parvovirus. Over $4,000 later, Molly was able to recover. After contacting the former owner of Surf’s Up to notify him their new puppy had parvo, the Bishop’s eventually asked the previous owner to cover half of the medical expenses. But, because they signed a health guarantee and purchase agreement, their options were limited. The Bishop’s took their story to their family friend, Matthew Williams, an attorney of over 20 years with experience in criminal and contractual law.

Williams reviewed the information and told 6 On Your Side, “there’s nothing really from a criminal standpoint…” but Williams agreed with the Bishop’s saying, “there was a problem here.”

Before coming to Idaho, Milligan, the former owner of Surf’s Up Puppy Shack previously owned three locations called “Puppy Barn” in Utah. Customers of the Puppy Barn locations also accused the owner of selling sick puppies. Our ABC affiliate in Salt Lake City reported it in April of last year.

Given the owner’s history and Bishop’s experience, Williams believes the Bishop’s could have pursued a breach of contract lawsuit but the problem, “if you win, you’re probably left with a piece of paper that doesn’t mean a whole lot as far as damages even.” Meaning, the cost of pursuing a lawsuit of this nature would cost more than the restitution, and the former owner could still open a new business without legal repercussions.

To understand Idaho Statutes, we reached out to Adam P. Karp, a lawyer who exclusively practices animal law in Washington State, Oregon, and Idaho. After researching Idaho law, we found that Idaho Statute 25-3502 (e) says it’s illegal too, “negligently confine an animal in unsanitary conditions or to negligently house an animal in inadequate facilities; to negligently fail to provide sustenance, water or shelter to an animal.”

We sent that statute to Karp to see if it applied to Surf’s Up. Karp responded via email in part: “the terms “unsanitary” and “inadequate” likely do not contemplate contracting contagious diseases but, rather, dirty, cramped, unventilated, hazardous, or intemperate environments. The typical approach taken is to bring suit under the Uniform Commercial Code for breach of warranty and possibly the Idaho Consumer Protection Act (48-603)… “

According to Matthew Williams, the best way to avoid a situation like the Bishop’s is to do your research. Williams adds, ““your options are very limited as a consumer, and it comes down pretty much goes down to buyer beware...You’re buying a living thing, and so you really need to make sure you’re buying it from a reputable company, and unfortunately, I would say in this case it doesn’t seem like the Bishop’s did.”

Brian and Jessica Bishop were one of eight families (nine puppies in total) who had purchased a puppy from Surf's Up, that was later diagnosed with parvovirus within days of purchase. From the Idaho Humane Society we were able to confirm three additional cases. Kristine Schellhaas, from the Humane Society tells the Idaho Statesman, "“we also received reports from other veterinary clinics in town who each had a handful of puppies (from Surf’s Up) who tested positive for parvo as well."

In total, that’s 12 confirmed cases of parvo associated with Surf’s Up.

Idaho Statesman reporter, Nicole Blanchard list the stories of seven Surf's Up customers.

Bentley and Barkley the Great Pyrenees/coonhound mixes: Robin and Troy Green of Meridian purchased two Great Pyrenees/coonhound mixes from Surf’s Up Puppy Shack on Oct. 30 after seeing ads for the dogs on Craigslist. They said they didn’t realize the dogs were being sold at a store.

They left the puppies, named Bentley and Barkley, with their daughter-in-law while they went out of town for the weekend. That Saturday, Nov. 2, their daughter-in-law took Barkley to the vet after he began showing signs of parvo. Within a few days, Bentley also had contracted the virus.

Both dogs survived, but their vet bills cost the Greens $2,600. Milligan refunded the couple the $400 they paid for the dogs after first asking for the puppies’ return, Robin Green said.

“He said, ‘I’ll give you the money back but you have to surrender the puppies,’ ” Robin Green said. “I couldn’t see any way we were going to give the dogs back. In the back of my mind, it felt suspicious.”

The Greens kept the dogs, who have both made full recoveries.

Bear the Shorkie: Julie and Frank Williams, surrendered their puppy, Bear, to Milligan for parvo treatment.

The 2-pound “shorkie poo” was diagnosed with the virus on Oct. 13, two days after the Williamses bought him. Bear died on Oct. 14

Finley the Australian Shepherd: Wesley Atkinson said he and his wife, Regan purchased miniature a Australian shepherd puppy from the owner of Surf’s Up Puppy Shack on Oct. 7.

Atkinson and his wife paid $600 for Finley, a purebred but “unpapered” puppy. On Oct. 12, Finley was lethargic and vomiting.

The Atkinsons took him to WestVet on Oct. 13, where he was diagnosed with parvovirus.

Finley spent four days at WestVet and ultimately survived. The Atkinsons left with their puppy and a $3,000 bill.

Molly the Goldendoodle: Brian and Jessica Bishop visited Surf’s Up on Nov. 29 and took home a goldendoodle puppy they named Molly. By Wednesday, Dec. 4, Molly was sick.

“She was just vomiting over and over and over and over again, so it went from, like, her being a normal puppy to just that sick overnight,” Jessica Bishop said.

Brian Bishop took Molly to their usual vet at Pet Care Clinic in Meridian, where Molly tested positive for parvo. Their vet told them it was the fastest positive result she’d seen on a parvo test, and she believed Molly had a strong strain of the illness. She urged them to give their adult dogs parvo booster shots just in case.

On Dec. 6, the Bishops took Molly to stay at WestVet emergency clinic so she could be monitored while their normal vet was out of town for the weekend. Their bill from WestVet totaled more than $4,000.

The Bishops paid $995 for Molly, which Milligan offered to refund. The Bishops said they did not accept the refund.

Milo the Great Pyrenees: Rylee Farnham was 17 years old on Nov. 29 when she bought a Great Pyrenees puppy from Surf’s Up Puppy Shack. She said she had a coworker sign paperwork so she could get the puppy without her mom’s permission.

She noticed the dog, which she named Milo, having diarrhea and being lethargic.

“Every time I picked him up, he’d look like he was passing out,” Farnham said in a phone interview.

She took Milo to the Idaho Humane Society’s veterinary clinic, where he was diagnosed with parvo Dec. 4. Farnham decided to return Milo to Milligan at Surf’s Up and said he refunded her the nearly $300 vet bill, as well as the $150 she paid for the puppy.

Farnham doesn’t know if Milo ended up surviving.

“I try not to think about that because … I just don’t want to think of the worst, but I do,” she said.

Misty the Great Pyrenees: JoAnn Lance saw a listing on Craigslist for a male Great Pyrenees puppy and agreed to meet the seller at 3100 E. Florence Drive in Meridian — which she thought was a residence.

“I get to the address and it’s in a strip mall,” she said in a phone interview. “Then I realize it’s really a pet store.”

Lance said Milligan showed her a female Great Pyrenees and explained the ad was a mistake. She paid cash for the puppy, which she named Misty, on Dec. 19 and received vaccination records from Milligan. The next day, she took Misty to her regular vet at Eastgate Pet Clinic for a checkup.

“The vet said: ‘Oh, these are really cheap vaccines. They’re simply not effective,’ ” Lance said.

Lance opted to get a parvo booster for Misty after several friends told her they’d heard previous accusations of the virus at Surf’s Up. Two days later, Misty started vomiting and tested positive for parvo. She spent two days at WestVet, leaving Lance with a bill of $1,900.

“To me, the money is not important,” Lance said. “I want a healthy puppy.”

Milo the Great Dane/Labrador retriever: Crystal White also bought her dog at Surf’s Up Puppy Shack on Dec. 19. She saw a Great Dane/Labrador retriever mix puppy advertised on Craigslist and went to the address from the ad thinking it was a residence.

White bought the dog, named Milo, from “a young girl,” not Milligan.

She said Milo seemed sick Dec. 24 but perked up the next day. By Dec. 26, he wasn’t eating or drinking.

“He was just lifeless,” White said.

She took Milo to Indian Creek Veterinary Hospital in Caldwell, where he tested positive for parvo. His vet bills totaled $1,100.

White said she sent copies of her bills to the phone number listed for the store but never heard from Milligan.

In December 2019, the Idaho Humane Society

After receiving numerous complaints about Surf's Up Puppy Shack, the Idaho Humane Society launched a formal investigation into the business. They found nothing against Idaho law and Meridian City Codes...but Idaho law and Meridian codes don't protect animal entirely, "animals are considered property and so there's not really a whole lot of regulations as to what you can do or what happens when you have property so it's pretty loose..." says Kristine Schellhaas, with the Idaho Humane Society.

Knowing that, but wanting to initiate a change, the Humane Society released a detailed survey for Ada County residents. One of the more popular topics, whether or not the sale of cats and dogs should be allowed in a retail space.

The survey went out in the beginning of December and ran through the end of January. In six cities (Boise, Meridian, Kuna, Garden City, Eagle and Star) the answer was clear. Over 90% of participants ruled in favor of banning retail pet stores that sold cats and dogs.

Idaho Humane Society survey results
Idaho Humane Society survey results

According to Schellhaas, "so what the survey was doing for us is basically get some facts and some data so that if and when a city wants to talk to us about some city ordinance changes, then we have some good solid data to bring forward.” City ordinances take less time to implement than something at the state level. Currently, the Humane Society is working with the City of Boise to put a new ordinance into place and they're ready to work with others to do the same, "if there are some city council people that are interested in other cities in the Treasure Valley who would like access to this data to implement some ordinance changes, we are all ears and would welcome the conversation.”

We reached out to the new owners of Puppyland, Justin and Kayla Kerr wanting to know how they're operating their business differently than Surf's Up and what are they doing to regain trust here in the community. They responded with a statement via email saying:

“Puppyland is an established pet adoption company that is enormously proud to have separated ourselves from other similar businesses by maintaining the highest standards in the industry. Puppyland only sources puppies from professional and licensed breeders that meet our high standards. Because of these standards we are able to provide a 15 day viral health guarantee as well as a 10 year lifetime guarantee for each puppy we place with their forever family. Puppyland only sources puppies from professional and licensed breeders that meet our high standards. Because of these standards we are able to provide a 15 day viral health guarantee as well as a 10 year lifetime guarantee for each puppy we place with their forever family. Puppyland strives to be the best, most responsible, ethical option when it comes to selecting a new puppy in our community. Puppyland ownership is dedicated to the betterment of animal welfare; we find that the best way to prepare for the future, is by blazing the trail. We will continue to lead the way in providing the best service, standards and ethics in the industry.

Warmest regards,
Justin & Kayla Kerr”

They declined further comment.