PUYALLUP, Wash. — For years, Puppyland charged customers a $10 to $15 fee called the Pet Industry Defense Fund.
“So these are fees that go back to protecting the industry and defending our industry,” Puppyland owner Kayla Kerr told me.
Why should consumers pay this?
“It’s optional for them. They don’t have to pay, but it’s just part of the concept of our business that we want to bring back to the overall image,” Kayla said.
In a pet store, a new friend will cost you up to 128% interest.
But that image includes donating money to places like “The Cavalry Group.”
The Missouri-based group says it is “a society made up of pet owners, pet-related businesses, and businesses. We have united to fight legally and legislatively against the radical animal rights agenda nationwide.
“There does not appear to be any form of animal cruelty that the cavalry party finds objectionable,” says Lisa Wathne, head of captive wildlife protection for the Humane Society of the United States.
She says it’s ironic that Puppyland supports The Cavalry Group.
“That doesn’t surprise me at all. But everyone who has donated money to Puppyland should be appalled that some of their money is being used for this purpose and, of course, they don’t know it,” says Wathne.
The fees ended in February after we started asking questions. But customers say when it was billed, it was never presented to them as optional.
Puppyland customers like Millie Hill, who spent over $5,500 on a puppy, had no idea where those costs went. And that she never heard of it until we reported it.
Jennifer Hayden spent $5,000 on a bulldog puppy and claims the expense was not optional.
“Absolutely not! No, nothing optional that I would have taken out of this contract. Anything. Just to cut costs,” says Hayden.
The Cavalry Group CEO says it helped Keith Wilson, the owner of a roadside zoo in Virginia.
The group handled free media for more than two years for Wilson until he pleaded no contest last month to 27 misdemeanor animal cruelty counts. The Cavalry Group also set up a GoFundMe campaign, with all funds going to Wilson’s attorneys.
Not surprising for Wathne, who visited Wilson’s Park. You can see photos in our video segment above.
“Animals that don’t get proper veterinary care, that don’t have space to express natural behaviors. It’s dangerous, unhealthy and downright cruel to animals,” says Wathne.
Wilson was also charged with allegedly tampering with a lion cub to “Doc” Antle. It is another private zoo operator that was featured in the documentary “Tiger King”. That trial is scheduled for July.
“OK, see, this is just crazy to me. This is crazy. And why are Puppyland giving them money?” asked former client Jennifer Hayden when we explained our findings.
The cavalry group is also against the Big Cat Public Safety Act.
“It would outlaw the very cruel practice of removing baby tigers from their mothers so they can be used for photo ops with the public,” Wathne says.
In a statement, Puppyland told KIRO 7:
“Puppyland is a member, as are many others across the country. The Cavalry Group stands up for Puppyland and other businesses related to the pet industry when they need help. The case you are referring to is not related to Puppyland.
So where did Puppyland’s pet industry defense costs go?
“Yes, that goes to our lobbyist,” admitted owner Kayla Kerr.
Yes, part of the fee was used to pay FMS Global Strategies.
According to state records, Puppyland pays the lobby group $10,000 per month. He is working to fight bans on the sale of pets in Pierce and Renton County. Just like the cavalry group.
In response, Cavalry Group CEO Mark Patterson calls the Humane Society of the United States animal rights extremists. As for Puppyland, he says:
“The Cavalry Party has not received any donations or payments other than annual dues from members of Puppyland Pierce County.”
No one we spoke to said Puppyland was doing anything illegal.
But what customers tell me is who a business stands with can be as important as the sale itself.
Jennifer Hayden says Puppyland should be responsible for all that money.
“Yes, I do,” Hayden says. “Yeah. I think it’s awful.
Doc Antle did not respond to our request for comment. He told CNN “I have deep esteem and feelings for the animals in my care and would not hurt or abuse them in any way.” Keith Wilson’s attorney said his client wouldn’t comment either.
After they started asking questions, Puppyland said they would stop charging the fee.
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