British Columbia·CBC Investigates

Puppy's death sparks call for tougher dog breeding rules

A Vancouver Island couple who paid $1,800 for a nine-week old puppy from a Langley breeder say the dog died four days after they picked it up.

Heartbroken couple paid $1,800 for puppy and want their money refunded

Deszi, the Yorkshire terrier/Maltese cross, died within an hour of being rushed to an emergency veterinary clinic on Boxing Day. (Gabrielle Grauer)

A Vancouver Island couple who paid $1,800 for a nine-week old puppy from a Langley, B.C. breeder say the dog died four days after they picked it up.

"He was a little ball of butter, just so fluffy." said Cam Meads, 34, of Deszi, the puppy he and partner Gabrielle Grauer took home.

"He almost fit in my hand."

Now, Meads and Grauer want the breeder, Roberta Henry, to provide another puppy or refund their money. They signed a contract with Henry, which states if the puppy had a congenital defect, the seller will replace the dog.

Gabrielle Grauer bought Deszi for her boyfriend Cam Meads after years of planning to adopt a dog. (Gabrielle Grauer )

Henry says she sold the couple a healthy dog and doesn't know why Deszi died.

In B.C., dog sales are usually handled by private contract. If a dog dies or buyers aren't satisfied, the only recourse is through the courts. The lack of licensing for breeders leaves a gap for consumers. The purchase of cars or pricey appliances typically comes with a warranty. Not so with expensive dogs.

Even with a contract, the onus is on buyers to prove the dog is defective.

Meads and Grauer say the experience left them with hefty breeder and vet bills. They say the industry should be licensed and wonder if it's worth going to court.

"I'm not really sure how how much longer I can have this fight for before I just need to move on and forget about it," said Grauer, 34. "But I'm not ready to quit."

It's difficult to estimate how many dog breeders operate in B.C. because there is no registry. Animal experts — ranging from veterinarians to lawyers — say regulations are needed.

"There are people out there that are breeding animals not because of the love of animals but because they can make an awful lot of money with very little effort." said Maple Ridge veterinarian Adrian Walton, adding his comments are not in direct reference to this case.

Deszi dies 

On December 22, Grauer and Meads picked up the Morkie — a cross between a Maltese and Yorkshire Terrier — from Darling Dogs, in Langley.

On the drive home to Saanich, the dog began to vomit. The couple had been warned by the breeder that puppies often suffer from motion sickness so they weren't  alarmed.

Morkie puppy Deszi when his owners first brought him home

4 years ago
Duration 1:00
Gabrielle Grauer and Cam Meads were devastated when the puppy died four days after they adopted him.

By December 26, the puppy stopped eating and drinking. They took it to a Victoria animal hospital where it was diagnosed as severely dehydrated. Within an hour, Deszi suffered a seizure, his heart stopped and he died.

"I was shocked," said Grauer. "I burst into tears."

In addition to the cost of the puppy, the couple had a vet bill of $800. They said they couldn't afford to pay $500 for a necropsy. As a result, there is no conclusive cause of death.

The breeder says the first she heard of a problem was when Grauer called the day of Deszi's death.

"I was devastated," said Henry, who wonders why they didn't seek medical attention sooner. "The puppy is not eating, not drinking. Call me. Call a vet."

Henry said "out of compassion" she offered the couple a $400 refund but they refused it. 

Roberta Henry, of Darling Dogs, still has two of Deszi's siblings. One is for sale. (Dillon Hodgin)

Case for small claims

In February 2017, the B.C. Liberals passed legislation to toughen animal cruelty regulations by establishing a licensing system for dog and cat breeders in the province.

The current NDP government has yet to implement the changes.

B.C. Agriculture Minister Lana Popham who oversees the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act said the government is consulting with stakeholders.

Lawyer Rebeka Breder, who specializes in animal law, says the couple may have a case in small claims court, arguing it's unlikely the couple did anything to harm the dog.

Breder says judges have evolved when it comes to deciding cases involving animals, recognizing them as a unique type of property.

But Breder doesn't think that tougher legislation would affect a contract between two parties.

"Really, what it comes down to is a contractual issue," she said.

Independent review 

Dewdney Animal Hospital owner Adrian Walton examined Deszi's medical report for CBC. He says the puppy was dehydrated, hypoglycemic and showed signs of inflammation.

Walton said it's impossible to determine what killed Deszi because there was no post-mortem, but the hypoglycemia could indicate a congenital issue found in small dogs, or it could have contracted a virus.

Dr. Adrian Walton, of the Dewdney Animal Hospital, says the NDP needs to move to implement breeder legislation that was passed almost two years ago. (Martin Diotte )

Meanwhile, Grauer and Meads say the dog's death has left them heartbroken.

"He just put the biggest smile on my face," said Meads.

"We already loved him so much," said Grauer.


Belle Puri


Belle Puri is a veteran journalist who has won awards for her reporting in a variety of fields. Belle contributes to CBC Vancouver's Impact Team, where she investigates and reports on stories that impact people in their local community.


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