Pet store in Markham closed after animal activist finds 'dehydrated' puppies

A pet store in Markham was closed Tuesday after an animal welfare activist raised the alarm about puppies and kittens she said showed "obvious signs of distress," and the store is now apologizing on Facebook, saying it will improve the living conditions for the animals.

Someone from store posted on Facebook that they are 'terribly sorry' and will improve conditions for animals

Animal rescue volunteer Ashley Cote recorded scenes of puppies, desperate for cool air, licking the windows of the display cases at a pet store in Markham. (Ashley Cote/Facebook)

A pet store in Markham was closed Tuesday after an animal welfare activist raised the alarm about puppies and kittens she said showed "obvious signs of distress," and the store is now apologizing on Facebook, saying it will improve the living conditions for the animals.

Ashley Cote, a volunteer with Toronto Cat Rescue who's been rescuing animals for 15 years in the Waterloo area, dropped in at the pet store Monday around 1 p.m.

"The puppies were so dehydrated and the heat was so unbelievable," said Cote, "I was concerned that they would die."

Ashley Cote said the puppies she found in glass display cases at a pet store in Markham looked so dehydrated she was worried they might die before the SPCA could get there. (Barry Smith/CBC)

Walking into the Teddy Club Inc. on Kennedy Road, north of Steeles Avenue East, Cote told CBC Toronto she was struck by the intense heat generated by lights above the glass display cases, along with the "screaming" of puppies and kittens. Cote said water dishes in the dog cases were empty and some puppies, especially the larger breeds, were panting and lethargic.

Cote recorded the scenes on her cellphone, including one of a large puppy lying on its side, licking the glass in front of the cage.

"It's desperate for coolness because on the opposite side of that glass they had opened the door, so it was cooler there" said Cote. "I don't believe those cages have any air exchange."

When a CBC crew showed up at Teddy Club on Tuesday, its doors were locked and staff would not let the crew in. The store's Facebook page, which according to Cote was active on Monday, had been pulled down by Tuesday.

CBC Toronto has not been able to confirm if the store was closed because of animal welfare violations. Markham's mayor did say municipal officials were at the store Tuesday investigating a possible zoning violation.

In another video shot by Cote, a kitten swipes frantically at the glass wall.

Cote says the cages contained no blankets or toys for the animals to play with. "There's nothing for them to do."

Cote says when one of the staff overheard her talking to her companion about the kitten's face, which she says was covered with green mucus, the clerk took the kitten away to wash its face, and then washed the faces of the other kittens.

The other clerks sat behind the desk, more involved with their cellphones than with the pets, Cote said. 

Cote and her companion retreated to the parking lot where they called the Toronto Humane Society, which placed a call to the Ontario Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (OSPCA).

After a two-hour wait Cote said a uniformed OSPCA official arrived.

Following him into the store, the staff "were literally scrambling to fill water dishes," Cote said.

The doors of the Teddy Club pet store were locked today, and a staff person refused to let a CBC crew enter. (Barry Smith/CBC)

"The puppies were drinking faster than they could fill them so they obviously needed it."

The OSPCA official told Cote that although pet sellers are required to follow a watering schedule, water dishes do not have to be full at all times.

But Cote says someone connected with the store sent her a message on Facebook Tuesday saying they are "terribly sorry for making people upset ... about our animals." The message also says the store will improve the animals' living conditions "as soon as possible" and "make sure all the puppies and kittens are healthy."   

Tuesday evening, the Markham pet store posted a response to Ashley's facebook video of puppies and kittens in Teddy Club's display cases.

But Cote worries that the store in Markham is part of a much larger network of puppy mills.

Other municipalities, starting with Toronto in 2011, followed by Mississauga, Oshawa, and Kitchener-Waterloo have restricted the sale of dogs and cats at pet stores, allowing only rescue animals to be sold.  It appears Markham is ready to follow suit.

Markham Mayor Frank Scarpitti says that by spring Markham Council will likely follow the example of Toronto and other municipalities in a ban on pet stores. (Barry Smith/CBC)

Mayor Frank Scarpitti says council directed staff last fall to prepare a report on a proposed bylaw banning the sale of puppies and kittens, except as rescue animals.

"Markham has been a leader," said Scarpitti, "by being the first municipality to open a storefront in one of our community centres to adopt cats, and we've saved over 200 cats through that adoption centre."

On her Facebook page, Cote's post and videos have been shared more than 2,000 times. Cote said she's grateful for the response and hopes her story and growing public awareness will lead to a ban on the sale of puppies and kittens from pet mills across Ontario.

Cote says it was upsetting Monday in the parking lot, watching customers go into Teddy Club and leaving with pets "as though they were buying a pair of shoes."