Greensboro, NC -- You can't get away from the commercials - the music, the sad faces of the Humane Society ads. You wonder who hurts defenseless animals. Too many people. And many of them right here in our state.
According to the Humane Society, North Carolina had more puppy mill busts than any other state in 2011 and 2012. And if you buy an animal from one of these breeders, chances are, you might not know anything is wrong until it's too late.
Ricky and Rita Brooks of Deltona say their love for dogs clouded their judgement. When they bought an Australian Shepherd from "Blue-Eyed Beauty Aussies" in Sarasota, they thought they had the perfect pet.
"He was such a beautiful little puppy," Rita Brooks said of Baxter, a puppy with one brown eye and one baby-blue eye. "He always laid down with me (on my chest) because he was little."
But just as quickly as the Brooks fell in love, their puppy fell sick. A couple of days after they bought him, Baxter grew sluggish. A vet diagnosed him with parasites. A couple of days later, he was diagnosed with Parvovirus, a highly-contagious virus often transmitted through dog feces. The virus incubates in dogs, but is very preventable through proper vaccinations.
"The veterinarian said if he'd been vaccinated, he would not have been sick like this," Ricky Brooks said.
Despite health guarantees from the Sarasota breeder who sold the dog on "BlueEyedBeautyAussies.com," the Brooks say they never got any answers about why Baxter arrived sick. And after blowing their vacation savings - $2500 - on two week's worth of non-stop vet services, they were told Baxter wouldn't make it.
Rita Brooks says, "When we got there, he was gasping for air, and we told him how much mommy and daddy loved him and he looked at us one last time and he couldn't breath."
The Brooks filed complaints with the state against Blue Eyed Beauty's owners, Sherrie Rouse & her daughter. And as other victims came forward, the women closed down their website. But they weren't out of the breeding game; they opened a new one under a different name, Dos Lunas Aussies.
We found complaints of Rouse shipping sick dogs all around the country. And as internet sales become more popular, countless more breeders like her are popping up. But because the Animal Welfare Act was written 40 years ago, selling sick pets over the internet is largely legal.
Sherry Silk from the Humane Society of Tampa Bays says, "The loophole allows people to breed and send these animals out. You don't know what you're getting. You don't know what the parents were like; how were they housed?"
Humane Societies support a proposed change to federal law that would crack down on the shipping of sick pets. They say it's necessary because right now. backyard breeders and puppy mills aren't inspected. Silk says, "They don't care; it's all about the money."
The Brooks say they'd like to justice done to Sherrie Rouse. Rita Brooks says, "We wish she could pay us for what she owes us, but we know she'll never."
Ricky and Rita say their love for dogs clouded their judgement, but after their experience with Baxter they learned to spot the red flags and happened - by chance - to come across a healthy Aussie Shephard with all the proper paperwork. His name: "Chance."
There's a bill going through our state's legislature right now to crack down on dog breeding facilities. House Bill 930 would establish care standards for breeding facilities, and give law enforcement tools to make sure the animals are treated humanely. It passed readings in the House and Senate, and is now being referred to the Agriculture Environment Natural Resources Committee for review.