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A look at the Denton puppy store offering loans on unaffordable puppies

Denton Record Chronicle

The bulldog was everything a dog lover could adore about puppies: small and lovable, but with a sad look that said, “I need a hug.”

Caramel colored with chocolate around the eyes, a white stripe from his forehead to his nose, the bulldog was cute like the other puppies behind the glass. They were stacked atop one another with one, two, possibly three puppies in a cage, all different breeds, shapes and sizes. They peer at you with eyes that plead “hold me” as you search for your dream puppy.

A quick shot of antibacterial hand gel and the puppy is brought to you in special care areas set up next to and in front of the glass. It’s an ingenious way to tempt people to the next step and doesn’t take long for the bond to kick in, especially when the puppy’s licking your face and whining to come home with you.

But these prices aren’t affordable. The bulldog, for instance, cost $10,000, with papers possibly available through the breeder if contacted, an employee said in January.

A week before, a campfire-colored dachshund puppy with long hair was selling for $6,000. A store employee Friday morning said the puppies start at $1,500 and rise in price from there depending on the breed. They also claimed the papers would be available upon purchase and if not, they will get them for you.

Opening in late December off University Drive, the Puppy Dreams store has sold dozens of pets nearly as quickly as they receive their Tuesday deliveries from breeders in and outside of Texas, according to the store employee.

It is part of a retail pet store chain with outlets in Arlington, Carrollton, Garland and Sherman, all offering loans on high-priced puppies, regardless of your credit score.

“We will get everyone approved,” they claim online.

Thankfully, they’re not set up like a used car lot, so if you fall behind on your payments, store employees said they won’t repo your puppy.

“Yeah, we don’t do that,” the store employee said. “It’s their credit they’re messing up.”

When talking to the Denton Record-Chronicle, the employee declined to give their last name. The Record-Chronicle also attempted to get in touch with the store manager, who hadn’t returned calls by Monday afternoon.

Online, Puppy Dreams says it is a fully licensed puppy store with the mission to end the “puppy mill ‘black market’” and says its happy, healthy puppies “come from trusted, vetted, and reputable breeders who exceed the standard in industry practices.”

The store employee said they get the dogs at about 8 to 9 weeks old, and they also have a care kennel team behind the scenes to work with the puppies.

“The trusted, vetted and reputable breeders” claim has been reiterated by the business owner when reviewers online claim that the pets offered by Puppy Dreams come from puppy mills.

According to the Better Business Bureau, Chetan Bhakta is the president of Puppy Dreams LLC. He couldn’t be reached for comment.

“All of our puppies are from [U.S. Department of Agriculture] Licensed breeders,” the business owner wrote in a reply to a negative review in January. “All customers receive the name and USDA number of their breeder on their pup’s health record. We take our dogs’ health very seriously, and only work with USDA licensed breeders.”

The negative reviewer, Lilith Roper, wrote in her reply to the store owner: “Also USDA breeders are animal wholesalers. Like a manufacturer of dogs. Everyone should look into those places. Makes y’all look even worse now that you fully admitted it.”

On its website, Puppy Dreams says it has been vetting breeders for 20 years and has “zero tolerance for breeders with substandard practices or questionable facilities.”

With every sale, the store also offers the “Puppy Protection Guarantee,” which includes:

  • Current health certificate and 30-day pet insurance certificate for health care coverage (up to $1,500 value)
  • Five-day viral warranty
  • Five-generation pedigree on most puppies
  • One year protection against genetic and congenital health defects
  • Microchip and registration with
  • My Pet Trainer, a 15-week age-based positive reinforcement training program
  • Initial deworming treatment
  • Updated shots and vaccinations

But several complaints on the Better Business Bureau website question Puppy Dream’s vetting and the guarantee. One complainant wrote about a getting $3,800 puppy with a head tilt, possibly due to a neurological issue; another frustrated buyer complained about a puppy with a heart murmur and a store warranty that they were struggling in July to get the Arlington store to honor.

Another customer wrote in a February 2023 complaint, “I purchased a morkie puppy on 2/6/23. The puppy was sick, so I made an appointment for her on 2/9/23. The puppy was hacking, coughing and sneezing. The morning of 2/9/23 she threw up a lot of clear thick mucus which had blood in it. I took her to the vet and was told that she had a respiratory infection. ... I took her back to Puppy Dreams and they did not want to take her back. I asked them why do I have to continue to spend money, time and take care of a sick puppy?”

Texas is part of the “puppy mill belt” that stretches north through the Midwest and ending at the Panhandle that includes the states of Indiana, Ohio and Pennsylvania, according to, a nonprofit news organization that focuses on explaining factory farms and their effects.

“One reason why puppy mills are still legal in the U.S. is that the Animal Welfare Act (AWA), the federal law that regulates pet breeding, is outdated and weak or nonexistent on the topic of pet breeders,” according to 2021 report by Sentient Media. “In fact, the AWA exempts the USDA from having to inspect breeders and pet stores selling animals directly to the public — annual inspections are only required for research facilities.”

In 2011, the Texas Humane Legislation Network lobbied to secure passage of what it called puppy mill legislation on large-scale breeders. The law requires the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation to adopt rules ensuring the overall health, safety and well-being of each animal in a licensed breeder facility. The law also defined large-scale commercial breeding operations as Texas breeders who keep 11 or more breeding females or sell 20 or more puppies or kittens a year.

The law allows the licensing and regulation department to issue fines against breeders.

But the Texas Humane Legislation Network believes that the law needs to be strengthened and include the following standards:

  • Animals should be prohibited from being kept in an outdoor facility when the temperature reaches more than 90 degrees or less than 50 degrees.
  • Current rules provide insufficient space for a dog’s comfort and barely allow enough room for the animal to turn around. The minimum space should be doubled.
  • Dogs and cats should not be forced to stand or lie 24/7 on 100% wire or wire mesh their entire lives. Among other problems, this
  • can result in severe damage to their limbs and paws and is highly unsanitary.
  • Stacking of primary dog enclosures on top of one another jeopardizes the health and well-being of the dogs and should not be allowed.

During the 2023 legislative session, the lobbying group worked to pass State Bill 876, strengthening the Texas Licensed Breeders Program. It established basic standards of care in commercial breeding facilities.

“Before SB 876, loopholes and unenforceable requirements prevented the program from working as lawmakers intended,” Texas Humane Legislation Network Executive Director Shelby Bobosky said in an email to the Denton Record-Chronicle on Monday.

Bobosky said that the bill provided two key changes to the program: lowering the number of breeding females threshold from 11 to five so pregnant females and their puppies or kittens receive basic care to avoid illness and injury, and removing the sales threshold, a major loophole for unscrupulous breeders that prevented accountability and enabled cruelty in commercial breeding facilities.

“Both of these commonsense changes will allow the Program to monitor more commercial breeders and prevent cruelty before it happens,” Bobosky said.

Amid dozens of positive Google reviews for Puppy Dreams, one-star reviews also appear, echoing an issue that the Texas Humane Legislation Network lobbyists — along with Rep. Jared Patterson, R-Frisco — have been trying to address during the past legislative sessions: requiring that only healthy animals sourced from shelters and rescues be sold in retail pet stores.

“It is important to note that retail pet stores, like the one in Denton, are not getting their dogs from licensed Texas breeders,” Bobosky said. “Thousands of high demand ‘designer dogs’ are being shipped in from other states, predominantly in the Midwest. This is why we will be pushing for a statewide ban on retail pet stores in 2025 to halt the puppy mill pipeline into Texas.”

Such a ban was recommended by Denton Animal Services staff as part of sweeping updates to the city’s animal code, but Denton City Council members had it removed from the proposed updates due to the uncertainty caused by House Bill 2127, known as the “Death Star Law.” It strips local control of government codes covering areas such as agriculture, business and commerce, finance, insurance, labor and natural resources.

A few months earlier, Denton joined Arlington, Plano and Waco in an Aug. 21 amicus letter in support of motion for summary judgment in Houston’s lawsuit against the state to stop HB 2127. A Travis County judge ruled it unconstitutional in late August. The law went into effect on Sept. 1, and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton appealed the lower court’s decision.

“I would ask [that recommendation] be amended because of the legal and state law concerns … and so the public is not misguided on options,” Mayor Gerard Hudspeth told Denton Animal Services in early December. “I would ask that it not be carried on to public hearings and discussions because of legal implications or clarity.”

Several red flags have been identified to determine if a dog comes from a puppy mill, according to Heather Berst, a veterinarian who works with Zoetis Petcare. Berst said those red flags include:

  • You cannot meet the parents of the puppy.
  • The breeder has multiple breeds or breed mixes available from their kennel, especially “exotic” or in-demand breed mixes.
  • Cheaper than usual pricing for that breed, or extremely expensive pricing.
  • The breeder seems to always have puppies available.
  • There is no puppy contract or minimal paperwork required to purchase the puppy.
  • They offer puppies at ages younger than 8 weeks old.
  • There are no records or veterinary exams, and the vaccines are not given by a veterinarian. Puppy mills will vaccinate the puppies themselves.
  • The puppy is posted for sale online or on social media.

Berst also offered several suggestions for how to avoid puppy mills:

  • Do not purchase a puppy from a pet store.
  • Connect with the local and national breed clubs for a list of breeders they recommend so you can contact them individually.
  • Connect with dog breeders at dog shows and see their dogs in action. Talk to other spectators and participants for recommendations for a reputable local breeder
  • Ask for referrals from people who have purchased a puppy from a breeder.
  • Ask the breeder what health and genetic testing has been done on the breeding pair to rule out health issues prevalent in that particular breed.
  • Ask about vaccinations and veterinary care the puppies receive before going home. Get paperwork that backs this up.
  • Make sure there is a breeder contract. Reputable breeders will have a clause about taking the puppy back (at any age). This helps prevent their dogs from ending up in shelters.
  • Ask to see where the puppies are raised and to meet the puppies’ mother.
  • Responsible breeders will likely have a waitlist because they space out their litters to ensure the mother’s health and early life learning of each litter.
  • Never buy from someone who will sell you a puppy younger than 8 weeks of age.

“And remember, purebred dogs and puppies can end up in shelters and rescues,” Berst wrote. “Talk with your local shelter about the breed you’re interested in and research breed-specific rescues that specialize in your chosen breed.”