Dog owner raises concerns about breeder after puppy diagnosed with genetic condition

Mike Connolly was excited when he went to pick out a puppy from a breeder this past summer.

Now, he wants to warn others who shop for pets online after he had to spend almost $3,000 to correct a condition veterinarians told him was genetic — a diagnosis the puppy’s breeder is disputing.

Connolly was searching for a long-haired German shepherds when he came across an ad on Kijiji. A breeder was selling them from her home in Mono, Ont., 84 kilometres northwest of Toronto.

“I looked them up a little bit and did see a few complaints but I still had faith in the seller because when you look at reviews, there are always good and bad ones,” said Connolly.

“There was nothing glaring.”

On July 19, he made the drive to Mono from his home in Mississauga to meet the breeder, Megan Zarzecki, whose business operates under the name Long Coat German Shepherds. 

“It was a nice rural property. She was very, very nice and friendly.”

Cruiser had surgery to correct his hip dysplasia at The Ontario Veterinary College in Guelph, Ont. on Oct. 31. Connolly was told the condition could potentially lead to pain and arthritis without surgery. (Mike Connolly)

Connolly told CBC News she brought out some puppies for him to look at, and suggested that he take the largest one — the leader of the pack.

The breeder was not registered with the Canadian Kennel Club, but provided him with a health report from a veterinarian showing the dog was given several vaccinations and had a clean bill of health.

Connolly signed a contract and paid $1,850 for the nearly two-month-old pup he named Cruiser.

“Half an hour later, Cruiser was in my car and we were headed home,” Connolly said.

‘He was limping’

But in October, Connolly said, he started noticing problems with Cruiser’s back right leg.

“He was limping.”

Connolly took the dog to Millcreek Veterinary Clinic in Mississauga, where the vet performed X-rays and discovered Cruiser suffered from hip dysplasia — a condition that occurs when a dog’s hip joint doesn’t develop correctly, causing the leg to partially dislocate.

The vet told Connolly if left untreated, it could eventually cause arthritis of the joints.

“I was told it’s a genetic issue,” Connolly said. 

The condition was confirmed by experts from the Ontario Veterinary College at the University of Guelph.

Connolly says the vet told him Cruiser may need more surgery for his other hip, which is showing signs of looseness. (Mark Bochsler/CBC)

On Oct. 30, Cruiser had surgery at the Ontario Veterinary College to fix his hip. The procedure, called a femoral head ostectomy, restores mobility to a damaged hip by removing the head and neck of the femur.

The operation, combined with the veterinary fees, cost Connolly nearly $3,000.

Breeder skeptical

Since the surgery, Connolly said he tried to contact Zarzecki twice, but had not heard back.

He said he would like her to take some responsibility by reimbursing a third of the surgery and vet fees because the dog was diagnosed with a genetic condition. 

CBC was able to reach Zarzecki by phone. 

Despite Cruiser’s diagnosis, she said large dogs like German shepherds are prone to hip problems, which could be caused by environmental factors or an accident.

“Some injury could have happened; one slip that maybe they didn’t notice right away. That could have caused the joint not to develop properly.”

Zarzecki said she has reimbursed buyers in the past when she is convinced the condition is genetic, such as a heart murmur, but in this case she’s skeptical.

An X-ray shows hip dysplasia in Cruiser’s right hind leg, where the ball and socket do not fit properly. Breeder Megan Zarzecki says it’s common in German shepherds and could easily be caused by falling on a slippery, artificial surface. ‘Once they leave, it is out of my control,’ she says. (Submitted by Mike Connolly)

She said none of Cruiser’s relatives have been diagnosed with hip dysplasia.

“Going seven generations back, none of them have it,” she told CBC News.

But Connolly said he recently discovered a private Facebook group consisting of 17 others who noticed health problems with their dogs after purchasing them from Long Coat German Shepherds.

Connolly has given CBC News access to the group. The problems the members have experienced range from hip dysplasia to Giardia infections.

Zarzecki says she tests all her dogs for Giardia, a microscopic parasite that can infect the gastrointestinal tract and cause diarrhea and vomiting.

“From May to October, [Giardia] is everywhere. So every time a dog goes out, they could get it,” she said.

“People always blame the breeder.”

Buyer beware

Suzana Gartner, the founder of Gartner & Associates Animal Law, says there are no regulations when it comes to breeders in Ontario and Canada.

“They don’t have legal standards, practices to adhere to,” Gartner told CBC News.

Lawyer Suzana Gartner, whose law firm focuses exclusively on animal law, says the Canadian Kennel Club is a good place to start when searching for an ethical breeder. (Kelda Yuen/CBC)

She recommends looking for breeders through the Canadian Kennel Club, whose members must adhere to its policies and code of ethics. 

The organization also provides a guide to finding a reputable breeder.

“If you are considering purchasing a puppy, it would be advisable not to go online to sites like Kijiji. Check the Canadian Kennel Club, and do some research to find out if the breeder has a website and what their policies are,” Gartner said.

“There are also wonderful cats and dogs sitting in shelters.”

Looking back, Connolly says he wishes he did a bit more research and hopes others will learn from his experience.

“This has turned me off from the whole process.”

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