Update: Sasha, the German Shepherd puppy, died from intestinal parasites and parvovirus shortly after this story was written.
When Doreen Longo of Toms River brought home an adorable German Shepherd puppy as a Christmas present for her daughter, Longo thought that the holidays would be filled with love and cheer.
Instead, less than 36 hours after she brought little Sasha home, Longo devoted the last ten days and more than $1,000 at her veterinarian's, trying to keep the terribly sick puppy from death's door.
"I feel so terrible. That poor puppy didn't ask for this," Longo said, close to tears.
Longo purchased the puppy at , a pet store in the Avenel section of Woodbridge that specializes in purebred canines.
"The puppy started vomiting and had bloody diarrhea the second day after we brought him home," Longo said.
In panic, she called Fancy Pups owner Rocco Guarruto, who had sold her Sasha for $950.00 and told him she had taken the dog to the Point Pleasant Veterinary Hospital.
"They said the dog had roundworms. They did a stool sample and the puppy was also infected with Coccidia and Giardiasis", two other type of parasitic worms, Longo said.
That wasn't the worst of it. Little Sasha was also infected with parvovirus, a highly contagious disease that is frequently fatal to canines, especially puppies. When she bought the puppy, it had been in a cage with two other German Shepherds of the same age.
Two Puppies with Parvo
The veterinary assistant at the Point Pleasant hospital was shocked when she heard about Sasha, because it was the second German Shepherd puppy they had come in contact with who was infected with parvo.
The assistant confirmed that that puppy, too, had been purchased from Fancy Pups in Avenel. She could not say whether the puppy had died from the disease because of privacy laws.
Guarruto said that the puppy wasn't sick when he sold the dog to Longo.
"We called the owners of the puppy's litter mates. They all seem to be fine," Guarruto said. "I'm not one to point fingers, but I don't know her environmental situation. I don't know if the puppy got it from being exposed to another dog [in Longo's home] who had it."
Guarruto said that the puppy had been vaccinated against parvo before it was sent home with Longo. "I do this myself. I'm a breeder myself," he said.
In addition to selling puppies, Guarruto said he boards dogs and grooms them, and he has his "own infirmary" in the puppy store where he himself takes care of sick animals.
The store was supposed to provide Longo with a form, signed by a veterinarian, that the dog was in good health. Longo said she never received such a form, a contention Guarruto disputes.
"Yeah, she got a form," he said, but he refused to say which veterinarian he uses to certify that the puppies his store sells are healthy and disease-free.
A Special Puppy
Sasha is a special puppy, Longo said. The family had owned Blitz, a purebred German Shepherd who had been part of the family for 13 years.
Blitz had passed away in July, right before Longo's 19-year-old daughter, Angela Trahan, who had joined the Army, was leaving home for boot camp in Alabama.
As a Christmas present, Longo had wanted to get a German Shepherd puppy to surprise her daughter, who was coming home for a vacation.
Angela fell in love the minute she set eyes on Sasha. "She adored that puppy," Longo said before breaking down in tears.
Instead of spending Christmas at home with the new puppy, Angela will be leaving for her Army assignment on January 3. The puppy has been mostly unconscious, still vomiting and oozing diarrhea, and hooked up to an IV for dehydration at Calling All Creatures, a Toms River veterinary center near Longo's home.
Longo herself has spent nights sitting up with the sick puppy at the veterinary clinic.
This isn't the first time that complaints have been filed against Fancy Pups. A variety of agencies and organizations throughout the county and state have heard of problems residents have had with puppies purchased at the store.
The NJ Division of Consumer Affairs affirmed that there have been 10 complaints filed against the pet store from 2008 to now. In fact, the Middlesex County Division of Consumer Affairs in New Brunswick confirmed that they are suing Fancy Pups for defying the state's Consumer Fraud Act in selling sick animals.
That case is on the docket to be heard in Woodbridge Municipal Court on January 5.
Longo, who said she spoke to Phillip Bujalski, the chief health inspector at the Woodbridge Health Department, said Bujalski asserted there were "no complaints" against Fancy Pups.
The township's health department licenses and annually inspects pet stores.
Bujalski's assistant referred questions to the mayor's office.
The NJ Dept. of Health has also received complaints about the Avenel pet store.
Daniel Emmer, a spokesman with the NJ Dept. of Health, said that they have also received complaints against the store.
"The state has received three complaints since 2007 for selling puppies deemed unfit for purchase. One complaint was from 2007, while another complaint was received in 2009," Emmer said in a statement. "These complaints were referred to both the local health office and the Division of Consumer Affairs within the Department of Law and Public Safety."
Matthew Stanton of the NJSPCA, which leads the charge in the state in cases of animal cruelty, said that they "have a history at that address", referring to Fancy Pups in Avenel.
"We have received a complaint. It's under investigation," Stanton said.
'A Very Good Reputation'
For his part, Guarruto scoffed at the complaints, saying they were so few in number as to be meaningless.
"I have five dogs myself. I'm an animal lover. My whole family are animal lovers," he said. "Check stores within a 26 mile radius and see who has the least complaints," referring to another Woodbridge pet store he said doesn't take care of their pets.
"We have been here almost 10 years. We have a very good reputation."
Guarruto at first denied he was being sued. "I have a lawyer, and he hasn't contacted me," he said, but then added: "My lawyer is resolving it with Consumer Affairs. I won't have to be in court. I wasn't served."
Guarruto said he had "no problem paying for legitimate veterinary bills," but that he wanted Longo to provide him with blood tests to prove the puppy actually has parvo.
"I'd like to see how the dog caught parvo. I've got no problem talking about the puppy. If it's a legitimate claim, I have no problem paying for the dog to go to the vet. Why won't the vet talk to me?" he said.
Things Don't Look Good
Sasha rallied a bit on Thursday, even going so far as to sit up. But Friday the puppy had a relapse, and things aren't looking good, Longo said.
"The vet gave Sasha a 50-50 chance. He was being optimistic," she said. "The dog's eyes were rolling in the back of his head, now they're just sunken.
"I'm expecting to hear the worst any minute."
When Longo heard that Guarruto had called her vet several times, and demanded to know why her vet wouldn't return his calls, she laughed sardonically.
"That's easy. My vet said that anyone who would sell a puppy in this condition is a monster. He doesn't want to talk to monsters," she said.
Come Thursday, Longo said she will be at Woodbridge Municipal Court to bear witness to Guarruto, if only through his lawyer. She herself has retained an attorney.
"No one should ever, ever have to go through this," Longo said. "My dog should be running around and enjoying her new life, not sick in a cage with an IV stuck in her."