Red Bluff, Calif.-- A Redding native said he was willing to pay high price for man's best friend, only to discover the puppy he bought has a health condition that couldn't be reversed.
In an Action News Now exclusive, we investigate the popular North State dog breeder accused of selling sick puppies.
One of their customer has a warning for others in the market for a dog.
"It upsets me every day, I wake up and see this dog limp and it bothers me," said Joe Wolff.
Wolff describes himself simply.
"Lab lover, dog lover period," said Wolff.
When his black lab died of old age last year, Wolff said he begged his wife, Tricia, to consider getting a new Labrador puppy. He got excited scouring popular pages on Facebook and landed on Top Dog Retrievers' page. He was pleasantly surprised to see they were located nearby in Red Bluff.
Top Dog Retriever is owned by Caleb and Toby Anderson. Their Facebook page describes the business as a "training, boarding and breeding facility" in Red Bluff, California. It frequently posts photos of new litters of labs and has over 2,600 "likes."
Wolff decided to look no further, he made a call and set up a time to visit their facility to pick out his puppy.
"It was instant love, no shyness, it was like he was meant for us," said Wolff.
The Wolff's found a goofy, friendly yellow lab. They named him Dakota and, at four months old, brought him home to Redding.
"We paid $2,650 for him," said Wolff.
The Wolff's said they signed a contract for a pure bred lab, with guaranteed health.
"The first night we had him he got sick," said Wolff.
Wolff said they were alarmed but thought maybe the puppy was just getting adjusted to their home. But, when Dakota's condition worsened, they took him to their veterinarian.
"The vet tested him he had kennel cough, worms and mites under his chin," said Wolff. "They said the mites were passed from the mom."
Wolff said he immediately called the Anderson's to alert them to the problem.
Dakota eventually recovered from those illnesses, but several months later, developed a limp. They took him back to the vet. After x-rays, they were told Dakota had elbow dysplasia and needed surgery.
They called the Anderson's again.
"He said he would replace the dog, or give us a refund, whichever we decided to do," said Wolff. "I've already developed a relationship with this dog, he's like our kid, I don't want to give him back."
Wolff said he was also concerned about what the breeder would do with a returned, sick dog. He said he wanted the price of the dog back and was willing to pay for Dakota's surgery himself.
But, that's where they claim communication with Top Dog Retrievers stalled.
"We never did hear from him again," said Wolff.
The now 11-month-old yellow lab still walks with a limp. The Wolff's says they've been left with an ailing dog and piles to medical bills.
Wolff starting digging deeper than the popular Facebook page. To his shock, he found the business had quite a lot of bad reviews on Yelp and an "F" rating from the Better Business Bureau.
Many reviews were written by people claiming to be customers who purchased puppies, just like the Wolff's, only to discover some had serious health issues and received no refund from Top Dog Retrievers.
Wolff said looking back now, he realizes he missed red flags.
The Wolff's recently filed, and won, a $7,500 suit against the Anderson's in Tehama County's civil small claims court. That covers the price of the dog and medical bills. Wolff doesn't expect he'll get the money back.
"It's gone at this point, it's gone, I get it. I would like it back, don't get me wrong. I'm an average working person, I could really use that money back. But, am I ever going to see it? Do I care really? No. Do I care that somebody knows about this? Yeah. That's my concern. Don't let this happen to you, that's my biggest thing."
Wolff said he would simply like to see the Anderson's stop breeding sick dogs, and if and when it happens, take financial responsibility for it.
DIGGING DEEPER INTO THE BAD REVIEWS:
Action News Now independently reached out to several of the users who left poor Yelp reviews for Top Dog Retrievers. Many were from out of the area. Then, we got a call back from David Blockhus in Los Altos, CA.
"I am the first in a long line of people who are suing them," said Blockhus.
Blockhus bought his yellow lab, Mia, at six months old, from Top Dog Retrievers.
Blockhus said immediately upon getting Mia home, she needed $1,200 worth of dental work for "rotting teeth." Blockhus said Mia also suffered from giardia, a parasite that attacks the dog's intestines, causing severe digestion issues.
Blockhus said he too attempted to receive a refund from the Anderson's and when he didn't get a response, he pursued his legal options in Tehama County.
"Being so far away, I think they figured this guy isn't going to do it," said Blockhus.
In March, Blockhus won his civil suit against the Anderson's for $5,600,. That covered his base payment of $2,650 for the dog, plus additional vet bills.
"I don't anticipate getting paid," said Blockhus.
Blockhus believes there is a pattern of fraudulent business happening at Top Dog Retrievers.
"Their business strategy is get the dog in someone's hand, delay and don't respond, hide and then hope the customer will just go away," said Blockhus.
Blockhus said he is not going away and will use every resource he can to enforce the judgment of the law.
Tehama County District Attorney Gregg Cohen said, at this time, the Anderson's are only facing legal consequences in civil court.
Cohen says receiving payment from settled civil suits can be difficult and the tedious process does discourage some from going through with a suit at all.
Action News Now requested all suits filed against the Anderson's and Top Dog Retrievers from the Tehama County Superior Court. The search came back with the two suits involving Wolff and Blockhus, as well as one additional property dispute with a former landlord.
The Tehama County Animal Control says no complaints have been filed against the Anderson's for their current kennel property on Dibble Road, in Red Bluff.
Several attempts were made to contact the Anderson's before the story aired. Action News Now team left voicemails, messages and even went to the property in Red Bluff. Shortly after our crews filmed the property, from the public street, we received a call back from Caleb Anderson.
TOP DOG RETRIEVERS RESPONDS:
"Yeah, you have two very unhappy people, no doubt," said Caleb Anderson, in reference to the Wolff and Blockhus civil suits.
Anderson said he is aware of both suits, and he's also aware of the bad reviews on Yelp. He said he's been occupied with a private family matter.
"Yeah, I saw there were some papers from the courts and I haven't had a chance to go through all of that," said Anderson. "We are not ignoring people with issues."
Anderson said he initially offered to pay the base rate the costumers paid for the dogs, but stopped negotiations when they pressed for compensation of additional vet bills on top of that.
Anderson said he believes these are isolated cases. Anderson said his dogs are OFA certified (Orthopedic Foundation for Animals) by a vet, before being used for breeding. He says their hips and elbows are graded, but that it's "not a 100 percent guarantee."
"When things go perfect, we have happy customers...when they don't, they're very vocal about it," said Anderson. "We've been breeding almost 20 years now and dogs, much like people...the genetics aren't always perfect."
When asked if he planned to pay the two recent civil suits in which the judge sided against him?
"Um, were going to look at them," said Anderson.
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