LOS ANGELES, CA - DECEMBER 15: A Chihuahua waits adoption at a Los Angeles Department of Animal Services shelter on December 15, 2009 in Los Angeles, California. Chihuahuas make up about a third of the dogs at many California shelters, so many that some shelters are shipping Chihuahuas to other states to find homes. A shelter in Oakland sent about 100 to Arizona, Oregon and Washington. Recently, a Los Angeles city shelter flew 25 Chihuahuas to Nashua, New Hampshire where all found homes within a day through the local Humane Society. Experts have blamed the glut of abandoned Chihuahuas in California on the influence of pop culture, a bad economy, puppy mills and backyard breeders. Fans sometimes abandon the dogs when they are no longer new and cute to them or when expensive vet bills start to add up. The tiny dogs are named for the Mexican state of Chihuahua. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
After several lawsuits and a revealing investigation by NBCMiami, the former owners of a notorious South Florida pet store are finally admitting guilt.
A court settlement by the owners of Wizard of Claws out of Tamarac admits that they deceived customers by selling sick and defective puppies for thousands of dollars.
The "wizard" behind the scheme, Jim Anderson, settled to prevent a nationwide class-action lawsuit from going to court. Anderson had been quietly buying his puppies from puppy mills and pushing them on unsuspecting customers.
Experts claim sickness and genetic defects are not uncommon in these mills, like the defects Cathy Carrado's little Chihuahua Bruiser has had to deal with.
Born with a split skull, Bruiser has gone through hell and had come close to dying, until authorities seized him from Wizard of Claws and fostered him to Carrado.
"They didn't really, I don't think, pay any attention to some of the defects and some of the special needs so they would have just sold to whoever," Carrado said.
NBCMiami went in undercover last year to expose the horrible conditions faced by puppies like Bruiser, and chronicled what was at the heart of the lawsuit: deceptively selling sick and genetically defective dogs.
The settlement of the lawsuit has forced Jim Anderson and his wife Gilda into bankruptcy, shutting down scores of their other pet selling businesses.
Getting them to admit guilt will effectively prevent them from selling pets for at least a decade and possibly forever.
"That's the point again, the goal of the action was to prevent future consumers from falling victim to these kinds of unscrupulous business practices," said Christine Deruelle, a lawyer for the puppy buyers. Her powerful lawfirm took the case for free.
Deruelle hopes the settlement may force all pet stores in Florida to stop buying from puppy mills so dogs like Bruiser can get a better start on life.