Stephanie Plasencia was certain she had found the perfect Christmas gift for her son on Craigslist. The pictures of the maltipoo were not only adorable but the puppy seemed like a bargain at $300.
But what Plasencia didn't know is that the sellers, Erick Canoura and Edith Espinoza, had no license to sell dogs. In fact, Canoura had been banned from selling puppies in Miami-Dade County.
Plasencia said, “I was so overwhelmed with joy—petting Ollie and kissing him—you know bringing him home that I just completely didn’t think where’s his paper--is he healthy?”
Plasencia says Ollie seemed fine at first ... but then he stopped eating and drinking water. The diagnosis: parvo--a highly contagious and nearly always fatal virus. It's preventable if the dog is vaccinated.
Faced with the decision to put Ollie down or pay for his hospitalization, Plasencia took out a line of credit to pay for medical treatment she hoped would save the puppy’s life.
“Emotionally, it’s difficult. I don’t know how to explain to my three-year-old son if he passes,” said Plasencia with tears in her eyes.
Ruben Gonzalez says he’s also dealing with the financial set back of trying to save a sick puppy he bought from Espinoza and Canoura last June. He was looking for a companion for his dog, Rocky. Bullwinkle, too, was diagnosed with parvo. He died just days later.
“My fiancé cried. I cried when I lost him. It was hard,” said Gonzalez.
Gonzalez says the pair never replied after he asked for Bullwinkle’s medical records that he had been promised. Gonzalez says Canoura talked about the great care he provided for his dogs. Gonzales says he believed him and thought he was a reputable breeder.
“I think he should be in jail for what he is doing,”
Miami-Dade County Animal Services tell us they will call police if they catch Canoura selling puppies on the street – because a 2013 court injunction prohibits him from selling dogs in Miami-Dade. Both he and Espinoza have been cited before for selling animals without a license.
The NBC 6 investigators decided to see if the two were still selling puppies.
We responded to a Craigslist ad and Espinoza agreed to meet us in the same strip mall parking lot in Southwest Miami-Dade where she met Plasencia.
This time, Espinoza didn't know she was meeting NBC 6 investigators producers. She approached them with two puppies in hand, and offered to sell them for $500 each.
We passed on that offer, but days later when we called again, Espinoza showed up at a Southwest Miami-Dade convenience store parking lot and Canoura, the man barred from selling puppies, joined her carrying two puppies. An NBC 6 Investigators producer confronted Canoura.
“Erick can you answers some questions? Why are you still selling puppies? You’ve been banned in Miami-Dade County from selling puppies,” the producer asked Canoura. He did not answer questions and ran from the camera while still carrying a puppy.
Espinoza wasn’t happy to see the producer or our camera either. She made a crude hand gesture to the camera. The two were in such a hurry to leave, Canoura apparently left his truck—with his animal crates inside.
Local resident Johnny Siddens says he sees Canoura selling puppies in the area all the time.
“I asked him about a month and a half ago are you even allowed to sell puppies in this area or in this state or anything and he says ‘of course I’m allowed to’," said Siddens
“I hate to say it but it’s the consumer’s fault for going to buy these dogs like this,” said Luis Salgado, Miami-Dade Animal Services investigator. He says it’s tough keeping up with the illegal sale of dogs. High consumer demand and the anonymity of sites like Craigslist make this an attractive business for unscrupulous breeders and sellers. Salgado says consumers would be shocked to see the squalid conditions many of these dogs are kept in.
“It’s very heartbreaking and these dogs are suffering—they’re sick—they get minimal vet care,” said Salgado.
“Reputable breeders are not on Craigslist. You find them on the internet. They have their own website. They have people to vouch for them,” said Karina Goldenberg an animal advocate with Saving Sage Animal Rescue Foundation. Goldenberg says consumers should see for themselves where animals are being raised and steer clear of anyone brokering pet deals in store parking lots.
“They do not have a facility--they will not let you to go see the condition the dogs are kept in and that’s a huge red flag.”
It’s a lesson Plasencia learned the hard way. She spent thousands of dollars trying to save Ollie. He died soon after being hospitalized at a veterinary clinic. Now, Plasencia is looking for a pet at an animal shelter, where she knows it will have been vaccinated.
“Especially after the situation, I know I’m giving a dog a chance and actually it just feels good,” said Plasencia.
Miami-Dade Animal Services say they are investigating Canoura and Espinoza. The agency also wants laws changed to require sellers to post their county permit number when selling puppies on sites like Craigslist.
If you’re looking for a pet, some local shelters have a promotion going on this month. You can adopt a dog from Miami-Dade Animal Services or Broward County Animal Care for as low as $20.15.