SALEM, N.H. — A North Andover man and his girlfriend say they were devastated by back-to-back deaths of two dogs they selected from Pick of the Litter pet store in Salem, New Hampshire.

The couple’s experience with the South Broadway business is not unique, according to records from the New Hampshire Department of Agriculture, Markets and Food.

Records show inspections of the store sparked by customer complaints, ongoing issues with untidy spaces, and questionable record-keeping practices for individual animals — including one that died of a viral disease soon after leaving Pick of the Litter in 2019.

Derek DuBois said the trouble for him started in early August, when he chose a 9-week-old Pomeranian to purchase.

He was told the dog would be able to go home with him to North Andover the following week, he said.

But when he returned with his girlfriend, Catelyn McGrath, the couple was told they could not leave with the dog; it was one of five in the store with kennel cough, a respiratory illness.

Another week went by, DuBois said, and he and McGrath made their way to Salem again with the belief that they would return home with the puppy.

“When we got there the manager told us that the dog had just gotten sick, and he had to go 24 hours without getting sick before he could leave,” DuBois said. “They told us to check in tomorrow.”

Within three hours DuBois said his phone rang. It was the pet store manager – the dog had died.

“It was a liver shunt” DuBois said he was told. “It was a congenital defect that they didn’t know about before, apparently.”

The couple was offered to select another dog from the store. The deposit for the one that had died would be transferred.

This one, a Chihuahua, made it only briefly to the couple’s home.

“The same night into the next day it started limping,” he said. “We brought it to the emergency room and found out it had a broken leg. Then the dog starts getting sick; not eating for days.”

With vet bills quickly mounting near $2,000, DuBois and McGrath said they were told their puppy had parasites and would need further treatment. They decided to return the dog to Pick of the Litter.

“It was traumatizing for my girlfriend and I to have to do that,” DuBois said.

“A couple days later we found out it had died. They emailed us to say that; didn’t even call. They said it was ‘small puppy failure,’ which I hadn’t heard of.”

Pick of the Litter owner Sharon LeBlanc, who lives in South Carolina, has maintained that the dogs died at no fault of her workers.

LeBlanc said she has a cell phone recording of the Chihuahua in-store, “mobile, without lameness, playing and energetic” to disprove DuBois’ claims that any injury happened before the sale.

The owner of the 13-year business said in a statement to The Eagle-Tribune, “Working with animals takes love, patience, and strength; not just for the industry, but also to navigate the oftentimes harsh public.”

On December 10, 2019, the New Hampshire Department of Agriculture, Markets and Food sent a letter to LeBlanc outlining significant facility concerns. The Eagle-Tribune obtained a copy of the letter through a public records request.

Written by Assistant State Veterinarian Nate Harvey, the letter states Pick of the Litter was inspected on Nov. 25, 2019 as a follow up from “deficiencies observed” the month before.

“Also, a new complaint was received by the department and the health officer of Salem since the October 16 inspection,” the letter states.

The new complaint alleged a Cockapoo was sold and subsequently diagnosed with lice, gastroenteritis, a heart murmur, and kennel cough.

It was seen at an emergency veterinary hospital multiple times, twice within 14 days of leaving Pick of the Litter, according to Harvey. It died within weeks.

“Upon reviewing the dog’s records submitted to the department by the complainant, as well as the records on file at (Pick of the Litter) during the November 25 inspection, it is unclear if this dog was ever vaccinated against distemper or any other canine viral diseases,” which is required by law, the letter states.

According to the inspector, there were no vaccinations recorded on the certificate that came with the dog upon import into New Hampshire, “which means the dog was imported in violation of New Hampshire import statute.”

A manager at the store during the inspection was told that air quality remained a concern, despite installation of new air filters since the last inspection.

“It is clear from the history of complaints from the public and the endemic nature of respiratory disease in the facility that this continues to be an issue this year,” the letter states.

Pick of the Litter was issued a $1,000 fine, which according to State Veterinarian Steven Crawford, was paid in full December 23, 2019.

“It is very unfortunate, but if and when health issues arise, some cannot be corrected or recuperated from, regardless of any and all care provided,” LeBlanc said in her statement.

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