WASHINGTON -- Donna Wynkoop bought her Shi-tzu, Petie, in July from a pet store in Annapolis. Two weeks later, the dog began having seizures.
Wynkoop, of Crofton, took Petie to a veterinarian who told her the dog had water on the brain.
Medical services already have cost her $700.
Wynkoop's story is similar to those told by many people who purchase pets bred in "puppy mills" and sold by pet stores.
She was at Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin's side yesterday when he announced that he has introduced a bill to crack down on pet stores that sell unhealthy dogs bred in puppy mills.
The "Puppy Protection Act of 1991" would allow consumers who unknowingly purchase ill puppies from pet stores to get refunds up to three times the cost of the animal in order to pay for high veterinarian bills should they decide to keep the pet.
The unhappy buyer also would be able to exchange the dog for another or get a refund.
"The objective of this legislation is simple -- to put an end to the breeding practices in these puppy mills," said Cardin, D-3rd, adding that 90 percent of dogs sold in pet stores come from such operations.
Sarason Liebler, president and chief executive officer of Docktor Pet Centers, the largest chain of pet stores in the nation, called the bill an attempt to attract publicity and to put pet-store owners out of business.
"There are problems out there, but it's the programs we are putting into effect that are reducing and eliminating bad breeders," Liebler said.
"This bill will attack small retailers who are trying to survive in a tight economy. It's an attempt to raise funds and to play to an issue that is overstated terribly."
At puppy mills, according to the Humane Society of the United States, dogs receive insufficient shelter and veterinary care. They are forced to breed incessantly.
And when female dogs are no longer fertile, they are usually killed.
Puppies that are bred under these conditions are often sickly and susceptible to diseases and congenital defects that aren't visible until later in the dog's life.
There are 10 co-sponsors of Cardin's bill, including Rep. Constance Morella, R-8th.
The measure will be referred to the Energy and Commerce Committee.
Although most dogs are purchased through newspaper ads, which would not be affected by Cardin's bill, 90 percent of the sick dogs were bought in pet stores, said Bob Baker, an investigator for the humane society.
Puppy mills operate primarily in Midwestern states but their number is growing in York and Lancaster counties in Pennsylvania, Baker said.
The problem in Maryland is not puppy mills, but the pet stores that sell the pups bred there, he said.