Friday, June 5, 2020     Volume: 21, Issue: 14

Santa Maria Sun / News

The following article was posted on June 4th, 2019, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 20, Issue 14 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [] - Volume 20, Issue 14

Animal Kingdom wins small claims court case

By Kasey Bubnash

A San Luis Obispo County small claims court recently released a ruling in favor of Animal Kingdom Pet Shop, a local pet store accused of knowingly selling an unhealthy puppy to an Arroyo Grande family. 

From left to right: Animal Kingdom Pet Shop owners Michelle Crook, Adam Tipton, and disgruntled customer Jen Toste took their disagreements to small claims court on April 26. The court ruled in favor of Animal Kingdom on May 3.

Jen Toste, who purchased an $1,800 goldendoodle puppy from Animal Kingdom in July 2018, filed a complaint against the pet store on March 8, claiming that the store’s owners and employees sold her an unhealthy puppy, which was later found to have serious, preventable health issues. Toste requested $10,000 in punitive damages from Animal Kingdom owner Adam Tipton, who she claimed sold her the puppy knowing of its health issues, which later cost Toste tens of thousands of dollars in medical bills. 

Just days after Toste’s hearing in Grover Beach on April 26, San Luis Obispo County Commissioner Leslie Kraut filed her decision on May 3, ruling that Animal Kingdom does not owe Toste additional money. 

“The evidence presented to support plaintiff’s claim of fraud by the defendant does not meet the clear and convincing standard of proof required, nor does it meet the lesser burden of proof under a preponderance-of-the-evidence-standard,” Kraut wrote in her decision. “Judgement is therefore entered for the defendant.”

In court on April 26, Toste testified that her puppy, Lola, was diagnosed with bilateral hip dysplasia—a hereditary disease in which the hip joints develop incorrectly—just weeks after her purchase. Since then, Toste has spent more than $10,000 on veterinary appointments, surgeries, and medications for Lola. Although Animal Kingdom paid Toste more than $2,000 in medical reimbursement costs that are required by law, Toste claimed that because Lola’s disease is preventable, she’s owed more. 

In court, Toste blamed irresponsible breeding—which can lead to higher rates of disease in animals—for her dog’s health issues, and she claimed that Animal Kingdom knowingly purchased Lola from a shady out-of-state breeder to increase its profit margin. Toste provided the court with information she found on Lola’s breeder, Peaceful Acres Kennel in Missouri, including a Missouri Department of Agriculture inspection report from 2011 that listed a number of code violations. 

The report states that Peaceful Acres had hundreds of dogs on site during that inspection and that portions of dog houses were chewed up; facilities were dirty and dilapidated; outdoor pens were filled with standing water; feeders were caked with wet dog food; and some pens housed three dogs each, where they were not able to sit or stand in a normal position. 

Animal Kingdom’s owners provided evidence that subsequent inspections found that the issues were corrected, and that the breeder hasn’t incurred a single violation since 2011. 

“None of the reports provided evidence of breeding concerns which would result in congenital or hereditary deformities in their puppies,” Commissioner Kraut wrote in her decision. 

Despite the win, Animal Kingdom closed its stores in Santa Maria and Pismo Beach in April, and will continue business out of a single location in Grover Beach. The store also stopped selling puppies that month and is still fighting another lawsuit brought by animal rights groups Bailing out Benji and Animal Legal Defense Fund, which claim Animal Kingdom circumvented a new state law by selling commercially purebred puppies labeled as rescues. 

Neither Toste nor Animal Kingdom owner Tipton responded to requests for comment before the Sun’s press time. 

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