Embattled dog breeder ordered to pay client’s vet bills

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A prolific Hawke’s Bay dog breeder at the centre of a Checkpoint investigation into the commercial trade of puppies has been ordered to cover an unhappy client’s vet bills.

Auckland woman Justine van Zyl purchased her boxer pup, Cooper, from Margaret Harkema this year, but quickly noticed the new family pet was unwell.

Harkema sold the boxer litter through a Hawke’s Bay couple acting as intermediaries.

The trio’s lawyer says Cooper’s conditions were invisible to his clients, but now the Disputes Tribunal has ordered them to pay up.

van Zyl paid $2000 for her new boxer puppy and said she expected to get a happy, healthy family pet. She picked Cooper up from the back of a station wagon at an Auckland petrol station on 18 July.

“On the 22nd I took my pup to the vet to get checked and they had said he had puppy pyoderma and cellulitis in his ear, in both his ears,” she said.

“He was whimpering from the day we got him, and I didn’t know why. When I took him to the vet, she said he was in severe pain because of his ears, and he was always scratching at them.”

Cooper was delivered by James Roberts who, along with his partner, acted as an intermediary for Harkema.

The pup’s health problems meant van Zyl was forced to spend hundreds in vets’ bills, on top of the $2000 she paid for Cooper. However, the tribunal ordered Harkema and Roberts refund van Zyl $769.

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“In my view the dog was not of acceptable quality in that the evidence establishes that it had been received by the applicant [van Zyl] in an unfit state,” the referee’s decision stated.

Checkpoint has seen documents confirming Harkema has refunded the vets’ bills through her company, Windfield Farms Ltd.

van Zyl says there was a key reason she pushed on with her Disputes Tribunal claim.

“I’m just glad it’s over and done with,” she said. “I just thought that they need to be held accountable.”

The Tribunal’s ruling was very rewarding.

“But it was also stressful and difficult at the time but, yes, it’s rewarding,” van Zyl said.

The Tribunal considered whether van Zyl was also entitled to recover the purchase price of her puppy, but ruled she was not, unless Cooper, who is now healthy, was returned.

Responding through her lawyer, Steven Price, Harkema said the tribunal found Cooper suffered only from pyroderma, and that parts of the vet bill not related to the condition were subtracted from the award.

Harkema said pyroderma is one of the most common and treatable conditions affecting puppies – pointing to a UK study that found 1 percent of dogs taken to vets suffered from the condition.

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The tribunal did not find the illness was obvious when Cooper was delivered and the litter was checked by a vet and found to be healthy, Harkema said.

She offered to pay Cooper’s vet bills prior to the hearing but said van Zyl never replied. Harkema said the tribunal told van Zyl she was not getting a free puppy, or even half a free puppy.

But van Zyl said she did not spend $2000 to wind up with a sick dog.

“I expected him to be full and healthy and no issues underlying at all, but that wasn’t what we paid for,” she said.

Cooper was one of nine puppies in his litter.

Another puppy involved in Checkpoint‘s investigation, Loki, was put down by his new owners after developing a suspected congenital condition, which affected his mobility.

Steven Price has said Loki’s hind leg problem was not his clients’ fault, said they would not have decided to put him down, and that the condition was only suspected by a vet.

Harkema has already provided Loki’s owners with a full refund.

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