Alleged Cloverdale puppy mill facing new legal troubles

Friday, December 7, 2007

An alleged puppy mill in Cloverdale is still up and running even as the owner faces new legal trouble in a Morgan County court over selling sick puppies.

In papers filed with the Morgan County court, Tammy Gilchrest, owner of Kritter Heaven, a Cloverdale non-profit rescue center, is accused of selling an eight-week-old Pomeranian puppy infected with the deadly respiratory virus, Parvo, to James O. Baker. The puppy died five days after it was purchased.

However, this is not the first time the owner has faced legal trouble for selling sick or dying puppies.

The Indiana Attorney General's office filed a lawsuit against Gilchrist regarding her Internet puppy sales in March 2006.

The state alleges that Gilchrist was in knowing and intentional violation of the Indiana Deceptive Consumer Sales Act. The suit includes complaints from 14 out-of-state customers who say they gave Gilchrist money for puppies they never received, were not reimbursed steep shipping fees for puppies that were never delivered or paid for and received a sick puppy that later died.

The suit further alleges that Gilchrist was operating under several aliases including Tammy Workman, Tammy Killea, Sam Workman and Samantha Workman and selling puppies via several different websites under the business names TESK Kennels, AKA Kennel, Puppysrus and Affordable Pups and was conducting business without a kennel license.

In a phone interview, Gilchrist told the BannerGraphic that she had been cleared of all wrongdoing by the Indiana Attorney General's office and was no longer involved in litigation.

She further contended that the Attorney General's investigation had found her to be the victim of identity theft, she said, when other Internet puppy traders used her online identity to defraud customers.

Her statement, however, is in direct contradiction with the Indiana Attorney General's office whose spokesperson says that with many outstanding complaints, the case against Gilchrist is far from over.

"We are still working that case," said Indiana Attorney General spokesperson Staci Schneider. "We still have a suit pending. This is not resolved in any way."

The state seeks a permanent injunction against Gilchrist and her puppy selling businesses and estimates she owes fines and restitution to customers that could exceed $65,000.

In this most recent lawsuit, Baker claims he purchased a puppy from Gilchrist for $600.00 after seeing an ad for a purebred Pomeranian puppy in the Indianapolis Star. The puppy became ill and died within a few days of bringing the dog home. It was later diagnosed with Parvo.

Baker is seeking a full refund for the puppy in addition to $50.00 for veterinary care and court costs.

Gilchrist denies that the puppy contracted the virus while in her care, saying it had already been vaccinated for Parvo.

In other statements she suggested and that the puppy could have contracted Parvo after Baker took custody of the dog or that the dog never had Parvo and died of another illness.

Robert Johnson, the Martinsville veterinarian who treated the Baker puppy, and other puppies sold by Kritter Heaven, said that the five to 10-day incubation period for Parvo rules out that possibility that the puppy contracted the illness anywhere other than in Gilchrist's care.

The veterinarian also refuted the statement by Gilchrist that the puppy's positive Parvo result came from a Parvo vaccination she had given to the puppy.

"It has been proven that there are no false positives related to the vaccine," said Johnson.

To further refute Baker's claims, Gilchrist also stated that a contract signed by Baker acknowledges that Kritter Heaven is a 501 (c) non-profit, that she offered no health guarantees, rendering her immune from legal action resulting from a puppy's illness or death after a sale.

Kritter Heaven has been listed as a 501 (c) non-profit company with the Indiana Secretary of State's office since April 2007, but Gilchrist said she has been operating in that capacity since 1983. She has consistently denied that she runs a puppy mill.

"We are a rescue," said Gilchrist, who says she often gets cast-off canines from puppy mills that would kill extra dogs if she did not take them in.

"We don't get perfect dogs. We get them because there is something wrong with them."

A Cloverdale veterinarian's office, that Gilchrist provided as a reference, stated that it did in fact supply certificates of health for Gilchrist that are required by law before any animal can be shipped via airline.

However, the office was not willing to comment on the conditions at Kritter Heaven or offer any endorsements.

"I don't know, we've never been there," said Tracy Elkins an employee of veterinarian Oliver Patrick. "I just know she moves a lot of puppies."

Though she initially denied any knowledge of the suit brought by Baker, Gilchrist said she would have worked to resolve the issue if Baker had contacted her about a replacement.

"I would be glad to give him a new puppy, I've got one here now," she said.

After learning about Gilchrist's previous legal trouble however, Baker said he was not interested in a new puppy from Kritter Heaven, he just wants his money back.

A copy of the Attorney General's pending lawsuit against Gilchrist can be found at by searching the alphabetizes list of pending litigation.

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