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The mayor of the City of Fairfax has formed a task force to look into potential ways of enforcing stricter regulations for a local pet store after two dogs purchased there died within days of being taken home.

In May, Alexandria couple Kevin Mulcahy and Tiffany Lowe purchased a Maltese puppy from the Petland pet store at 9404 Main St. in Fairfax.

According to Petland documents, the eight-week-old puppy named Ty was given a clean bill of health upon his purchase, but in court documents, the couple say he died only days after they took him home.

“It seems like this is hypoglycemia, but could also be an infection, too, which we cannot prove because of lack of any blood work,” said Dr. Sandeep Cheema of the Potomac Valley Veterinary Hospital, in veterinary documents.

“We at the Petland family are very saddened and distraught about the loss of the puppy Ty,” wrote Fairfax Petland General Manager Kareem Koshok in an email sent to Fairfax County Times. “This was an extremely unfortunate circumstance that occurred once the puppy left the store and was under the new owner’s care. As was explained to him, a puppy needs frequent meals to maintain their blood sugar. If their sugar gets too low, they can’t reproduce it quickly enough and they can become hypoglycemic. This is especially true in small or toy breed puppies. If this goes by unnoticed the puppy can get seizures and it can be fatal.”

According to court documents, Ty was purchased for $2,400 from Petland. A deposit of $1,200 was put down, with the remainder still due. But because he died so unexpectedly, Mulcahy and Lowe maintain that they do not owe the balance.

On Wednesday, Fairfax County General District Court Judge Thomas Gallahue threw out a lawsuit filed by Mulcahy and Lowe, as well as a countersuit by Koshok. Because the Fairfax location is owned by an incorporated parent company, the suits need to be refiled under that corporate entity, Gallahue ordered.

Mulcahy and Lowe were unable to be reached for comment.

The Petland store in Fairfax is part of a national chain that is no stranger to controversy.

The Humane Society of the United States initiated an extensive investigation into the chain in both 2008 and 2009, concluding that “The HSUS’ eight-month investigation revealed that many Petland stores across the country are marketing puppy mill puppies to unsuspecting consumers,” according to the HSUS website.

“Petland has a terrible reputation in the marketplace,” said Fairfax City Mayor Scott Silverthorne. “All you have to do is Google it and it’s a national problem.”

Silverthorne said he has gathered together a task force comprised of Fairfax City Police Chief Rick Rappoport, representatives from the Washington Humane Society, the Fairfax County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, and members of the Animal Control division of the police department. He says they will explore ways that the city might be able to more strictly regulate the Petland store in Fairfax.

Silverthorne said he actually began assembling the task force after a similar event in August 2012, when another family purchased an 11-week-old dachshund from the same Petland location that soon died of Parvovirus.

“This most recent incident has now created even more of a sense of urgency,” Silverthorne said.

“Virginia is a Dillon Rule state and we are not sure what actions we can take on our own, but we are exploring looking at zoning and the special use permit process to see if there is anything we can do. If not, we may need to go and get additional enabling legislation from the legislature,” he said.

In Virginia, the Dillon rule states that municipal governments have only certain powers that are conferred on them by the Virginia General Assembly, and that they may not supercede those very specific powers. But, however limited, Silverthorne said he is “passionate” about this issue and is committed to doing everything within the city’s power to make sure it does not happen again. “Imagine being an individual or the parent of a child, and purchasing a small puppy only to have it die only weeks after and then being told ‘you owe us another $1,200,’” Silverthorne said. “I am very frustrated by the lack of self-awareness by Petland for going after the second customers for the remaining balance of their fee. That, to me, was pretty appalling.”



gmacdonald@fairfaxtimes.com