HOUSTON – “Is this really mine? Oh, I love it!”
Those were the words of 12-year-old Sarah Harris as she was getting the best Christmas present of her entire life — a baby French Bulldog puppy named Bella.
Looking at the video of that moment brings a fountain of tears and rips Sarah’s heart out now.
Just hours after receiving the puppy, Bella started showing signs of a serious illness. Within three days, the puppy died.
Rob Harris and his wife Susan bought Bella for close to $2,500 from a Richmond dog seller named Taylor Paige Matura. The Harris family found Matura on Craigslist.
“She told us it was a healthy dog, that it had been vaccinated and we shouldn’t have any concerns," Rob said.
But on the ride home, Rob said the dog was showing signs of distress and by 2 a.m. that night the dog was already very sick.
“I woke up about 1:30 a.m. to check on the dog and there was bloody diarrhea all over the bedding. At that point, I knew I had to do something so I scooped her up in my arms and took her to the emergency vet clinic," Rob said.
Veterinarians at the clinic determined that Bella was suffering from the deadly Parvovirus and would need to be euthanized.
“The thing I can’t believe is that someone could have a heart that will allow them to hand a puppy, that she knows is not healthy, hand it over to a 12-year-old girl," Rob said.
Turns out, it’s a disturbing trend.
KPRC 2 spoke to four families, who all say they paid Matura hundreds of dollars for dogs that either died, had to be euthanized or became very sick, within a few days of purchase.
“This woman broke my wife’s heart and it took us months to heal over this issue," said Garrett. He asked to only be identified by his first name.
Garrett said he spent $1,500 on a French Bulldog puppy for his wife.
But within five hours of bringing it home, he said the little dog was already vomiting everywhere. Garret said the puppy was also diagnosed with the Parvovirus and died three days later.
Garrett said the entire ordeal gutted both he and his wife.
“My wife going to the vet’s office each day to hold that sick little dog. That was the hardest part for me," he said, wiping away the tears welling up in his eyes.
And another man, Wayne Stewart, said he paid close to $2,500 for a puppy for his girlfriend’s two young children.
He said the dog from Matura started throwing up on the way home in the car. He said within 30 hours, the puppy died right in front of the two children, who were horrified.
“We literally watched it take its last breath," Stewart said. “Watching a dog expire right in front of your children is not a pleasant experience for anyone.”
KPRC 2 tried to speak to Matura at her home, but no one answered the door.
After KPRC 2 reporter Bill Spencer left his card at her front door, she called a few hours later.
She said she did not know Stewart and that she was not selling sick dogs.
KPRC 2 found several bad reviews about Matura on Yelp. However, the Houston chapter of The Better Business Bureau said it has no complaints against her, and police say she hasn’t broken any laws.
Garrett and Stewart both filed lawsuits against Matura in small claims court, but Garrett said he settled his suit out of court for an undisclosed amount of money.
Sarah doesn’t want another dog right now as the pain of losing a puppy was too crushing for her and her family.
“This has been such a traumatic thing for our whole family, I just don’t want to see anyone else go through this," Rob said.
If you are considering buying a dog for your family, the Humane Society of the United States has several tips:
- Never buy a dog from someone selling dogs online, from a pet store or from someone who wants to meet you in a parking lot or shopping center.
- If you are going to buy from a dog breeder or seller, insist on visiting their operation in-person to see first hand how the dogs are being treated and cared for and under what conditions they are living.
- Before you pay for any animal, insist on taking that animal to a veterinarian of your choosing to have the animal checked out.