Expensive pet store cats: Rare breeds or common housecats?

The owner of Petland Kennesaw calls his business the Number 1 pet store in the entire country.
But even though the store racks up sales records year after year, a hidden camera FOX 5 I-Team investigation raises questions about whether customers are getting the truth about the pets they're buying.

When the FOX 5 I-Team paid a hidden camera visit to the Kennesaw Petland, it was obvious: the store devotes a large chunk of its business selling lots and lots of puppies.

Not just any puppy. Puppies with designer names. Like a Cavapoo (Cavalier and poodle mix). A Walrus (Sharpei and hound dog mix). And a Pomchi (Pomeranian-Chihuahua mix).

So many mixes up for sale, you might think you'd get these dogs at mixed breed prices.

Keep dreaming.

"He was four grand," said a somewhat embarrassed Kacie Crowley about her miniature bulldog Frank. "Yeah, I set up a payment plan."

A payment plan. Our undercover producers heard all about that payment plan from one of Petland's commission-paid sales staff.

"If I can get approval for the full amount, no money down. Baby goes home the same day," the Petland Kennesaw salesman promised.

Read the paperwork Kacie Crowley got: in-house financing at nearly 30% annual interest. But little or no money down! That's how KSU student Charnelle Smith decided she could afford $3600 for her Yorkie Poo, which a vet diagnosed with pneumonia soon after Meiko got home. Charnelle wasn't counting on thousands of dollars in vet bills.

"Do you regret buying a dog from them?" I asked.

"I love my dog," Charnelle insisted. "I regret the price. Because the whole price thing, I felt kind of ripped off."

The Humane Society of the United States accuses Petland of Kennesaw of getting many of its puppies from out-of-state puppy mills. Company owner Brad Parker says he personally visited those breeders and says they meet all government standards. Earlier this year, an anti-pet store group Paws for a Cause took pictures of an 18-wheeler at the Kennesaw Petland, dropping off a shipment of puppies.

"We are allowing pets to come into the state, hundreds at a time, from out of state vendors who are breeding puppies inhumanely," said Paws for a Cause attorney Tamara Feliciano. "And yet we have a pet overpopulation crisis here in Georgia."

Petland Kennesaw's website boasts awards for the highest sales among all Petland franchises in the country. It's a family-owned operation, in business for 15 years. They promise a one-year warranty for "hereditary and congenital" health issues. But what happens when the sales staff says things that just aren't true?

One Petland salesperson told us a cava-poo -- a cross between a Cavalier springer spaniel and a poodle -- would be a perfect fit if we have allergies.

"He's hypoallergenic," she said on hidden camera video. "So he won't shed."

Another salesman told us two cats had the same allergy-free feature, cats labled as a Teddy Bear and a Ragamuffin.

"A cool thing I want to tell you about the Teddy Bear is their hypoallergenic," he said. "So if you had allergies or anything you won't get them from the cat."

But Petland's owner admitted no one really knows whether a mixed breed dog or cat offers any such protection for allergy sufferers. Brad Parker declined to go on camera but said his people should not have made those guarantees.

Local veterinarian Clay Phillips agrees.

"So is there any cat designer breed that's hypoallergenic?" I asked Dr. Phillips. "There may be," he said. "Not that I'm aware."

"But not a Teddy Bear and not a Ragamuffin," I asked. "No. No."

Here's something else that could make your eyes water: Petland Kennesaw critics say those may not even be fancy designer cats.

"I was flabbergasted to just be standing there listening to somebody telling me who does rescue that that is a Ragamuffin when I knew it truly wasn't," said longtime pet rescuer Fran Jackson with the Fancy Feline Rescue of Cobb.

Ms. Jackson visited the Kennesaw Petland a few days after we did. She's spent much of her career studying cat breeds. She showed us what a real Ragamuffin is supposed to look like, one that was recently adopted through the Fancy Feline Rescue of Cobb.

According to her complaint with the Better Business Bureau, Fran says Petland tried to sell her a fake Ragamuffin for around $1500.

"Either they don't know their breed or something else is going on. I'm not sure.," she said.

Petland's owner wouldn't comment on the cat confusion, saying they've never "received any (customer) claims regarding the cats" they had for sale.

But store critics say they complained about so-called Bengal cats which they photographed six months ago. According to Fran Jackson's BBB complaint, Petland "had a ridiculous sales price of somewhere around $3000 for this cat."

"It was not a Bengal kitten," she said. "Plain tabby cat. You can get a lot of those at the shelter."

On Saturday, July 17, Petland hosts a big anniversary celebration... with free food and drink and "the happiest, healthiest animals to play with."

Protesters plan to be there in force as well.

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