LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) — French bulldogs, Malteses, Doodles and Shih Tzus are selling for four-figure prices at some Southern California pet stores, months after California became the first state in the U.S. to ban the sale of animals from puppy mills.

2 On Your Side went undercover at three pet stores — Puppy Space in Santa Ana, Hello Puppies in Temecula and National City Puppies in San Diego County — where it found that designer puppies were being sold months after the state ban on puppy mills took effect in January of 2019.

“You’re being conned, it’s blatant consumer and charity fraud,” said Deborah Howard of Companion Animal Protection Society.

Assembly Bill 485, passed by lawmakers in September 2017, prohibits the sale of puppies, cats or bunnies unless they come from a shelter or rescue organization.

The animals are advertised as purebred or designer-mix rescue puppies. But the dogs being kept in glass cages at all three stores are from puppy mills.

“I know they are, we’ve checked it and we know they are,” Chief Animal Control Officer Monique Middleton at the Animal Friends of the Valleys shelter in Wildomar. “We know exactly where these puppies are coming from.”

The puppies at all three stores are coming from two organizations claiming to be rescues: Pet Connect in Joplin, Miss., and Bark Adoptions in Menifee, Calif.

(credit: CBSLA)

Bark Adoptions only incorporated with the state of California in November 2018, about a month before the new law took effect. Paperwork obtained by CBS2 showed all the dogs coming out of Bark Adoptions in January were designer dogs. An address listed for Bark Adoptions was a single-family home with no animals visible on the property.

“This is nothing more than a front so they can have a name and an address,” Middleton said.

The pet stores are getting around the law through a loophole, by partnering with bogus rescue organizations that recently applied for 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status.

A sales clerk at National City Puppies told 2 On Your Side’s undercover cameras she was aware of the loophole.

“But that’s where you’re getting it anyway, right, the breeders?” the undercover pet customer asks.

“Not directly, not like we used to,” the clerk responds. “I guess it’s like a loophole they found or something.”

The clerk explained to the undercover customer that a French bulldog that is supposed to be a rescue would cost nearly $6,000.

“It’s only expensive because of the whole breeding process. They can’t reproduce, so they have to artificially inseminate them.”

Meanwhile, at the Animal Friends of the Valley Shelter where Middleton works, adopting a dog is just $65.

“I just won’t mention a name right now, but I will tell you, we hit five pet shops in just one day, and in one month, the month of January, one pet store made $75,000 off of selling puppies,” Middleton said.

While CBS2 was undercover at Puppy Space in Santa Ana, an animal control officer came into the store to investigate a tip that the store was violating the law by selling designer dogs. However, the store was able to show paperwork that all its dogs came from 501 (c)(3) organizations: Pet Connect and Bark Adoptions.

“It’s a pet shop all over again, they never stopped doing business the way they were prior to the bill passing,” said Howard.

Meaning consumers can still buy designer puppies, thinking they’re helping to rescue an animal, while the true rescues continue to sit in the shelters.

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