PUPPY LOVE: Alaskan malamute Malla. INSET: Christie Merry with Malla.
PUPPY LOVE: Alaskan malamute Malla. INSET: Christie Merry with Malla. Contributed

Puppy breeders fined $22K over genetic illness

WHEN Christie Merry and Michael Goodhew made the devastating decision to have their beloved alaskan malamute Malla put down, it broke their hearts.

So when the Rockhampton couple found out other pet owners were suffering through the same situation due to the negligence of Sandown Alaskan Malamutes in Chatsworth (near Gympie) who sold them their adored but genetically flawed pet, they knew action had to be taken.

Ms Merry said her and partner Michael bought Malla at eight weeks old for $1000 from Sandown Alaskan Malamutes' dog breeders Peter and Faith Dykstra with the promise Malla was one of the best alaskan malamutes in Australia.

But Ms Merry said things soon took a turn for the worse.

"The first problem we had was that Malla's testicles didn't drop so he had to have a difficult procedure for them to be removed," Ms Merry said.

"We called Peter (Dykstra) and he offered to replace Malla with another dog. That's when alarm bells started going off for us. What kind of person would just swap their pet for another one that easily?

"Then at four months old, Malla started to have problems with his hips. The vets didn't want to diagnose him with anything too early because he was still growing, so it wasn't until he was eight months old that he was diagnosed with a genetic condition called hip dysplasia.

"He had to have two total hip replacements, which is the worst outcome for hip dysplasia. He was in extreme pain and would dislocate his hips walking or even rolling over.

"Then six weeks after that he was diagnosed with a rare algae infection called protothecosis. He was only the 18th dog in Australia to get it.

"As treatment, he had to have injections of one litre of fluid, three times a week. But eventually we realised he wasn't getting any better. He went blind and started having seizures so we made the decision to put him down at just 17 months old. It was so devastating.

"We had to get loans out to cover Malla's vet bills which were well over $23,000."

Ms Merry said when contacting the breeders about the heartbreaking situation, she and Michael were allegedly subjected to verbal abuse and blamed for Malla's death.

Ms Merry said she and Michael then came across a Facebook group dedicated to over 50 alaskan malamutes from the Sandown breeders who suffered the same or similar fate as Malla, and for the past 19 months, have been involved in a major campaign and court case against Gympie dog breeders Peter and Faith Dykstra involving up to 36 dogs.

The two Gympie dog breeders were on Wednesday ordered to pay $22,143.35 collectively in fines and compensation by the Gympie Magistrates Court after being charged by the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) for making false and misleading claims about their dogs.

Mr Dykstra, 79, and Mrs Dykstra, 72, were each found guilty on seven counts and pleaded guilty to a further two counts of engaging in misleading conduct in connection with the sale of goods, an offence under the Australian Consumer Law (ACL). The sale of pets is captured under the ACL which means businesses must not make false claims about their characteristics.

The court heard that between October 2011 and December 2013, Mr and Mrs Dykstra sold alaskan malamute dogs to consumers, several of whom later complained to the OFT after the dogs developed symptoms of the genetic condition hip dysplasia.

The OFT investigation found Mr and Mrs Dykstra misled the consumers by claiming the condition was not genetic. They instead blamed the consumers for causing any ill health conditions by providing an incorrect diet.

In January 2014, the pair advertised in a local newspaper claiming their breeding program was "15 years free of genetic defects", despite being informed of numerous instances of dogs purchased from them having hip dysplasia.

The court heard the malamute puppies were sold to consumers for between $800 and $1000 and the defendants did not test their breeding stock for genetic conditions.

Several scientific studies confirm hip dysplasia has a genetic component and Mr and Mrs Dykstra were provided this information in July 2011 by an alaskan malamute club in Victoria, several months prior to their first offence.

The Gympie breeders are also not registered with any alaskan malamute breeders clubs.

In sentencing, the court considered Mr and Mrs Dykstra's motive in justifying selling dogs with genetic defects as having a wilful disregard for scientific facts and lack of responsibility when making representations to the community.

Mr Dykstra was fined $14,000 and ordered to pay $1143.35 in compensation to a consumer affected by their offending, while Mrs Dykstra was fined $7000 for the same offences under parity principals.

The court also ordered Mr and Mrs Dykstra to issue a public apology and provide written notice to prospective buyers, at least 48 hours prior to sale, stating their breeding stock was not screened for hip dysplasia.

Ms Merry was extremely happy with the outcome and said Malla could finally rest in peace.

"We're so happy. It's awesome that they finally have to admit to and pay for what they did," she said.

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