The pups are on the move.
The Puppy Barn is relocating from American Fork to Saratoga Springs.
There were a lot of customers cuddling pups Friday afternoon amidst the teardown of the store. The American Fork location was also open regular hours Saturday, then the team was working Sunday to move the final store items and animals to the Saratoga Springs location. They plan to open up for regular hours Monday in their new location, just five doors south of the old Smith’s Food and Drug location on Redwood Road.
Aaron Tilley was there to visit the puppies Friday. He comes fairly often, and praised the store.
“This is an incredible place,” he said. “I’ve never had a bad experience.”
But the Puppy Barn has its detractors. When news of the move hit social media recently, Saratoga Springs residents responding to the posts were either very excited or very upset. While some were glad the Puppy Barn was moving closer to them, others expressed their dislike for the Puppy Barn’s business model overall.
This type of reaction is nothing new to Puppy Barn owner Matthew Milligan. While watching customers interact with puppies at the American Fork location Friday, he said he fully expected protesters to show up to their Saratoga Springs opening on Monday.
Eagle Mountain resident Celeste Park-Estes also expects protests to pop up in the coming days in front of the Saratoga Springs location. She isn’t the one organizing them, but may be attending. Park-Estes owns Celestial Zoo Pet Rescue, and works with Community Action Welfare Society and the Utah Animal Adoption Center. She said she bought a puppy from the Puppy Barn when they were first open.
She has several concerns with the Puppy Barn’s business model, which allows customers who are 18 and older the opportunity to interact with, pick up and cuddle the various puppies for sale at the store.
“It’s an easy way to spread disease to the puppies. Yes, they have customers sanitize their hands, but diseases can be on people’s clothes or brought in on their shoes,” Park-Estes said. “If puppies are kept separate and not held unless there is a family who is serious about taking them home, they have a greater chance of being healthy.”
Park-Estes mentioned social media sites blaming Puppy Barn for selling dogs infected with parvovirus. Parvovirus is a contagious and can adversely affect puppies with still-developing immune systems.
Milligan said of the roughly 7,000 puppies that have been adopted out since they opened in 2014, there have only been eight or nine puppies that had parvo upon leaving the store. In those situations, the Puppy Barn health guarantee kicks in and pays for treatment, Milligan said. Every puppy at the store is vaccinated according to veterinarian recommendations for its age, Milligan added.
Camden Bird, American Fork assistant to the city administrator, confirmed that the city has responded to complaints about the store over the years.
“Every single time something flares up on Facebook, we’ve gone out and done a surprise inspection. They come back clean every time,” Bird said of the Puppy Barn.
One of Park-Estes’ other concerns is that the Puppy Barn uses breeders irresponsibly.
“We don’t know anything about where these puppies come from,” she said.
She would prefer he use reputable breeders so customers know the lineage and temperaments of the dogs they are getting. Many others accuse Puppy Barn of being a puppy mill.
Milligan explained that the Puppy Barn is not a pet store, but a “resource to connect local family breeders to families looking for a puppy.” He does not like the pet store model, partly because he feels many pet stores bring in puppies from puppy mills, and partly because these stores put animals behind glass windows.
“When a dog sits behind a glass box, it messes with them psychologically. They are like a fish in a fishbowl,” Milligan said.
Milligan prefers “home-raised puppies,” and said he does not work with puppy mills or professional breeders because the puppies in those situations only interact with humans during meal times.
“Our motto is home-to-home. We want puppies that have been raised in somebody’s house — played with by their children,” he said.
Park-Estes mentioned stories of the Puppy Barn buying puppies from KSL’s online marketplace and then reselling them in the store. Milligan said that does happen, but asserts that he doesn’t troll KSL looking for puppies. It is local breeders who reach out to him after initially using KSL. He visits the homes of these breeders, and chooses ones with good practices, but has had to turn away about half the breeders who contact him. He mentioned the Puppy Barn has taken in “Oops litters,” but pays for the families to spay and neuter the parents so they don’t perpetuate the problem.
Another concern of Park-Estes, who said she’s seen a number of Puppy Barn dogs end up in rescue shelters after the excitement of the “new puppy” has worn off, is that Puppy Barn is selling the dogs at too young an age, possibly at five to six weeks, and are not looking out for the health of the puppies. She said puppies should be with their mother for at least eight weeks.
“Dogs can have bite-inhibition problems when taken from their mother too soon,” she said. Bite-inhibition is where the dogs learn, from the mother and from their siblings, how to use their mouth to stop an action, but not draw blood. Dogs that don’t learn this must undergo lengthy and expensive training to master it. “Bite inhibition problems, 95 percent of them are seen in dogs who were taken from their mother too early.”
Milligan said Puppy Barn’s smaller breed dogs stay with their mothers until seven to 10 days after they have been fully weaned — usually 10 to 12 weeks.
“The longer they are with their mothers, the better,” he said.
He feels differently, though, about larger breeds, some of whom can separate from their mothers after full weaning as early as seven weeks. He said larger breeds who stay with their pack too long can have aggression or fear tendencies that cause problems when integrating into families.
As part of its business model, Milligan started the Puppy Barn Cares Foundation last summer to fund the store’s outreach to nonprofit organizations that help people and animals. Each time someone comes into the Puppy Barn, they now pay $1 each to interact with the puppies. That money goes to local shelters and other organizations like the Ronald McDonald House near Primary Children’s Hospital in Salt Lake City.
“We want to be able to use our foot traffic for good,” he said.
Milligan said the Puppy Barn is moving to Saratoga Springs because the new location is in an area of the county that is growing. The new location will be less than half the size of the American Fork location, and he plans to personally operate the new location with a smaller staff. He hopes to expand into Salt Lake County, and send the rest of his staff there. He hopes to announce a second Puppy Barn location somewhere north of the Point of the Mountain this summer.
David Johnson, Saratoga Springs public relations and economic development director, said residents have already called concerned about the Puppy Barn’s move. But he has explained to them that the Puppy Barn went through the same business licensing process all city businesses undergo, and passed.
“The city cannot deny licenses based on the assumption that they may or may not at some time break city codes or ordinances,” Johnson said. “We welcome any new business as they come in as long as they meet city code.”