By Lauren Leamanczyk, WBZ-TV

WEBSTER (CBS) – Their stories are heartbreakingly similar. Families who searched for the perfect puppy only to have the dog get sick and sometimes die hours after taking the puppy home.

For dozens of families, those stories begin at Elite Puppies in Webster. The symptoms were almost identical.

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“He wouldn’t stand up. He wouldn’t eat. He kept vomiting,” said Christine Cook of her dog Kyon.

Kyon (WBZ-TV)

Kyon (WBZ-TV)

“The dog was having trouble breathing and it wasn’t eating and it wasn’t acting normal,” James Manzaro said of his experience with Snuggy.

“By 7:15 she’s not breathing. She’s dead,” Erica O’Brien recalls.

Christine Cook and her husband brought Kyon, a Havanese puppy they bought from Elite Puppies, home to their kids. She says Kyon was sick 32 hours later.

A vet diagnosed Kyon with the deadly parvovirus as well as kennel cough and pneumonia. He was put into isolation, racking up vet bills of more than $2800.

“They’re part of your family the minute you pick them up and to know you have to walk away that’s hard. Because you know you might not see him the next day,” she said as she wiped tears from her eyes.

Christine contacted Jennifer Gardner, the owner of Elite Puppies. An email chain shows Gardner told Christine she could only give her a refund if she brought Kyon back to the store. But, in his condition, taking the dog out of the hospital, wasn’t an option.

Kyon survived. The O’Brien family’s dog did not. Zoe became sick the moment she left Elite Puppies. By the next morning, she was dead.

“Picking the dog and then the dog passing away within 15 hours of us having it was pretty emotional for the kids and for us too, I think,” said Patrick O’Brien.

The Manzaro family had their dog on oxygen in the ICU. Finally, they say, the vet advised them to put the puppy down. James Manzaro says they got no sympathy or refund from Gardner.

“When we informed her that we had put the dog down, she immediately said, ‘well you’re not getting your money back,’” Manzaro said.

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The Massachusetts Bureau of Animal Health, part of the Department of Agricultural Resources, has received more than 36 complaints about Elite Puppies selling sick dogs. Even the Town of Webster Health Officer sent an email pleading with the state to do something.

Five years ago, police busted a company delivering a van full of dogs to Elite. They found puppies transported in inhumane conditions.

Still, Elite Puppies remains licensed and in the business of selling dogs.

The I-Team contacted Gardner by phone. She insisted her puppies are healthy. But she ignored our attempts to follow up on the complaints against her shop. We couldn’t find her at the store so we tried to talk to the manager.

She had nothing to say about the sick dogs many people say they bought from the store.

“Do you guys get your dogs from puppy mills?” asked I-Team Reporter Lauren Leamanczyk. “I’m going to have to ask you to leave. This is private property,” the worker responded, even though the I-Team approached her on a public street.

But the I-Team found some of the puppies did come from known puppy mills across the country, according to the Humane Society’s list.

It is a fact all three heartbroken families wish they would have known.

“The fact that she’s selling a live animal and has this disregard for it, I think is atrocious,” Erica O’Brien said.

The I-Team reached out to ask the state how Elite Puppies can continue to operate. After our inquiries, the Department of Agricultural Resources now tells us they launched an investigation in August.

There has not been any disciplinary action taken and the investigation remains ongoing.

Send tips for the I-Team to iteam@cbsboston.com or call 617-779 TIPS

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