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Pet store banned from selling dogs

DULUTH - The pet store at Gwinnett Place mall was one of six Georgia stores ordered this week to stop selling dogs.

More than 130 puppies in all of the state's Pet Company stores tested positive for a highly infectious parasite that can be transmitted to humans.

Georgia has six Pet Company stores, more than any state outside of New York, where the company is based. Between them, the Georgia Department of Agriculture found that 138 of 151 puppies were infected with Giardia.

"I am cautioning everyone, especially small children and pregnant women. If you have bought a puppy from the Pet Company since January, and you have come down with flu-like symptoms, you need to see your physician," said Tommy Irvin, commissioner of the Georgia Department of Agriculture.

The Gwinnett Place pet store was one of three stores where every puppy tested positive for the parasite. The other stores that were affected are located in Southlake, Cumberland, Arbor Place, Stonecrest and Town Center malls.

Officials learned of the problem after a woman from Hiram, Ga., reported that she bought a puppy for $800, then discovered it had a parasitic illness. She ended up having to spend $900 to treat it.

Giardia is a highly infectious microscopic parasite that lodges in one's intestine. Symptoms include diarrhea, listlessness, stomach cramps and nausea. The inactive form of the parasite is found in contaminated water and feces and is often transmitted between dogs in kennels.

The parasite can also be transmitted to humans, but there have been no reports of this so far related to the Georgia pets. Pet owners could get the parasite while bathing their dog, using a hot tub or pool after it, or cleaning up after a walk.

The Department of Agriculture is continuing to investigate the situation. The puppies still in the stores have been quarantined and will be treated for the parasite using an antibiotic treatment that could take two weeks, according to Irvin.

"We are still inspecting, checking records and following leads for any source of this outbreak. We are especially concerned with any outbreak that can be transferred from pets to humans," Irvin said.

Calls to The Pet Company headquarters in New Windsor, N.Y., had not been returned as of press time Wednesday.