More revelations about a national pet store chain based in Washington

PUYALLUP, Wash. — For years, Puppyland charged its customers a $10-$15 fee called the Pet Industry Defense Fund.

“So this is a fee that goes back into protecting the industry and advocating for our industry,” Puppyland owner Kayla Kerr told me.

Why should consumers pay this?

“It’s optional for them. They don’t have to pay it but it’s just part of our company concept that we want to give back to the bigger picture,” said Kayla.

At one pet store, a new friend will cost you up to 128% in interest.

But that picture includes giving money to places like “The Cavalry Group.”

The Missouri-based group says it’s “a member-based company made of up animal owners, animal-related businesses, and corporate concerns. We have joined together to fight the radical animal rights agenda legally and legislatively nationwide.”

“There doesn’t seem to be any form of animal cruelty that the Cavalry group finds objectionable,” says Lisa Wathne, the manager of captive wildlife protection for the Humane Society of the United States.

She says it’s ironic that Puppyland would support The Cavalry Group.

“It doesn’t surprise me at all. But anyone who gave money to Puppyland should be appalled that any of their money is going to that purpose and, of course, they don’t know,” says Wathne.

The fee ended in February after we started asking questions. But customers say when it was charged it was never presented to them as optional.

Puppyland customers like Millie Hill, who spent more than $5,500 for a puppy had no idea where that fee was going to. And that she never heard of it until we pointed it out.

Jennifer Hayden spent $5,000 on a bulldog puppy and says the fee was not optional.

“Absolutely not! No, anything optional I’d have removed from that contract. Anything. Just to get the cost down,” says Hayden.

The Cavalry Group CEO says it’s helped Keith Wilson, the owner of a roadside zoo in Virginia.

The Group handled media for free for more than two years for Wilson until he pled no contest last month to 27 counts of misdemeanor animal cruelty. The Cavalry Group also set up a GoFundMe campaign, with all the funds going to Wilson’s attorneys.

Not surprising to Wathne, who visited Wilson’s park. You can see photos in our video segment above.

“Animals who don’t get proper veterinary care, who don’t have space to express any kind of natural behaviors. That’s unsafe and unhealthy and downright cruel for animals,” says Wathne.

Wilson was also indicted for allegedly trafficking a lion cub to “Doc” Antle. He’s another private zoo operator who was featured in the documentary “Tiger King.” That trial is set for July.

“OK, see, that is just insane to me. That’s insane. And why is Puppyland giving them money?” asked former customer Jennifer Hayden when we explained our findings.

The Cavalry Group is also against the Big Cat Public Safety Act.

“That would prohibit the very cruel practice of taking baby tigers away from their moms so they can be used for photo-ops with the public,” says Wathne.

In a statement, Puppyland tells KIRO 7:

“Puppyland is a member, just as many others are from across the country. The Cavalry Group advocates for Puppyland and other pet industry-related businesses when they need assistance. The case you reference is not related to Puppyland.”

So where else did Puppyland’s Pet Industry Defense fee go?

“Yes, it goes to our lobbyist,” acknowledged owner Kayla Kerr.

Yep, part of the fee went to pay FMS Global Strategies.

According to state records, Puppyland is paying the lobbying group $10,000 a month. It is working to fight pet sale bans in Pierce County and Renton. Just like The Cavalry Group.

In response, the Cavalry Group’s CEO Mark Patterson calls The Humane Society of the United States animal rights extremists. As for Puppyland, he says:

“The Cavalry Group has not received any donations or payments other than annual Membership dues from Puppyland Pierce County.”

No one we’ve spoken with has said Puppyland is doing anything illegal.

But what customers tell me is who a company stands with can be as just important as the sale itself.

Jennifer Hayden says Puppyland should be accountable for all that money.

“Yes I do,” says Hayden. “Yep. I think it’s awful.”

Doc Antle did not respond to our request for comment. He did tell CNN “I have deep regard and feelings for the animals in my care and would never hurt or abuse them in any way.” The lawyer for Keith Wilson says his client would not comment either.

After we started asking questions, Puppyland said they would stop charging the fee.

Email Jesse right now at consumer@kiro7.com