A federal lawsuit has been filed against several puppy stores in San Diego and Riverside counties, as well as an allegedly fake Missouri-based animal rescue organization accused of taking part in an illegal puppy mill operation, adding to existing litigation claiming the stores fraudulently label their dogs as rescues.

The lawsuit, filed Friday in San Diego federal court on behalf of Maryland-based nonprofit PetConnect Rescue Inc., is one of several filed recently against Utah resident David Salinas, who owns several stores in the San Diego region, including two named in the lawsuit: Broadway Puppies in Escondido and Pups & Pets in Santee.

Plaintiffs’ attorneys say the Salinas-owned stores obtain their puppies through the similarly named Missouri-based Pet Connect Rescue Inc., which allegedly “launders” dogs from illegal puppy mills, “falsely labeling them as `rescues.”’

“As nurses, doctors, grocery store and delivery workers risk their lives to provide essential services, and other businesses sacrifice by shutting down to protect public health, these illegal puppy stores continue selling purebred and designer puppies for thousands of dollars each, trucked in from Missouri, and fraudulently labeled as `rescues’ so the owners can continue to profit from their illegal scheme,” plaintiffs’ attorney Bryan Pease alleged.

In prior lawsuits, customers alleged they purchased what they were told were rescue puppies from Salinas-owned stores, only to have purchased a dog that was actually from a puppy mill. The dogs were often were riddled with illnesses — sometimes leading to death — due to being bred in poor conditions, according to prior litigation.

A preliminary injunction was previously obtained by animal-rights organizations against National City Puppy, also owned by Salinas, which was ordered to shutter earlier this year in light of similar allegations.

An evidentiary hearing had been set for this Friday in San Diego state court regarding preliminary injunctions against Broadway Puppies and Pups & Pets, but that hearing has been indefinitely postponed due to the San Diego Superior Court’s coronavirus-related shutdown.

In the latest complaint, the plaintiffs allege the stores have remained open for business during the coronavirus pandemic despite a statewide “stay at home” order issued by Gov. Gavin Newsom to all but essential services.

While pet stores are exempt from closure due to Newsom’s Thursday order, the lawsuit alleges the stores’ continued operation “is putting the public at risk as well as continuing to defraud consumers into believing they are supporting `rescues’ during this difficult time by buying a puppy.”

The complaint alleges that the stores’ operation during the pandemic puts the public at increased risk of the spread of multi-drug-resistant Campylobacter infections, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says has been linked to puppies purchased from pet stores.

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