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The Story of One Craigslist Havanese Puppy: A Cautionary Tale

Lora Nestor had no intention of buying a Havanese off of craigslist. She applied to numerous rescue organizations but was turned down because she has three big dogs already at home; a Mastiff and two Newfoundlands. Ironically, the three large dogs in the house that made it impossible for Lora to a adopt a Havanese, were in fact all rescues themselves.

Lora Nestor with Bongo, a puppy purchased off craigslist and found to need a $4000 heart surgery.
Lora and Bongo

Lora figured that if rescue organizations would turn her away because of her big dogs, established Havanese breeders would surely do the same.

After two years of trying, Lora reluctantly turned to craigslist. There she saw a cute little nine week old Havanese male that needed to be re-homed.

Lora called to inquire about the pup. The woman on the phone told her it was a wonderful, healthy pup that her husband had bought her as a gift. The problem she said was that they already had a nine month old German Shepherd and the two were not getting along.

Lora lives in central Pennsylvania and knows the area is rife with Amish puppy mills. The woman assured her that this little dog came from a reputable breeder and definitely not a puppy mill.

The posting did not list a price and when Lora inquired the woman explained that the “fee was $600”. Lora was struck by the use of the word ‘fee’ but put it out of her mind.

She drove to the neighboring town to see the puppy. It was love at first sight and Lora knew that she would be going home with the little dog she always wanted.


Still Lora couldn’t help but notice that the woman had no attachment to the dog. She also thought it odd when the woman’s 18-year-old son emerged from his bedroom and asked his mother, “When did we get a puppy?”

But the puppy was soooo cute. Lora wanted to believe the woman; that the dog came from a reputable breeder and was only being re-homed because of a conflict with the German Shepherd – and so she ignored what she now admits were “red flags” – and she believed.

Lora was sure the woman would want to get in one last snuggle with the pup and give it a kiss goodbye. Instead the woman was content to count out the $600 in cash and expressed no emotion in seeing the puppy leave.

Lora named her new charge Bongo and took him the following day to the vet for where Bongo checked out healthy. She returned home and purchased pet insurance from Petplan.

Weeks later she returned to the vet for routine vaccinations. This time the stethoscope told a different story. The vet heard a pronounced heart murmur, checked her chart from the previous visit, and wondered aloud how she could have missed the defect that now sounded in her words “like a freight train.”


Lora was told that Bongo had a congenital heart defect called patent ductus arteriosus, and that without a $4000 surgery the dog would die within a year. Lora visited other veterinarians to get a second and then third opinion and the prognosis was the same.

Havanese scars from heart surgery.
Bongo’s scars from his surgery.

Lora was crestfallen. She called the woman that sold her the dog. The phone had been disconnected. She wrote the woman a polite letter but did not get a response. She wrote a second letter, still polite, drove to the woman’s house and put it in the door. No response.

Lora wanted her money back, but as importantly she wanted to make the puppy’s condition known to the breeder so that sire would not be coupled with that dam again.

The third letter was sent certified mail. And once more there was no response.

Thinking she stumbled into a black market puppy scam Lora alerted the local dog warden and Humane Society. She asked them to investigate, to see whether there were new puppies in the woman’s home, and to see if the German Shepherd had been sold off as well. She thought surely the Humane Society would want to contact the original breeder to stop the production of more sick puppies. The dog warden and Humane Society both declined to get involved.


Lora then paid a $120 filing fee to sue the woman in civil court. Though she was faced with a $4000 surgery bill, were she to win the case she would only be entitled to the return of her purchase price. In her court paperwork Lora also asked formally for the name of the breeder.

The judge called the case and Lora stepped forward, but the seller was absent. An hour later the seller, now defendant, appeared in the courtroom. The judge heard testimony and ruled in Lora’s favor. The judge then asked the defendant for the name of the breeder. The woman answered with tears and stalls, but not the name of the breeder. She promised the court that she would get the information and send it to Lora.

Lora still wanted to warn the breeder about the heart defect. Assuming now that it must have come from one of the area’s puppy mills she began to call them. Though Lora felt them forthcoming, none of the three large puppy mills claimed to know about the sick black and white puppy. Lora asked them what they do in cases where they have such a pup. They told her that they would give it free to someone.

Through it all Lora remained committed to the little pup that had stole her heart, driving Bongo three hours from Pennsylvania to Maryland where he had the surgery.

The little male is now recovered fully and thriving amidst his three giant canine compatriots, the Mastiff and two Newfies. He is fearless and happy, beautiful and courageous, and a healthy 14 pounds.

Payment came in from the pet insurance company reimbursing her for 80% of the $4000 surgery expense. And though the seller has yet to provide the name of the breeder, she did send a certified check for $600.


What words of advice does Lora have for prospective Havanese owners? Educate yourself. Join Havanese Forum online community. Join the Havanese Love or Havanese Forum Facebook groups. Buy pet insurance. And steer clear of craigslist Havanese.

Postscript: Lora learned a great deal about patent ductus arteriosus (PDA) in dogs throughout this process. If you’re facing a similar diagnosis feel free to email Lora.

Editor’s Note: The situation raises many interesting issues. The burgeoning craigslist pet market is not regulated and “puppy lemon laws” which many states use to protect consumers against dogs sold with infectious and/or inherited diseases and disorders do not apply, leaving buyers with little or no recourse. This puppy was fortunate to have found it’s way into the arms of a committed owner that purchased pet insurance coverage on it’s behalf. Others may not be as lucky.

  • Are the adoption guidelines of Havanese rescue organizations too stringent?
  • Would established breeders have turned her away because of the other dogs in the home?
  • Do the Havanese rescue organizations and established breeders essentially drive good forever homes into the waiting arms of the unscrupulous and the backyard breeders, pet stores, and puppy mills?
  • Does the Havanese community at large become unwitting accomplices by posting craigslist ads on Facebook?
  • Pups with congenital defects are sometimes sold by reputable breeders however unwittingly. What protection would a breeder’s warranty have provided the buyer?

See a list of “red flags” here.

Pet Insurance

About Gary Fujioka, Sr.

Gary Fujioka, Sr. is a lifelong dog owner, first time Havanese owner. He is a proud father and grandfather, online presence management consultant, software developer, writer, musician, CEO of The Pathmark Group of Companies, and publisher of Havanese World.

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