ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (WFLA) – An animal advocacy group announced Wednesday that it has filed a nationwide lawsuit against Petland, a well-known pet store chain where puppies are sold.

Attorneys with the Animal Legal Defense Fund are accusing the company of conducting a racketeering scheme where sick puppies are sold at high prices to customers who are told the dogs are healthy.

There are 12 Petland stores in Florida, three of which are in the Tampa Bay area.

The lawsuit represents people across the nation who say they are victims of fraudulent tactics used by Petland.

According to the lawsuit, many owners claim they bought puppies with a guarantee that the dogs were healthy, but later discovered illnesses along with learning the dogs came from puppy mills.

Patricia Price of St. Petersburg tells News Channel 8 that she unknowingly bought a sick Shih Tzu puppy from the Petland store in Bradenton.

She was unable to get a refund after spending $1,600 on her puppy, Sierra, who she says suffered seizures and unusual behavior a few weeks later.

Price believes she was deceived and sold a sick puppy. She says she spent a total of more than $3,000 after medical costs and could no longer afford the continued cost of medication for the puppy.

Price says her veterinarian told her the puppy most likely came from a puppy mill.

She says another family who could afford the medical care was able to adopt the puppy.

The defense group is citing large-scale dog breeding operations such as puppy mills as a major source of behavioral and psychological problems seen in some dogs sold at Petland.

The lawsuit also claims that Petland inflates prices in an effort to make the most money possible off of sick dogs.

In a press release, the group states:

The lawsuit comes at a critical time for the puppy mill and pet store industry and its many victims.Petland’s scheme has left a trail of defrauded consumers and deceased or sick puppies, with expensive medical bills, in its wake,” says Animal Legal Defense Fund Executive Director Stephen Wells. “Puppy mills put the bottom line ahead of the health and well-being of the animals, while Petland profits at the expense of its consumers and the sick puppies it peddles to them.The Animal Legal Defense Fund is litigating the case in collaboration with Georgia attorney Tamara Feliciano and attorneys from Andersen Sleater Sianni LLC.”

Petland released the following statement in response to the lawsuit:

“For the past 50 years, Petland is proud of our commitment to healthy pets, our relationships with our veterinarians and our breeders.  We continue to raise the bar in supporting higher standards for breeders and for pet stores across the country. It is not surprising that California-based activists file lawsuits. A similar class action lawsuit filed in federal court years ago was rejected by the court, and we expect the same outcome here.  While we have not received a copy of the lawsuit, we are confident that we will prevail.”