The shuttered Marana store’s owner, Rickie Gallardo, 25, is linked to a new store at Park Place mall that sells puppies from large-scale, out-of-state breeders known as puppy mills, records show.
Pets at Park Place, which opened in November, was registered as an Arizona corporation with the same email address used in 2020 to register the Marana store, which also sold puppy mill pets, an Arizona Daily Star investigation found.
The Marana store, which folded after four months, and the new Tucson store both were registered from Galllado’s email address. The San Diego native describes himself online as a former foster child who was “arrested numerous times for different crimes” before becoming a self-made millionaire at age 21.
Gallardo’s social media posts are sprinkled with Bible quotes about prosperity and with get-rich-quick videos that show him flaunting Rolex watches, foreign sports cars and $100 bills.
There’s no mention of two California lawsuits in 2020 that accused him of illicit business practices, cases in which Gallardo agreed to pay a total of $230,000 in settlements, court records show.
One suit claimed Gallardo was part of an interstate network that sold puppy mill puppies falsely advertised as rescues, a case he settled out of court for $30,000, records show. The other suit accused Gallardo of theft for failing to return a $170,000 loan mistakenly deposited into his pet store bank account. He agreed in that case to a stipulated judgment that required him to repay $200,000 including interest and legal fees.
In the past three years, Gallardo and a handful of San Diego business partners have moved from California to Arizona to Texas and back, selling puppies along the way, records show.
The new Park Place store is run by Victor Cruz Martinez of San Diego, the CEO of Gallardo’s old California pet store, who also worked at one of his Texas stores before relocating to Tucson, public records show. Martinez did not respond to two requests for comment sent to the email address of the Park Place store.
The vice president of Gallardo’s failed Marana store now operates Pet Fair at The Woodlands, a mall near Houston. The treasurer now runs Pick A Pet at an outlet mall in San Marcos south of Austin, records show.
AZ ‘prime destination’ for puppy mills
Gallardo’s reappearance in Tucson has fueled concern that Arizona is becoming a magnet for out-of-state puppy sellers now banned from doing business in dozens of cities, towns and counties in nearby states.
“Arizona has become a prime destination for the puppy mill industry,” said Nicole Galvan of Phoenix, Arizona Team Leader for Bailing out Benji, a national nonprofit working to ban such businesses. Many more puppy sellers are expected to follow as they are forced to relocate in search of new customers, she said.
The pet store industry can be lucrative. A puppy mill dog that a store buys for $500 might sell for $5,000 or more depending on breed and market location, according to national groups that monitor such sales.
Gallardo makes no apologies for his practices. He disputed the Star’s findings in an email, but offered no evidence to contradict the contents of public records in three states including court documents, business registration records and animal welfare inspection reports.
“For the past 1,000+ years dogs have been sold and overtime (sic) the regulations have insured (sic) safe and responsible breeding that allows us to provide wonderful families healthy puppies,” Gallardo wrote, accusing the Star of bias against a legitimate business enterprise.
“We only work with responsible breeders and treat our animals with the utmost dignity, respect and care,” he said.
“It’s amazing how the liberal agenda has made its way into selling puppies.”
AZ stands alone
Arizona is the last place left the southwest United States where the sale of puppy mill puppies is still legal statewide, the Star found.
Neighboring California banned such sales statewide in 2019 over concerns about inhumane practices at puppy mills, high-volume breeders who supply most of the U.S. pet store industry. Puppy mills mass-produce animals on the cheap by sacrificing the health of mother dogs, who often spend their lives in cramped wire cages being bred every time they’re in heat, the Humane Society of the United States says.
Besides California, a total of 45 cities, towns and counties in Utah, Nevada, Colorado, New Mexico and Texas now ban retail sale of mass-produced puppies. Pet stores can still offer rescue animals and consumers also can buy puppies from small-scale breeders or directly from rescue shelters.
Also in Texas, the state Legislature is weighing a proposed ban on pet stores in counties with more than 200,000 residents, further blocking the industry’s access to major population centers. Some Texas media reports say the state proposal is drawing bipartisan support from lawmakers who tend to disagree on other issues. More than a dozen Texas cities and towns already have local bans in place.
Gallardo isn’t the only out-of-state operator to relocate to the Grand Canyon State after being forced out back home, public records show.
Justin Kerr, owner of Puppyland, a chain in Washington State forced to close one of its stores when a local pet store ban took effect, registered an Arizona corporation last year under a business name nearly identical to that of his Washington enterprise, state records show.
A few weeks ago he opened Puppyland Arizona in the Phoenix area, selling puppies purchased from high-volume breeders in Wisconsin, Minnesota, South Dakota and Indiana, records show. One of the breeders had nearly 900 dogs and puppies on the premises during an inspection last year, federal records show.
Kerr didn’t respond by deadline to two email messages sent to a business address shown on his company website.
Little recourse for consumers
Alyssa Madril said Gallardo never made good on a 12-month health guarantee for a tiny Yorkshire Terrier that died a few weeks after purchase from his Marana pet store in 2020. A post-mortem exam found the puppy had only one lung, according to a necropsy report reviewed by the Star.
Puppies born in puppy mills can be prone to health and behavior problems due to inbreeding, overcrowding and scarce human contact, the national Humane Society says.
Madril, who lives in Phoenix and often visits family in Tucson, said she’s out of pocket more than $4,000, including $2,700 for the puppy and $1,500 spent on veterinary bills trying in vain to keep it alive. Worse than that, she said, “we still have a heartache.”
Madril complained in writing to the Arizona Attorney General’s consumer fraud office but nothing came of it, she said.
A reply she received in December 2020, reviewed by the Star, said the agency would contact the business for a response and let her know the outcome. More than two years later, she has not heard back, she said.
Madril said she recently spoke to a lawyer about suing Gallardo. But doing so might be tricky because neither his Marana store, nor his new Tucson store, are eligible for corporate status in Arizona, according to the state corporation commission.
Both companies use a “virtual” legal agent firm run by a Texas lawyer who rents a downtown Tucson business address from a commercial mail-forwarding firm, public records show. That’s not legal in Arizona, said Tanya M. Gibson, director of the commission’s corporations division.
A corporate agent, also known as a statutory agent, must have a physical presence in the state, a place where important papers such as lawsuits or tax bills can be delivered in person during office hours, Gibson said in an email interview.
Companies without valid legal agents don’t qualify to do business in Arizona, Gibson said. When such cases come to light, as happened in this case through the Star’s research, the companies involved are administratively dissolved by the state after a 60-day notice period, she said.
Arizona’s Republican-dominated Legislature has so far shown no appetite for new restrictions on pet stores. That’s largely due to the lobbying efforts of one man, animal protection advocates say.
Frank Mineo, who owns four pet stores — including Animal Kingdom at the Tucson Mall — convinced the state legislature in 2016 to pass a law preempting cities and towns from placing local restrictions on the industry. The change made Arizona one of just two states — Ohio is the other — that actively blocks municipal regulation of pet store sales.
Phoenix and Tempe had just banned retail pet stores at the time and Tucson was about to follow suit when the Legislature shut them down. Instead, at Mineo’s urging, state lawmakers passed a handful of rules he said were sufficient to regulate the industry — measures Mineo himself was later accused of breaking in a civil lawsuit filed by the Arizona Attorney General’s Office.
The state started its investigation in 2020 after Bailing Out Benji, the national anti-puppy mill group, claimed to have documented dozens of cases in which Arizona consumers — including those who bought puppies from Mineo’s Tucson Mall store — were misled about the source of the animals or the state of their health.
The group also alleged Mineo was sourcing puppies from some of the worst breeders in the country — those with recent federal violations for animal mistreatment — which specifically is forbidden under Arizona’s pet store rules. Mineo’s four stores sell about 6,000 puppies a year in total, most obtained from out-of-state breeders and brokers, the attorney general said.
Mineo settled the state lawsuit out of court late last year without admitting wrongdoing. He agreed to refrain from alleged illegal business practices and to set up a $120,000 compensation fund for consumers allegedly victimized by his stores between Jan. 1, 2017 and Dec. 22, 2022.
Mineo said his stores treat puppies with care and steer clear of “disreputable breeders who put a stain on the industry.”
“Arizona is no safe haven for bad actors as we have some of the strongest oversight and regulation of pet stores in the nation,” he told the Star in a statement from a Phoenix public relations firm. “Well-regulated pet stores are needed to ensure backyard breeders and Craigslist sellers do not dominate the market.”
It’s unclear if Mineo can still hold sway at the statehouse after his run-in with the attorney general. “ I don’t know that he would have the same credibility,” said Republican Sen. John Kavanagh of Fountain Hills, who chairs the state Senate appropriations committee.
Kavanagh said it may be time to examine whether Arizona’s pet store laws still fit the state’s present circumstances.
“If we really are being inundated, if we’re becoming a location of last resort, I don’t think that’s something we want to see.”
Pets for adoption locally
Mama Maria and Harriet
Veah and Tanner
Alexander the Great
Oscar and Joey
Contact reporter Carol Ann Alaimo at 573-4138 or email@example.com. On Twitter: @AZStarConsumer
Carol Ann has been with the Star since 1999, but has been an investigative reporter for more than 30 years. She's won numerous awards in the U.S. and Canada. In 2003, she was a war correspondent in Iraq and was a Knight-Wallace Fellow in Michigan in 2008.
Alyssa Madril says her family “still has a heartache” for Yappy, a short-lived Yorkshire Terrier born in a Missouri puppy mill. The $2,700 pup died a month after purchase from a Marana pet store that went under in 2020 after four months in business. A post-mortem exam found the Yorkie was missing a lung. The failed Marana store’s owner recently set up a new pet shop in Tucson at Park Place mall.