NAUGATUCK — What began with puppy love ended with broken hearts.
Over the past two years, aspiring puppy owners have paid 36-year-old Angie Fish for little mastiffs that never arrived, local and state authorities said.
Fish, who claims the address 11 1/2 Mulberry St., lives with her husband Scott Fish in a trailer at the end of a long gravel road near where Mulberry meets May Street, police said. From their trailer, they ran Heska Mastiffs, an unregistered business that purportedly bred and sold mastiffs.
The state Department of Consumer Protection is investigating numerous complaints against Heska Mastiffs from in and out of the state, spokeswoman Claudette Carveth said. All involve puppy buyers sending Heska Mastiffs deposits, either through PayPal or wire transfer, of hundreds of dollars for puppies that never materialized, authorities said.
Borough police arrested Angelina Fish on Aug. 8 and charged her with fourth-degree larceny based on a complaint they received in June from a New York woman who said she sent Fish $1,200 for a puppy that she was never given. The woman, like the other complainants, never got her deposit back, authorities said.
More complaints are mounting against Angie Fish.
Hope Zulla, 34, of Point Pleasant, N.J., said to reserve her mastiff puppy in February she wired a $600 deposit to Fish, who goes by “Angie.”
In the end, hundreds of dollars poorer with no puppies to show for it, Zulla and several other families who shared similar stories over Internet message boards bonded together to take legal action.
Zulla created a private Facebook group for those who claim to be scammed by Fish.
At least eight families from up and down the east coast have joined the group and filed complaints with the Connecticut Better Business Bureau, Zulla said. Most have also filed complaints with the Connecticut Attorney General and borough police, and more have said they will submit paperwork, Zulla said.
A day before the New York woman called borough police, Capt. Jeremiah Scully, who oversees animal control in the borough, went to Fish’s trailer with a state animal control officer. The two had been notified that the state was receiving complaints of a puppy scam, Scully said.
“We made a decision to go up there and see if there were any puppies, and were they operating properly,” Scully said.
They found a black pug dog, a terrier, four mastiffs, a cat and two kittens, said Ray Connors, who supervises the animal control division of the state Department of Agriculture.
The animals seemed to be in good condition, Connors said. One female mastiff appeared to have recently had a litter, and Scott Fish told officers that all 14 of her puppies had died of herpes, Connors said.
All six of the dogs were unlicensed, and none of the animals were vaccinated for rabies, earning the couple a fine exceeding $1,400, Connors said.
The state attorney general’s office first received a complaint about Fish in May 2010, spokeswoman Susan Kinsman said. In that case, someone from Maryland paid Fish $525 for a puppy and never got it, or a refund, Kinsman said. The attorney general also received complaints from New York and Connecticut residents and has forwarded them all to the Department of Consumer Protection, Kinsman said.
Fish is also associated with a business called Lakeside Mountain Mastiffs, Kinsman said.
Heska Mastiffs’ website has been disabled, and message boards are littered with posts from puppy buyers complaining that Fish has defrauded them.
A man and a woman leaving Fish’s residence last week refused to identify themselves or comment.
Gerald Lantieri, 60, who lives in several trailers at 13 Mulberry St., said he has known the couple for a long time. Both have chronic diseases and were breeding puppies for money, being unable to work, Lantieri said. They no longer keep animals, Lantieri said.
Angelina Fish was released on a $1,500 bond. She was due Aug. 17 in Waterbury Superior Court.