Plans to protest the sale of puppy-mill puppies
It's all part of a campaign on the part of two animal welfare groups, Last Chance for Animals and Best Friends Animal Society, to publicize conditions at puppy mills, tighten existing regulations on them and let people know that the majority of pet stores get their puppies from puppy mills.
"If they ever tell you anything other than that, they're lying," says Chris DeRose, the founder of Last Chance for Animals, which has done its own investigations of puppy mills and pet stores.
Taking in the scene at the "Puppy-Store-Free L.A." news conference in Brentwood on Wednesday morning was Lovey (pictured above with Chris DeRose) -- a Yorkshire terrier rescued from a Lancaster puppy mill cited for overcrowding. Lovey had been used as a breeding dog. Her right back foot was amputated after it got caught in a puppy mill cage, activists say, but the 4-year-old Yorkie seemed oblivious to that as she easily scampered around a meeting room at the Luxe Hotel Sunset Boulevard.
Puppy mills are legal and licensed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, but they are considered a scourge by animal welfare groups. The Humane Society of the United States, which has done its own undercover investigations of puppy mills, has made campaigning against them a primary focus. Animal welfare activists say mills are often in violation of USDA rules and are little more than badly run factory farms for dogs -- overcrowded and filthy, with small cages where puppies are housed and females are relentlessly bred.
"It's not just about the puppies but the parents of the puppies and the wretched conditions they live in," L.A. City Councilman Tony Cardenas said at the news conference.
Overly inbred mill puppies can end up with serious illnesses and behavior problems, activists say.
Puppy mills supply many of the minuscule dogs that have become trendy. "Unfortunately, a handful of quasi-talented actors have been using these animals as accessories," said DeRose (a sometime actor). Also present at the news conference was Maggie Q, the actress and animal rescuer who co-starred in "Mission: Impossible III." She has eight rescued dogs. (They did not attend with her.)
The groups have already been demonstrating outside pet stores, telling potential buyers that the stores are getting their puppies from mills. "It's the blood diamond equivalent to us," says Julie Castle of Best Friends.
But they're going for a gentle approach, they say -- no yelling and screaming at pet store patrons. "We're educating people," Castle says. "We set up tables. We say, 'Do you want to know where these animals come from?' " But they will exhibit giant photos of puppy mills -- which increasingly, DeRose says, are being run here in California, not just in the East and Midwest.
Activists will be demonstrating at the Beverly Center -- where Pet Love is located -- on Saturdays from noon to 5 p.m. They will also be at Pets of Bel Air on Mondays, Fridays and Sundays from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Pets of Bel Air manager Jamie Katz said the activists had unfairly targeted her store -- especially in light of changes she says the store has enacted. The boutique, which counts celebrities among its clients, was named in December by the Humane Society of the U.S. as a store that sold puppies from mills. At the time, owner Tom Demick insisted his store had not done business with any puppy mill "to our knowledge."
Although Katz said she's still not convinced that the suppliers' facilities are as grim as pictured in the Humane Society's undercover footage, her store made a decision to stop buying from out-of-state kennels. "We just decided to stop buying dogs from any place we had not been to," Katz says. "We started from scratch. We had a few local breeders -- now it's all local breeders." All are within a two-hour drive, she says, and all have been visited.
"That is a very big change and that is something they are not acknowledging," Katz says of the activists. "We have complied with them. But we are continuing to sell puppies and they don't want us to sell puppies."
She says Pets of Bel Air is adopting shelter dogs and placing two or three a week for sale out of the store (which is something animal activists encourage pet stores to do).
"If they want to hit a store that is horrible to animals, there are so many others to hit on," Katz says.
Neither the manager nor assistant manager of Pet Love could be reached for comment by phone Wednesday afternoon, according to an employee who insisted that the store did not buy dogs from puppy mills. "Otherwise I wouldn't be working here," said the employee, who declined to give a name.
Animal activists say you don't have to go to a store to get purebred dogs and puppies. Katya Lidsky, campaigns director of Last Chance for Animals, volunteers on weekends at an L.A. city shelter in South Los Angeles. "There are tons of teacup dogs and little dogs there," Lidsky says. In addition to checking with the L.A. city shelter system and the L.A. County shelter system, she suggests checking with rescue groups or on Internet sites such as Petfinder.com and 1-800-Save-a-Pet.
"It's a little more work, but saving a life is a good enough feeling to do the work for," Lidsky says.
-- Carla Hall
Photo: Liz O. Baylen / Los Angeles Times