After decades of frustration, a new strategy against puppy mills
Like the war on drugs, or the age of prohibition, the historic efforts to end the abuses of puppy mills have been aimed at reducing supply. In the case of puppy mills the greatest efforts have gone into exposing the horrors of factory farming pets, with the intent of generating public support for legislative measures that will improve conditions in high-volume breeding operations. Decades of such a strategy have proved to be an unmitigated failure – puppy mills continue to pump out millions of pets every year while animals continue to suffer. This is hardly surprising given that puppy mills are regulated by agricultural departments at the state and federal levels, and agribusiness, which sides with the mills, is a powerful lobby and sees every concession to humane interests as the thin end of the wedge for broader, animal-friendly reform in farming.
Best Friends is supportive of any benefit that improved oversight might bring, but we come at the issue from a different angle. One that could only have grown out of the no-kill movement and one that is gaining traction and getting results.
For us, the poor treatment and killing of homeless pets by the millions in our country’s shelters is the lens through which we view the commercial breeding industry that competes with the adoption of shelter pets on the front end and burdens public shelters on the back end, where many impounded dogs are identified as purebred.
We want to see puppy mills gone for so many reasons, and we believe that the best way to do that is to dry up the demand for what they produce rather than try to attack the supply. The best way to do that is to eliminate the market and distribution outlets for puppy mill pets through local public education and local ordinances. Los Angeles has been the proving ground for this strategy, and it is working.
Since 2007, Best Friends has been engaged in parallel campaigns to reduce the demand for commercially bred pets while expanding our adoption efforts and advocacy.
One is a campaign of public education through peaceful protests and informational demonstrations, and the other is a campaign to pass local ordinances aimed at ending the sale of commercially bred dogs, cats and rabbits at pet stores in the given municipality.
The recent passage of such a law by the Los Angeles City Council is a significant step forward in the long fight against puppy mills. L.A. is the second largest city in the country and a major market for puppy mills, or at least it used to be. The law was sponsored by Councilman Paul Koretz and crafted with the aid Elizabeth Oreck, national manager of Best Friends' puppy mill initiatives.
Elizabeth has led Best Friends' puppy mill initiatives, under various working titles, since 2008, and with the support of some very dedicated volunteers, she has notched up a series of impressive wins that include ending the sale of puppy mill–sourced pets at three major malls in Los Angeles – the Beverly Center, the Northridge Fashion Center and the Westside Pavilion. The combined annual sales of just these few stores probably exceeded the number of dogs killed annually in L.A. city shelters, but there is more to the story.
Elizabeth’s team has been remarkably effective. Here are some of their tactics and just a few of their accomplishments:
- At every demonstration, they provide documented evidence (in the form of photos, video and USDA inspection reports) that the pet store is selling dogs from puppy mills. They also provide information on shelter and pure-breed rescue, adoption events, spay and neuter, and the California puppy lemon law. They gather signatures on petitions expressing customers' concerns about the stores, which can have a very powerful effect on mall owners, as well as testimonials from customers who have purchased animals from those stores, many of which were sick and even died shortly after purchase – an unfortunate and common reality due to the conditions under which these puppies are bred.
- The goal is never to shut the stores down, but to encourage them to convert to an adoption model. Thus, we always reach out to the owners to offer to assist them in that transition. For example, we worked with Jamie Katz, who had been the manager of Pets of Bel Air, to reopen a new adoption pet store, Woof Worx, in February 2009 after Pets of Bel Air closed. She subsequently sold the store to her stepmother, who reopened it in the same location, also as an adoption pet store, Fresh Paws of Bel Air. The store continues to flourish and has adopted out a lot of dogs.
- In 2010, one of our volunteers reached out to Rene Karapedian, the owner of a puppy mill–supplied pet store, Pet Rush, in Glendale, to ask if he knew where the dogs in his store were coming from. He did not, as he had been using a middleman, but after doing some research and discovering that his dogs were actually coming from puppy mills in the Midwest, he agreed to let our team help him convert to an adoption model. He launched his adoption pet store in August 2010, and has since adopted out hundreds of dogs, and subsequently opened his second location last summer in Burbank.
- In 2011, following a meeting with Elizabeth, the Irvine, California, mayor’s office and executives of the Irvine Spectrum Company, the Irvine Spectrum Center mall implemented a policy that they would no longer lease space to pet stores unless they offer only rescued pets for adoption. Likewise, at the end of 2011, the Macerich Company decided to implement the same policy throughout their 70+ malls in the U.S. In 2008, Best Friends brought legal action against Macerich Westside Pavilion to enforce a state supreme court ruling that allowed public information demonstrations inside a mall devoted to public traffic.
- In September 2011, Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF) filed suit against Barkworks company on the grounds that they engaged in consumer fraud and false advertising by misrepresenting the source of their dogs (i.e., telling customers the puppies came from "responsible private breeders" rather than puppy mills). Customer testimonials gathered by our volunteers provided much of the evidence.
- Thirty cities in the U.S. and Canada have now passed these ordinances (11 in California), but Los Angeles is by far the largest and most impactful. Regular folks from all over the country hoping to do the same in their communities have contacted Elizabeth. These ordinances are intended to limit the market for dogs (and cats) being bred in inhumane, substandard pet mills throughout the country and imported into communities where they often end up being surrendered to shelters. They are not intended to negatively impact responsible hobby breeders.
- On December 31, 2012, the Barkworks Westside Pavilion location closed its doors, most likely due to a combination of factors: the L.A. pet sales ordinance, which would have precluded them from selling dogs after June 2013; competition with the adoption-based pet store L.A. Love and Leashes, which is in the same mall; our weekly tabling activities for the previous four years; the Macerich pet store policy; the lawsuit filed by ALDF; and general public awareness raised by all of the above activities.
- Best Friends staff was featured in a 2010 KTLA News investigation about Barkworks that garnered a Humane Society of the United States’ Hollywood Genesis Award for reporter Lu Parker.
The wheels are beginning to turn, and the train is gathering momentum in favor of the animals, those confined to the hell of a puppy mill and shelter animals awaiting adoption in shelters across the country.
Spread the word … adopt don’t buy your next pet.
Best Friends Animal Society