Landmark court injunction big victory for puppies and Best Friends volunteers

When we launched our puppy mill initiatives in 2008, we were focusing on the Los Angeles area. Our admittedly clumsy name for the campaign was “A Puppy Store Free L.A.” With a national rollout name of “A Puppy Store Free America,” we were reaching for the sky. While the clunky name didn’t make the cut, the strategy, as reviewed in my last post, is outpacing expectations.

The calculated abuse of innocence that is embodied in the puppy mill business is an offense that needs to end. In a 2010 post to this blog, I identified puppy mill dogs as the blood diamonds of animal welfare – beautiful things that consumers purchase with no understanding of the pain, suffering and death involved in bringing them to market.

Best Friends’ puppy mill initiatives set out from the start to make the connection for the consumer between the cute puppy in the pet store and the atrocity of the puppy mill — the unbelievable notion that nearly every puppy you see in a pet store comes from a puppy mill. Elizabeth Oreck, national manager of the puppy mill initiatives for Best Friends Animal Society, has led the initiatives from the start with a single-minded intensity. Elizabeth is a deceptively sweet-looking Tae Kwon Do black belt, and she approaches the puppy mill issue with the all the ferocity of a mother bear.

One of the most egregious offenders in this scenario, in my opinion, was a chain of stores in Los Angeles and surrounding areas called Barkworks. As a matter of policy, Barkworks’ staff would assure customers that their puppies were not from puppy mills, but from “reputable family breeders.” During our peaceful, educational demonstrations outside of Barkworks, which began nearly six years ago now, I visited these stores in Los Angeles many times and asked them about the source of their puppies. “Oh, yes, these puppies come from a reputable family breeder" was indeed their pat answer in every case.

Now, the California Superior Court of Los Angeles County, reacting to what began as an investigation prompted by Best Friends Animal Society, has entered a permanent injunction against Barkworks based on accusations that it acquires its animals from “puppy mills” and conceals that fact from consumers.

The injunction will ensure truth in advertising from the Barkworks Pet Store locations in Southern California. As part of the settlement, Barkworks agreed to compensate former customers for their veterinary bills to treat conditions common to mill-bred dogs. They also must now disclose more information about the source of its puppies to future customers. Specifically, the settlement requires Barkworks to disclose that its puppies may become sick with diseases like parvovirus and heart disease, and that it does not inspect the breeding facilities where the puppies originate.

Barkworks must also disclose the breeder’s name, contact information, and USDA certificate number, so that a consumer may do his or her own research into a puppy’s background.

This is a big victory for the animals. It not only prevents Barkworks from continuing to hide where their puppies come from, but it sends a message to every other pet store that dirty business practices will not be allowed. Any consumer who feels they’ve unwittingly purchased a puppy mill dog, should look to the Barkworks lawsuit as a how-to guide to right their wrong.

It’s a great day for the animals, but also for the tireless Best Friends volunteers, many of whom have worked for more than five years, tabling at several Barkworks locations throughout L.A. and Orange Counties. They’ve spoken with thousands and thousands of consumers, had petitions signed, and educated people about the importance of adoption. They helped gather the stories about the sick puppies who were sold and are the heroes of this story.

Puppy mills are as anachronistic as shelter killing. To find out how you can take action on puppy mill sales in your community, please visit our puppy mill initiatives page.

Julie Castle with Sunny the dog
Julie Castle
Best Friends Animal Society