The head of the Humane Society of the United States on Tuesday accused a Westside pet store catering to celebrities of selling puppies obtained from puppy mills.
Wayne Pacelle, president and chief executive of the society, a national animal advocacy organization with headquarters in Washington, D.C., made a presentation on what he called an undercover investigation of Pets of Bel Air, a pet store and grooming business tucked into the Beverly Glen Circle shopping plaza in Bel-Air. The store has attracted such high-profile customers as pop star Britney Spears and actress Denise Richards, among others.
“Our employees were on the inside of Pets of Bel Air,” said Pacelle, who made his presentation at the West Los Angeles Animal Care Center, accompanied by Ed Boks, general manager of L.A. Animal Services, which runs the city’s shelters.
“Our undercover investigators found staffers were knowingly misrepresenting how the dogs were obtained,” Pacelle said.
Just hours after the news conference, the pet store was shut down by L.A. Animal Services for selling pets without a proper permit from the city and for not having veterinary records available for inspection.
“This is largely symbolic,” Boks said. “They can buy a permit and reopen.”
He joined Pacelle in denouncing the store’s alleged practice of selling puppies from puppy mills, calling it “unconscionable.”
Neither operating a so-called puppy mill nor securing dogs from one is a crime. But animal welfare advocates denounce as inhumane and cruel the breeding practice of keeping dogs on a mass scale to produce puppies for sale.
Pacelle said the Humane Society reviewed records of 28 breeders supplying the pet store. Undercover investigators went to five of those breeders and found them to be “large scale breeding facilities -- like factories,” Pacelle said.
Pacelle showed a video of people who the Humane Society contends were Pets of Bel Air employees, on which they state that they try not to refer to an animal as “sick” even if it is ill.
Store owner Tom Demick said Tuesday night in a phone interview that he had not bought puppies from a puppy mill -- “not to our knowledge. I’ve worked with pet stores in the past. I’ve seen the worst. I set this store up to do the best. We pride ourselves on our animal husbandry. We’re all very compassionate about how we do it.”
Demick, who said his store had been open since 1999, took issue with the Humane Society’s videotape of employees downplaying dogs’ illnesses. “That was so twisted,” said Demick of the video. “They cut that segment short.”
He said it was an “oversight” that he had not paid for a permit. “I told the [animals services] officers I had no idea I was three years behind on this,” said Demick, who added he would take care of it immediately.
Tuesday afternoon, as animal services officers conferred with employees inside the shuttered Pets of Bel Air, puppies for sale tussled with each other in crib-like structures in the front windows, or napped, undisturbed by the small crowd of reporters and photographers peering in at them.
Pacelle defined puppy mills as places where female dogs are bred every time they come into heat, a practice he called “incredibly stressful on the system.”
Pacelle said the dogs and puppies are usually not socialized and are often housed in small wire cages -- causing the animals to endlessly bark and circle, he explained. In addition, inbreeding leads to genetic problems.
Pacelle said some of the Humane Society’s documentation had been turned over to the county district attorney’s office as possible evidence of fraud.
“We have on tape a number of false representations made to clients,” said Pacelle, referring to footage that appears to show store employees stating that the store never sells from puppy mills.
Both Pacelle and Boks urged potential dog owners to get dogs from shelters. The West L.A. shelter had some mixed breed puppies Tuesday, several of which should be available for adoption in the next couple of weeks.