Pet shop moving out after puppy mill protests

Hall is a Times staff writer.

For 15 years, Pet Love has been a fixture in the busy Beverly Center mall, its brightly lighted interior showcasing furry puppies for sale behind glass-walled kennels.

But for the last six months, the sixth-floor pet store has been targeted by the Best Friends Animal Society, a national animal rescue and welfare organization that is waging a campaign to get Los Angeles pet shops to stop selling animals born in what the group calls inhumane puppy mills.

On Tuesday, it appeared that pressure from the group was forcing Pet Love to leave the upscale mall.

At a news conference near the mall Tuesday, Best Friends official Elizabeth Oreck said that the Beverly Center would terminate the lease of Pet Love at the end of January.

The owners of the store could not be reached for comment Tuesday.


Along with Pet Love, leaders of the anti-puppy mill campaign, “A Puppy-Store-Free-L.A.” say their protests have prompted the closure of two other stores, while a third store has stopped selling animals entirely.

The popular Pet Love “is the daddy of them all,” Oreck said. The activist ran the campaign from a table loaded with information leaflets and signs denouncing puppy mills two floors away -- as requested by the Beverly Center.

Best Friends officials charge that Pet Love’s puppies come from puppy mills -- factory-like settings where animals are bred too frequently, are poorly cared for, and are allowed to grow sick. Most animal welfare groups, including the Humane Society of the United States, contend that the vast majority of pet stores get their dogs from puppy mills.

Best Friends also cites a late 2006 KCBS-TV Channel 2 undercover investigation of Pet Love that showed workers medicating animals improperly.

Oreck insisted Tuesday that the goal of the campaign was to change the pet shops’ practices, not to shut them down.

“We don’t want them to go out of business,” she said. Instead, they want the businesses to stop selling live animals, and sell only pet supplies -- or sell animals obtained from rescue organizations and shelters.

Oreck, the Los Angeles program manager for Best Friends, said she met months ago with Pet Love’s owners. “We said: ‘We will propose a plan for you. We will help you get rescue animals, we will promote you -- we will get the entire animal welfare community into your store. We will tell people this is the only place to buy supplies.’ ”

According to Oreck, the owners were not interested.

Oreck said the Beverly Center management agreed to let them have a table where they gave out fliers listing their arguments against Pet Love and information on pet adoption sources.

“I said, ‘We’re not a crazy animal group, we’re not going to chant and we’re not going to sing. This is an educational campaign.’ ”

Although the table in a heavily trafficked area on the eighth floor of the mall allowed the group to chat with shoppers and collect hundreds of signatures on a petition expressing concern about the pet store’s practices, Oreck said she also wanted to have a presence in front of the store: “a couple of people holding up signs and passing out literature to people coming in and out.”

When the Beverly Center declined that request, Best Friends filed a lawsuit asking a judge to decide if the group had a constitutional right to protest in front of the store. According to a Nov. 21 letter from a lawyer for the Beverly Center’s owners to an attorney representing the animal group, the partnership that owns the Beverly Center “will terminate its lease agreement with Petlove, Inc. . . . effective Jan. 31, 2009.” In exchange, Best Friends would agree to withdraw its lawsuit and “cease its protest activities” when Pet Love moves out of the Beverly Center.

Oreck supplied a copy of the letter to The Times. The lawyer who wrote the letter for the Beverly Center owners would not comment. Beverly Center general manager Jeff Green said, “We’re not able to comment on anything regarding ongoing tenant affairs.”

And at the pet store, business went on as usual. In a front window, a Jack Russell terrier puppy -- on sale for $999.99 -- tussled with a Bichon poo puppy, unaware of the controversy.