Corona del Mar Today: I Heart Puppies target of animal rights group investigation

A national animal rights group has launched an investigation into the newly opened I Heart Puppies shop in Corona del Mar.

The store, which opened Friday, may have puppies for sale that come from "an egregious violator of the Animal Welfare Act," said Carole Davis, West Coast director for the Companion Animal Protection Society (CAPS).

She declined to say how she obtained her evidence, but she said it includes undercover video footage of the breeder's facility and "is not hearsay."

"I have evidence this breeder supplies the Corona del Mar store," she said.

The shop's owners said they stand by their stated mission to get puppies from reputable breeders.

Co-owner Suzanne Bradford said the shop's puppies come from breeders who are in compliance with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, "which, as we all know, is the agency that inspects the country's food supply. So I think it makes sense that if we trust the USDA to make sure our food is safe for us and our families, we would also trust them with their responsibility of regulating commercial dog breeders."

Davis said she launched the investigation Tuesday after receiving 30 complaints about the store in one weekend.

Typically, she sees that many complaints in a month, she said.

According to Davis, the shop has puppies from at least six breeders, one of which has been investigated by the USDA and by the CAPS group since 2006.

Davis declined to name the breeder, but said she had reports from her internal investigations and from the USDA that described dogs living in broken wire cages with no bedding, and were outdoors in sub-zero temperatures. Water bowls were missing, frozen over, or contaminated with feces and urine, Davis said.

"The reports are really disturbing," she said. One report said the dogs were in cages three feet off the ground, "and underneath is so much fecal matter that you would have to wear a mask," she said. Any pet shop owner who visited this particular breeder "would leave in tears," she said.

The breeder is located in the Midwest, she said.

The violations and terrible conditions occurred in that location, not in Corona del Mar, she alleged.

"We are not accusing stores of abusing animals," Davis said.

A complete CAPS investigation could take up to six months, she said. "We inspect, we talk, we get inside, we observe, we talk to people who've bought animals, we talk to veterinarians," she said.

Her goal is to work with the I Heart Puppies shop to convince the shop to work with local shelters and set up a "humane business model" rather than purchase dogs through brokers who may be getting dogs from unethical breeders. The shop's owners have said they plan to include an adoption element to their business plan.

When the investigation is complete, Davis said she would send the results to members of the Newport Beach City Council with a request to change city code to ban shops from selling dogs that do not come from local shelters.

Mayor Pro Tem Nancy Gardner, who represents Corona del Mar, said she was surprised to learn the shop was selling puppies "given the climate today," but that she had not received any calls or emails complaining about the business.

The shop, located at 2801 E. Coast Hwy., also sells pet supplies, puppy apparel, leashes and more.

"As far as what Companion Animal Protection Society thinks of the business model for I Heart Puppies, we believe we have a wonderful concept that puts beautiful healthy puppies in loving homes," Bradford said. "We are very excited about the wonderful response we have had to our store, people appreciate what we have to offer the community and we look forward to providing the area with loving healthy puppies."

Missing snake sign was a fake

A sign seeking help finding a 14-foot, 125-pound python named Zeus apparently was a fake.

The sign was posted last week on Orchid Avenue near East Coast Highway. However, animal control officers said nobody had reported a missing snake in Corona del Mar, and the wording of the sign led them to believe it was a fake.

A few worried residents called Animal Control after seeing the sign. The sign said anyone who found the snake inside a house should call Animal Control.

Attempts to contact the person using the number on the flier were unsuccessful.

CdM Today to host reader salon

Corona del Mar Today plans to host its second monthly salon at The Bungalow from 4:30 to 5:30 p.m. Tuesday.

"The first salon in June was a great success," said Publisher Amy Senk. "This time, we're going to change things a bit, with an organized list of news topics that my readers can discuss."

The topics on the agenda include reaction to a new puppy shop in Corona del Mar, as well as airplane noise levels, the new police helicopter noise levels and what kind of businesses readers want to see open in Corona del Mar, and what, if anything, they can do to help.

Please join us in the patio area at the Bungalow at 2441 E. Coast Highway. There will be happy hour specials and a raffle for a set of Corona del Mar Today photo gift cards.

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