Irvine Co. plans not to renew Russo's Pet Experience lease at Fashion Island, Irvine Spectrum

NEWPORT BEACH — Russo's Pet Experience, which has sold purebred puppies and fancy cats for more than three decades at Fashion Island, is likely to close.

The Irvine Co. does not plan to renew Russo's leases at Fashion Island or at the Irvine Spectrum, a company spokeswoman said.

The Newport Beach-based developer has decided to stop renting space to stores that sell cats and dogs. Other animals, such as birds, fish and reptiles, weren't included in the decision.

"Effective immediately, the Irvine Co. will not lease space in any of its centers to tenants that intend to sell dogs or cats," spokeswoman Erin Freeman said in an email. "The Irvine Co. will honor its existing contractual commitments with Russo's until the expiration of current lease terms."

She declined to give the date of when Russo's lease expires. The Fashion Island location, known for its purebred dogs and cats, dates back more than 30 years, according to the shop's website.

Russo's owner couldn't be reached for comment after multiple attempts Tuesday and Wednesday.

The decision comes ahead of a proposed ordinance by the city of Irvine banning the sale of dogs and cats, Freeman said.

Irvine city officials notified the Irvine Co. about the new law, according to a letter sent Monday to the Daily Pilot.

The Fashion Island store Wednesday afternoon had a continual stream of shoppers stopping in to coo over snoozing pups, laugh at two wrestling daschunds and check out all the other fluffy puppies looking for homes.

The store also sells birds, hamsters, rabbits and other animals, as well as every imaginable pet accouterment, from pink tutu dresses to gourmet doggy cupcakes that look good enough for humans to eat.

Corona del Mar resident Sara Stewart, 9, went into Russo's to look for a bunny to adopt.

Sara she said usually stops at Russo's "every time I come here."

"It'd be pretty sad" when they close, she said.

Newport Beach resident Tracy Allen said Russo's is a "fun, happy place" and a big draw for Fashion Island. She and her two children have gone there many times in the four years they have lived in Newport, but she doesn't really see it as place where people really go to buy animals.

"It's more a place to walk in and see the puppies," she said.

Tracy wondered if the Irvine Co.'s decision was a reaction to recent protests by animal-rights activists at I Heart Puppies, a Corona del Mar pet store. Activists have claimed that the Coast Highway store bought from a puppy mill — allegations the owners deny.

Russo's website states its animals come U.S. Department of Agriculture-licensed breeders and kennels.

The Irvine Co. said the decision on Russo's was already made before the protests at I Heart Puppies.

The decision was based on "retail trends" and was not the company weighing in on the larger issues being raised by the protests, said an Irvine Co. official who asked that his name not be published.

Kennedy said she loves Russo's, but sees the Irvine Co.'s new policy as a way to stop pet shops that buy from puppy mills.

"The safety of the animals comes above us stopping by and seeing cute animals," she said. "It would definitely be a huge loss, but at the same time, we have to think unselfishly."

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