I Heart Puppies owners respond to animal-rights protestors

CORONA DEL MAR — Two of the owners of I Heart Puppies pet store apologized for the disruption caused by animal-rights protestors and provided details of their efforts to buy animals from quality breeders.

Suzanne and Brooke Bradford said at Thursday's Corona del Mar Business Improvement District meeting thatthey traveled two weeks ago to Nebraska, Missouri and Arkansas to visit the breeders they have used. There, they said they found healthy animals in clean cages.

"They were definitely not puppy mills," Suzanne Bradford said. "[The commercial breeders] are hardworking people. That's their industry."

Carole Davis, West Coast director for the Companion Animal Protection Society, said in an interview that she was skeptical that the Bradfords' tour showed the true story.

"They are trying to make it look like all is dandy," she said. "All is not dandy."

Improvement District board member Jim Walker asked if the women had considered selling rescuedogs. The women said they tried, but the four dogs they had from shelters were sick.

The Bradfords told the board members that protestors have called their customers names and been disruptive to neighboring businesses.

"I feel very responsible," Suzanne Bradford said. "We brought this element to our community. We don't know how to handle it."

The women said protestors could begin showing up on Saturdays and Sundays, as well as making "surprise visits."

"Is there a way where they have to get permits?" Suzanne Bradford asked, adding that she was fearful of the protestors.

Mayor Pro Tem Nancy Gardner said the protestors are protected by the 1st Amendment and that permits are not required.

Improvement District Chairman Bernie Svalstad suggested the women's attorney contact the city attorney for guidance, but he reiterated that the board had no role in the controversy. The women said they were pursuing legal remedies to stop the protests.

"If I had known how political it was, I probably wouldn't have done this," Suzanne Bradford said. "We have learned so much."

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