Puppy love

Once carrying designer breeds on sale for thousands of dollars, a local pet store has been adopting dogs from the Riverside County Shelter since June, making it one of the first in the Los Angeles area to implement a humane model.

With shelters in the area experiencing overcrowding and rising euthanasia rates, Pet Rush owner Rene Karapedian set out to alleviate the situation by helping dogs that would have otherwise been put down. Karapedian put the plan into action after a volunteer from nonprofit animal welfare group Best Friends Animal Society alerted him that his dogs were most likely coming from puppy mills.

Dogs found in puppy mills are often kept in cages for years, repeatedly bred for maximized profit and suffer from health and social problems.

A trip to the Riverside Animal Shelter, which has euthanized close to 11,000 cats and dogs this year, was all it took to persuade him to adopt his new model, he said.

"I was amazed that I saw these beautiful, gorgeous puppies being put down mainly because there's no room to take care of them," Karapedian said. "Every dog that I save, every life that I save, I feel like I'm giving back to the community."

When he started the program, Karapedian said he was adopting out five to seven dogs a week.

"It's amazing because instead of going to the mall and spending $1,000, $1,500 or $2,000 on a puppy that's not spayed or neutered, that still needs vaccinations, they come to get these wonderful puppies who are a little older, already spayed or neutered, micro-chipped and vaccinated for a very low cost."

Karapedian, who has around 5,000 clients and has been in business for 10 years, adopts his dogs out for $150 to $350.

He said he couldn't have done it without the backing of Best Friends Animal Society, actress Katherine Heigl's animal rescue group, the John Heigl Foundation and community supporters, who gathered at his pet store in August to celebrate his success.

Clara Rossi, a longtime Pet Rush customer and close friend, said she is thrilled Karapedian is rescuing dogs.

"I hope that more stores do this and more animals get off the street," she said. "If you go to the shelters, you would sit there and cry because you would see all the animals that are being euthanized."

Karapedian, who holds mobile pet adoptions at the Kenneth Village Farmers' Market every Saturday, plans to work with the City Council to help ban puppy mill dog sales in Glendale and beyond.

"Glendale residents are discriminating and informed enough to look for rescues rather than getting dogs and puppies coming from farms, intense breeding and puppy mills," Mayor Ara Najarian said.

Sue Sawyer was a local resident troubled by the sale of puppies at pet stores. She would walk by Pet Rush and see the puppies in the window, a scene that broke her heart, she said.

"I'm kind of ashamed I never did anything about it, but I'm so happy that someone did," she said. "There's no reason a shelter dog can't be a companion. They're perfect, they're wonderful, they're not rejects, they're not damaged — they're great pets."

Karapedian, who would like to become the city's director of animal welfare should the position ever be created, is encouraging other stores selling puppies from breeders to adopt rescue dogs instead, he said.

With a big chunk of his profits gone, he is appealing to the community for more support in other aspects of his business, such as grooming, boarding and pet supplies. He's also in need of foster homes for the dogs he rescues.

But even with the slight downturn in sales, Karapedian said he has the best job in the world.

"There are not too many jobs in the world where you can kiss every client and get away with it," he said.

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