Best Friends Blog

After decades of frustration, a new strategy against puppy mills

Like the war on drugs, or the age of prohibition, the historic efforts to end the abuses of puppy mills have been aimed at reducing supply. In the case of puppy mills the greatest efforts have gone into exposing the horrors of factory farming pets, with the intent of generating public support for legislative measures that will improve conditions in high-volume breeding operations. Decades of such a strategy have proved to be an unmitigated failure – puppy mills continue to pump out millions of pets every year while animals continue to suffer. This is hardly surprising given that puppy mills are regulated by agricultural departments at the state and federal levels, and agribusiness, which sides with the mills, is a powerful lobby and sees every concession to humane interests as the thin end of the wedge for broader, animal-friendly reform in farming.

Best Friends is supportive of any benefit that improved oversight might bring, but we come at the issue from a different angle. One that could only have grown out of the no-kill movement and one that is gaining traction and getting results.

For us, the poor treatment and killing of homeless pets by the millions in our country’s shelters is the lens through which we view the commercial breeding industry that competes with the adoption of shelter pets on the front end and burdens public shelters on the back end, where an estimated 25 percent of impounded dogs are identified as purebred.

We want to see puppy mills gone for so many reasons, and we believe that the best way to do that is to dry up the demand for what they produce rather than try to attack the supply. The best way to do that is to eliminate the market and distribution outlets for puppy mill pets through local public education and local ordinances. Los Angeles has been the proving ground for this strategy, and it is working.

Since 2007, Best Friends has been engaged in parallel campaigns to reduce the demand for commercially bred pets while expanding our adoption efforts and advocacy.

One is a campaign of public education through peaceful protests and informational demonstrations, and the other is a campaign to pass local ordinances aimed at ending the sale of commercially bred dogs, cats and rabbits at pet stores in the given municipality.

The recent passage of such a law by the Los Angeles City Council is a significant step forward in the long fight against puppy mills. L.A. is the second largest city in the country and a major market for puppy mills, or at least it used to be. The law was sponsored by Councilman Paul Koretz and crafted with the aid Elizabeth Oreck, national manager of Best Friends’ puppy mill initiatives.

Elizabeth has led Best Friends’ puppy mill initiatives, under various working titles, since 2008, and with the support of some very dedicated volunteers, she has notched up a series of impressive wins that include ending the sale of puppy mill–sourced pets at three major malls in Los Angeles – the Beverly Center, the Northridge Fashion Center and the Westside Pavilion. The combined annual sales of just these few stores probably exceeded the number of dogs killed annually in L.A. city shelters, but there is more to the story.

Elizabeth’s team has been remarkably effective. Here are some of their tactics and just a few of their accomplishments:

  • At every demonstration, they provide documented evidence (in the form of photos, video and USDA inspection reports) that the pet store is selling dogs from puppy mills. They also provide information on shelter and pure-breed rescue, adoption events, spay and neuter, and the California puppy lemon law. They gather signatures on petitions expressing customers’ concerns about the stores, which can have a very powerful effect on mall owners, as well as testimonials from customers who have purchased animals from those stores, many of which were sick and even died shortly after purchase – an unfortunate and common reality due to the conditions under which these puppies are bred.
  • The goal is never to shut the stores down, but to encourage them to convert to an adoption model. Thus, we always reach out to the owners to offer to assist them in that transition. For example, we worked with Jamie Katz, who had been the manager of Pets of Bel Air, to reopen a new adoption pet store, Woof Worx, in February 2009 after Pets of Bel Air closed. She subsequently sold the store to her stepmother, who reopened it in the same location, also as an adoption pet store, Fresh Paws of Bel Air. The store continues to flourish and has adopted out a lot of dogs.
  • In 2010, one of our volunteers reached out to Rene Karapedian, the owner of a puppy mill–supplied pet store, Pet Rush, in Glendale, to ask if he knew where the dogs in his store were coming from. He did not, as he had been using a middleman, but after doing some research and discovering that his dogs were actually coming from puppy mills in the Midwest, he agreed to let our team help him convert to an adoption model. He launched his adoption pet store in August 2010, and has since adopted out hundreds of dogs, and subsequently opened his second location last summer in Burbank.
  • In 2011, following a meeting with Elizabeth, the Irvine, California, mayor’s office and executives of the Irvine Spectrum Company, the Irvine Spectrum Center mall implemented a policy that they would no longer lease space to pet stores unless they offer only rescued pets for adoption. Likewise, at the end of 2011, the Macerich Company decided to implement the same policy throughout their 70+ malls in the U.S. In 2008, Best Friends brought legal action against Macerich Westside Pavilion to enforce a state supreme court ruling that allowed public information demonstrations inside a mall devoted to public traffic.
  • In September 2011, Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF) filed suit against Barkworks company on the grounds that they engaged in consumer fraud and false advertising by misrepresenting the source of their dogs (i.e., telling customers the puppies came from “responsible private breeders” rather than puppy mills). Customer testimonials gathered by our volunteers provided much of the evidence.
  • Thirty cities in the U.S. and Canada have now passed these ordinances (11 in California), but Los Angeles is by far the largest and most impactful. Regular folks from all over the country hoping to do the same in their communities have contacted Elizabeth. These ordinances are intended to limit the market for dogs (and cats) being bred in inhumane, substandard pet mills throughout the country and imported into communities where they often end up being surrendered to shelters. They are not intended to negatively impact responsible hobby breeders.
  • On December 31, 2012, the Barkworks Westside Pavilion location closed its doors, most likely due to a combination of factors: the L.A. pet sales ordinance, which would have precluded them from selling dogs after June 2013; competition with the adoption-based pet store L.A. Love and Leashes, which is in the same mall; our weekly tabling activities for the previous four years; the Macerich pet store policy; the lawsuit filed by ALDF; and general public awareness raised by all of the above activities.
  • Best Friends staff was featured in a 2010 KTLA News investigation about Barkworks that garnered a Humane Society of the United States’ Hollywood Genesis Award for reporter Lu Parker.

The wheels are beginning to turn, and the train is gathering momentum in favor of the animals, those confined to the hell of a puppy mill and shelter animals awaiting adoption in shelters across the country.

Spread the word … adopt don’t buy your next pet.


Gregory Castle
Best Friends Animal Society

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  • ty for all you do for the dogs Greg! its good to see your passive stealthy approach to this ongoing problem/ hope you are able to bring more Americans into this freedom fight!

  • Anonymous

    Decades of supply side/legislative approaches “an unmitigated failure?” I agree, and have been a member of Best Friends since the mid 90’s.

    Interestingly, I have received hundreds of letters and e-mails from HSUS over the past decade begging for “desperately needed” dollars to “end this cruelty.” According to Wayne Pacelle, HSUS has saved millions of animals from puppy and kitten mills. He wrote that “no other organization comes close to HSUS” in terms of victories for puppy mills dogs and that only by addressing the “root causes” of the problem (by passing HSUS-crafted federal, state, and local laws can we close them down. I mean, why give money to those other, inferior groups and shelters that are merely putting a bandaid on the never ending flood of unwanted shelter puppies and kittens?

    Of course, HSUS is the group that took both Amanda Hearst and Georgina Bloomberg along on separate puppy mill raids/fundraising events. I guess Wayne meant that no other organization comes close to HSUS in generating countless millions of dollars from animal lovers off puppy mill suffering.

    Expect HSUS to take credit and raise money off your alternative approach.

    • Giving funding to these so called “inferior groups” like dog and cat rescues (that should never be mislabeled inferior) means alot to those dogs and cats sitting in kill shelters that nd rescue everyday and don’t care about what might happen or not happen in the future! and so those funds actually do show immediate results as compared to ongoing lobbying efforts that only benefit those pups if laws are passed which hasn’t happened yet! how much longer will funds be thrown at this non results producing effort with minimal visible benefits? helping recues actually accomplish something is more meaningful and accountable to their donors too! ty!

      • Anonymous

        Mark Cohan,

        Please do not misunderstand my sarcasm. It is HSUS – not me – that has defended their misplaced program and funding priorities countless times by stating that shelters and rescues are merely addressing the symptoms of cruelty and overpopulation. The implications are is very clear to me: HSUS is doing more important work so donate to HSUS. Pacelle does see HSUS as superior, more effective and more important than direct care groups. He’s also an egomaniac who wants to control the biggest share of the animal charity (money and publicity) pie. He needs to go.

        The reality is that well run shelters and rescues are a threat to HSUS’s fundraising and political goals. So using the word “inferior” was just my jokey translation of how Wayne Pacelle really thinks and how he and his damage control spokesmodels attempt to justify HSUS’s actions and inactions.

        I agree with every word you said. Thank you for clarifying the issue so well.

  • cmom

    When you do a rescue why don’t you take the local mayor/city official along so he can see first hand the conditions of the animals? Or have him waiting at the location where you first care for the animals. If they see it they will have a much harder time claiming there is nothing they can do. On the other end of this I have looked at several rescues and frankly it is almost easier to adopt a child or rent an apartment than adopt a pet. There has to be a way to streamline the process so people have no reason to go to a pet store.

  • Shirley Slick

    We also need to be working to outlaw the sale of live animals on the internet. I know this is a very difficult process, but puppy mills tend to move their business online when they lose outlets for the sale of their puppies. They often represent themselves as rescues. There are no regulations about selling online and they do not need to pay a broker, so in many ways, selling online is better for them. Is there any way to target brokers who represent puppy mills? So many pet store manager/owners do not realize they are dealing with puppy mills because they only ever deal with a broker or several brokers. Who regulates animal brokers, if anyone? Do they need licenses? If so, from what department? State or federal? Many puppy mills would not be able to sell to pet stores without a broker’s representation. As we are working with pet stores, could we collect the information about their brokers, or is that legally protected information? Are brokers legally liable for the animals they sell? I know brokers exist, but I don’t know much about where they come from or how they operate. Any suggestions and/or information will be appreciated!

  • Sandy

    I think the work you are doing is fantastic. What I still continue to see are the backyard breeders. I do my best to promote spay & neuter. I am a Technician in an ER clinic and get so frustrated at the number of people who let their dogs breed and have no resources for financial needs, let alone homes for the puppies and kittens. Any suggestions would be welcomed. Also, I put your “Puppies are not Products” bumper sticker on my reception window! Trying to spread the word. Thanks for all you do!

  • This is awesome! I own a pet store in Fond du Lac, WI (Head to Tail). From the day we opened our doors we’ve choosen to do this with all our pets; ferrets, rabbits, guinea pigs, birds, hamsters, rats, mice, everything! We operate solely as a rescue; getting our pets from shelters (especially high kill shelters) and from people who no longer want them. Adopt, don’t Shop!!

    • Elizabeth Oreck

      That’s terrific, Heather. We’ll be sure to add you to the list of adoption pet stores on our site. Keep up the good work!

  • Is there contact info for Elizabeth? I am on my city’s advisory board and we are working on changes. Thanks!

  • The Social Pet

    Please do not leave behind all the dogs in all the puppy mills who suffer incredible horrors. The problem is multi-faceted and must be worked at from all angles, including the support of stronger animal welfare laws in all states and breeder rules and regulations. Just tackling the problem from the retail side would leave millions of dogs in grossly unsanitary conditions to die, starve to death or be riddled with disease. Just because something is difficult to look and face does not mean the source should be ignored.

    • Elizabeth Oreck

      Thank you for your comments, Social Pet. We totally agree, and we do indeed attack the problem from a number of angles: state breeding regulation legislation (we are supporting a number of bills that have already been introduced for 2013), local pet sales ordinances, public education to raise awareness, adoption programs and the transport of rescued dogs from mills. This process is gradual and requires multiple strategies and collaboration at every level in order to see true systemic change. But we are very hopeful that we are on the right path to a day when puppy mills will be a thing of the past.

  • Piq

    Well done! Keep up the great work. Check out how the city of Calgary, Alberta, Canada has passed terrific licensing by-laws for pet owners that has reduced their animal control statistics to nothing, resulting in close to 100% return rates for lost animals and next to zero strays

  • The Palisades Center (Mall) in West ,NY, now has an adoption-only dog store. It is one of the biggest malls in the country, located about 25 miles from New York City.

    • Elizabeth Oreck

      Thanks, Catherine. We’ll add them to our list of adoption pet stores.

  • Anonymous

    Thanks for the very informative blog. Very good information and step by step things are going in the right direction to reduce the number of unwanted animals. Thanks again Best Friends.