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Animal lovers turned out en masse at Burbank City Hall, Tuesday evening, to show support for an ordinance that would ban the retail sale of commercially-bred dogs and cats in Burbank pet stores.
With a room filled to capacity and spilling into the lobby, 40 impassioned speakers lined up to lay out a compelling case for why this ordinance is crucial for Burbank -- and why Peggy Wood’s Pet Emporium, the city’s last remaining seller of puppy mill dogs -- needs to go humane.
“Substandard breeders with repeated USDA violations have been traced to Burbank pet stores,” stated Elizabeth Oreck of Best Friends Animal Society, who stepped up to the podium first.
(One of the stores, Millennium Pets, just announced it would stop selling dogs; the other store being Peggy Wood’s.)
Oreck told the Council that in order to keep expenses low and profits high, the USDA-licensed breeding facilities that supply stores like Peggy Wood’s, do little more than require food and water for their breeding dogs, many of which are caged up for life with barely enough room to turn around.
Then one after another, members of Burbank C.R.O.P.S. (Citizens for Rescue Only Pet Stores), a volunteer group that gathered over 500 signatures and 200 letters from local residents, presented documented proof via a PowerPoint Presentation, that Peggy Wood’s is not up front with its customers about where the dogs come from.
C.R.O.P.S. Founding Member, Shelley Rizzotti, a Burbank attorney, reminded the Council that Peggy Wood’s owner, Ira Lippman, stated at the first meeting on this issue, that only one-third of his dogs come from distributors, while the other two-thirds come from local private breeders and breeders outside of Los Angeles that he personally visits; however, over a 4-month period of tracing the origin of various puppies he had for sale, her group uncovered a completely different picture: evidence that 100 percent of them came from substandard, out-of-state puppy mills, not local breeders.
“We use the very best breeders and visit all of them,” a Peggy Wood’s employee told C.R.O.P.S. volunteer Lindsay Reeves.
Said Rizzotti, “If the owner visited these facilities as he said he did -- his threshold for what is acceptable is very low.”
C.R.O.P.S. traced Lippman’s puppies to mills in Oklahoma, Texas and Missouri (aka “The Puppy Mill Capital of America”) that were brokered through the notorious Hunte Corporation, the largest distributor of puppy mill dogs in the U.S. (over 90,000 a year) that are transported on semi-trucks to unsuspecting pet store customers, not to mention that Hunte has been the defendant in countless lawsuits for selling sick dogs.
Lippman told the Council a different story. He said that the puppies on these semi-trucks are “treated nicely and taken care of 24/7.”
When asked by Angie Groom, another C.R.O.P.S. volunteer, why they don’t use local breeders, Peggy Wood’s store manager told her they would like to, but can’t due to lack of space, and that the climate in California isn’t conducive to breeding -- but as Groom pointed out to the Council, California has ample space and milder summers than Missouri or Texas.
“I’m concerned about why our community would support any kind of establishment that is dishonest or misleading to its customers,” stated Dr. Laura Cochrane, a Burbank resident and veterinarian who came to the meeting to share her research.
Renowned Burbank Veterinarian and volunteer founder of the Burbank Animal Shelter's medical program, Dr. Martin Small, was also present to talk about all of the sick pet store puppies and kittens he’s treated for parvo and other illnesses during his 50-plus years in private practice, not to mention the heartbroken owners. He came as an advocate for humane pet stores.
“Humane pet stores are not just charitable do-gooders; they are viable small businesses that want to and do make a profit,” stated Alexis Cole, President of Volunteers of The Burbank Animal Shelter (VBAS).
Rene Karapedian, owner of Pet Rush, Glendale’s first rescue-only pet store, was on hand as the proof. He reports that his increased business since switching to a humane model, facilitated the recent opening of his second store in Burbank, Pet Rush Inn, a larger space that also offers boarding. Additionally, Burbank's C & C Pet Food and Supplies said its sales shot up 30 percent when they stopped selling live animals.
Karapedian told the Council that he used to sell close to 100 puppy mill dogs a year, and since going humane, places over 300 rescue dogs in homes yearly.
Pet Rush Inn joins Burbank’s Pet Mania, which many years ago, was the first pet supply store in the L.A. area to offer rescue dogs and cats for adoption, and is still going strong.
Lippman told the Council: “We bring puppies to hospitals, senior homes and pre-schools, and it’s difficult to do that only with rescue animals, because with puppies we can be assured they’re friendly,” which of course, struck a nerve with the audience of rescue proponents. He further added that he doesn’t know why they need to bring this ordinance to Burbank.
Armond Aghakhanian, an economics professor and member of the Burbank Community Goals Committee, has a different outlook: he asked “why not Burbank?” After embarking on several animal rescue missions, including to Mexico, he’s well aware that puppy mills are not only a national problem, but an international one as well.
“Burbank should be a shining star and set an example not only for the country, but the world," he said.
Council Member David Gordon, a Burbank optometrist with a practice down the street from Peggy Wood’s offered, “a ban won’t make a difference; it won’t stop puppy mills.”
(In spite of the fact that nine other SoCal cities, including neighboring Glendale, already have similar bans in place, with the City of Los Angeles expected to pass one within the next month, and in spite of him acknowledging just prior, that you have to start somewhere).
He feels it’s “fundamentally wrong” to target a single business that’s been part of a community for decades. He said he would support steps to improve tracking and tracing, but not a full ban since Lippman is not doing anything "illegal."
"This is not about one business/businessman; there just happens to be only one continuing to sell mill animals," explains Christy Schilling, a C.R.O.P.S. organizer that was instrumental in getting the Glendale ban passed.
Council meeting "regular," David Piroli, is against bans in general. At the first meeting introducing the ordinance, he stated there are already too many bans on the books, such as dog fighting, etc.…and all it means is that people will “go underground” (as opposed to the above-ground dog fighting we all love so well).
Dr. Gordon said he’s not sure what’s behind the push for a ban, whether it be “ideological” or “gender-driven” (i.e. female). He must have been asleep when all the men got up to speak. And more importantly, wouldn't an elected official normally get in trouble for a comment like that?
He also kept reminding everyone he has a rescue dog, as if that somehow makes it more palatable that he opposes the ban -- on the contrary, to those who care about all dogs (not just their own) -- it makes it all the more reprehensible.
Dr. Gordon said this ban would put Mr. Lippman out of business, and that it’s not feasible for him to have rescue dogs, noting that his customers order specific dogs, like say a pug, Chihuahua or Doberman and might not want to wait. Gordon asked, “What’s he supposed to do, call up the pound in San Bernardino and see if they have the dog with pedigree?”
Rizzotti had already noted earlier in the evening that although her group is against large-scale commercial breeding, it does not advocate taking away the choice to buy a purebred animal -- there are a variety of options: breed specific rescues, roughly 30 percent purebred dogs (including puppies) at shelters and responsible breeders that treat their dogs humanely.
It was also reiterated throughout the meeting that papers mean virtually nothing, except that the dog's parents are purebred (or AKC-approved hybrid), and that’s not even a guarantee. A large portion of AKC revenue comes from selling papers to puppy mills and other sketchy breeders.
Dr. Gordon points out that Lippman does a lot for the community, which nobody is denying. Lippman also seems like a friendly guy, which nobody is denying. The bottom-line, however: he sells puppy mill dogs, and refuses to stop.
It’s most likely due to the high profit margin and that he finds it easier to just order dogs off the Internet and have them shipped – but as current times are proving – it would serve him better to rebuild a business that people can trust, and to do the right thing.
In fact, Ida Noack, a rescue volunteer, stated at the meeting: “My promise to Peggy Wood’s is I will donate 8 hours a month for 6 months, to help them turn their business around.”
She even offered to clean cages and do whatever is needed, if the store is willing to have rescue dogs.
“If we’re gonna pull our money away from Peggy Wood’s for selling puppy mill dogs," said Noack, "then I’m willing to put my money back into Peggy Wood’s for going humane.”
Vice Mayor Emily Gabel-Luddy, who first proposed the pet store ordinance to the Council, stated that the exhaustive research that was conducted and presented regarding Peggy Wood’s, was enough to go forward with the ban.
She posed the question to Dr. Gordon: “You can’t know everything about every breeder, but does what you saw not give you some pause in your consideration of the quality or origin of animals made available through this facility?”
His response: “You go to any business in the city, air conditioning, car repairs, etc., and they’ll have violations" (only flaw being that air conditioners and cars aren’t sentient beings).
Gordon also noted that on the occasions he’s stopped in to Peggy Wood’s, he’s encountered many satisfied customers, and there are hundreds of supporters in the community.
“Where are they?” C.R.O.P.S. organizer, Jen Krause, wanted to know. (Oddly enough, none were present at the meeting.)
"There was tremendous support shown by Burbank residents by signing petitions, writing letters and showing up at the adoption events, and ultimately the city council meeting," said Schilling. "This told the story that the community does not want this inhumane business practice happening. The fact that none of Peggy Wood's 'satisfied' customers showed up speaks volumes."
And finally, at close to 11:30 p.m., after all was said and done, the Burbank Council voted in favor of moving forward and drafting an ordinance to prohibit future stores in the city of Burbank from selling commercially bred dogs and cats, unless they come from a registered nonprofit animal rescue, adoption or shelter organization.
The sale of bred dogs will be grandfathered in at Peggy Wood’s with a few new restrictions, such as the breeders having to be local and a limit on the number of breeding dogs (to be determined by the Council) -- but as of now, they will still be able to sell dogs and cats indefinitely.
It was a bittersweet victory for the ordinance supporters in attendance, who were counting on merely a grace period for Peggy Wood’s to transition to rescues and stop selling mill pets completely. After all, it won’t be an easy task finding reputable breeders to supply a pet store, not to mention the still-looming pet overpopulation issue and the fact that the Burbank Shelter is overflowing, with the euthanasia rate up.
Dr. Gordon accused those in favor of the ban of coming to the meeting with an agenda. Yes, it's true -- they did have an agenda: to protect animals, consumers and the taxpayers of Burbank, unlike Dr. Gordon’s agenda that was clearly to protect the profit margin of one business owner -- regardless of how unethical his business has proven to be.