Posh Puppy Beseiged by Animal Welfare Protesters
Watch the video of the rally: http://youtube.com/watch?v=IyZdkCi-JzQ
The Posh Puppy store of Beverly Hills, California, is entrenched in a ten-week long war of attrition against an organized and experienced group of animal welfare advocates from three national organizations, Best Friends Animal Society, Last Chance for Animals and the The Humane Society of the United States.
Local supporters of the growing anti-puppy mill movement, angered by the proliferation of pet stores that sell miniature “tea-cup breeds” for thousands of dollars, are determined to expose the cruelty behind the pet trade to Los Angelinos. The activists have been hosting a peaceful “pro-adoption/anti-puppy mill rally” at the busy intersection of Wilshire Boulevard and Roxbury Drive every Saturday in front of The Posh Puppy store. The message carried by spirited voices high above the din of traffic is, “Stop! Don’t Shop! It’s kinder to adopt!”
Last Saturday, the activists stepped up the pressure by arriving earlier and staying later. They marched peacefully, many of them accompanied by their own rescued dogs, educating shoppers about the fact that 20% of dogs at the shelter are pure-bred dogs. The protesters hope to win the hearts and minds of puppy buyers by explaining how the pet industry works—that pets from pet stores are supplied by pet factories—puppy mills, where breeding dogs are kept in inhumane conditions. The rally members are intent on exposing the pretty store front for what it is—a front for pet trade professionals to rake in their share of a multi-billion dollar industry, while behind the scenes, animals suffer.
Jana Kohl, psychologist and author of “A Rare Breed of Love” explained why she spends her Saturdays picketing Posh Puppy: “We spend two billion dollars a year in this country to shelter and euthanize homeless animals. When people buy a dog from a pet store or breeder instead of adopting, they are not only signing a death warrant for one of those dogs, chances are they are supporting cruel and inhumane puppy mills. Think of what two billion dollars could do to help children, the poor, our education system. And think of the humane choice you will be making when you adopt instead of putting money into the pockets of animal abusers.”
During the first three weeks of the rallies, Posh Puppy owners John and Michelle Yoon, in a desperate strategy, opted to shut down on Saturdays but for the last month, they have braved the siege by staying open, bringing in extra sales help and hiring a security guard. The rally members have all been mindful of the picket regulations in Beverly Hills, staying clear of the door, so the security guard hasn’t had much to guard. In fact, he spends most Saturdays smiling, chatting and texting on his cell phone in the entrance to the pet shop. In a tone that seemed slightly apologetic, he told this reporter, “Hey, I’m just making a living—trying to feed my kids.”
The activists have been buoyed by their ability to deter just over 70% of customers at the front door. In response, the Yoons have been ushering the few customers that do go in, to leave the store out of the back door. Almost all the shoppers exiting the store have been walking out without having made a purchase. When customers do go in, they are visibly uneasy reading the signs being held up to the large windows that state: “WARNING! The Humane Society of the United States says no reputable breeder will sell to pet stores!” When the store is empty (most of the day) the Yoons and their employees take pictures of the picketers and fidget. They ignore the dogs in the display boxes. But as soon as someone walks in, the show begins. Exaggerated smiles and laughing are produced and they place adorable puppies into the arms of prospective buyers. But even the charms of a puppy are unable to stop customers from furtively glancing outside at the picket line.
John Yoon in Van Nuys Superior Court on Jan. 2, 2008
Photo by Elle Wittlesbach
The owners of Posh Puppy have been struggling to contain reports of the controversy that hounds them. They have attempted to remove a video about the protest from YouTube.com (see above link) and they have threatened to “commence legal proceedings” to prohibit its broadcast. The Yoons have also attempted to remove the many negative reviews about their two stores from several review websites by claiming slander and defamation.
The Yoons, who claim to have a “C” license (an exhibitor’s license with the USDA) have been sent formal requests from Last Chance for Animals and the Washington D.C. offices of the Humane Society of the United States to provide them with a complete list of their suppliers and a copy of their license. As of this publication, a month later, the Yoons have not responded.
An investigator obtained the names and addresses of four of their suppliers and none of them were USDA licensees, according to Stephanie Shane, director of the puppy mill campaign at HSUS.
I spoke to three customers who bought sick dogs from Posh Puppy owners John and Michelle Yoon. One of the dogs, a Maltese, died in October 2007, less than a month after he was brought home. “I was crying every day,” said the woman who bought him (she did not want me to reveal her name). My vet thinks he died of distemper. It was a horrible experience,” she cried. “At the end, she (Michelle Yoon) spoke with my vet. She paid $3000.” Brokenhearted, she bought two more “at a little bit of a discount.” A month later, one of them had gerardia and bloody diarrhea. “I never got papers on any of my dogs,” she said. “When my baby was sick, she (Michelle Yoon) was standoffish. She told me she would take the dog back and told me to ‘pull in the back,’ not to come into the front of the store,” she continued. Through the back door, out of sight.
Activist Kim Sill with a shelter dog who found a forever home at the rally.
Photo by Charlotte Duncan
On January 2, 2008, John and Michelle Yoon appeared at the Van Nuys Superior Court to defend themselves in a lawsuit against them for selling three sick dogs to plaintiff Jayme Rones. Ms. Rones, carrying a heavy load of veterinary records in the crowded hallway outside the courtroom was despondent. “He has a hole in his heart and can die at any time,” she cried. John Yoon chuckled. “If you’re so dissatisfied, why would you come back,” he said, referring to the two other dogs she bought from them. Then, Michelle Yoon began to shake and sob. “I’m a good Christian,” she yelled.
After hours of deliberation with court appointed mediator Peggy Rodgers, rather than facing a higher court, the Yoons settled and paid an undisclosed sum to Ms. Rones, which she seemed satisfied with. The Yoons were also able to obtain an agreement from Ms. Rones to not discuss the outcome of the case but by then, she had already been interviewed. Ms. Rones showed me her thick stack of vet bills and complained to me about her sick Yorkie that she had picked out on-line from Posh Puppy for $1900. “He had a hernia and pneumonia,” she sobbed. “I called Michelle Yoon and she said she would make it up to me by discounting two other dogs. They were $2500 each and I paid $4000 for two dogs. Michelle said to me, ‘you don’t even need to bring them to a vet because we’re sure they’re 100% healthy.’ She told me she had checked them out with her vets. Well, the Maltese had a grade 4-5 heart murmur, ear mites and gerardia. The other one had impacted teeth and needed surgery on her mouth and eye problems.”
Another Posh Puppy client, Ms. Simon, told me of her experience. She bought two three-month old Yorkies from the Tarzana store in June on 2007. “I told Michelle (Yoon) this was the biggest nightmare that has ever happened,” she said. “It started with ringworm. They had parasites. Scabies. Kennel cough. Bordatella. My kids got infected. The papers? Still nothing.”
Not only do the Yoons sell sick dogs, they are also worsening the pet overpopulation crisis by encouraging buyers to breed the dogs they sell. Jayme Rones, the Posh Puppy client who took the Yoons to court, recounted how she had bought two puppies for the purpose of breeding them. Michelle Yoon encouraged illegal, backyard breeding by telling Ms. Rones that she could “make $500 for each studding,” demonstrating Posh Puppy’s dismissive attitude about the very publicized ordinance passed in the City of Los Angeles to spay and neuter dogs by the age of four months.
Last Saturday, the owners of Posh Puppy decided to not bring puppies to the store at all. Michael Libow, a Beverly Hills realtor who dropped by the rally last week said, “Their rent has to be at least $10,000 a month. They can’t last long. I hope they close.” A red-haired elderly woman who lives in the neighborhood, passes by every week and lingers to chat with us each time. “This is great, what you’re doing—a fantastic job,” she says. “We need this store in Beverly Hills like we need a hole in the head. When are you going to close down that house of horrors in the Beverly Center?”
Though most Saturdays the rally is punctuated by thumbs up signs from passersby and loud honking from drivers who approve of the protest, not everyone is sympathetic to the cause. Last Saturday, a trendy twenty-something blond with a gold hobo bag and a bird feather barrette in her hair was looking in the window when I approached her. I had a stack of Companion Animal Protection Society brochures in one hand and in the other, I was gripping the leash of my rescued Cairn terrier, who was festively dressed for the rally in a pink ruffled dress. Would you like a brochure to know what goes on in the puppy business,” I asked. Most people, when they see a scruffy dog in a pink dress can’t help but crack a smile but this woman remained stone-faced. “Don’t you get it,” she snapped. “I don’t care. Get away from me.”
Later, two men dressed like they had just stumbled out of rave party marched into Posh Puppy as if they were on the red carpet, dodging the paparazzi. As we approached the duo with pamphlets that featured heartbreaking pictures of dogs in puppy mills, the taller of the two threw his arm straight out and showed us his palm. “Talk to the hand,” he said as he glided inside. “Puh-lease,” said his shorter, swarthy friend. “You people make me sick! You’re hypocrites. Some of you are wearing leather!” Later, on his way out, the short one waved his hand in my face in triumph. “Get a life,” he hissed. “I just bought three puppies! Ha! We’re picking them up tomorrow!”
The entire purchase took less time than it takes to buy a sandwich at Subway. All of us standing outside helplessly watching that puppy deal go down agreed: these two men could never have passed a home check with a rescue organization.
Most pet shops have no compunctions about selling live animals to whoever is willing to pay. The ability to care for the animal, having a stable home, time, patience and an understanding of an animal’s basic needs simply isn’t criteria for purchase. Pet stores and puppy brokers and dealers across the nation sell barely weaned puppies on line or by telephone with no more care or conscience than a vacuum cleaner dealer sells a spare part. The puppies are no more than product—inventory. The supply is inexhaustible and as the inventory gets sold for up to $4000 a unit, there is more “product” on order—the incoming product, often from one of the tens of thousands of USDA licensed breeding facilities in the Mid-West, is already on the assembly line. In this case, the assembly line is different than one churning out appliance parts. This assembly line’s product is already kicking in the tired and worn womb of a living “breeder dog,” who is alone and afraid in a cage, in a breeding facility.
Pet stores around the country profiting from the boom have begun offering “financing” and they even mail out coupons for $100 off eight-week old puppies. When a puppy hasn’t sold fast enough, they slash the price and put him on sale like a handbag from last season. By contrast, rescue organizations interview a potential pet guardian for hours and then follow up with a home check to make sure the pet will be safe and loved for the rest of its life. Rescue organizations will check in months later to find out how the pet is adjusting and to make sure (if it wasn’t done already) that the pet is spayed or neutered.
None of the unpleasant hurdles the protesters face on Wilshire Boulevard ever seem to affect Lisa Beal, campaign director of Last Chance for Animals, who was instrumental in making the puppy mill campaign a priority at LCA. Every week, she stands at the corner of Roxbury looking more like an ex-runway model than an animal rights activist, holding an enormous banner that reads, “Adopt! Don’t buy!” “Posh Puppy is typical of the puppy stores that are booming in Los Angeles,” she says. “Pet stores help the puppy mill business flourish. There’s no way that pet stores could exist without puppy mills supplying them because of the high demand, period. That’s the bottom line. These bougie pet stores, they feel like Starbucks or Home Depot. It’s a familiar corporate vision and it makes you feel OK to buy. It puts a happy face on animal cruelty.”