Protest Against Animal Cruelty: Jennifer Peterson vs. Barkworks

Frédérik SisaThe Recreational Nihilist

Last December, I wrote about an ongoing effort to shut down the Barkworks pet store at Westside Pavilion on account of its sick animals and association with cruel and inhumane breeders (See CAPS' Peaceful Protest at Bark Works Reminds Us to Adopt From Shelters The efforts continue, as my interview with Jennifer Peterson demonstrates. This is the first of two parts.

Tell us a bit about yourself and how you came to be an activist for animal welfare.


A protest against Barkworks outside of the Westside Pavilion last month

I grew up in Malibu and have lived on the Westside for 15 years. I'm a producer/director with my own production company, Groovy Room Entertainment, that specializes in web marketing content for corporate and entertainment clients. I attended AFI, made several award-winning shorts, got into documentary filmmaking…and I've always been an animal lover. I had dogs growing up (all rescues) and a cat (another rescue) that was my constant companion for over ten years BUT as recently as a year ago I was one of those clueless people who would pass a pet store and just think how cute the puppies were, never once questioning where they actually came from. Thankfully I woke up from this denial about nine months ago. No doubt one of the reasons is that I rescued a dog of my own eighteen months ago. She opened my eyes to how many amazing and worthy dogs there are in shelters that need homes. I then educated myself on the fact that we euthanize 5 million dogs a year in this country. As a firm believer in what Gandhi said – “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated” – I knew we had a long way to go and wanted to do my part to help animals who could not speak up for themselves. So I started reaching out to rescue groups on Facebook to see how I could help. I donated money when I could. But it didn't feel like enough. Then I started learning about puppy mills, the puppy mill/pet store and internet connection. The more I dug in and researched, the more horrified I became with this barbaric industry. Doggy Death Camps is how I refer to them now.

Learning on the Fly

I was learning, soaking it all in. Then my eyes were forced open in a big way. My best friend impulsively bought a dog from the Barkworks store in the Westside Pavilion last Feb. 14. Yes, Valentine’s Day. Her reasoning was that it looked sad, and she felt sorry for it. It had been in a glass enclosure for over a month (as she had gone back a few times to check on it). She couldn't stand to see it trapped in there any longer. I wanted to scream at her and ask her if she was crazy. But I also love her very much. She was completely uneducated on the puppy mill/pet store connection. So I stifled my judgment to scream and waited. Days later, the dog was sick, very sick, with parasites that had also passed on to her other dog. When she had bought the dog (named Charlotte), one of its legs had been shaved. When my friend asked why they had shaved her, the store clerk told her Charlotte had just been a bit depressed and they needed to take some blood, that she was fine. It later was determined that the shaved leg was for an IV.

So both her dogs are sick for months. Charlotte almost dies but somehow hangs on. My friend tries to get Barkworks to take some responsibility. They remind her of the contract she signed that basically removes them of any liability. They had told my friend – as all pet stores (especially the big chains) tell unsuspecting customers all over the country — that her dog had come from a very reputable breeder. As I have learned, the fact is that NO REPUTABLE BREEDER (and by reputable I mean someone who loves and respects animals, deals with only one breed and vets out every person who is thinking about taking one of their dogs home) would ever sell a dog to a broker, to a pet store or over the internet. They would never ship a dog in a crate via truck or plane with little water or food to a person they had never met. Yet this is what's happening right now all across the country, and people aren't getting it. As long as people continue to buy dogs from pet stores and over the internet, puppy mills will stay in business. (We pulled the USDA report up on my friend’s dog. The breeder is Nancy Ogle of Irene, S.D. She had a minimum of 96 dogs on her property, several complaints filed against her, and many dogs with parasites!)

When a Protest Was Born

So in July I find myself at the Westside Pavilion. I had just seen a film and was walking around until I was standing in front of Barkworks, face to face with what looked like a white lab puppy much too large for its glass enclosure. It had no room to move. People just kept coming up to it, tapping the window, kids making faces at it. My heart sank. It looked back at me, so sad, and at that moment I had my Peter Finch “Network” moment: “I'm as mad as hell and I'm not gonna take this anymore!” I walk in the store and see one sick dog after another, jot down some breeder names and then exit.

Outside the store I stare at the Lab puppy and then start talking to myself, saying this is wrong, that these dogs come from puppy mills and this had to stop. Before I know it, dozens of people are around me asking questions, wanting to know more. (I guess I was talking louder than I thought.) I shared what I knew. I encouraged people to do their own research. The store then called security on me. There was nothing they could do because I was outside the store and just voicing my opinion. The manager, Mitch Thomas, came out and started telling everyone that I was wrong, that he had met all his “reputable breeders” personally. Again, I knew that was crap. Most of them were in the Midwest! I asked him when any of his dogs received any exercise. He tells me between 3 and 9 every morning. More lies. I asked mall security about this later and they said there was no way these dogs were exercised in the mall. The truth is, the only time these dogs ever leave their enclosures is when someone wants to “try them out.”

So I go home that day and decide to start an anti-Barworks/Puppy mill movement. I reach out to everyone I know on Facebook and via email. I spread the word about our first protest. (No, I had never planned a protest before. But I had gone to enough so that I had a vague idea what I was doing.) Before you know, over 2000 people were emailing me wanting to be involved. Our first protest outside Westside Pavilion, on Sept. 10, was a great success. What made it incredible is that several well-known animal-rights groups (Best Friends and CAPS, to name a few) came together in unity. That does not always happen. The response from the public was overwhelming. People stopped, honked their horns in support. We even had the local law enforcement come out and thank us for holding such a peaceful rally for such a great cause. Wow. Both police officers shook my hand.

Tomorrow, Jennifer goes into detail about the case against Barkworks and discusses the movement to convert them to rescue-only stores…or shut them down.

Mr. Sisa, Assistant Editor of the newspaper, may be contacted at