In the conclusion of my interview with Jennifer Peterson, the animal activist discusses the horrors of puppy mills and how Barkworks’ business promotes and, in her opinion, sustains cruelty for profit.
What is the case against Barkworks, and what issues are you hoping to highlight?
The cute puppy in the window has come from hellish conditions. Its parents are stuck in wire cages for years and years. They never touch the ground because they are forced to stand on wire so that their urine and excrement fall through so it's easier for their so-called breeders to clean up (if they ever do) when the USDA makes their yearly (if that) inspection report. They never get touched by a human. They never feel the sun on their faces. They never are allowed to be… well… dogs. They are forced to breed and breed until they can breed no longer. Then they are thrown out in fields or, worse, killed. A little known fact: These puppy mill breeders often breed mothers with sons, fathers with daughters. You get the picture. You are getting millions of inbred dogs coming out of these “death camps,” meaning not only are these dogs sick and traumatized, they are often a psychological mess. If you believe, as I do, mothers can pass stress and trauma down to their babies in the womb, you start seeing the big picture.
Our beef with Barkworks is that they blatantly lie to their customers about where their dogs come from. We believe if people knew where these dogs came from, they would stop buying. Barkworks is committing fraud. No business should be able to get away with this. They have an “F” rating from the Better Business Bureau. There have been numerous investigative reports done on this store (Google “Barkworks,” and you will see a great piece KTLA did on them.) Yet they stay in business because people either are uneducated or are too apathetic. I want people to start caring and getting as mad as hell as I am.
Barkworks is unwilling to go 100 percent humane. If they wanted to, they could. That would mean they would stop buying dogs from brokers who get dogs from puppy mills. Instead, they would get all of their dogs from local rescues or shelters. They are not interested in even having the dialogue because they look at dogs as merchandise not as our “best friends.”
Our beef is also with the leasing agents who rent space to these stores. Our protests call them out. The Macerich Co., the Simon Group, and GGP all own malls in Southern California that house Barkworks. Macerich owns the Westside Pavilion as well as Cerritos and Thousand Oaks. Simon owns Mission Viejo and Brea. GGP owns Riverside. We want them to stop turning their backs on the dogs trapped in these stores and on their customers who keep sending letters of complaint in which they respond with a rote one line, “thank you for your feedback.” The bottom line for them is money, profit. They also need to be held accountable. By the way, we are doing the protests outside the mall because we want the malls to feel our anger, too. They have the power to shut down these stores but as long as they turn their backs they are a big part of the problem.
It's about awareness, education and helping people connect the dots. Our protest was and is timely. I'm sure you are aware of Prop. B on the Missouri ballot. [Prop. B would prohibit breeders from keeping more than 50 adult dogs for breeding. It would impose stricter shelter and care requirements for those dogs. It would require that all dogs be given constant access to the outdoors, be raised on solid — as opposed to wire — floors, have climate-controlled indoor kennels and be bred only twice every 18 months.] We hope and pray this passes, a good first step to improving conditions for millions of dogs. The anti-puppy-mill movement is growing daily.
Do you feel the protests are building momentum? What is your ultimate goal?
We had a great turnout for our first protest (100 people, all ages, all ethnicities, many people directly affected by Barkworks). We had a family of four who had purchased a dog from Barkworks that died within weeks. It was the most devastating thing the family had ever been through. They are determined to protest the store until it is shut down. The other great thing about the protest was that it brought together several animal rights organizations that don't usually work together; CAPS, Best Friends Animal Society, Guardian Pets Rescue and Pets Hope, to name a few. Jennifer Krause of Best Friends Animal Society was a huge help in getting people out to the protest. She has given me great advice and guidance on how to run a successful protest.
Yes, they are building momentum. We are planning more protests before the holidays. We must stop people from impulsively buying dogs for holiday gifts and encourage them instead to call local rescue groups or visit shelters where they can find the gift of a lifetime. One problem is people think if they don't buy that dog in the window, it will be thrown out or euthanized. That's not what happens. If the dogs don't sell, they are eventually given away or dropped off at a rescue. People need to look at the big picture. As long as they buy, the parents of those puppies will continue to be neglected in horrific ways. So my question is, is it worth it? Our ultimate goal is to get all pet stores that purchase dogs from brokers and puppy mills closed down for good or converted into rescue-only pet stores. (That's 99 percent of them.) This is the only way to end the abuse. Internet sales also have to end. If a store is open to going 100 percent humane (all their pets from shelters) — several in L.A. have —we will help them set up shop and get the word out that they have gone humane.
What reaction have you had, if any, from Barkworks management?
They call security on me whenever they see me. It's pretty funny now. All it takes is for me to stand outside, and they call security. Of course they can't haul me away as I am doing nothing wrong. But it is nice to know I'm getting under their skin. They know what they are doing is wrong. I don't blame the young kids working there. They are just misinformed. They are fed a bunch of lies and told to repeat them no matter what, and that's what they do. Good news is there are many ex-employees now speaking out against the store, I had a few show up at the protest. Their stories were extremely sad but not surprising. One of the biggest things they point out is that each store has a vet who covers up for the stores. They are all in cahoots. Vets get major kickbacks to keep quiet. It is all very ugly.
Without divulging any specific tactics that might diminish your impact, what's next in your campaign?
We have several protests planned for November and December. We need to hit their holiday sales (aka impulse buying) in a big way. As a filmmaker, I am working on a PSA and documentary on the subject of puppy mills.
We are a gathering letters from people directly affected by Barkworks, and planning a Town Hall meeting with news coverage so people can voice their opinions and anger. This is important for people. Many have held in their pain for years. We want to give them an outlet to release, to make a difference.
For more information on protests and to send your personal Barkworks stories, please contact Jennifer at: Protestbarkworks@gmail.com
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