Horns honked. People waved. Dogs barked.
Roughly 20 people gathered with signs on Route 2 in Warwick on Sunday to protest puppy mills and pet stores that sell young dogs.
Rhode Islanders Against Puppy Mills, spearheaded by Adrienne Shapiro, organized the protest, which lasted from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and caught the eye of countless passersby.
The protestors originally set up on the sidewalk in front of Rumford Pets in Warwick but were told by police to move. The crowd walked down to the sidewalk in front of the plaza, which also contains Trader Joe’s and Panera Bread. Protestors held signs that read, “Save a shelter dog, don’t give money to pet stores,” and held pictures of matted, injured and sick dogs from puppy mills in the mid-west.
Shapiro said they picked Rumford Pets for the protest because of the large volume of dogs they carry and sell, though she plans to stage protests at other area pet shops. Rumford declined comment yesterday.
What Shapiro and the other protestors want is for pet stores to stop selling dogs from puppy mills, mass-breeding grounds where dogs live in cages their whole lives. These USDA approved puppy mills, according to Shapiro, treat these companion animals worse than typical livestock, letting them die from illnesses and injuries that go untreated. Dogs that sire and dam these mill puppies are kept in cages for their lifetimes.
At Sunday’s protest, those who have rescued dogs from puppy mills told horror stories of what has happened to their dogs and others. Some said dogs are piled in columns of cages, defecating and urinating on one another. Infections run rampant and disease spreads like wildfire.
The American Kennel Association (AKC) certifies puppy mill dogs as purebreds, but for a fee. Shapiro said the entire puppy mill business is a moneymaking scheme for the AKC and the mills, while the animals are treated horribly and live in deplorable conditions.
Shapiro said all puppy stores get their dogs from puppy mills.
“In puppy stores, they tell you the dogs are coming from breeders and they know they’re lying to you,” she said.
And, she said, you can’t be sure the dogs from puppy mills are truly purebreds.
“You can’t be sure from a puppy mill it’s a pure bred unless you actually do a blood test,” she said.
Pati deWardener stood on the side of Route 2 on Sunday with her three dogs, Lily, Mimi and Ruby. DeWardener isn’t sure what breed Lily is because the only thing they found on her cage when they raided the puppy mill was her date of birth.
“We want to educate the public,” said deWardener about the protest.
DeWardener said people don’t often know where their new dog is coming from, and wants to see puppy mills put out of business.
“We don’t want to shut this store down,” she said.
What they want is for stores to sell shelter dogs, a step that would not only shut down puppy mills, but also prevent the euthanasia of nearly 5 million animals nationwide each year.
Some pet stores have already moved toward selling shelter dogs, or have stopped selling puppies altogether.
DeWardener said adoption is better for the animals, too, since people are screened before they can walk out of a shelter with a new pet.
“There are some people that shouldn’t own dogs,” said deWardener.
She said if someone buys a puppy and cannot take care of it, the pet store would not take it back. Instead, the dog ends up at the local shelter, where it could be euthanized.
Or worse, as Pam Uttaro mentioned, the animal could be listed on craigslist as “free to a good home.” It’s there that the dog or cat may fall into the hands of an animal abuser.
Dennis Tabella, founder of Defenders of Animals, an organization that partnered with Rhode Islanders Against Puppy Mills to stage the protest, said he was there to encourage people to adopt instead of shopping.
“The more people that go to a pet store, the less animals get adopted and the more that get put to sleep,” he said.
Both Tabella and Shapiro are also big proponents of House bill 8100, which would establish a registry between shelters. The registry would be set up through reputable free online adoption sites like PetFinder.com or AdoptAPet.com, both of which Shapiro and Tabella endorse. The registry would allow the transferal of animals, so no healthy or friendly animals would be euthanized. The passage of the bill would be a step in making Rhode Island a no-kill state. The bill is being held for further study, but with the end of the year approaching for the General Assembly, it’s unclear what will become of it.
On Sunday, Kate Clark stood by a baby carriage with a poster on it that read, “I am a survivor.” Inside the carriage was Chloe, a Boston terrier that Clark adopted from Friends of Homeless Animals. Before she was rescued, Chloe was a puppy mill dog.
Clark is unsure how many litters of puppies Chloe gave birth to, but she knows Chloe was bred numerous times. Chloe’s eyes were damaged, and after going untreated, one ruptured. The eyes were in such disrepair by the time Chloe was rescued that they had to be removed. Chloe also had many teeth extracted, and has had cancer three times. Clark said Chloe’s health was severely neglected.
“But now she’s in heaven,” said Clark as she rocked the panting Chloe in her arms.
Pat O’Neil, who held a sign that showed a photo of a matted, injured puppy mill dog, said there was a puppy mill in Pennsylvania that shot all of its animals instead of treating them for disease.
“Then they used the bodies for fertilizer in their fields,” she said.
Shapiro, Tabella and the others hope their protests will help spread awareness, and put an end to the over-breeding and deplorable treatment of animals in puppy mills.
“We’re here to take a stand,” said deWardener.