CAPS is very proud to announce that Aquarium & Pet Center in Santa Monica, California signed a legal agreement to convert to a humane business model. In late October, this pet store, which has been in business for over 20 years, decided to stop selling puppies from mills. Aquarium & Pet Center now works with rescue organizations to promote adoptable animals from the Los Angeles municipal shelter system.
Aquarium & Pet Center had been the target of an ongoing CAPS investigation linking the store to The Hunte Corporation, the largest USDA licensed dog brokering facility in the country. CAPS is quite familiar with the practices of Hunte as the result of an undercover employment investigation at this large facility and ongoing investigations of Hunte’s puppy mill suppliers. In addition to dogs supplied from inhumane breeding facilities in the Midwest, some of the puppies sold at Aquarium & Pet Center were from a puppy mill just outside of Los Angeles. This was the fourth store in Los Angeles to succumb to investigations and protests by CAPS between March 2009 and November 2009. Other stores no longer selling puppy mill dogs include Elaine’s Pet Depot, Elite Animals, and Pets of Wilshire. Elaine’s Pet Depot, part of a chain in the U.S. and Canada, offers rescue animals for adoption. On the basis of our efforts against Elaine’s, the entire Pet Depot chain stopped selling dogs and cats (some didn’t before).
CAPS had organized three weekend protests in front of Aquarium & Pet Center. On October 10, the protest was interrupted by violence when dozens of animal rights activists were shot at by an unknown assailant with a high powered air rifle, spraying them with two millimeter brass slugs. Two of the protesters were slightly injured. The police investigation into the shooting is ongoing and there is a $5000 reward for any information leading to the arrest and conviction of the shooter.
But our work in Los Angeles has just begun. We need to use this momentum to get ordinances passed in other towns and cities in Southern California, including Los Angeles, which will in turn generate even more interest across the country. An in-depth news story on the pet shop industry in the Los Angeles area is desperately needed, which requires that CAPS investigate pet shops and the mills that supply them.
Following a CAPS undercover investigation of West Hollywood pet shops and a nearly six month protest of Elite Animals, the West Hollywood City Council passed an ordinance prohibiting the sale of dogs and cats in pet shops, with an exemption for the adoption of shelter and rescue animals. Media coverage of CAPS and the West Hollywood ordinance includes The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, ABC, NBC and CBS in Los Angeles, About.com. In fact, media throughout the U.S. and the world (even New Zealand) covered this compelling story. Our work has inspired other towns and states to consider similar legislation. CAPS is currently working with Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF) on an ordinance for another Southern California town and assisted Richmond, British Columbia animal advocates on a by-law banning the sale of pet shop dogs.
A CAPS investigation of West Hollywood-based Elite Animals revealed that the store was selling puppy mill dogs and defrauding customers. Undercover footage shot by a CAPS investigator showed employees telling the investigator that the puppies came from “good private breeders.” Elite Animals was also selling dogs from puppy mills in Russia and violating a federal law prohibiting the import of dogs under the age of six months for resale.
The main suppliers to Elite Animals were Gerry and Angie Wensmann, USDA licensed brokers in Minnesota, who sell to pet shops all over the country. Elite Animals proudly displayed a photograph of Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, to whom the pet shop sold a Wensmann puppy in 2000. CAPS investigations of the Wensmann puppy mill documented sick and injured animals in need of veterinary care, substandard housing with badly stained flooring, broken wood and jagged rusty wires that posed a danger to the dogs, green algae water, rusting, filthy feeders with soggy food, fecal and urine accumulation, and dogs whose feet were slipping through wire flooring. The Wensmanns also breed cats in buildings that CAPS has been unable to access. A 2008 USDA inspection stated that kittens were panting in 95 degree heat in a trailer house. Yet despite CAPS investigation evidence presented to USDA and USDA reports with serious violations, USDA has not taken action. We are very encouraged, though, that evidence from the CAPS investigations of the Wensmann puppy mill led to the ordinance. CAPS worked with Animal Legal Defense Fund, the city council and HSUS to draft the ordinance.