LAUSD Students Protest Westside Pet Store

“Shame, shame, shame! It’s time to go humane!”

Protestors circled for an hour near the pet store Barkworks at the Westside Pavilion shopping center in West Los Angeles on April 17. Among the protest participants were 60 LAUSD high school students involved with YouTHink, an education program of the Zimmer Children’s Museum, as well as representatives of the Companion Animal Protection Society (CAPS), a national nonprofit that investigates pet shops, puppy mills and breeders.

Students were instructed not to speak to the press during the hour-long event, which started at 1:30 p.m.

Protesters wore red shirts featuring the slogan “Barkworks Sells Cruelty” and carried signs in the shape of shopping bags that read: “Over $2,000 for a dead dog,” referring to a CAPS allegation that Barkworks sold a dog that was known to be sick in December 2009.

According to CAPS West Coast Director Carole Raphaelle Davis, the dog died seven days after it was sold. CAPS also alleges that the store withheld emergency care for a dying dog.
CAPS encourages consumers to adopt pets from shelters or rescue agencies. Earlier this year, CAPS, along with the Humane Society and the Animal Legal Defense Fund, pressured the city of West Hollywood to pass an ordinance that bans the sale of dogs and cats in pet shops.

Barkworks employees declined comment about the protest, directing The Jewish Journal to a prepared statement on the company’s Web site.

In an online statement, Barkworks, which has seven stores in Southern California, denies allegations that it acquires dogs from puppy mills or that it sells sick dogs: “Barkworks does not knowingly sell any pups with health issues without full disclosure. We are required by California law to disclose any known health issue to our customers.”

The company states that all puppies are checked by two separate veterinarians before they are offered for sale, and any puppies that develop health issues are covered by a health guarantee.

The site also details to customers the importance the chain places on working with responsible breeders whose standards include “providing kennels that are large enough to allow room for running and playing” for puppies as well as parents.

Earlier in the year, the program’s student leaders voted “animal cruelty” as YouTHink’s social issue for the spring season.

“It’s a Jewish value to care about the Earth, each other and all living things,” said Shifra Teitelbaum, YouTHink’s director. Last year, YouTHink tackled hunger and poverty issues.

To prepare for the protest, the students one week earlier watched a video presentation at the Zimmer that showed wounded and mistreated puppies.

Alleviating student concerns about the legality of protesting on private property, Davis said, “We’re going to use the Constitution.” She assured the students that a 2007 California Supreme Court decision deemed shopping malls — like the Westside Pavilion — a permissible place to assemble and protest.

Davis, a character actress, said that fighting for animals fulfills her in ways acting can’t.

“The Hollywood world leaves me feeling very empty,” she said. “But speaking with kids like this, not only is it nourishing to me, it fills me with hope. They will be able to pass on that torch and help animals in the future.”

As the students circled near Barkworks, some shoppers either didn’t notice or ignored the protest. Families entered and exited the store, where approximately 30 puppies live, two or three each to a case.

One shopper tapped the glass of one case, urging his little boy to look. “Aren’t they cute?”

Outside, some of the adult protesters used handheld video cameras to record the march. A USC journalism student snapped photos while cameramen from an online show followed two actresses who joined the protest.

Even as cameramen encouraged the students to smile as they circled near the pet shop, the young protesters maintained somber expressions.

After the event, as students rode the escalator down to a Pico Boulevard press conference, the group broke out again in a chant: “Shame, shame, shame! It’s time to go humane!”

The YouTHink students will reconvene at the Zimmer Children’s Museum in May to discuss their community-organizing experience.