By Carole Raphaelle Davis
Elite Animals, a pet store in West Hollywood, California, has endured nine consecutive weeks of protests by animal welfare activists. Neither side is budging but Elite Animals is showing signs of battle weariness by utilizing a highly unusual tactic--witchcraft.
The Companion Animal Protection Society (CAPS ) conducted an investigation of Elite Animals' breeders which revealed footage and still photos of breeding dogs suffering in inhumane conditions. The dogs in the mill that supply Elite Animals are exposed to the elements, living in rusted wire cages and many of them are sick and injured. CAPS also has evidence of USDA inspection reports of repeated violations by several of Elite's suppliers in the Midwest.
In addition to selling dogs from puppy mills, Elite Animals also sells puppies under the age of six months from Russia. Importing puppies under the age of six months old for resale from overseas is a violation of the federal Farm Bill passed in 2008.
Animal advocates hope the protests will push the store to convert to a humane business model and that Elite Animals will begin to work with reputable rescue organizations, making their profits from supplies and services, not from selling animals raised in factory-like conditions. Elite Animals' owners did make a visit to the Amanda Foundation in Beverly Hills several weeks ago but no formal agreement with that rescue organization or any other has been announced.
Because the siege by protesters has deterred so many potential customers, two puppies, a Moscow Terrier and a Maltese have not found buyers and are outgrowing their cages inside the store. Activists are concerned that this long period of confinement in small glass enclosures with no socialization is detrimental to a dog's well being. To our knowledge, these dogs have never been taken out for a walk. Representatives from several local rescue organizations have offered to take the dogs and find them adoptive homes but they have been rebuffed.
These two dogs are considered "easy placements" by rescue organizations. Loving and stable homes could be found within days if Elite Animals would agree to transfer ownership to a rescue organization. An ownership surrender document accompanied by an agreement to cease and desist from acquiring animals from commercial breeders would also move the negotiations forward and, most likely, would halt the protesting of the store.
Last week, Elite Animals closed for five consecutive days with the two dogs inside the store, alarming animal welfare advocates. The City of West Hollywood and animal services intervened, calling the owners and imposing an emergency inspection. The dogs had food and water and the store was not cited for violations at that time.
There is nothing illegal about the store leaving a dog in a cage for 24 hours a day, as long as he has food and water. Animal welfare advocates believe that though this treatment is not illegal, it is inhumane.
On July 11, week nine of the protest siege, a bizarre and culturally intriguing scene unfolded.
Outside, animal rights protesters chanted, "Elite! Elite! The meanest on the street!" Inside, the owners of the store, who are middle-aged Russian women, were visibly unsettled. They seemed highly agitated. One of them brought a heavy, crystal ball, the size of a bowling ball, from the back of the store and perched it ceremoniously on an ornate gold pedestal at their front desk.
Her face hidden behind long black hair, she placed a ghoulish-looking figurine next to the crystal ball. It looked like a scene from the movie "Rosemary's Baby." The figurine she was posing in front of the crystal ball looked demonic, with a long, black cloak--it looked like a child's evil action figure or a cult object used for black magic. Then, oddly, the woman with the long dark hair walked briskly to the back of the store and returned with a fistful of loose, ten-inch long black bird feathers. She then hovered over the crystal ball, muttering--possibly some kind of incantation, while she waved the black feathers back and forth over the satanic figurine.
"They're actually putting a spell on us!" yelled one of the activists. "Quick! Spit three times!" said activist Kimmy-Sue, laughing. "I'm half gypsy," said Elizabeth, another protester.
This group of activists is highly experienced, having converted or shut down a large number of puppy mill fronts in the last two years. They have endured a barrage of insults and and have stood their ground against physical intimidation and harassment from store owners in the past. Sorcery is an unfamiliar form of bullying by dog dealers.
If Elite's magical spells are effective, maybe they can teach us how to wave those magic black feathers over our local shelters so that an actual miracle can occur--a loving home for every homeless pet dying at the pound.
For animal activists, questions remain unanswered.
1. When will the store realize it has no alternative but to go humane?
2. When will they release the dogs suffering in their cages to a rescue organization?
3. When will they admit the truth that they have been lying to consumers about the fact that they are supplied by puppy mills?
4. Where did they get those large black feathers? Did the birds just GIVE them the feathers?
Given where their dogs come from, the worst mills in the Midwest, it's doubtful they acquired their special incantation feathers humanely.