Anti-puppy mill protesters were shot at with an air rifle at Aquarium & Pet Center in Santa Monica on Saturday, October 10th. The Santa Monica Police are treating this case as an assault with a deadly weapon, a felony.
"BB guns can be extremely dangerous and can kill if the bullets hit a vital area of the body" said Santa Monica Police Sergent Lewis.
There is a $5000 reward for any information leading to the arrest and conviction of the shooter.
Approximately thirty-five activists were holding a peaceful anti-puppy mill demonstration when violence erupted. Three animal welfare advocates were hit, including West Hollywood community organizer Ed Buck and animal welfare advocate Elizabeth Johanson. There were minor injuries. Police arrived on the scene within minutes and retrieved several two millimeter brass bullets on the sidewalk where the protesters were shot.
This group of activists, who are members of several large animal welfare organizations, have been protesting stores in Los Angeles for two years. The Aquarium & Pet Center is supplied by commercial breeding facilities in the Midwest and also uses a local breeder in Southern California that houses its dogs in substandard conditions.
Dogs in commercial breeding operations are sometimes called puppy mills, or puppy farms. Though they are often licensed by the USDA, they are considered inhumane by the animal protection movement. The minimum standards of care for USDA licensed facilities typically allow only enough room for a dog to stand up and turn around. The dogs are kept in cages for their entire breeding lives and are often exposed to the elements. Most dogs suffering in commercial breeding operations do not get veterinary care or socialization. They are often sick, injured, diseased and have malformations.
The violence at Aquarium & Pet Center occurred during a highly charged atmosphere in the state of California. Last week, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed The Responsible Breeder Act (AB 241), a bill designed to limit the number of dogs in commercial breeding facilities to fifty. The pet breeding industry lobbied against it, claiming that a limit on an arbitrary number of dogs did not address animal cruelty issues.
Animal protection advocates were disappointed in the Governor's veto, claiming that limiting the number of dogs in inhumane breeding factories would limit the number of dogs abused. The bill would have also allowed for inspections and better transparency for commercial breeders who typically mistreat their "breeding stock" and routinely under-report the number of dogs they are using. Many breeders sell directly to the public using Websites and under-report their earnings to the Internal Revenue Service.
After the shooting at Aquarium & Pet Center, an employee of the store was seen laughing at the animal welfare activists.
On Monday, a volunteer in Pennsylvania called the store, posing as a buyer and asked the owner what he planned to do about the protesters, to which he replied, "I'll shoot them all."
The verbal threat was immediately reported to the police, who have added this information to the investigation. Mr. Lee, the owner of Aquarium & Pet Center, was visited by police detectives on Thursday. He denied making the threats. He also denied having anything to do with the shooting.
"We will not be intimidated by violence nor by threats of further violence," said Carole Sax, volunteer coordinator for the Companion Animal Protection Society. "We will stand firm for these animals who have no voice but ours. This despicable behavior will only strengthen our resolve to end puppy mills period, " Ms. Sax continued.
"When the animal abusers realize that they have lost the debate, they turn to their guns," said activist Ed buck, who was hit in the groin with a brass slug. "There is nothing more powerful than people standing in the face of danger to speak the truth. Bullets will never silence the truth."
"Any danger we face is obscene as we are participating in an anti slavery movement," said Elizabeth Johanson, one of the activists shot on Saturday. "The torment that these thousands of animals withstand in these concentration camp settings is very real and is life long. I'm out there because I would not want to live like that."
"This is un-American, " said Carole Raphaelle Davis, the West Coast Director of the Companion Animal Protection Society. "We were boycotting a known puppy mill dealer and they decided to use violence against us for speaking the truth. We have a right to speak out against the cruel practices of the pet trade industry. It's called the first amendment. The public, which is routinely defrauded by pet stores, deserves to know what's really going on so that they can make better choices when bringing a companion animal into their lives. When consumers learn the ugly truth behind the pretty storefront, they run the other way."
"Furthermore," said Ms. Davis, "we ask that consumers give the $1000 or more that they would have spent on buying an animal in a pet store and give that money to a family in need. We are experiencing the worst economic crisis of our time and there are families who need to put food on the table. Give the money to the truly needy instead and save an animal's life at your local shelter. There are five million pets killed in our nation's shelter system every year because there are not enough homes for them. This costs taxpayers $2 billion per year to house and euthanize all these unwanted animals. It makes sense, fiscally and morally, to adopt from a shelter. And for breed snobs, 25% of the dogs in the shelter system are purebred, adoptable dogs. "
Since the shooting, an anti-animal welfare email circulated on a breeder meet-up Internet group. The e-mail states that the animal welfare advocates protesting Aqaurium & Pet Center might have staged the shooting in order to gain publicity. There is no evidence to support that and the investigation is on-going.
Part of the e-mail is posted below:
"They whine like little babies about BBs being shot at them. I think it's funny. Shooting BBs at them isn't an attack. It's a little bit dangerous and someone can lose an eye, but it's ridicule. The tiniest little thing gets thrown their way and they need clean pants.I've been over the reasons before why we're being beaten by a bunch of pants-wetters."
"I hope the police find the shooters so they can speak for themselves on their motivation," said Judie Mancuso, President of Social compassion in Legislation. "In a nutshell, I think the pet trade is fearful of the animal welfare community as we expose the way they treat their animals and the underground economy that goes along with the underground breeding. Once exposed the general public is on our side."
The protesters are planning to return this weekend to educate shoppers about puppy mills.