Many people were very confused as they drove down Hollywood Boulevard on Saturday. There was a full-on protest on both sides of the street, replete with colorful signs, matching T-shirts, chanting, music, and adults wearing large, heavy dog costumes. Some drivers thought it was a protest in favor of animal rights and honked to show support. Other drivers honked because they thought it was a protest against PETA.
It turns out they were both right.
One group protested against puppy mills. The other group said they were not at all affiliated with puppy mills, and they were protesting against PETA. The first group said they were not at all affiliated with PETA.
A few weeks ago, Gary Serignese, a 28-year-old animal-rights activist from Boca Raton, stood in front of Puppy Palace in Hollywood with a sign protesting so-called "puppy mills" (commercial dog breeders) and the stores he believes sell dogs from such places. He was told by police that to organize such a demonstration, he would need a permit. So at the first of this month, Serignese filed for a permit with the Hollywood police. After a 45-minute phone discussion with a police officer, the permit was approved. He and his friend Ghazal Tajalli, a 25-year-old activist from Coral Springs, started organizing friends with text messages and Facebook posts.
A few days later, the owners of Puppy Palace filed for a demonstration permit for the very same day (yesterday). They wanted to organize a protest of their own.
So yesterday, as animal rights advocates held signs decrying puppy mills, Puppy Palace, and any store that sells puppies, counterprotesters stood a few feet away, holding signs of their own. The counterprotesters claimed PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) was the true evil party. Their signs had photos of Michael Vick next to the PETA logo and claimed PETA has killed thousands of dogs. Another sign said PETA promotes AIDS.
Serignese and Tajalli said they are not affiliated with PETA in any way. Serignese mentioned he isn't a big fan of PETA himself. He said most of the protesters on his side had never met before yesterday.
Tajalli said nobody should purchase an expensive designer puppy from a store when there are hundreds of thousands of dogs in animal shelters across the country. "There are plenty of puppies in shelters," she said. "Twenty-five percent of puppies in shelters are even purebred."
Raquel Balocco dressed as a Saint Bernard and laid on the sidewalk for much of the afternoon, playing dead. She said she came out to protest because she's done some investigating into puppy mills -- and into Puppy Palace. "The conditions they keep the dogs in are sick," she said. "It's like a factory. It's not natural." As she played dead, protesters around her shouted at cars and pumped their signs in the air. Peeking out from the head of the dog costume, Balocco added: "Nobody has the right to enslave a being against its consent for profit. Puppies are soulful, giving beings."
Casi Fleischman, a 17-year-old high school student from Plantation, was holding a sign a few feet away and wearing a T-shirt that read: "MY DOG. MY CHOICE." She said that her family has purchased four puppies from Puppy Palace and that they never had a problem with any of them. "I want to be able to buy a dog from anywhere I want to," she said.
Over the store was a large red and white banner. It read: "PUPPY PALACE WELCOMES PETA." Theresa Miller, office manager at Puppy Palace, who helped organize the counterprotest, explained that the sign was tongue-in-cheek. "Obviously we don't want the PETA people around," she said. Miller said her store does not get dogs from puppy mills. She said the dogs come from USDA-approved breeders. "We aren't in any way affiliated with puppy mills," she said. "We're out here protesting for your right to buy a puppy from anywhere you want. You have the right to choose for yourself. Some people don't want a dog from a shelter."
The Puppy Palace crew made a block party out of the event. "What are we supposed to do," asked Miller, "just sit inside and watch?"
Behind the store, they held a barbecue, played music, and cooked hamburgers and hot dogs (some counterprotesters offered hot dogs to the animal rights protesters, knowing they didn't eat meat). They even had a petting zoo with baby goats and sheep.
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"PETA owns shelters that kill dogs," Miller said. "They've killed 14,000 dogs. Michael Vick only killed eight." She said she believes PETA cares less about people than animals. She says that because PETA opposed drug testing on animals, even for potential AIDS vaccinations, she believes PETA is promoting AIDS. One sign held by counterprotesters read, "All dogs go to heaven. PETA goes to hell."
Serignese emphasized again that he and his friends are not affiliated with PETA. "That's just an easy umbrella for them," he said. "It doesn't address the issue at all."
When the protesters learned that the counterprotesters had a petting zoo behind the store (they weren't allowed in the store parking lot), they called police. "I don't think they have a permit for that," Serignese said.
Check out more photos of the event here.