Over the past couple of months, the protests and counterprotests in front of Puppy Palace in Hollywood have been increasingly heated. In addition to signs and chanting, there have been fake dead dogs, people wearing dog suits, a death toll, sarcastic welcome signs, an impromptu petting zoo, and a lot of yelling.
This weekend's confrontation took on a more personal tone, though. This time, when Ghazal Tajalli, the Coral Springs woman who organizes the protests, showed up with her crowd of 30 or so animal rights activists, the counterprotesters (Puppy Palace supporters) had signs with photos of Tajalli's 5-year-old daughter.
The photos were taken from Tajalli's Facebook page and depict the little girl holding a PETA sign.
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"I think it's really sick," Tajalli told me. "Do I have to put a disclaimer telling people they shouldn't use my photos for their propaganda?"
She added, "Our protests are clearly hurting them so much that they're going to these disgusting lengths to try to bother me personally. It's just another way these people are trying to distract from the issue at hand. They sell sick puppies and every time they sell a puppy, they're letting another shelter dog die."
Shannon Ledford, a manager at Puppy Palace, says she felt the signs were completely justified. "We want people to know what kind of people these protesters are," she said. "She [Tajalli] puts her daughter out there in public with these signs and then puts the pictures out there in public on Facebook."
Ledford pointed out that the girl is holding a PETA sign in the photo, despite the fact that the demonstrators say they are not affiliated with that group. "We hope this will lay that issue to rest once and for all," she said. "We're not going to shut up and sit down and go away as these people say horrible, incorrect things about us."
She said the store doesn't have a problem with animal shelters; it just wants people to have the choice to buy a purebred puppy if they want to. (And plenty of people were buying dogs Saturday afternoon, despite -- or perhaps because of -- the protest.) Ledford said she also suspects many of the protesters are affiliated with the Animal Liberation Front, an organization that has advocated violence in the name of the animal rights.
"If we were part of ALF, we wouldn't be here showing our faces," said one protester. "And their building wouldn't be standing anymore."
Tajalli said her group has no larger affiliations with PETA, ALF, or any other group -- and that the assertions are more attempted distractions.
On several occasions, counterprotesters called Tajalli and her daughter terrorists, even screaming "Al Qaeda." At one point, an animal rights activist yelled that a female counterprotester was "flatter than a 12-year-old boy" and that she looked "uglier than Oprah on a bad day." Ledford said she heard someone threaten to "burn my face with gasoline."
Ledford agreed both sides were behaving immaturely. "The thing is, everybody here, on both sides, loves animals. I wish we could just focus our energy together to take on some of the really big problems out there."
Tajalli says she has contacted an attorney in Miami and plans to take legal action against the store for using her daughter's image without permission.
For more photos of the event, click here.