A few weeks ago, Puppy Palace in Hollywood was the site of a large animal rights demonstration and a simultaneous counterprotest.
One side decried puppy mills and held signs that attempted to explain how many dogs go unadopted and die when people purchase expensive, commercially bred puppies. One man even had a fake dead dog in a body bag. The other side had a barbecue and a petting zoo and held signs that said PETA is responsible for thousands more dead dogs than Michael Vick. One sign read: "DO YOU KNOW WHO ELSE WAS A VEGETARIAN? HITLER".
It was a colorful scene, to say the least. Tomorrow is round two.
Actually, counting the rounds would be difficult. Animal rights activists have been protesting Puppy Palace (and similar businesses) for years. Only recently has the puppy store started protesting back.
Store employees, joined by a network of friends and former customers, contend that the animal rights activists are affiliated with PETA, which owns many "kill shelters" across the country. They say they are fighting for an individual's right to purchase a dog anywhere he or she chooses.
Ghazal Tajalli, who helps organize the Puppy Palace protests -- and similar protests of Palm Beach Puppies, says her group is not affiliated with PETA. She says the protesters are mostly individuals who heard about the protests on the internet. Many had never met before the protest, Tajalli says.
Shannon Ledford, manager of Puppy Palace, points to a PETA "internet alert" about the protest with Tajalli's contact information. "Ghazal should really think twice before she openly lies on record after she has affiliated herself with PETA on something as public as the internet," Ledford told me. "Many of us, myself included, are vegetarians. Three of my five pets are rescue animals, and the other two I have purchased. I don't see how that makes me a bad person. The puppies at our store are happy and healthy. They are in no way being treated inhumanely."
Tajalli says she "asked PETA to send out action alerts on my behalf so I could get more people to attend." She says that is the extent of her relationship with PETA. All of the signs, all of the research, all of the permit requesting was done by local volunteers. She adds, "But even if this were a PETA protest, Puppy Palace needs to understand that is absolutely irrelevant. Whether PETA kills animals or not, I do not know. I do not work for PETA. I feel like [Puppy Palace] is completely trying to turn around the issue at hand."
Of course, the issue for Tajalli and her fellow protesters is the treatment of dogs, pure and simple. And she points out that Puppy Palace has a troubled history: Five years ago, several people complained about purchasing sick puppies and sued Puppy Palace under Florida's "Puppy Lemon Law." A few years later, more customers complained that the puppies they'd purchased there were sick.
Ledford says the store doesn't deny that the customer at the center of the most recent trouble had a sick puppy. "The customer was offered a full refund for her puppy, but she didn't want to be reimbursed," she says. "We are very sorry that she and her family had to deal with such an unfortunate situation."
As for the lawsuit: "That case was dismissed," she says. "We did everything according to Florida state law. It is unfortunate when it happens, and we do aid the customers according to state regulations."