Animal-welfare activists are staging an ongoing protest in National City's Bonita Plaza shopping mall against pet stores and to put pressure on government officials over the practice of importing dogs from “puppy mill” animal-breeding factories in the Midwest.
The activists, who have a long history of shutting down pet stores in San Diego County, say they have figured out where the puppies are coming from by surveilling delivery trucks that come to the mall, Karen Clayton of the Southern California Companion Animal Defenders said.
The activists have documented trucks from the Hunte Corporation, one of the largest brokers of pet-store dogs in the country, delivering puppies to local pet stores, Clayton said.
Clayton claims she has documentation that the mall’s Puppy Patch store was receiving puppies from Hunte as of June 2016. Hunte is mentioned in the Humane Society's 2016 "Horrible Hundred" list for receiving animals from companies that have "terrible conditions documented by state or USDA inspectors."
In 2010, Hunte was found to have disposed of up to 1000 dead dogs per month at one of their facilities in Missouri.
"These places have hundreds of breeding females all locked in cages. They are only used as breeder dogs; when they stop producing puppies, they are killed," Clayton said. "If you can imagine having 500 to 800 dogs, how on Earth can anyone take proper care of all of them? The answer is, they don't. These breeder dogs never touch grass, they are never held, or loved."
The volunteers set up their National City information table every weekend, said Clayton, who has been involved in getting bans against the importation of puppies passed in several other cities in San Diego County. "We're protesting on Saturdays and Sundays in shifts, all weekend," Clayton said. "We get a ton of support from a lot of people."
Clayton, along with other organizations, successfully lobbied city councils in San Diego, Oceanside, San Marcos, Vista, Encinitas, Solana Beach, and Carlsbad to pass ordinances banning the practice over the past few years. Chula Vista also banned the practice and did so on their own, Clayton added.
Unlike the other city councils that they have approached, National City rejected a ban when they voted on it in June 2016. That's why Clayton is working to inform National City residents in hopes of increasing pressure on mayor Ron Morrison and the city-council members who voted "no" on the idea.
"The mayor's main objection is that he doesn't hear from National City residents" about the issue, Clayton said. "That's why we're raising awareness."
“If you have a healthy business you should allow people to have a choice," Mayor Morrison said after voting against banning the sale of non-rescue animals. "And if people are doing bad things with animals you go after them.”
Right now the activists are focusing on the Puppy Patch, which advertises "Designer puppies for sale" and is run by Sharon and Cruz Franco. If successful in their efforts, the volunteers plan to switch their protests to National City Puppy on Plaza Blvd, owned by David Salinas. The owners couldn't be reached for comment.
The Puppy Patch's website reads, "We make sure our puppies come from knowledgeable, responsible breeders who are held to our high standards."
Salinas of National City Puppy defends his businesses, which in the past have had to close due to the city-council ordinances.
"If you run a small business and you love what you do, then you just keep working," Salinas said in the past. "The proof is in the puppy: we give ten-year-guarantees because we care about our puppies."
Salinas's store's website says, "We don’t deal with heartless people or puppy mills!" and "Don’t let the 'animal rights' extremist fool you. They will claim that every puppy at a pet store comes from a 'puppy mill' and the sire and dame of each puppy is in complete misery."
Salinas has repeated the claim in past interviews.
"We do not do business with puppy mills and we refuse to ever do so," Salinas said in 2013.
Clayton and the Southern California Companion Animal Defenders say that Salinas used the Hunte Corporation in the past and believe he still uses Hunte or a dog importer of a similar ilk. Clayton noted that Salinas had to close down his shops in places with the ban and now has his shop in National City, where there is no ban.
Clayton denied that the protesters are against pet shops in general.
"We don't necessarily want to shut the store down, we want them to change their business model to a humane business model," she said. "We don't say 'no retail pet stores,' but that they can't be sourced from commercial breeding facilities.... We are not against reputable breeders. A reputable breeder will invite them to their home. That person will take the dog back at any time. There's a huge difference....
"Pet stores do add to the shelter and rescue population, and everyone knows we euthanize millions of healthy animals every year since there aren't enough homes for them," she said.
Both the nearby Petco and Petsmart use humane business practices, she said, such as selling animals that come from shelters.
Salinas has charged that the city ordinances against puppy mills are "unconstitutional" and has unsuccessfully sued activist groups. He has also sued the City of San Diego in the past.
"They are not only taking from me my right to run a responsible business," Salinas has said, "but are also stripping the people who are looking for a puppy who don't want to go to a shelter or some unregulated backyard breeder."
Clayton said that pet shops that use puppy mills indirectly lead to the number of dogs put to death because they increase the number of animals available overall, which leads to more unwanted dogs.
(corrected 12/2, 9:05 a.m.)