Monty Kaufman and his wife opened their store in Westport more than five years ago because they wanted to offer a quality store that didn't sell animals from puppy mills. As a bonus, they got to be around puppies.
And when they moved the store from Westport to Norwalk last fall, they kept the name, even if it is now a little misleading. Friends suggested changing Puppies of Westport to Puppies of Westport Avenue. But that was awkward, and Kaufman was firm: He wanted to send a message – the Westport Coalition Against Puppy Mills did not drive him out.
But they have been under siege from a committed group of animal activists, who protest the business relentlessly and followed the store to Norwalk. They protest across the street on most Saturday afternoons, and at one point even put up a sign to be seen throughout the week. (The sign was removed last month.)
Kaufman is frustrated, saying he is careful about where he gets his puppies. He has been to visit many of them, he said. He employs 11 people, one of whom is licensed to be a veterinarian in South America, he said, adding that other pet store owners think he is crazy to have such a large staff. Special cages allow more than one puppy per space, so they can be socialized. In addition to the Plexiglas in front, there is a cage door in the back, so the puppies have openness on two sides.
"We take such care of them," he said. "We spend thousands of dollars a month on medicine. If a dog gets sick, it goes right to the vet. Many pet stores, a dog gets sick, they don't treat it. They let it die."
He said the store has sold more than 3,600 puppies. The coalition has three complaints on its website about Puppies of Westport; one is from 2006, another from 2007. The most recent complaint is a year-and-a-half old, alleging that a dog had Giardia and that it is not a purebred.
Kaufman said he has papers for the dog and admits it's possible that puppies have parasites. He could prevent that, but it would mean keeping one puppy to a cage. He says insects can be treated, but psychological problems are another story.
All of his breeders are in Missouri and are approved by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. He monitors their inspection reports. "I can show you the inspections of every single one of the breeders we ever had, and the totality of the violations that occur in there is under 10," he said. "Our breeders don't have repeat violations."
Violations include problems such as an expired bottle of medicine on a shelf, weeds growing outside or a feedbag left open. If he sees a violation, he calls the breeder, as he did this month. The man had perfect inspections in 2009 and 2010, but this time the inspector found two poodles with matted hair and one with a leg injury, according to Kaufman. The breeder said he likes to let the dogs have long hair in the winter. The injured dog had been in a fight and had been treated at the vet, he said.
Kaufman said he couldn't take more puppies from the man until he had two more perfect inspection reports. "I have actually done more to help puppies than all of those demonstrators combined," he said, "because when I find a problem I call these guys up, and I ream them."
Protestors say that even with USDA approval, breeders that supply to pet stores are not taking good care of the dogs having the puppies. They say that a dog could spend its entire life in a cage the size of a dishwasher, and the USDA would approve of the conditions.
"We talk to every one of our breeders and establish that their dogs have runs," Kaufman said. "Their dogs are taken out in runs. Many of them are air conditioned; many of them have heating all the time."
Kaufman said 9 percent of puppies are purchased from pet stores, while more than 20 percent are purchased online. There are no regulations for people selling online, as they are considered retailers. He doesn't understand why the activists are targeting Puppies of Westport, "probably the best pet store in the United States."
"They should be going after the online sellers of puppies," he said. "They should be going after changing the laws. They should be doing all kinds of stuff. Standing outside on the street for hours — they could have built multiple houses for Habitat for Humanity. They could have saved dogs. The money they spend."
He is outraged by tales of irresponsible breeders, too. "The bottom line is I agree with them, and I want to shut down the puppy mills," he said. "But to say that nobody can buy a dog at a pet store and to say that nobody can breed dogs, which is ultimately where they want to go, is just ridiculous. The worst puppy mills are in Pennsylvania. We have never bought a dog from there."
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