On Sunday, for the second week, animal activists associated with the Companion Animal Protection Society picketed the I Heart Puppies pet store in Corona del Mar, demanding that the shop stop selling puppies from what the protesters characterize as “puppy mills.”
The owners of I Heart Puppies say they don’t sell puppies knowingly from puppy mills, and go to great lengths to disclose and provide information about where the puppies they sell do come from. They insist the animals they sell are healthy and have been checked out by multiple veterinarians.
Suzanne Bradford, Brooke Bradford, and Summer Gorjian also say animal rights activists have been wrongly targeting them and their legal business in pushing a political agenda that seeks the outright ban on the sale of dogs from all commercial breeders. Animal rights activists have repeatedly touted ordinances enacted in a few cities around the country banning the sale of commercially bred puppies in pet stores.
One puppy in particular, a Puggle, has been at the heart of the activists allegations that the owners of I Heart Puppies are doing business with breeders and brokers who either neglect or abuse the dogs they breed and sell in the commercial puppy trade. CAPS claims that despite the breeders being overseen by the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) and licensed by them to operate, a lack of government enforcement of the Animal Welfare Act means the oversight of the puppy breeding and selling industry amounts to little more lip service to care and of dogs.
The Independent has spoken extensively to the Nebraska-based breeder and the animal broker who sold the Puggle dog that ultimately made it’s way to I Heart Puppies.
The breeder that CAPS and protest organizer Carole Davis have targeted specifically is Barbara Crick of Burwell Neb. Burwell is a small rural community with a population of just more than 1,000 residents, smack dab in the center of the state. Crick’s dog breeding business, known as Cricks Kennels, has been in business for more than 10 years. Crick said she sold just under a 100 puppies last year.
According to sources in the USDA and in the commercial dog breeding business, her operation would be considered a small-scale puppy breeding facility.
Cricks, a feisty 61-year old widow, has always run the business herself with occasional help from family and friends. Crick’s husband, Bryan, died in 2008.
When contacted by the Independent, Crick said she had no idea that one of her puppies had become the center of a controversy in Southern California. According to Crick, she had sold the puppy to her longtime Nebraska dog broker, and from that point forward she had no knowledge or involvement in where the dog ultimately ended up being sold to the public.
Cricks says she only recently learned that animal rights activists had visited her kennel “undercover” last year on at least three occasions. According to Cricks, she became aware of it when a friend alerted her that CAPS had posted a video online showing her kennel and claiming she was an abusive and neglectful breeder.
Cricks explained that last year a woman came to her home out of the blue seeking to buy puppies from her. The woman, according to Crick, was in her 30s to early 40s and went by the name of “Amy.” A silver-haired man came with her, as did a teenage girl on at least one occasion.
Crick claims “Amy” repeatedly tried to buy puppies from her and told her that she wanted to bring them back to California where she lived. According to Crick, when she asked whether or not “Amy” was a dog broker, with a government license, the woman told her she wasn’t. Crick’s told the woman she couldn’t sell her any puppies, that is was illegal to do so and that she would have to talk to the dog broker Crick works with.
Crick claimed the woman persisted and showed up unannounced one final time at her property trying again to buy puppies. Crick had to ask the woman to leave the property, and told the teenager, who approached the kennels, to stay away from the dogs. She again told “Amy” that the puppies she wanted to buy could not be sold to her legally.
As the Independent previously reported, Crick’s record with the USDA had been uneventful and little noticed, even by animal rights activists, until she was cited after regular a USDA inspection of her kennel in 2008. Since 2008, according to USDA spokesman David Sacks, Crick and her kennel have become the subject of an investigation into her compliance with the Animal Welfare Act. Animal rights activists claim this is proof positive that Crick runs a so-called puppy mill and does not properly care for the puppies she breeds and sells.
Crick maintains “she has tried to do everything the USDA has asked her to do” since she began having problems with her inspections in 2008. She claims USDA inspectors have repeatedly changed and altered what they have required her to do in trying to follow and adhere to federal regulations concerning the care and welfare of her kennel dogs.
Throughout the interview Crick repeatedly defended her care and treatment of her dogs and told the Independent that “if they (animal rights activists) took as good care of their kids as well as I do with my dogs they wouldn’t be saying this” she also told us that “my vet has never found a dog in bad condition in my kennel or neglected, ever.”
When asked about an incident in 2008, cited by repeatedly by animal rights activists and the USDA in an inspection report that same year concerning the euthanizing of a dog at her kennel with a gunshot, Cricks provided this statement concerning what took place:
“The reason I put the Golden Retriever to sleep is because she became very aggressive after she whelped.
“She bit the heads off of her puppies and then killed two beagle puppies in a pen next to her. When I moved her to a run she was fighting with the other female Golden Retreiver. So was moving her to a run where she could be alone and she turned and bit me. At this point I didn’t feel I had any choice but to put her to sleep. She could not be trusted to give away or safe around smaller animals or children.“
Cricks said the USDA informed her that euthanizing a dog with a gunshot is not allowed, and that she should not do so. USDA spokesman David Sacks confirmed that, and provided the Independent with this statement:
“The shooting incident will be reviewed during our agency’s current investigation involving Crick’s Kennels. It will not be ‘investigated,’ per se, because an enforcement action [in this case, an official letter of warning] has already been issued based on the February 2008 inspection, and the inspector has already explained to the licensee that gunshot is not an acceptable method of euthanasia under the Animal Welfare Act.”
Crick’s says she sends her dogs to a vet to be put down when necessary, but that this single incident was an isolated case based on special circumstances.
When asked about how activists are pointing to her record with the USDA and her inspection reports and the current USDA investigation, Crick repeatedly defended her care of her animals and claimed the activists “don’t know what they are talking about.”
Crick’s inspection reports, including her most recent one from March of 2011 are online and available publicly via the USDA (APHIS) website. They can be viewed directly at http://acissearch.aphis.usda.gov/LPASearch/faces/Warning.jspx.
The USDA provides only the past three year’s worth of inspection reports online. Additional reports and other information going back further can be obtained via the Freedom of information Act.
Crick strongly disputed allegations made by CAPS about the care of her dogs and the state of her breeding kennel. She provided numerous photos to the Independent to show what the kennel looks like.
Crick told the Independent that “I would like to clear my name” and that she “does not have a puppy mill.” She said she is “not ashamed” of her dog breeding kennel and will continue to run her business and provide her dogs with above-standard care, despite the allegations and claims of animal rights activists like CAPS. Crick repeatedly told the Independent she would gladly allow this reporter or anyone else to come see her kennel and see for themselves what it looks like and how well she treats her dogs.
Last week, two of the owners of I Heart Puppies did just that.
“Everything looks good,” said Suzanne Bradford in an email to the Independent. She wrote that the operators are “hard-working people who love their animals. Dogs look good, clean, nails all trimmed and clean teeth. Good shelter and conditions. Lots of room to move and play.”
More photos of Crick’s Kennels: