From right to left, Jeannie Crowder of Ottawa Lake, Mich., Bridgett Blank of Toledo, Connie Donald of Bowling Green, and Cindy Gilmore of Toledo protest the anniversary of the Family Puppy Store’s opening in Toledo on Saturday.
THE BLADE/JETTA FRASER
Every Saturday, the busy intersection at Monroe and Talmadge in West Toledo becomes even noisier as frequent honking adds to the din.
Animal advocates have made the corner their home base for the last year to protest the Family Puppy store in the Franklin Park Mall.
About 40 people attended the one-year anniversary protest Saturday. Susan Robinson, organizer of the grass-roots Boycott the Family Puppy Store group, said the goal is to educate the public about puppy mills and reduce sales at the Toledo store to put it out of business.
“Every week, we hand out flyers to people who roll their windows down and talk to us,” Ms. Robinson said. “We get a lot of people honking and waving.”
The Family Puppy, a southeast Michigan chain, opened last October amid plenty of controversy. Just two months after it opened, Toledo City Council passed an ordinance that bans the sale or exchange of companion animals in pet shops, retail businesses, and commercial establishments not in operation on or before Jan. 1, 2014, unless the animals come from a “legitimate animal shelter or animal-control agency, humane society, or nonprofit rescue organization, and the animals are spayed or neutered.”
The Family Puppy, which buys its puppies from primarily Amish breeders in northern Indiana, opened before the ordinance went into effect. It must pay the city a $50 fee per animal sold that has not been spayed or neutered. According to city records, the store has sold 124 puppies from January through August this year.
Advocates say responsible breeders do not work with pet stores. They say stores get puppies from large commercial breeding operations — frequently called puppy mills — that focus on profit and often house animals in deplorable conditions.
“They are horrific businesses,” protester Theresa Rupp of Whitehouse said. “It’s all about profit, not about the care of the animal.”
John Stottele, who owns the Family Puppy with his wife, Deb, said he works with 15 to 20 handpicked breeders, and requires the parent dogs be examined for genetic defects such as bad knees and hips.
“We buy dogs that are healthy,” Mr. Stottele said. “We’re not going to buy dogs that will have ongoing problems.”
He said his requirements of breeders, like exercise yards and quarterly veterinary visits, go above and beyond the requirements set by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Breeders with five or more breeding females by law must be licensed by the USDA.
“We have a 32-inch TV in the store with a video running of all of our breeders and their facilities so customers can see them,” Mr. Stottele said. “They can see [the dogs] running and playing.”
Mr. Stottele said most of his suppliers have fewer than 50 adult breeding dogs.
“It’s not the number that matters,” he said. “It’s they way they treat their dogs. If they are working at it, someone who has 100 dogs can be as good as someone with five dogs.”
But advocates say Mr. Stottele is smoke-screening.
The Family Puppy ships dogs first to its Michigan stores, then to the Toledo store when they are old enough to have a rabies shot as required by the city ordinance. Puppies in the Toledo store are at least 13 weeks old.
Health certificates signed by a veterinarian and sent to the Michigan Department of Agriculture, which is required to ship dogs from the Indiana breeders to the Michigan stores, note genetic defects in some dogs purchased by the Family Puppy. Those include skull plates that have not closed properly and leave an open gap, kneecaps that pop out of place, hernias, undescended testicles, folded eyelids that cause fur or eyelashes to rub against the eye, narrow nostrils that affect a dog’s breathing, and underbites and overbites.
Of 955 puppies shipped to the Family Puppy in Michigan in 2013, records show 144 had genetic or other medical concerns, such as ear mites. Some puppies had multiple conditions. It is unclear if any puppies with noted genetic defects have been sent to the Toledo store.
“One of [Mr. Stottele’s] repeated statements is that his puppies are free from congenital or hereditary disorders, and that’s not the truth,” Ms. Robinson said.
Mr. Stottele said problems like small gaps in the skull, low-grade floating kneecaps, narrow nostrils, and undescended testicles will often self-correct as a puppy ages. Those that don’t are fixed, if possible, at the company’s expense.
“I haven’t had a single complaint from our customers in Toledo,” he said.
But Dr. Wayne North, a Perrysburg veterinarian who is involved in the protests, said Mr. Stottele is incorrect. Some skull gaps will not close properly, leaving a puppy open to potential brain damage if it strikes its head on an object. Dr. North said such injuries can kill puppies.
He also said growth and time will not correct floating kneecaps or narrow nostrils.
“A genetic defect is a genetic defect,” he said. “They have to be corrected with surgery, and some of them can’t be fixed.”
Mr. Stottele couldn’t say if the protests have affected his business.
“I can’t answer that question,” he said. “Customers do come in and ask about it.”