Fur flies at Castle Rock pet store

An unidentified protestor pickets outside Jessie’s Pet Paradise, a Castle Rock pet store, amid complaints the store purchases animals from puppy mills. Castle Rock police and the Department of Agriculture are investigating a number of complaints against the store. Courtesy photo
Protestors picket outside Jessie’s Pet Paradise at 78 E. Allen St. Complaints about the pet store began filtering in to the state Department of Agriculture about a month after its February opening. Courtesy photo
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A Castle Rock pet store temporarily closed its doors following complaints and protests from a group that claims the store is selling puppy-mill puppies.

Jessie’s Pet Paradise on East Allen Street closed for the day Oct. 21 for a lesson on cleaning techniques, handling practices and paperwork procedures, courtesy of the Colorado Department of Agriculture.

The voluntary closure came on the heels of 14 complaints about and a trio of organized protests against the business that in February relocated from Elizabeth.

The the agriculture department could not comment on the ongoing investigation of the business but confirmed six of the 14 complaints it has received since March have been deemed “noncompliant.”

“That means one or more violations were found to have occurred in connection with that complaint,” said Christi Lightcap, director of communications with the agriculture department.

Because of the ongoing investigation at the store, Lightcap declined to comment about the nature of the complaints, but protester Julie Sarff said the problem lies in the sale of puppy mill puppies at the pet store.

While the the agriculture department does not formally recognize the term “puppy mill,” advocates describe such centers as professional breeding grounds where the animals are kept in cages their entire lives, said Kathleen Summers, deputy director of the Stop Puppy Mills campaign for the Humane Society of the United States.

When asked, most pet stores claim they purchase their puppies from “reputable breeders,” Summers said. But nearly all of those reputable breeders meet the Humane Society’s definition of a puppy mill, she said.

“If you think about it from the owner’s point of view, they need a constant supply of puppies. These puppies are coming from large-scale breeders that often have 100 or more dogs in cages,” Summers said. “In general, what our investigators find is that they’re always coming from puppy mills even when the store says ‘we’re dealing only with breeders.’ A breeder can still be a puppy mill if they’re breeding a large number of puppies and the dogs are kept in cages their whole lives. We say virtually all pet store puppies are from puppy mills.”

The puppies at Jessie’s Pet Paradise came to Sarff’s attention in April when she was adopting a pet from a local adoption agency. She witnessed two people who came in with puppies purchased from Jessie’s Pet Paradise, both of which were too sick to keep, she said.

A 10-year resident of Louviers and a lifelong pet owner, Sarff went online and began researching protests nationwide. With the help of her closest friend and her husband, she was prepared by Sept. 20 for the first protest.

Online postings brought the head count up to 20 for the first day, with two subsequent protests Oct. 11 and 18 with about a dozen in attendance.

“I didn’t think anybody would come but I put it up on the puppy mill awareness day Web site,” Sarff said. “The rest of the people came from word of mouth to Best Friends and Last Chance for animals and other animal networks. People came from Greyhound Rescue, Westie Rescue and most of the people came from mill dog rescue.”

The owner of Jessie’s Pet Paradise, Tracy Stillwell, could not be reached for comment for this report, but a store clerk confirmed the store closed voluntarily for a training session with the agriculture department. In previous interviews, Stillwell has said her dogs are not purchased from puppy mills, but from licensed breeders.

The the agriculture department conducted an investigation of the store in 2007 when it was in Elizabeth. Details of the department’s findings were not available by press time.

The agriculture department does not have sanction power over pet facilities but encourages all pet stores to purchase puppies from Pet Animal Care Facilities Program-licensed kennels. The department will continue to monitor and inspect Jessie’s Pet Paradise to work through compliance efforts, inquiry investigations and routine inspections, Lightcap said.

Any criminal sanctions lie in the hands of the the individual jurisdictions, she said, and in this case, the Castle Rock police department is investigating Jessie’s Pet Paradise for a number of complaints. Castle Rock municipal code prohibits anyone from knowingly selling a sick animal.

The Castle Rock animal control division hopes to have a report on its findings by Oct. 31.

A simple citation, however, will not be enough to satisfy Sarff and her supporters.

“We know the dogs coming in there are sick and we know they’re from puppy mills and we think it’s consumer fraud,” Sarff said. “We’d like to see them become humane and stop selling live animals or we’d like them to go out of business.”

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