For 2 years, a small group of protesters has nipped at the heels of Puppies of Westport.
Standing scrupulously on the sidewalk — the store, opposite Whole Foods on the Norwalk line, won’t allow them on the grass — the group calls attention to the pets being sold a few feet away. The humans say the animals are bred in despicable conditions, in what are called “puppy mills.”
Karen Rasmussen, a Staples grad, researches the breeders through state and federal Agriculture Department files. Puppies of Westport, she says, uses “one of the worst breeders in the country,” in Oklahoma.
One sign urges motorists to honk in support. They hear a steady stream of horns. “We only get a few fingers,” Karen says. Oprah and the Animal Planet have raised awareness of puppy mills, she notes.
“People are making the connection that puppies don’t get here on clouds,” Karen adds. “They’re delivered in huge 18-wheelers, like vegetables.”
Over the crest of a small hill, Puppies of Westport sports a “Puppy Mills” sign — with the familiar red slash.
Owner Lauren Meren takes issue with the protesters — “activists, like PETA,” she calls them.
“All our breeders are licensed by the government,” she says.
“There really isn’t a definition of a puppy mill,” Lauren continues. “My breeders are diligent about how they’re treated. They breed only until they’re 4 or 5 years old; then they’re given away.”
She pauses. “I love dogs more than I love people.”
What do her customers say?
“A lot of them want to kill those protesters,” she replies. “They’re just trying to destroy a family business that’s trying to make it.”
Outside, the protesters stand their ground. They hold their signs high. Drivers honk.