MOHEGAN LAKE, N.Y. - A crowd of about 75 people gathered on the sidewalk outside of a Mohegan Lake pet store on Sunday afternoon in peaceful protest to advocate the closing of the store due to the alleged neglect and mistreatment of the pets inside.
Armed with signs, cold weather accessories and rescue pets, the crowd camped out at American Breeeders from noon until 3 p.m. gathering community attention and support in the way of honks from passing cars.
Among the crowd were people who had caught wind of the alleged misconduct via the protestors’ Facebook page, as well as dissatisfied customers who had purchased puppies from the store and friends of previous employees who had witnessed the conditions of the shop.
“We have to protect the dogs because they can’t help themselves,” said Stacy Rongo, one of the protest’s organizers. Rongo hopes the shop will close its doors.
Other attendees did not want the shop to be shut down, some were simply advocating for policy change.
Protester George Ondek said there should be stricter regulations for the agencies that ensure proper treatment of the animals.
“I don’t say he should be closed down,” Ondek said. “But there should be stricter conditions checked by government agencies—perhaps video surveillance or spot checks. A dog shouldn’t be being sold with his eye half-out like I saw in the local paper.”
The dog in reference is five-month-old Reya, a Neapolitan mastiff puppy who was suffering from an eyelid protrusion (“cherry eye”) under the care of American Breeders. A photo of the dog following her allegedly “botched” eye surgery is what sparked this protest. American Breeders owner Richard Doyle denied allegations and provided prior dates of treatment for the condition. The dog has since been purchased and had corrective eye surgeries under the care of Special Needs Animal Rescue and Rehabilitation (SNARR.)
Two protestors in attendance said they had purchased sick puppies from the store previously and came out to protest the alleged mistreatment they believe is responsible for the conditions of their dogs. Both said Doyle, in an exclusive interview with Yorktown News last month, offered some compensation.
Maggie Massimine and Liz Peterson are independent animal activists as well as members of Rational Animal, a non-profit organization that creates media and special events to help at-risk animals and came to the protest to speak out against puppy mills in general, viewing American Breeders and other such storefronts as extensions of abusive puppy mills.
“We’re here because we don’t believe any store should be selling puppy mill dogs,” Peterson said. “The model is changing and he could choose to sell shelter animals. He could choose to support local shelters and be a facility and a storefront to support adoption versus selling puppy mill dogs.”
Pat Dishinger and daughter Courtney Dishinger added their voices and signs to the protest. They would be happy to see the store close, as Courtney Dishinger has seen and photographed conditions in the store that made her “sick to her stomach.”
“Two of my friends have worked there, they’ve told me horrible things and I’ve seen the horrible things that go on,” Courtney Dishinger said. “There were dogs that were throwing up and in cages they couldn’t move in. They were horribly ill.”
There was one person in attendance who did not want to see the shop shut down and asked protestors to take a different type of action. The man, who preferred not to be named, said he is a friend of a store employee and drives them to work often. He said he knows employees who put in extra hours at the store specifically because they worry about the puppies being fed and cleaned on holidays and snow days. He said the employees he knows work hard to meet the standards required to keep the shop open.
“If you want to work for the guy or make the store better, how about you go in and ask for a job and say I can clean this place better,” he said to protestors. “I’m not out here to defend him because he pays people I know, and he’s not paying me to do this and I’m not here to be an idiot about it—I’m just saying there’s more to the equation.”
He said protestors’ actions ultimately were reduced to complaints and that he encourages them to take “real” action.
“Go inside, go raise money or sell baked goods. Do something functional,” he said. “Everyone can point a finger.”
The man said he was not there to defend Doyle but asks that protestors look at the “larger equation.”
“There’s a ton of other people who are going to lose a lot of time and money if this place gets shut down,” he said. “They work there because they care for dogs and do the best to their ability. The level that they put into the store is far supremely above the minimum wage they earn. There’s a lot of people in there who are not Rick. They’re trying to help puppies and make a simple salary.”
Another protest is scheduled for Saturday, Feb. 6, from noon to 2 p.m. in the same location.