A dozen demonstrators erected a picket line at Landover Mall last weekend to protest what they charged is the sale of sick animals by the Docktor Pet Center, located inside the shopping center.
"Don't buy a heartache," read one sign carried by the protestors, most of whom are members of the Bowie-Collington Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. "Don't reward inhumane practices," said another poster. A well-mannered dog sat in the grass, bearing a sign that said, "Don't let my friends die."
SPCA President Ninie Murray said she hoped that the protest would hurt the usually brisk pre-Christmas puppy sales at the store.
Last February, the Prince George's County Department of Licenses and Permits ordered the Landover pet shop to close for two weeks.Joseph Healey, department director, said in an interview last week that the two-week closure was intended to allow time to rid the store of distemper viruses.
The order to close was issued after a public hearing during which pet owners testified that the shop had sold puppies that suffered from distemper.
Instead of closing, however, the store's owner appealed the order to the Circuit Court, Healey said, and the shop has remained open. No date for a court hearing has been set in the case, according to Healey and SPCA president Murray.
Murray said her organization is "still getting complaints" from people who say that animals they bought at the Landover store have turned out to be sick. She said the SPCA received several such complaints during the week of the demonstration.
At the shop last weekend, store manager Larry Perlman ordered a reporter and photographer to leave. Perlman, clad in a white jacket, said, "If you print one picture of this store, you will be sued."
In an earlier telephone intervew, Perlman said the store did not have to close because the order is being appearled.
"I'd say it's the finest store in the United States," Perlman said of the pet shop. "I bought four dogs here myself."
Efforts to reach other officials of the store were unsuccessful.
Bowie veterinarian Patricia O'Mare wrote early this month in a letter given to SPCA President Murray that she had examined four animals within one week that had pneumonia-like symptoms. In the letter, the veterinarian said all four animals were purchased recently from the Docktor Pet Center in Landover Mall, one of them the day before the letter was written. The letter was written at the request of the owner of one of the sick dogs.
Healey said staff members from the Licenses and Permits Department have found minor building code violations in repeated inspections of the Landover shop but nothing serious enough to order the store to close again until the appeal process is completed.
"There is nothing in the law that says we can do anything," Healey said, adding that the only solution he could propose for unhappy pet owners would be county legislation requiring cash refunds for sick pets.
Docktor Pet Center already guarantees its puppies by offering a replacement, said Healey.
Largo resident Sandy Clark said she bought a Doberman pinscher at Docktor Pet Center in Landover last year, and found that the $379.95 purchase price was only the beginning of what turned out to be an expensive venture. The puppy, named Morgan, died after less than nine months and more than $300 in veterinary bills. "We paid a very high price for a very ill animal," Clark concluded.
Clark said she suspected the animal was ill when she bought it but did so anyway. She said that pet store employes assured her that the puppy had been checked by a veterinarian. However, she said she took the dog to her own veterianarian and was told that the animal had at least five ailments, including mange, rickets, malnutrition, amoebic dysentary and infections in both ears.
"We became very attached to him," she said. So attached that, when he began to have what Clark thought were psychological problems, she paid $40 an hour for an animal psychiatrist.
"It's not just cruel to the animals, it's cruel to the people," Murray said. "They bring a puppy home for Christmas and the children get attached to it, not knowing that in a few months, they might lose it. Sure the store will give them a replacement, but it's not the same when you're attached to a puppy. g
"I know this is only a token," Murray said of the demonstration. "But it's just to dramatize the importance. To make the people aware."