California court ruling gives Best Friends Animal Society green light to educate mall retail shoppers about puppy mills
LOS ANGELES—A panel of three California Court of Appeal justices ruled on Wednesday that shopping malls must allow Best Friends Animal Society to demonstrate near a business during hours that the mall is open to the public.
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The Court of Appeal, reversing a ruling by Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Linda K. Lefkowitz, said protesters from Best Friends Animal Society cannot be denied free speech just because they wanted to educate mall customers on where Barkworks, a Westside Pavilion pet retailer, receives its puppy inventory.
Utah-based Best Friends, one of the nation’s best known animal welfare organizations, has a nationwide program to educate consumers about the conditions inside puppy mills, which supply most of the nation’s pet stores.
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“The court held that Westside Pavilion must permit Best Friends to protest within sight and earshot of Barkworks every day the mall is open,” said Ira Bibbero, an associate in the legal firm of Browne Woods George LLP, which represented Best Friends in the appeal of an earlier court decision.
“Corralling Best Friends to remote corners of the mall and banning the organization between Thanksgiving and Christmas is no longer an acceptable practice, unless the mall can prove it is the only way to prevent major disruption of business,” Bibbero added. “This is a victory for Best Friends in our efforts to get the word out to as many potential customers of Barkworks as possible about the harm done by puppy mills.
“But it also is a victory for every protester targeting any store in any mall throughout California as the same rules apply throughout the state.”
Elizabeth Oreck, national manager of puppy mill initiatives for Best Friends, has led Best Friends’ efforts across the nation to draw attention to the link between pet stores and puppy mills, the large commercial breeding operations that supply inventory for the pet store trade. Best Friends staff and volunteers have been handing out puppy mill education materials at Westside Pavilion every weekend for the past two years.
“We couldn’t be happier with the decision,” Oreck said. “It’s a just ruling that ensures free speech for citizens who are advocating for the animals, and also enables us to more effectively educate the public about the abused breeding dogs that must spend their entire lives within the grim reality of puppy mills.”
The ruling, which may not become final and binding until April 1, may be subject to review by the California Supreme Court.