Rescue puppies settling in at the Montecito Pet Shop
Paul Wellman

While it may be a dog-eat-dog world, life just got a little sweeter for canines residing in Southern California shelters, since the Montecito Pet Shop has decided to put only rescued pets up for adoption.

The shop welcomed its first litter of rescued puppies into the store late last month, thanks to an initiative launched by Last Chance for Animals (LCA). Six German shepherd-mix pups and a seven-year-old miniature pincher/Chihuahua were transported from the notorious Bemis property in the Mojave Desert, desperately seeking some love and affection after growing up abandoned.

After watching a special sponsored by National Geographic entitled The Dog Whisperer: Inside Puppy Mills, concerned citizens from across the nation called LCA requesting that they take action against local pet shops receiving animals from puppy mills. An overwhelming number of those calls came from Santa Barbara, said Kim Sill, head of the LCA Ban Puppy Mill Campaign.

A national animal advocacy group based in Los Angeles, LCA staff and volunteers have made it their mission to end the suffering and exploitation of pets and other animals through undercover investigations exposing animal cruelty, engaging in public outreach, and drafting legislation in defense of animal rights. Actor Chris DeRose founded the organization in 1984. The organization recently became involved in saving the almost 280 animals left on convicted animal abuser Cynthia Bemis’s property.

As the owner of several mixed-breed rescue dogs herself, pet shop owner Elyse Kuhn was receptive to LCA’s objective. “Usually, we talk to the people breeding the dogs [in puppy mills] and decide what action to take from there,” Sill said, but she felt that she could talk to the shop owner in this particular instance.

Previously, Kuhn purchased her animals from a backyard breeder. After a chain of meetings with her, Sill was able to convince Kuhn to offer only shelter dogs for adoption from her shop, which is now located at 2020 Cliff Drive in Santa Barbara. Santa Barbara is home to a myriad of animal rights activists, Kuhn said, but Sill’s unique approach to pet welfare made her stand out. “This is the first rescue group that has approached us in years that has been opened minded,” she said.

Sill hopes that Kuhn’s rejection of backyard breeding will incite a string of animal action in the Santa Barbara area. “Over 240,000 beautiful, adoptable dogs died in Los Angeles County shelters last year,” she said. Since the switch, Montecito Pet Shop has received numerous phone calls from strangers congratulating them on their choice to support spayed and neutered shelter pets in lieu of purebred dogs.

“Following support from the community, we can afford to do more,” store manager Mathew Etrich said. “In addition to actually adopting the rescued litters, customers who purchase our pet supplies aid us in helping the shelters and create more space.”


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