Peaceful Protests Prevail

Nobody puts Baby in a corner.

That's in essence what the California Court of Appeal just ruled when it allowed freedom of speech for protesters inside California malls near pet stores - not in far-away corners of shopping centers.

Specifically, on Wednesday, appellate judges, reversing an earlier ruling by the Los Angeles County Superior Court, said that protesters with Best Friends Animal Society can't be denied free speech to educate customers on where the Barkworks pet store, located at the large Westside Pavilion in Los Angeles, gets its puppies.

The 3-0 decision translates to a win-win for the puppies and animal welfare as a whole. "The opinion says that a shopping mall can"t say [protesters] have to be in a remote corner, and [it says] you can be within visual range of the store," says Ira Bibbero, an associate whose law firm, Browne Woods George, represented Best Friends in the Superior Court appeal. "It means you can get the word out to more people and target your specific audience better. They can"t simply stick you in a corner. We were allowed in the mall, but we weren"t allowed anywhere near the store that sold puppies."

It"s a decision that"s not for just the Westside Pavilion, which is owned by the Macerich Company, but also for malls across the state because the ruling is precedent setting. "This decision enables us to continue advocating for the animals but, now, even more effectively," says Elizabeth Oreck, national manager of Best Friends" Puppy Mill initiatives, which help educate consumers about the conditions inside puppy mills that supply most of the nation"s pet stores. "What"s more, it creates California legal precedent, which is so exciting because it paves the way for others to advocate for issues that are important to them."5494338461 f81b87ae27 o

Bibbero agrees that it"s "a victory for every protester targeting any store in any mall throughout California, as the same rules apply throughout the state."

It"s been a long haul for protesters who spent many weekends at the Westside Pavilion mall, stuck in a corner, trying to inform shoppers about where the puppies for sale at Barkworks come from.

"This is an incredibly gratifying outcome to a long and often challenging process," Oreck says. "Our weekly efforts over the past two years to educate the public about the puppy mills that supply Barkworks have often been compromised by the Macerich Company"s imposing of restrictions that we believed did not reflect the spirit and intent of the 2007 California Supreme Court ruling (Fashion Valley Mall v. National Labor Relations Board)."

The ruling also says that protesters can go into the mall during high-volume seasons, which the Pavilion wouldn"t allow previously. "They can"t say, "You can"t go in before Thanksgiving and Christmas,"" Bibbero says. "They have to let us in before the holidays."

The Appeals Court explained, "In general, the right of free speech in California entitles a person or group to protest a business in a shopping mall within aural and visual range of that business with no blackout days."5494338457 598340aca3 o

The protesters, many of whom are dedicated Best Friends volunteers, are a large part of the success, Oreck says, and for their efforts, she"s grateful. "This is not just a big win for the animals," she says, "but for our incredibly dedicated and passionate volunteers, who have spent hundreds of hours peacefully educating consumers about the practices of Barkworks and other puppy mill-supplied pet stores."

"Without their help, and the extremely generous pro bono services of Ira Bibbero and [attorney] Eric George," she points out, "this victory for the animals would never have happened."

For Bibbero, the result was well worth the effort to help bring about a time of No More Homeless Pets. "It is a win for our ability to educate the public," he says, "and that"s a win for the animals."

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Images courtesy Best Friends staff