The shop may have changed owners but the scene outside Puppy Experience in Aquebogue will feel like deja vu this weekend, as animal advocates mobilize to protest and raise awareness.
Barbara Dennihy of the Companion Animal Protection Society said protestors will be demonstrating Saturday and Sunday noon to 4 p.m. along Route 25 outside the shop.
The puppy shop has been the scene of numerous and contentious protests in the past, when Puppy Experience was owned by Scott Kaphan, who died in 2013.
The store is under new ownership: Keith and Brian Lewin, brothers whose family business, Lewin Medical Supply in Riverhead, has long been a mainstay in the community, took over Puppy Experience Feb. 1, according to longtime Puppy Experience manager John Menfi.
Protestors say they plan to galvanize Saturday and Sunday because they have questions about various breeders with alleged USDA violations, and also, because they hope to raise awareness about puppy mills and pet stores.
“This is an educational demonstration with four local animal advocacy groups,” Dennihy said; those groups include CAPS, Guardians of Rescue, Long Island Orchestrating for Nature, and Save a Pet Rescue.
“Please join us in this demonstration and help spread awareness to the plight of puppy mill parents and pet store puppies,” a Facebook page created for the protest reads.
Keith Lewin said he was aware of the protest. “It’s fine by me. My fellow veterans and I fought and died for the rights of these people to protest. If that’s how they want to spend their weekend, that’s fine.”
Keith said the groups spread “false statements” about his business and said many rescue organizations are allegedly “fraudulent. It’s a dirty business. They want to promote their rescues to get customers from me.”
He added that he felt sorry for customers in neighboring businesses who had to be subjected to the protestors outside.
Brian Lewin said the protestors have “freedom of speech. If they want to say something, we can’t do anything about it. But our dogs did not come from puppy mills. I welcome them to come in and check our breeders for themselves. We have no secrets. I have nothing to hide.”
Recently, Brian said the business was inspected by Suffolk County, with “zero problems.” He added that if he were selling puppies from breeders with violations, whether direct or indirect, he’d be fined $1,500 per dog and “I’d be broke. Just owning a puppy store, everyone just assumes it’s all bad. That’s the karma of the business, the way it is. It’s sad. The business we got, unfortunately, comes with a bad rep.”
Not everyone wants a shelter dog, Brian said. Both brothers said their dogs from only the most “reputable breeders.”
Both Brian and Keith said the most fulfilling part of the new business so far has been watching when the rescue dogs or adoptable puppies at their store find forever homes. “When you find a home for a dog who didn’t sell right away, even if we cut a ridiculous deal, that’s the best feeling,” Keith said.
“We always have dogs for adoption,” Brian added.
Some animal advocates maintain animals who haven’t sold aren’t true rescues. “They are not doing ‘rescue’. They are just throwing the word out there to confuse the public,” Dennihy of CAPS.
Both Lewins, however, say the store does also help place rescues, but explained those dogs are adopted quickly.
The brothers said they screen prospective buyers to make sure they realize a puppy isn’t just a fanciful purchase but a lifetime commitment.
Both Lewins reflected earlier this year on the controversial past protests that took place outside Puppy Experience, when the store was owned by Kaphan. After Kaphan died, the store was owned by his wife and managed by Menfi.
Those protests by members of CAPS had stopped over the past year, Menfi said.
Keith Lewin said he thought about those protests when deciding whether or not to buy the store. “When I saw the books, I saw that they sold triple the amount of dogs while they had protestors,” he said.
More important, Keith said, “My brother and I have a good name in the community. We want to keep it that way.”
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