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Weather Quashes Planned PETA Protest at Dog Beach

Group had planned to demonstrate against a pet food manufacturer it says is cruel to animals.

April 18, 2004|David Haldane and Daniel Yi | Times Staff Writers

Saturday's soggy weather may have dampened many weekend plans, but one Orange County animal lover was particularly vexed.

"I woke up, looked out the window and went right back to sleep, hoping that it was just a bad dream," said Ashly Smith, who had planned to spend the morning demonstrating at Huntington Beach's popular Dog Beach.

When Smith, who helped organize the protest, finally pushed herself to drive to Dog Beach with Peanut, her basset hound, the place was nearly deserted. She headed back home.

The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals had hoped to stage a "snarl in" to protest the alleged mistreatment of animals by a major pet food manufacturer and a billboard company's refusal to let PETA put its claims on an outdoor sign in Orange County.

"It was so frustrating," said Smith, 27, of Lake Forest. "All I can do is speak my voice and educate people and I couldn't even do that today."

PETA alleges that it has uncovered animal abuse by a research lab operated by the Iams Co. of Dayton, Ohio. But when the organization tried to advertise its alleged findings on an Orange County billboard, the sign's owner, New York-based Viacom Outdoor, refused to accept the ad.

"We have tried to place several other billboards, and we're really very surprised at the reaction we're getting," said Allison Ezell, national coordinator of PETA's anti-Iams campaign. "The billboard companies are very scared of going up against Proctor & Gamble, the parent company of Iams."

A spokesman for Iams on Friday denied that the company had mistreated animals. "Their allegations conflict with the basic principles Iams uses in conducting feeding studies," Kurt Iverson, manager of external relations, said regarding the PETA campaign. The charges, he said, "are absolutely not true -- that's the best way to put it."

Jody Senese, marketing director for Viacom Outdoor, said the decision to reject PETA's billboard had nothing to do with the patronage of Proctor & Gamble. "We evaluate all of PETA's billboards independently," she said. "On many occasions we take them, and on other occasions we do not. This one we are not taking because they directly attack a company and the attack is unsubstantiated. We cannot post that kind of message without substantiation; it would just be irresponsible of us."

Orange County isn't the only place the animal rights group has encountered difficulty buying billboard space. Since mounting the anti-Iams campaign in September, Ezell said the group has also been refused space in Dallas; Monterey, Calif.; Denver; Portland, Ore.; Tucson and Key West, Fla.

A sign was put up for several weeks in Chicago. And other signs, she said, are scheduled to go up in Oakland, San Francisco, Salt Lake City, Boston and Washington.

The campaign was inspired by an undercover investigation at a contract research facility in the Midwest where, PETA says, at least 27 dogs were killed while others died of various untreated illnesses. In addition, Ezell said, dogs and cats were confined to small cages, dogs had their vocal cords cut to eliminate barking, kennels were "stifling" in summer months and near freezing in winter, and dogs were force-fed vegetable oil through tubes down their throats.

Smith said the group will reschedule the protest.

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