01/31/2013 06:56 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Barkworks Closed: Orange County Sees Closure Of Largest Pet Store Yet, Animal Activists Rejoice

MISSION VIEJO -- Barkworks at the Shops at Mission Viejo has closed its doors, the latest pet store in Orange County to shut down in recent months.

The store's lease expired, said Patsy Sanquist, area director of marketing and business development for Simon Property Group Inc., which owns the mall. She said the pet shop closed on Sunday.

The Mission Viejo location is the third Barkworks to close since 2010. The West Los Angeles store closed Dec. 31 and the Westminster location closed in 2010, according Elizabeth Oreck of Utah-based Best Friends Animal Society.

Barkworks, which still has several locations in Southern California, has been targeted by animal rights groups that say the company sells unhealthy dogs from commercial breeding facilities, also known as puppy mills.

Best Friends has been setting up tables at the Mission Viejo mall since 2009 with signs and information on Barkworks and its source of animals, Oreck said.

"We've been educating the customers at the Mission Viejo mall just to let people know where those puppies were coming from, which is puppy mills, and also encouraging people to consider adoption," Oreck said.

In November 2011, the Animal Legal Defense Fund filed a lawsuit against Barkworks on behalf of consumers who said they were misled into thinking the dogs came from humane and responsible breeders. The suit alleges the dogs came from puppy mills.

ALDF attorney Carter Dillard said though the closure of the Mission Viejo Barkworks store has nothing to do with the lawsuit, it might have been the result of the public's awareness about the conditions animals are subjected to at puppy mills.

"I would imagine that it has something to do with all of the education that various groups have undertaken to show people that dogs that are sourced from puppy mills shouldn't be purchased," Dillard said.

Ken Horner, chief executive officer of Barkworks, could not be reached for comment.

Dan Silverman, the attorney representing Barkworks in the lawsuit would not comment.

Oreck said she and her volunteers were pleased to see the store close, but they would have been happier if Barkworks had decided to change its model and remained open. Oreck said many stores have been converting their business model by becoming an adopting facility for sheltered animals and selling animal supplies instead of animals.

"It was a huge victory for our volunteers," Oreck said. "They have invested hundreds and hundreds of hours to educate people, not only about the practices of Barkworks and the fact that the store is supplied by puppy mills, but about puppy mills in general and about the options and merits of adopting. And I feel like they really have contributed to a cultural shift in Mission Viejo."

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