Lush red walls and vintage furnishings are the first clues that this is no ordinary pet store. When a dozen dogs scramble to the door for introductions, it’s clear you’ve entered a retail hybrid: a hip, humane petshelter boutique.
At Bark n’ Bitches in the Fairfax District of Los Angeles, the retail store supports a rescue shelter, and the rescues snooze amid high-end merchandise and artsy black-andwhite canine portraits. This pet shop/ shelter model is the brainchild of self-described “dog-aholic” Shannon von Roemer, who credits her adored Pit Bull/Lab mix Jimi with inspiring LA’s first humane pet shop. “Jimi is really the one who awoke me to the abandoned-animal crisis in LA County,” says von Roemer, who estimates that she has saved about 2,000 dogs in seven years. “I thought, if I’ve been given the gift of this store, it is my responsibility to do something for this community, which is in so much trouble.”
Jimi was muddy and homeless when von Roemer rescued him from a park near downtown LA’s skid row. When Jimi died in 2007, she created the rescue organization, Jimi’s Angels, in his honor. Two years later, she began to populate her retail pet store with rescue dogs.
Now, von Roemer personally scours high-kill shelters weekly and handpicks dogs for her shop. She says she can spot a highly adoptable dog in “2.2 seconds,” but her heart breaks at the many pups she must leave behind.
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Once inside Bark n’ Bitches, dogs stay until they meet their human match. Adoptions aren’t automatic, however. Potential owners interview with store staff and fill out a threepage application that asks about their other pets, travel habits and whether they intend to install a doggie door. Adoption fees range from $350 to $450 and include grooming, a vet visit, a microchip and an online training program. Von Roemer rewards clients who adopt with a 10 percent lifetime discount and a one-time, 20 percent off shopping spree.
Bark n’ Bitches is ahead of the curve, even in trendy Los Angeles. Just last fall, the LA City Council banned the sale of dogs from commercial puppy mills and required pet shops to offer dogs from shelters and rescue organizations. Von Roemer thinks the city’s decision and the success of her hybrid store shows that rescue dogs can look forward to better days. “I believe when people are given the options and are educated, they will do the right thing,” she says.