My 2008 ELDAAG/CAGONT Presentation

I delivered this paper at the 2008 Joint Meeting of the East Lakes Division of the AAG and the Ontario Division of CAG, held in St. Catherines, Ontario.




Many of us have been made aware of the horrors of dogfighting by the recent trials of American football player Michael Vick.  Dogfighting is a despicable activity in which dogs are purposely treated badly to encourage aggressive behavior and then are sent to attack each other for the entertainment of sick people who enjoy this kind of activity, but also for tremendous profit for the dog owners and exhibitors.   Dogs are treated as commodities, their health and suffering ignored, with results like this picture.    Because this kind of entertainment is considered disgusting, immoral, cruel and wrong, dogfighting has moved underground and is mostly in the shadows, taking place in basements, alleys and on remote properties.

Certainly dogfighting deserves the attention in terms of enforcement that it gets, and more.  But while these cruel practices are taking place in private areas, far from the public eye, other cruelty, particularly that which is done is a for more public setting also deserves our attention.

 


Animal Zone is the name of a pet store in Elyria, Ohio operated by Sam Mazzola.   Mazzola is no stranger to much of Northeastern Ohio.  Animal protective government agencies and animal rights activists have logged a significant roster of complaints about Mazzola’s business practices, beginning with his ownership of Exotic Animal Exhibitors in 1991, a sole-proprietorship business that offered promotional appearances of Caesar, a black bear, as a wrestling partner for folks willing to pay $20.  News reports of Caesar’s appearances describe the bear as being notably drugged and “unable to control his faculties.”  Exotic Animal Exhibitors was shut down by Ohio in 2004 for failure to pay taxes.

Mazzola’s entrance to the pet store trade began in 2005, as he opened the first Animal Zone location in the Great Northern Mall, a shopping mall in North Olmstead, Ohio, an affluent Cleveland suburb.  Mazzola’s store was often cited by local animal control officers for animal cruelty and abuses, including deprivation of food and water.  Investigative correspondents from Cleveland’s local television news stations reported unsanitary conditions and sick, uncared-for animals offered for sale.  Despite these complaints and several seizures by local animal control, Mazzola faced no charges from his malpractice because Ohio’s archaic animal control laws provided little ability to enforce the few regulations in place.  In late 2006, Westfield Properties, owner of the Great Northern Mall, grew tired of the negative publicity that Animal Zone brought, and evicted Mazzola in September 2006.

In November 2006, Animal Zone reopened in the Midway Mall in the small city of Elyria, OH, approximately 35 miles west of Cleveland.  Midway Mall, which like the Great Northern Mall, had been under the ownership of Westfield Properties, had been sold in September to Centro Properties, another management group.  The new Animal Zone was officially owned by a new limited liability corporation, Animals and Nature, Inc., instead of directly by Mazzola.  According to articles of incorporation, Mazzola was appointed as chair of this corporation, and was “hired” as manager.  At the new location of Animal Zone, complaints of cruelty and neglect continued, with a number of owners complaining to local television stations about being sold sick puppies who died within days of purchase.

 



However but piqued when two former employees went to the press with photographic evidence of perhaps the most heinous abuse, the “euthanizing” of puppies that showed signs of illness through a combined method of suffocation and freezing, specifically to avoid providing veterinary care or even the expense of humane euthanasia. The employees claimed that they had disposed of hundreds of animals using this method.

The revelation of these practices in the media resulted in protests from animal rights activists, increased scrutiny from animal control officials, and… well, really little else. With the management of the Midway Mall firmly on his side, Mazzola continued his business unhindered, for reasons I’ll lay out in a few moments.

Regardless, the question of this paper isn’t whether or not Sam Mazzola is scum (I think the answer to that is quite obvious). The question is really how Mazzola exercises and manipulates space. Unlike dogfighting, an activity in which animal cruelty is driven to the underground by social stigma and legal enforcement, Mazzola’s cruelty takes place in a public setting, and he is quite open about his practices. So, what I examine is how Mazzola simultanously preserves the public setting and accompanying shopper traffic necessary for his business to exist, yet exercises a manipulation of that “public” nature of the space so that he can still openly engage in animal cruelty, specifically as I call it “Killing Puppies in Public”, in spite of this visibility.

 



Really, Mazzola mobilizes several ingredients to ensure that he can continue his business: outdated animal cruelty laws, a mall location that provides significant traffic. But also, the mall provides both a corporate partner which serves to aid and abet his practices, and a buffer against possible protest or criticism. Using these things together, Mazzola ultimately subverts the free market discipline that Ohio’s cruelty laws depend upon, allowing his business to continue.

First ingredient: Ohio’s archaic animal cruelty laws. Last updated in the 1950s, these laws require that animal owners provide only food, water and shelter for their pets. There is no requirement in terms of sanitation or veterinary care. Pet stores, which require no licensing procedure and are treated as individuals who own pets, face no periodic inspections, are also required only to provide food, water and shelter, and are not required to provide a sanitary living environment nor vet care to sick pets. Where euthanasia is required, whether to individual owners, businesses or veterinarians, the process of euthanasia is required to be painless and instantaneous. However, there are no regulations in place to investigate or enforce reports of other practices such as Mazzola’s suffocation/freezing method.

Ohio Attorney General Nancy Rogers, no stranger to Mazzola’s business practices, told me in an email interview that laws regarding pet stores in Ohio are designed to allow the free market to govern these establishments, under the assumption that enforcing increased regulations would be too expensive, and that consumers would steer clear of any store engaging in such cruelty. Of course, this rationale rests on the assumption that the base of consumers are rational and well-informed regarding the practices of each pet store.

To both the Ohio state government and to Sam Mazzola, these animals are certainly nothing more than commodities, items to sell for a profit.

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Commodification of livestock, much like the dehumanization of peoples in oppressive or genocidal societies, acts to legitimize the poor treatment of animals, and removes any moral, ethical or social responsibility to provide the care upon which domestication forces these animals into a state of full dependence.

 



Second ingredient: the store’s location in the Midway Mall. Most pet stores that sell animals are located in high traffic locations to increase visibility of the animals and to encourage impulsive purchases (another industry-wide commodification that deserves its own talk another day). Mazzola’s Animal Zone was no exception.

Originally, Mazzola located his store in the Great Northern Mall in North Olmstead, a suburban and largely affluent community just west of Cleveland. Only 20 months into the lease, the store was evicted because of the countless complaints and bad press the mall had received about the care for animals in the store. In this case, Westfield Group, the mall’s owner and manager, found too much potential loss in supporting Mazzola’s practices.

The store reopened in November in the Midway Mall in Elyria. Midway Mall had been a Westfield property until September, and its likely that if Westfield had retained ownership Mazzola would not have been welcomed back. Instead, Centro Properties, the new owner of Midway Mall, welcomed Mazzola as a new tenant. A contrast from the suburban affluent North Olmstead, Elyria is a small rust belt city 35 miles west of Cleveland, which still has not recovered from the widespread midwestern deindustrialization of the 1970s and 1980s. Elyria’s population is poorer and less educated, with lower average incomes and a much higher poverty rate, and far fewer college graduates. Unsurprisingly, Midway Mall has encountered trouble in maintaining occupancy rates, which in the 2006-07 fiscal year averaged 71%. Certainly, the Midway Mall, with its new ownership and more desperate circumstances, provided Mazzola a new, relatively high-traffic location without the pressures of past reputation or business relationships with Westfield.



Also by locating in shopping malls, Mazzola purchases a corporate relationship with the management companies that ultimately result in the aiding and abetting of his business practices.

Shopping malls are spaces that are in that strange intersection between public and private space.  Realistically, the shopping malls provide public space for consumers, an environment advertised as comfortable and safe and entertaining, specifically to encourage the consumers to spend money in the outlets.  For the outlets, the mall provides this public space and accompanying high foot traffic that is conducive to consumerism and especially impulsive purchases.

To those not actively engaging as consumers, the undesirables, malls are not public places but actually “private property,” a production in line with its legal definition.  The pseudo-public corridors are patrolled by a small army of private security guards, “rent-a-cops,” who actively seek undesirables to eject, with the goal of encouraging the feeling of safety and promoting consumerism.  Ultimately, this patrol enforces a buffer between protestors and consumers, not allowing consumer spending decisions to be disrupted nor influenced by protestors.

Despite the complaints waged by protestors and the local media, Centro maintains this relationship with Mazzola and ultimately defends his practices.  Undoubtedly, some of this relationship’s strength is derived from the weak local retail market, and Centro’s desperation for tenants.

 



By locating in a mall, Mazzola actively deploys a buffer against protests.  Because protestors are quickly ejected from the mall with threats of trespassing charges, they are only able to organize in one location, a small trip of right-of-way media on the west side of the mall.  This makes the protestors completely invisible to the two road entrances that see the most traffic, as well as the entrances of the mall building nearest to Animal Zone.

This strip is bounded on the west by an translucent plastic and wire fence, which prevents them from being seen by travelers on route 57, who are traveling by at approximately 50-55 miles per hour and unlikely to notice the protestors anyway.

On August 23, some 40 animal rights protestors scheduled a protest against Animal Zone and were shown to this strip of land.  After an hour of being seen by no customers, the frustrated protestors gave up and went home.

What’s important here is what this buffer actively represents.  Certainly this is the silencing of protest by the privatizing of spaces that earlier in consumerist society were public, but this is nothing new.

 



What this buffer ultimately accomplishes is a subversion of that free market discipline that the state of Ohio prefers in the case of pet stores.  By blocking these protests, consumers are left less knowledgeable about Mazzola’s business practices, and therefore less equipped to make a decision on line about their purchase which is online with their personal moral beliefs.

In this way, Mazzola is able to attract enough customers to stay in business, despite business tactics that a supermajority of people would find revolting.  He is able to subvert the free market discipline that would put abusive pet stores out of business.

But most importantly, by staying in business, and this is key, because he uses these spatial practices manipulating space to his needs, he is not only able to stay in business, but to stay active in a business that derives profit from the suffering of animals, and will continue to cause the suffering of animals as long as the business continues.  He is engaging in a business that is every bit as despicable as dog fighting, but is able to do so on a very public stage.


Ultimately, I argue that something be needs to done. If dog fighting is worthy of attention (and I believe it is), so are business practices like this. This use of neoliberal constructions of place to suggest a free market, while denying the right of individuals a place in that negotiation, simply for the ability to to abuse animals is simply unacceptable.

Author: Andrew Shears

Andrew Shears is an Assistant Professor of Geography at Mansfield University in Mansfield, Pennsylvania. His research interests lie at an intersection of the human-environmental nexus, and includes branches of mapping, technological, memorialization and urban geographies. He lives in Wellsboro, Pennsylvania with his wife Amy, a professional photographer.