Marshalltown Pet Shop Buys Dyvig’s in Downtown Ames

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A pet shop in downtown Ames that since 2011 has been the target of protesters alleging that it got its dogs from puppy mills has been sold to a Marshalltown couple that tells the Ames Tribune it will stop selling dogs there.

Last month, the Burnett Avenue shop, Dyvig’s Pet Shoppe, placed a sign in its window that read, “‘RETIREMENT’ SALE.” On Wednesday, the protest group, Bailing Out Benji, posted a photo on Facebook with a new sign indicating that Dyvig’s would be renamed Argus & Wookie’s beginning Dec. 15. The following day, the Tribune reported that Marshalltown resident Paula Sprague and her husband had bought the store and are naming it after their family dogs.

The Facebook post explained that the protest group’s founder, Mindi Callison, had contacted the new owners, who told her they would not continue to sell dogs at the shop. “We are beyond thrilled to hear that Argus and Wookie’s WILL NOT be selling puppies!!” the post said. “This is HUGE for our volunteers, the citizens of Ames and for the puppy mill dogs trapped in the puppy mills that Dyvigs [sic] used,” it added. “Our town has waiting so long for Dyvig’s Pet Shoppe to do the right thing and go humane and now we will finally have that wonderful local business that is taking a stand against the puppy mill industry.”

According to the Tribune, the new owners will instead “help advertise dogs from local shelters and rescue groups to customers interested in adoption.”

The shop’s previous owner, Dale Dyvig, resented the protesters and in 2015 enlisted the help of the Main Street Cultural District in an ultimately unsuccessful effort to get the Ames City Council to establish a new ordinance to restrict Bailing Out Benji’s ability to protest outside the shop.

“I have observed this group blocking sidewalks with a number of large dogs, dog beds, dog bowls, lawn chairs and personal items and blocking access to city parking meters,” Cindy Hicks, the MSCD’s director, wrote in a letter to the council. “I have also received complaints that this group allows their small children to roam unsupervised in the area, creating the potential for a tragedy.” Hicks added, “I spent 20 years working as a journalist and VERY firmly believe in the right to free speech — but I also believe that these demonstrators should be required to adhere to the laws set forth by the city of Ames.” (She later said that she wasn’t taking sides in the dispute.)

But Ames police said the protesters were violating no laws, and, after Dyvig followed up on his request by submitting a petition requesting the “adoption of ordinances outling rules of protesting in the city of Ames,” a city attorney advised the council that such an ordinance would have “some pretty obvious First Amendment concerns.”

"Blocking meter." Photo: Dale Dyvig/Letter to Ames City Council
“Blocking meter.” Photo: Dale Dyvig/Letter to Ames City Council

Dyvig also resented attention drawn to the protesters and his efforts to silence them. In 2015, when I was writing about the dispute for the Tribune, he challenged my reporting, suggesting that it wasn’t newsworthy, and ultimately cancelled his subscription and stopped advertising in the newspaper after failing to convince us that his petition to the council didn’t merit coverage.

The puppy mill controversy aside, Paula Sprague told the Tribune that the shop would largely remain the same as it was under Dyvig’s ownership. “We figure what he’s doing works, so we’re going to try to keep that going,” she said.

The Spragues also own a pet shop in Marshalltown called Lost and Finned Pet Supply.

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Gavin Aronsen is an editor and reporter for and founding member of the Iowa Informer. He previously worked as a city reporter for the Ames Tribune, research assistant to investigative journalist Wayne Barrett at the Village Voice, and in various roles at Mother Jones, where his work contributed to a National Magazine Award nomination for the magazine's digital media coverage of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Email: garonsen [at] iowainformer [dot] com.