Monthly Archives: February 2016

Tails: Why I Cry Over Puppy Mills

I am rattled right now.  Somehow, I found myself on the People for PetOWNership  Facebook page.  On that page, they talk about how the protestors of pet stores are liars and lunatics. They actually say the protestors are simply overwhelmed by crazy animal rights propaganda and are acting out without knowing the facts.

What?  No, really, what?

I expressed my view 3 different times.  Explaining that pet store protestors are not acting out nor are they liars or lunatics.  The people protesting the pet stores are there to EDUCATE the unknowing public on where those puppies come from.  They are there to explain that USDA licenses don’t mean didley squat.  They are there to share their stories, often their own personal horrors dealing with pet stores and puppy mills.

Here is why I am rattled…  Lots of people fight for lots of things.  The first amendment, the second amendment, non GMO food, pro-choice, pro-life, you name it.  I fight to end the business of puppy mills.  I didn’t pick that fight because it looked interesting.  I didn’t pick that fight because I LOVE dogs.  The fight picked me.  One day, I found myself among hundreds of mill dogs and my heart broke and my soul shattered.  In front of me were dogs so neglected they didn’t even know what a human hand was.  They didn’t know grass or toys or solid ground.  They most certainly did not know love.

I never thought I would write an animal welfare book, but when you are looking into the empty eyes of a dog, whose tail isn’t wagging and whose body is so stiff and unflinching when you gently touch it – you write a book to share that experience with the hope that people will read it and learn and want to change things.

I spent years after the auctions crying  myself to sleep.  I would picture the dogs who weren’t rescued, still matted and scared.  I would picture them in another barn left alone to rot.  In the middle of the night, I would reach out for Thorp or Penelope and feel tears run down my cheeks because I recalled the thousands of dogs who go without decent food, clean water and even minimal vet care across the country, sitting in USDA licensed kennels who will never see the light of day, let alone a toy or fuzzy bed.

I am rattled tonight because I feel like I can never scream the truth loud enough.  I don’t make this shit up.  Thousands of dogs are rotting away in over 10,000 mills across our country.  Most of them ARE USDA licensed.

My skin has thickened over the last 8 years. I don’t cry as much and I try not to picture the dogs I know who are suffering right now.  The dogs who have eye infections, mammary tumors, and broken legs who will never get the treatment they need and will sit alone in some rusty cage enduring pain for the rest of their silent life.

But, when someone calls me a liar or my fellow rescuers, lunatics, I become enraged.  My heart races and my blood boils not because I “believe” these cruel things about mills to be true, but because I have SEEN these things and KNOW they are true.

One look across my room and there they are laying in front of me.  Two of the thousands of mill dogs, Thorp and Penelope.  Each dealt a horrifying hand at life.  Over 4 years in a mill.  4 years that took 8 years to erase and yet, scars for both of them remain today.

Do NOT call me a liar or a lunatic.  Walk in my shoes and see with my eyes what I have seen and then have the courage or the ignorance to tell me I am a liar.  Anyone who can live through what I witnessed and still believe that USDA licensed kennels are okay, is inhuman.  At the very least, has ZERO compassion for animals.

Do NOT ever call me a liar or a lunatic.  I have witnessed a truth so hideous that I will spend the rest of my life fighting against it.  My heart felt pain and my soul felt anger in such ways that I can never fully express, but each day I use those feelings to make a difference.  I believe, with all of my heart and soul, that I was in that barn for a reason and what I saw fuels my passion to keep going.

I cry over puppy mills because I physically walked through them.  With my very own hands, I pulled mill dogs from crappy cages and hugged them for the very first time.  I saw the fear in their eyes, the desperation in their souls.

And, I still see the ones we couldn’t save – Every. Single. Day.

To learn more about my experience and the truth about pet stores and puppy mill dogs, check out my book,  Bark Until Heard.




Tails: RTO – The Low Hanging Fruit No One is Trying to Pick

There’s celebration in Wisconsin this week.  A bill passed to shorten the stray hold in shelters.  Oh, you probably can’t hear the party, because not everyone is celebrating.  Lost Dogs Wisconsin along with their umbrella organization, Lost Dogs America, tried very hard to stop the bill.  “Why?” you may ask… Well, Lost Dogs America, an ALL volunteer organization, helped reunite over 30,000 families and dogs in 2015.  It seems they know a thing or two about the bonds between pets and their owners.  They are also painfully well aware that most of the shelter systems in WI are broken.  Return to Owner (RTO) rates are tragic with many of the big shelters not making RTO a priority and rarely attempting to find owners or list found dogs on their websites.

LDA pleaded with WI legislation to fix the shelter systems BEFORE shortening the stray hold, but, sadly, they went ahead and passed the bill with no necessary improvements for shelters.  Basically, in the vast state of WI, you now have only 4 days, that is 96 hours, to find your lost dog at a shelter before they can adopt it out, transfer it to a rescue in or out of state, or kill it.  There was some stipulation for a longer hold UNLESS the dog was ill, or its behavior was a danger to the public.  The reality is those two exceptions are subject to so much interpretation that a shelter can act however it sees fit.  One bad cough or loud growl and your dog could be heading over Rainbow Bridge long before you could ever locate him.

Yes, there are statistics that back-up some of the advantages of shorten stray holds.  Stats that show more dogs move through the shelter system quicker – HOPEFULLY resulting in more live release rates, but not always.  I don’t think anyone really challenged those stats, but, instead, argued that in the world of rescue and animal welfare, we should be trying to preserve the human-animal bond, not destroy it.

Return to Owner is an area of animal welfare few people talk about.  You certainly don’t hear the big guys talk about it much (Best Friends, HSUS – both groups who lobbied in favor of the bill).  Yet, RTO seems like an area shelters and rescues should dedicate resources to.  Why are they so willing to spend time and money on adoptions and transfers (even euthanasia) when there is a really good chance the dog sitting in the kennel already has a home?

I remember working at my county animal control… we had a binder for lost dog reports and when dogs would come in, we would check the binder.  We would also check it before placing the dog on the adoption side or euthanizing him.  However, we didn’t really do much else.  There the dog sits for a week and we just “hope” someone calls or comes in for him.

Not everyone who loses a dog knows where to look or even what to do.  LDA is trying hard to change that by educating those who contact them on the many avenues there are to find your dog, from fliers to website postings, to calling every vet, shelter and animal control in a 100 mile radius.  The truth is unless you are active in the rescue world, not many people know all the shelters and vet clinics in the area.  Rescue people take that kind of knowledge for granted.

LDA partners with Helping Lost Pets.  Helping Lost Pets has an INTERNATIONAL, FREE database that allows individuals, shelters, vet clinics, etc. to post lost and found dogs (as well as pinpoint sightings) on a map based system.  It is truly brilliant.  I did mention is was FREE, right?  Yet, there are shelters across the country NOT using it?  Shelters right in WI who choose to do nothing instead.  How does that make sense?  An animal shelter should be using all possible resources to get that dog home.

RTO is really the low-hanging fruit when it comes the array of possibilities of getting a dog out of the shelter.  To adopt a dog out, he has to stay for the stray hold period, might need medical care, he has to pass some type of temperament test or behavior assessment, he needs to have all his vaccines and be neutered, he has to sit on the adoption side waiting for the right person to want him, maybe he goes to adoption events.  Once someone adopts him, there is a fairly decent chance, he will be returned and the entire cycle starts again.

To transfer a dog, the shelter has to have partnerships with rescues in the area that they manage, the dog has to stay for the stray hold period, be medically treated,  the shelter has to reach out to rescues hoping someone will take him, they have to arrange transfer dates and at times vaccinate and neuter the dog before the rescue will take him.

To euthanize a dog, he has to stay for the stray hold, he has to be behaviorally assessed, he might have to be medically treated and, then, the decision is made to be euthanized.  For most shelter workers, that is the hardest and saddest part of the job – placing unbelievable amounts of stress and depression on shelter workers, causing them to quit the job sooner.

To return a dog to owner, the shelter simply has to post the lost dog in a database.  When the owner comes to get the dog there might be microchipping or a neuter involved, but there is no behavior assessment, no extended shelter time and rarely a chance that the owner is going to return the dog a few days later.  RTO is ALWAYS a quicker, happy ending.

RTO is not a number many shelters use to measure success, but if your dog gets lost wouldn’t you want to believe that getting him back home is part of the shelter’s responsibility as an animal welfare organization?  Wouldn’t you want to assume that a shelter’s first priority is to find the owner, not just get the dog out the shelter?

My favorite phrase is, “Dogs don’t fall from the sky.”  Not really just a phrase, a fact, right?  Yes, in some areas strays are a prevalent reality.  Yes, some people (very few) lose their dogs and don’t even try to find them.  I have found quite a few dogs in my 45 years and not one has been a stray.  Each one had a family desperately looking for them.  Interesting that when good Samaritans find dogs they almost always make incredible attempts to find the dog’s owner, yet, shelters and rescues don’t?  The irony… and the very sad reality that needs to change NOW.

Tails: Homeless NOT Heartless

I just got back from a few crazy days at Mardi Gras in New Orleans.  The beads, the liquor, the parades – it leaves your head spinning and your liver begging for mercy.  But, beyond the drunken fun, is a very sad reality: the homeless population in New Orleans.  And, for someone like me, it would be impossible to NOT notice that just about every other homeless person we saw had a dog.

A decade ago, maybe even just 5 years ago, I would have been completely distraught by the number of homeless people sharing their homeless lives with a dog.  I would have wanted to take the dogs away and find them homes – find them “better” lives, assuming that a roof equals a better life.

A couple years ago, I did story on a group called Pets of the Homeless.  I learned a lot from them, mostly, the important fact that homeless people love their pets as much as I do.  Homeless people almost always go without food, so their pets can eat first.  Losing their pet is just as devastating to them as it would be for me.  They are homeless, not heartless.

During Mardis Gras, it was my friends who gasped at the idea of allowing dogs to stay with homeless people.  They couldn’t believe I made peace with it.  I pointed out what great shape the dogs were in.  None of them looked the slightest bit hungry.  Their coats were shiny and well-kept.  Their tails wagged.  Some even had sweaters to keep them warm.

Above all else, I could see love and loyalty in the dogs’ and the humans’ eyes as they sat together.

What really allows me to make peace with this situation is the harsh reality of shelters across America.  Over one million dogs will die this year simply because of a lack of space.  As I looked at the dogs sitting in the laps of people who loved them, I also could see the thousands of pictures of dogs in dire need I get every day on Facebook or twitter or thru my own email.  Thousands of dogs who will die alone in shelters.  Each one of them a victim of a human being – a human being who probably had a roof over his or her head.

Homeless people spend every minute with their dogs.  They feed them and love them.  What more could I want for a dog?  Certainly, that is a far better alternative to euthanasia in a shelter. I looked at the dog cuddled tight in his owner’s arms and I thought of the dog alone on death row, days away from being killed.  There is zero doubt in my mind which situation is better.

I did notice many of the dogs weren’t neutered.  In fact, I even talked to a few New Orleans policemen about it.  They weren’t experts, but they both felt that the SPCA would spay and neuter the dogs, it was more likely the owners weren’t willing to let the dogs go.  I am sure they fear never getting them back.

I can’t lie- the images of the people and their dogs haunt me.  I am always trying to understand how someone’s life can come to that.  I also wonder how, as a society, we accept something that seems so fundamentally unAmerican.  Statistics show that thousands of homeless people are military veterans – an even sadder state of America.

I, by no means, have solutions for such complex and overwhelming social issues.  However, I do strongly believe that homeless people should be allowed to keep their dogs.  And while I think we need to always work towards being more compassionate, I don’t think we need to feel such pity for the dogs.  Truthfully, most of the dogs living with the homeless population have it far better than the million dogs left to die in shelters.  Taken even one step further, many of the dogs living with their homeless families are given more love and attention than many of the dogs living in middle class suburbia.


Tails: 8 Years Later…I’m glad I Got Off the Couch!

Last night I had the opportunity to speak to a classroom of vet tech students.  The topic was puppy mills.  I watched, along with the class, the infamous Oprah segment on puppy mills and euthanasia in shelters which first aired in 2008.  I remember 2008 vividly because it was the year I walked into my first puppy mill auction.  Oprah’s show aired only a month after.  Back then, I was on the couch tears streaming down my face, screaming at the TV that it was “WAY worse” than what they were showing.

As I sat through the movie last night, tears streaming down my cheeks again, I couldn’t help but wonder what has changed in 8 years.  We are STILL fighting the puppy mills and there is still the senseless killing of millions of dogs and cats each year.  EIGHT years later…

When I was watching the movie and thinking through my presentation, it was the same.  Eight years later and there are still 10,000 puppy mills.  Eight years later and we haven’t closed down a single one?

I know we have closed down a number of mills, but new ones open and we continue to battle an industry that is cruel and heartless and yet, still exists legally.

As I explained last night, the movement has taken a different approach.  Instead of only battling the mills, we are now focusing on the demand.  There are currently 126 ordinances in place among varying states, cities and counties that prohibit pet stores from selling dogs/puppies who come from mass breeding facilities.  Today, in those pet stores, the dogs must come from rescues and shelters.  That IS progress.

I want to believe that MORE people are aware of the truth.  I want to believe less people buy their puppies from pet stores or on-line.

I can’t lie.  I felt a bit defeated on my drive home.  I mean nearly a decade later after the Oprah show and things felt painfully similar.

However, on a personal level, I had a major realization.  Eight years ago, I was sitting on my couch crying.  I felt lost and unbelievably embarrassed to be a part of the human race who treated animals so poorly.

Today, (AKA: last night) I was actually speaking to future veterinary professionals about puppy mills.  Sure, I shed a few new tears, but most of my tears have become actions.  I am involved  on so many levels.  My book is published and raising awareness.  I attend events to educate people on puppy mills.  I hold protest signs and shout truths.  I have even made my way to TV to share my journey.

I acknowledge these accomplishments because I want people to see that IF you are really passionate about something, it is up to YOU to get involved.  Eight years ago, I was a meek, overly emotional person struggling to make sense of the horrors I saw.  Today, I am committed to making a difference.  And while there are moments where I feel change hasn’t come fast enough, I, personally, know by the emails I get and the people I meet, that I have made a difference a person at a time.

YOU can make a difference.  Whether it be puppy mills or shelter killing or even a non-animal cause, find what you believe should be better in this world, get involved and make a difference.

Eight years have passed and if I know nothing else, I know I made use of them by following my heart and believing I could change things.  I am grateful that I got off the couch and got involved.