Posts tagged puppy mills

Hydra: New Jersey’s Just Pups and the ‘Puppy Mill Monster’

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A screen shot of the Pascack Press' coverage of Just Pups.

Well-intentioned officials in my home state of New Jersey are combining forces to exile Vincent LoSacco and his Just Pups stores, where, among other things, 67 puppies and dogs were left outside in a 38-degree van earlier this year. First came hundreds of animal cruelty charges, followed by the closing of Just Pups pet shops in Paramus, East Brunswick and Emerson. Most recently, the state attorney general and Division of Consumer Affairs filed a complaint in Superior Court in Hackensack, trying to ban LoSacco from doing business anywhere in the state, ever again.

Animal-welfare advocates are cheering a blow to a distributor of “puppy mill dogs,” a victory in the War on Cruelty thanks to their protests and complaints.

All of us who care about animals want to believe that’s true, and certainly, LoSacco’s business practices deserve the intense scrutiny they have received.

But is what’s happening now, really, a victory for the dogs themelves?

The frustrating truth is that for many of them, the answer is no.

 

just-pups-auction-flierTHE PART OF THE STORY NOBODY TELLS

LoSacco, like most pet-store owners nationwide, sourced his puppies from rural breeding farms well beyond New Jersey’s borders, including a kennel in Missouri. Today, August 6, the dogs from that kennel are scheduled to be at the county fairgrounds in Milan, Missouri, for a common and legal event in that part of America: a dog auction.

The “Just Pups Total Kennel Dispersal,” as headlined in the promotional flier from Southwest Auction Service (page one is at right), will include two auction rings and more than 450 dogs. The breeds to be auctioned run the gamut from Akitas to Yorkshire Terriers, along with dozens of other purebreds and crossbreeds (such as Goldendoodles and Morkies) that fall alphabetically in between.

In reporting my book The Dog Merchants, I attended an auction that Southwest put on, where about 300 dogs were auctioned. I then returned to Missouri to spend a full day with the auction’s owner, learning about that end of the dog business—the part that rescuers protesting at New Jersey pet stores never see.

I can tell you that if recent trends hold, more than six figures in cash is going to change hands at the Just Pups dog auction in Missouri today. And the vast majority of that money will strengthen, not weaken, the commercial dog-breeding business.

 

A still shot from my recent appearance on "Business Insider."
My recent appearance on “Business Insider” to explain dog auctions.

HOW THE MONEY REALLY WORKS

A third or so of the buyers at today’s auction will likely be rescuers. In fact, I’m told, some rescuers in New Jersey have been soliciting donations to try to buy the dogs at today’s auction in Missouri. When these rescuers win the bids, they’ll market the dogs for adoption nationwide, telling families the dogs were “saved from a puppy mill.” That’s also a common practice (click on the caption at right to learn more). In reality, the dogs are being purchased, and all of the money will go through the auctioneer, who takes a cut, and then straight into the pockets of the Just Pups team.

In other words, rescuers may buy 100 or 125 dogs today and get them into good homes, for sure, but in the process, they will strengthen the finances of their Just Pups adversary. In fact, according to the founder of another dog auction I interviewed, the rescuers’ very presence at today’s auction will actually drive up the per-dog prices and increase the total amount of money collected.

For the majority of the Just Pups dogs at today’s auction, though, a different fate is likely in store. The remaining two-thirds of auction bidders are likely to be breeders who run commercial-scale kennels, including the kind regularly called “puppy mills.” With more than 450 dogs for auction today, some 300 of them will likely go to breeders.

If each of those breeders buys, say, 10 dogs, then no less than 30 breeders will boost their kennel production and future puppy sales because of today’s Just Pups auction.

 

John Singer Sargent's representation of Heracles and Hydra.
John Singer Sargent’s representation of Heracles in battle with the monster Hydra.

THE LESSON OF HYDRA

Once you understand that business reality and apply it to the War on Cruelty, it’s hard not to think of Hydra, the creature from Greek mythology. Cut off one of its heads, and two grow back.

Animal-welfare activists, like all soldiers in the War on Cruelty, have honorable hearts. They are right to cry out against dogs being treated badly, and to demand change. But their current nationwide strategy of targeting pet stores like Just Pups makes as much sense as cutting off a single Hydra head.

Advocacy groups including the Humane Society of the United States, which is the driving force behind “pet store puppy mill ban” legislation that targets stores like Just Pups, continue to pursue this strategy in part because it generates tons of headlines. It’s great for raising public awareness about the “puppy mill monster,” to be sure. Every time another municipality enacts a ban that ends a store like LoSacco’s (some 160 municipalities have so far), headlines in local media describe the effort as a blow against puppy mills and animal cruelty. Right now, HSUS is working to enact a statewide version of these laws in New Jersey.

But the truth is that with their “victory” in shutting down LoSacco’s Just Pups stores in New Jersey, the rescue community is about to strengthen dozens more of the very breeding kennels their actions are intended to close. At the same time, they will be leaving LoSacco and his associates with a ton of investment-ready cash to reboot their business model elsewhere, including in other states.

How on earth is that strategy ultimately good for the dogs?

 

THE WAY TO WIN THE FIGHT

Here’s the good news: Heracles ultimately prevailed. He killed Hydra after figuring out that he needed to slice off its sole immortal head with a golden sword he got from Athena, the goddess of, among other things, war strategy. Heracles realized that he had to adjust his targeting, that he needed to aim at the core of the monster’s power instead of being distracted by its unwieldy tentacles.

At its own core, the puppy-mill battle isn’t about pet stores. They are just the distracting tentacles. The “immortal head” that needs slaying is the conditions inside many commercial-scale breeding kennels, the kinds whose owners are operating legally, in broad daylight, in places like today’s Just Pups auction.

The Dog Merchants-3DTo be clear, there are responsible, commercial-scale breeders who treat their dogs great. I write about some of them in The Dog Merchants, too. But even the breeding side of the industry acknowledges that a good number of legally operating, large-scale kennels are doing business in unacceptable ways that our federal animal-welfare law allows.

The true core of the problem—the “immortal head of the puppy mill monster,” as Heracles might put it—is our federal animal-welfare law. It is decades old and, among other things, allows a dog the size of a Beagle to spend her whole life inside a cage the size of a dishwasher. If that law were updated, then the conditions inside the legally operating commercial kennels would change, and pet-store owners like LoSacco would have a far harder time sourcing puppies from kennels that treat dogs badly, anywhere in America.

Heracles was a smart guy. There’s a reason mythology calls him a hero. He recognized, in his battle with Hydra, that his original strategy of cutting off one head at a time was creating false victories. He adjusted his tactics accordingly, and that’s how he ultimately won.

After 10 years of working to ban pet stores nationwide, rescuers need to realize that their effect on the kennels has been negligible. Business is booming in places like today’s auction. We must take a lesson and shift the aim of our sword if we, too, want to turn the monster we’re battling today into a tale from the ancient past.

 

Learn more about how to follow the money on the breeding and rescue sides alike of the dog industry. Get your copy of The Dog Merchants today.

Extended Interview with Forrest Lucas about ‘The Dog Lover’ Film

https://youtu.be/zwNtpzex0eY

This morning, Dogster published my review of “The Dog Lover,” a new film based on the true story of a hunting-dog breeder in South Dakota whose dogs were seized in a puppy mill raid aided by the Humane Society of the United States. The film has received mixed reviews, including from The Hollywood Reporter (“this propaganda piece seems bound to infuriate the very animal lovers to which it’s attempting to appeal”) and RogerEbert.com (“shamelessly manipulative on several levels”).

Everything those reviewers wrote is true—this movie is a one-sided take on an issue that is bound to infuriate many dog lovers—but the reviewers don’t understand the context in which this film was made, or its deep importance to anyone trying to understand both sides of the “puppy mill” issue that is raging all across America today.

As I wrote in my Dogster review of the film, I believe everyone who cares about dogs needs to watch it: “The breeders need to see that their voice is being amplified within the current media climate, while the rescuers need to see how they often come across to those they believe should change their ways.”

I also believe anyone who can’t understand why the film exists needs to read the following Q&A with its executive producer, Forrest Lucas. He spoke with me for more than an hour before I wrote my review.

Here are some excerpts from our conversation—which, fair warning to you, contains movie spoilers. While I do not agree with everything Lucas says, I agree completely with his underlying notion that only one side of the debate usually gets fair media coverage. That’s why I’m publishing this Q&A as a companion piece to my review of “The Dog Lover” movie on Dogster, which I also hope you’ll read.

You also may want to visit the official website of “The Dog Lover” film.

 

The Dog Lover movieQ: Was the original name of the movie changed?

A: When we were making it, we called it “The Wrong Side of Right,” but it didn’t tell anything about the story, so they came up with a list of names about dogs.

 

Q: How did “The Dog Lover” come to be?

A: This started in 2000, when the HSUS came to the state of Missouri. They came in with this term “puppy mill,” which meant “the bad guys.” I have a 16,000-acre cattle ranch here in Missouri. I found out about it only a few days ahead of time, because one of my cowboys called. He saw a sign on a highway.

What the voters saw on the ballot wasn’t the same as the actual law. They used the word “pet,” way down deep, and in Missouri, legally, a pet is anything that can live within 15 feet of your house. When we opened this thing up and started looking at it, it would have taken over all animals.

They had spent around $7 million, and they had 67 percent approval at the time. It was high because nobody was fighting against them. All the small agriculture groups in the state, the one big guy came along and told them don’t fight because you can’t beat ’em. All you’ll do is make ’em mad. That’s how they fight. They’re terrorists.

I got involved six days before the vote. We took them down to 51 percent. If we’d had one more day, we would’ve won. We just told people who they really were and what they were going to do: “These are terrorists and they’re lying to you.”

What happened is, since it was a proposition, the House and Senate could take it apart and fix it. HSUS spent a lot of time down there spending on these politicians. HSUS was giving them money to vote their way, and telling them that if they didn’t vote their way, they’d use the money against them.

 

hsus-prop-b-screen-shotQ: So your opposition to Proposition B had nothing to do with dogs, even though it was called the “Puppy Mill Cruelty Prevention Act” on the Missouri ballot?

A: This was going to take in everything, not just dogs. They weren’t just after the big dog breeders. They were after all the dog breeders. They had rules in there that nobody could live by. Your house wouldn’t probably be big enough for one animal.

I was living in California when they destroyed—and they still brag about it today—this big slaughterhouse. They had a mole in there for months and months. This old cow got down, and that happens, and they couldn’t move her, so they took a forklift and picked her up. They ran that video, and it destroyed that organization. They had to bring back millions of pounds of beef. Every school in the country was getting hamburger from them. The video was totally out of context, and it made this horrible, horrible story, oh these poor animals, and all the crazy people in the news went off on it, and it was the biggest thing ever.

 

Q: So that’s why in “The Dog Lover” film, the false accusations against the breeder involve a doctored video that the rescuers give to the media. That video leads to a raid of the kennel, and to a big campaign ad asking for dog lovers to send donations.

A: Co-rrect.

 

Q: It all goes back to what you thought was an unfair campaign against a slaughterhouse, because you’re a cattle rancher.

A: I saw that happen with that video, and then they turned around and ran Proposition 2 right behind it. That was in California, and it said all the chickens would have to be taken from these real tight cages where they’re so unhappy, these poor chickens, and go into bigger cages. Well, the poultry industry just started falling apart.

 

cage-free-eggsQ: So you made “The Dog Lover” film in part because you’re also upset about the cage-free egg movement?

It’s crazy to us who know better, but to them, it’s a way of stopping egg production. Now they want cage-free, and that’s even worse. The chickens could be inside or outside, but they have to run them to get them outside. The chickens do not want to go outside. And once they get out there, you can’t run the belts underneath them to haul away the manure. They are standing in the manure, and every once in a while a girl’s going to lay an egg, and 20 percent of those eggs get laid outside. You have to go out there and pick up those eggs out of the poop.

 

Q: That sounds gross.

A: It is gross, but that’s what’s happening with these nuts trying to get laws passed to deny eggs to people who want them.

 

protect-the-harvestQ: So all of this was in your mind when the “Puppy Mill” Proposition B got on the ballot in Missouri, where you have your cattle ranch.

A: Right. HSUS and all the other groups have been lying without people trying to get them, and it’s had a horrible effect on this country. The three months I spent out there fighting Prop B, that’s where I really learned that nobody else is fighting. A lot of people wanted to do something, but they couldn’t. HSUS is too big and powerful, and they have so many people terrorized.

By the time I got done fighting that, we decided, we’re going to go on the offense. We created Protect the Harvest. Then we started actually working with politicians.

 

Q: HSUS alone took in nearly $160 million for the last reported tax year. I noticed that was the same number you used in “The Dog Lover” as the budget for the fictional animal-rights organization. Do you have that kind of lobbying cash for your side?

A: No, I don’t, but I think I’m a whole lot of a better businessman than they are, and we can tell the truth. Everything they say has to be a lie, so it’s a lot harder for them.

 

A frame from "The Dog Lover" film.
A frame from “The Dog Lover” film

Q: This movie is called “The Dog Lover.” Do you have a dog?

A: I had mutts when the kids were little, but I don’t have time to have a dog now.

 

Q: So you didn’t make this movie because you want to protect purebred dog breeders?

A: The only people that had purebred dogs when I was a kid, they would’ve maybe been a hunting dog. There was a lot of ’coon hunting back then. That was one big effect that the fur laws had on America. Raccoon hunting was a big thing of fur. If you could catch them at the right time of year, the fur was valuable, and you had the fun of hunting them with your father or your uncle. That all stopped because you couldn’t wear furs. They terrorized those people.

 

Q: “The Dog Lover” is about a fictional group called the United Animal Protection Agency. Since the movie is based on a true story, why didn’t you call the group HSUS?

A: We didn’t say HSUS because it would’ve been just HSUS that way. We used a name that is not being used, so it could be applied to any of the organizations—PETA, HSUS, ASPCA, Fund for Animals, Greenpeace, that’s a horrible organization out there causing all the people to starve to death in Indonesia.

 

Promo ad for Wayne Pacelle's new book.
Promo ad for Wayne Pacelle’s new book The Humane Economy (which has received very good reviews and a great deal of media coverage)

Q: In “The Dog Lover,” the top people at the fictional UAPA are portrayed as being interested only in money and political power.

A: Wayne Pacelle at HSUS got into it, and he started making the big money.

 

Q: The last tax documents that I saw, he was earning about $425,000 a year.

A: Did you say $4 million?

 

Q: No, about $425,000.

A: Well, whatever they say, he’s taking plenty more on the side. They lie. These guys have to lie. If they told the truth, nobody would give them a dime.

That television scroll? That big ol’ minute-long commercial? Send the $20 a month and we’ll take care of them? It’s a lie. They don’t have any shelters. All they want is the money. The actual dog pounds around the country aren’t getting funded because the money is going to these guys.

 

A frame from "The Dog Lover" film.
A frame from “The Dog Lover” film

Q: Why did you decide to tell the story of this particular South Dakota breeder in “The Dog Lover?”

A: Because I’d seen exactly the same thing happen to a lady in Southern Indiana. I didn’t know her personally, but the attorney general of the state of Indiana, he went down and led his raid against this lady, who was doing nothing but raising dogs and making money. She had a dairy farm also.

That guy in South Dakota, his story was very similar to the lady in Indiana. She was not convicted either, but she was ruined. That’s what happens. They come in and hit you, and the news is in there telling things their way, and people don’t have time to react. That’s the way they work.

 

Q: At the heart of “The Dog Lover” is the question of what it means to breed and sell dogs responsibly. Tell me your thoughts about that.

A: Breeding dogs is, I think, a lot like breeding anything else. The more comfortable you keep the animals, the more productive they’re going to be.

But these guys have tried to say they’re not just dogs. They’re not just pets, even. What’s the thing they call them? I can’t remember…

 

animal-rights-national-conference-logoQ: Do you mean “companion animals”?

A: Right. They’re com-pan-ion animals. HSUS has, supposedly, a university of their own in D.C. where they’re teaching people to sue you, or me, or anybody with the dog being the plaintiff. Of course, the dog is property to you and me, but they’re doing it, and they’re giving a whole lot of money to people in other colleges to teach the classes.

One of these days, they’re going to get that passed, that animals will have rights. That’s why it’s called animal rights. Now, when that happens, it’s going to be, “Katie, bar the door!” That’s their long-term goal right there.

 

Q: So in making a film about a dog breeder, you’re not actually interested in the details of how dog breeders operate?

A: I’m not fighting for the dogs, necessarily. I’m fighting against HSUS.

And they’re trying to spay and neuter every animal they can, so that you can’t be breeding yourself. In their perfect world, if you bought a puppy, you’d have to get it neutered.

 

Q: I’ve never seen a spay/neuter requirement in any HSUS-backed “puppy mill” bill. Spay/neuter laws usually involve shelters, and trying to stop strays and dogs in everyday people’s backyards from producing more puppies.

A: I’ve not personally seen a stray dog. It’s been so long, I can’t remember. When I was a kid, you saw them all over the place.

 

A typical puppy-mill protest, courtesy of Patch.com
A typical puppy-mill protest, courtesy of Patch.com

Q: Are you receiving hate mail about “The Dog Lover”?

A: We had one hate mail yesterday, which kind of shocked our director. He wasn’t expecting it to be as bad as it was. The words they were using…

 

Q: What words did they use?

A: I can’t even tell you, but it was bad. They picked me out and said horrible things about me, so it had to come from somebody paid to do it.

 

Q: This hate mail came from a rescuer?

A: Yes. But other than that, it’s been a really, really good response from people who came to the screening and saw it. The ratings were very good. They were very surprised at the quality of it.

They loved the fact that we were doing it, the fact that somebody is doing it, that we are taking it back against these people. A lot of people don’t like these guys.

 

Forrest Lucas, courtesy of thedoglovermovie.com
Forrest Lucas, courtesy of thedoglovermovie.com

Q: Have you ever tried to talk to HSUS or other people on the rescue side about your concerns?

A: I have personally not met anybody from the other side, on the dog side of it. They don’t talk to me.

But they can’t scare me. They can’t hurt me or anybody around me. We’re not afraid of them. That’s what everybody has to understand. They don’t have to be afraid of these guys. Some of these big businesspeople who have stepped over for them, I just don’t understand it.

 

Q: I think if you did talk to them, they would tell you that most people who care about dogs just want them to be treated well, all across the board. My new book The Dog Merchants talks about how there are good and bad breeders, and good and bad rescuers, and that we should all stop fighting with each other and have the good people on both sides start working together.

A: You know, I agree with everything you said there. That sounds right to me too.

 

Read my full review of “The Dog Lover” film on Dogster.

 

‘The Dog Merchants’ Op-Ed Inspires Amendments to ‘Pet Store Puppy Mill Legislation

My publisher, Pegasus Books, just sent out the press release below. I’m thrilled to see “The Dog Merchants” and my other writing based on the book’s research having such an impact, just a month after the book’s publication date.

The Dog Merchants-3D“THE DOG MERCHANTS” OP-ED INSPIRES AMENDMENTS TO “PET STORE PUPPY MILL” LEGISLATION 

The bill’s sponsoring senator now seeks not only to curb substandard breeders, but also to hold dog-rescue groups accountable for doing business responsibly.

JUNE 6, 2016, TRENTON, N.J.—At today’s hearing of the New Jersey state Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee, Senator Raymond Lesniak, D-Union, introduced amendments to Senate Bill 63, known as the “Pet Store Puppy Mill Ban.” The amendments would require that all dog-rescue groups in the State of New Jersey be licensed by a Department of Health.

Lesniak introduced the amendments following an April 19 op-ed in The Bergen Record by Kim Kavin, author of “The Dog Merchants: Inside the Big Business of Breeders, Pet Stores, and Rescuers.” 

Kavin’s op-ed, based on her book that was published May 2, exposes ways that some dog breeders as well as some rescuers are now doing business in irresponsible ways that lead to sick dogs ending up in homes all across the United States. According to this contact form, people can check here for the best dog services. 

“In recent years, America has seen a clamor for shelter dogs unlike at any other time in history,” Kavin stated in her op-ed. “The majority of rescuers are operating responsibly, bringing healthy dogs to loving homes—but some are cutting corners. The consequences of irresponsible rescue are just as devastating to families as those of irresponsible breeding.”

Prior to today’s hearing, Lesniak emailed Kavin with a link to her op-ed, telling her that he was introducing the amendments because “I’ve been troubled by this issue. It’s been my only concern.”

At today’s hearing, Lesniak testified that overwhelmingly, dog-rescue groups operating in New Jersey are committed to saving the lives of animals, “but I’m not going to presume that everybody is a saint in this world.” 

He testified that his amendments would require local and state Health Departments to regulate rescuers operating in the state of New Jersey.

“I give Senator Lesniak an enormous amount of credit for reconsidering the part of his legislation that affects rescue groups,” says Kavin, who has two adopted mutts and has fostered 21 other rescue dogs in her Morris County, New Jersey, home. “All of us who love dogs want to see the least-responsible breeders either improved or shut down, but we also don’t want to give a free ride to the least-responsible rescuers who give all of the good rescuers a bad name. We want all the dogs to be safe, and we want everyone offering them for sale or adoption to be held accountable for the health and wellbeing of the dogs in their care.” Visit https://ownawoofies.com/available-territories/ site for setting up these camps around your neighborhood.

Lesniak’s bill, if enacted into law, would become America’s first statewide version of the “pet store puppy mill” bans that the Humane Society of the United States has lobbied to enact in dozens of municipalities nationwide, including Chicago, Phoenix, Los Angeles, Boston and Philadelphia. The laws require pet stores that offer dogs for sale to source them from shelters and rescue organizations instead of breeders.

The New Jersey version of the bill is the most comprehensive ever to be introduced in any legislature, according to Amy Jesse, puppy mills public policy coordinator for the Humane Society of the United States. If enacted, NJ S63 could become a model law for every other state in America. Freeholder Jeffery Nash of Camden County, N.J., testified in support of S63 today by saying that if it were enacted, the bill would place New Jersey at the forefront of such legislation and would “send a powerful message to the horrific puppy mills.”

Kavin, who was at today’s hearing in Trenton, stated, “I’m thrilled that my book ‘The Dog Merchants’ is elevating the conversation about the need for more responsible practices among breeders and rescuers alike. Both sides of the industry are now moving millions of dogs a year into homes, and both sides need to be accountable for the way they do business. All of our lawmakers need to stop thinking about breeding vs. rescue and start thinking about responsible vs. irresponsible when it comes to the ways dogs are marketed, sold, transported and placed in homes. We should all be fully on the side of protecting the health and safety of all the dogs, as well as all the people who love them, right across the board.”

Get your copy of “The Dog Merchants” book by clicking here.

Two Incredible Nights in Morris County, New Jersey

The Dog Merchants-3DSince my new book The Dog Merchants was published earlier this month, I have been doing talks and book signings at libraries and bookstores all across my home state of New Jersey. Sometimes, only one or two people show up. Sometimes, it’s a packed room.

The past two weeks, at the public libraries in Chester and Randolph, New Jersey, the turnouts were strong—and amazing conversations happened among purebred and rescue advocates alike.

They are the kinds of conversations I’ve never seen happen, anywhere, among people who often won’t even stand in the same room together. They were conversations taking place between the kinds of people who will often scream at each other in ALL CAPS on Facebook. Whether they’re on the “rescue side” or the “breeding side,” most of these people tend to believe the other side is the enemy. They can’t even hear one another, let alone want to try to listen.

But in these two libraries, on these two nights, they all managed to come together.

And in the end, they were all thinking similarly and trying, very hard, to work with one another and be on the side of all dogs.

Me as a child with my first dog, Mac, a Scottish Terrier.
Me as a child with my first dog, a Scottish Terrier. The first word I ever spoke was “Mac.”

The Dog Merchants in Chester

Before my program in Chester officially began, I asked everyone around the room what kinds of dogs they had. I was making small talk, just trying to kill time before the official start.

Quite a lot of people in attendance had purebreds, and it was obvious that they knew one another. They had come as a group. At least a few were breeders. One woman, sitting in the back with her arms folded, asked me what kinds of dogs I had. The way she asked the question—her tone and her demeanor—made me feel like I was being challenged to a duel.

I explained how I’d grown up loving my family’s purebred Scottish Terrier, Doberman Pinschers and West Highland White Terriers, and that today, I have two beautiful mutts.

“That term is offensive,” she shot back.

“What term?” I asked.

“The term ‘mutt.’ The proper term is ‘All-American Dog.'”

I was familiar with the term “All-American Dog.” It is the name of a category the American Kennel Club introduced a few years ago, for mutts who compete in events like agility.

This woman was laying down the gauntlet at my talk, letting me know before I even uttered my first words that she was there to represent the American Kennel Club’s interests.

And this was minute one, before I’d even said a single word about The Dog Merchants book.

Kim's dog Blue, alive and well next to the book about how he was saved.
My dog Blue, alive and well next to the book I wrote about him. (He turned 6 this past February.)

You can imagine how the next part of the story began to play out. I opened my talk the same way I always do: by explaining why I wrote The Dog Merchants book the way that I did. I talked about my previous dog book, Little Boy Blue, and about how at a lot of those talks and signings, I’d be standing there with my 2-year-old dog Blue, and people would tell me they couldn’t read books like mine because they were always too sad. The dog always died at the end.

“But … this is Blue,” I’d say. “Alive and well. See? He’s fine.”

They wouldn’t read the book. They just knew it would make them cry, because that’s what books about serious dog issues do.

“With The Dog Merchants,” I explain today, “I wrote a book that follows the money. It talks about how dogs are bought and sold and marketed, whether it’s for sale as purebreds or for rescue as mutts. I purposely wrote it in a way that won’t make you cry. Half my book is about purebreds, and half my book is about mutts. And you will see that I believe there are responsible rescuers and breeders–along with irresponsible rescuers and breeders. My message is that we, the dog lovers, have to stop being on opposite sides and all get together to support the sellers who are treating dogs responsibly, breeders and rescuers alike.”

Now, with a crowd like that one in Chester last week, my basic opening statement can soften the blows, but the antagonist’s first instinct is still to keep punching. Some of these women had come to have an argument, not a conversation, so the best that I could do was try to have a reasoned and polite conversation in response to whatever they said, however they said it.

After about 15 or 20 minutes of the verbal jousting, two other women in the room began to speak up. They had already read The Dog Merchants. One had grown up in a family that bred German Shepherds and gone on to volunteer for a local rescue group, and one owned a local pet-supply store where she was struggling to find responsible rescue groups to work with on in-store adoption events. 

These two women began to answer the accusations of the women from the “purebred side” of the audience. The conversation was at times tense, but always respectful.

The Dog Merchants-3DI watched in awe and did my best to encourage every moment where a standard “attack line” from the purebred or rescue side was shot down by the other, and to steer the conversation back to the notion of how dogs are bought and sold—which is neutral territory in this particular war of words. Nobody has ever written a book that comes at dog issues from the angle of following the money, so nobody has canned attack lines ready for that conversation. Dog lovers on both sides of the divide actually have to think a little before they speak, and when they start to think from this slightly different perspective, they ultimately realize they have more common ground than they previously believed.

By the time that 90-minute event in Chester had ended, the dog lovers in the room had discussed everything from whether U.S. Department of Agriculture regulations are sufficiently strong to protect dogs on commercial-breeding farms to ways that legislators might think about beginning to define the term “responsible rescue” in our society.

The woman sitting in the back eventually unfolded her arms, and she talked openly about some problems she believed exist in the breeding community. She also seemed to realize that the rescue-minded people in the room were dealing with some of the exact same problems. 

When it was over, most of the people bought a book so they could learn more about the actual issues that so many dogs face. The librarian thanked me and said my talk was one of the most thought-provoking events they’ve had in a while.

She also congratulated me on maintaining a level temperament, which I have to tell you, is not an easy thing. My natural state is to be a fighter, too. An incredible level of tenacity is required to even get a book like The Dog Merchants published in the first place. I do know how to throw a punch. I’m simply choosing not to swing my fists, even when jabs are coming directly at me. 

A still shot from my recent appearance on "Business Insider."
A still shot from my appearance on “Business Insider,” talking about legal dog auctions.

The Dog Merchants in Randolph

Last night, my talk at the Randolph library started out the opposite of the one in Chester from last week. This time, the crowd of people who knew one another and had come as a group was even bigger, but this time, they were from the rescue community. A few everyday dog lovers had also taken seats, mixed in among the many women wearing T-shirts from the rescue groups where they volunteered.

One lone woman sat in the back and listened quietly and intently, and she let all the rescuers who all knew one another say their piece, as they had clearly come to do. The lone woman listened, along with everyone else, to my explanation of Chapter One in The Dog Merchants, which tells the story of a day inside America’s biggest legal dog auction—where breeders and rescuers alike bid on the same exact dogs.

The lone woman watched as even the most knowledgeable rescuers in the room quieted down, because many of them were learning about a part of the dog business they had no idea even existed, let alone that was part of “their side” of the issue when you look at it from the angle of following the money.  

Lively conversation then ensued, about real issues: about whether there are any meaningful regulations at all for small-scale breeders and rescuers; about whether there is any real way for consumers to figure out whether they’re doing business with a responsible breeder or rescuer; about whether and when it is necessary for public safety to euthanize some dogs in our shelters.

After about an hour or so of thoughtful debate and conversation, the lone woman in the back raised her hand to speak.

australian-cattle-dogShe said she has been volunteering at a shelter because she thought it was the right thing to do, but that the shelter workers all make her feel bad because she bought a dog from a breeder. She said her children have allergies and she wanted to protect their health, but she also didn’t want them to grow up without a dog, so she went to a breeder for the dog she has in her family, and then she volunteered at the shelter to help all the other dogs too.

This woman said the shelter workers told her she was a bad person, that she should have drugged her children to save a homeless dog even if her kids were allergic to him, that a dog died because of her decision to go to a breeder, that she was a horrible human being.

She looked me in the eye from across the room and said, “Your book came at just the right time for me, because you are not saying it’s bad to go to a breeder. You’re only saying it’s bad to go to a bad breeder.”

And I said, “Yes, that is exactly what I’m saying. Breeder is not a bad word. You are a good mother, and you are a good person. You wanted to protect your children and you wanted to have them grow up with a dog. Those are wonderful things, and don’t let anybody tell you different.”

The lone woman started to cry.

Her eyes welled with tears because I’d had the simple decency to tell her that she was not a bad person for having sought out a hypoallergenic dog and then volunteered at a shelter. 

And then several of the rescuers in the room turned to her and tried to comfort her. “She’s right,” they said of me. “You’re a good person. You care about your kids and you care about the dogs. You are trying to do the right things.”

And then a number of the rescuers started talking about how not all rescues are good, and how maybe the shelter where the lone woman was volunteering needed to change some of its ways too. Quite a few of the rescue-minded people in the room had horror stories to share of adoptions gone horribly wrong.

A screen shot from the home page of DogMerchant.com.
A screen shot from the home page of DogMerchants.com, which I built using nearly the whole first advance check that I earned writing The Dog Merchants book.

Many of those same people then thanked me not only for writing The Dog Merchants book, but also for building the website dogmerchants.com, where all dog lovers can rate breeders and rescuers alike, to help all of us dog lovers share information about which sellers we can trust.

And then we all talked about the pending “pet store puppy mill ban” in New Jersey, a piece of legislation that is highly contentious within the breeding and rescue communities, a piece of legislation that is meant to become a model for the entire United States.

We talked about the language that is actually in the “pet store puppy mill” bill, and what it would mean for good and bad rescuers, as well as good and bad breeders, right across the board. One very activist rescuer sitting in the front row in her rescue T-shirt—a woman who had been involved in promoting the bill’s passage—said she was going to go back and look at the language one more time, to make sure she’s actually supporting what she thinks she’s supporting. She wants to support the overall cause of rescue, which is great, and she wants to put what she calls disgusting “puppy mills” out of business, which is also great. But she doesn’t want to hurt the responsible breeders, and she doesn’t want to send rescue-minded buyers to the least responsible “rescuers” who move sick or dangerous dogs into unsuspecting people’s homes. 

I agree with her 100 percent.

That activist woman had walked into the room at the start of last night’s talk with three pre-purchased copies of The Dog Merchants that she had asked me to autograph before the evening even began. She had asked me to dedicate one of them to the Morris County Board of Freeholders, the lawmaking body in this part of New Jersey, because she wanted them to know that local dog lovers care about these issues and will vote on them.

The librarian finally came in to kick us out because they were closing for the night. I received thunderous applause, and then a few people waited for me in the parking lot to talk even more.

We stood there last night, first in the haze of dusk and then in the full-on dark, in a library parking lot, talking about ideas that might help so many dogs on the breeding and rescue sides alike. 

And I felt wonderful because I knew that, just maybe, a new ray of light was actually starting to beam awfully brightly. If I continue to do my job correctly in the mass media, while I am promoting my book, then that light just may dawn soon all across America.

 

The Dog Merchants-3DIf you’d like to read The Dog Merchants bookyou can order a copy here.

If you’d like to add your voice to the conversation, feel free to comment on this blog, or come share your views on Facebook or Twitter.

If you’d like to schedule a live or Skype event in your own hometown bookstore, library or living room, then you can reach me here.

 

Video: ‘The Dog Merchants’ and Dog Auctions Featured on Business Insider

kim-on-business-insiderAbout two weeks ago, I spent more than an hour at the New York City offices of Business Insider, answering questions on camera for a series of segments about issues that “The Dog Merchants” book addresses within the breeding and rescue communities alike.

The first video segment from that interview is now live at the Business Insider website. It is about what goes on inside legal U.S. dog auctions, which are the topic of Chapter 1 in “The Dog Merchants.”

This first video segment is just a hair over 1 minute long. You can watch the dog auction video by Business Insider here.

If you want to learn more about what happens inside dog auctions with breeders and rescuers alike, you can get your copy of “The Dog Merchants” book here.