The Independent

Dream Big

Daphna Nachminovitch
Daphna Nachminovitch
Distributing hay with a Pitt Bull, Daphna Nachminovitch is the Vice President of PETA's Cruelty Investigations Department. | Daphna Nachminovitch, Peta, Animal, Cruelty, Rights, Cat, Dog, Activist,

The transition of pet stores into going humane

"How much is that doggie in the window?
The one with the waggley tail.
How much is that doggie in the window?
I do hope that doggie's for sale..."
'Bob Merrill, "Doggie in the Window"

"Doggie in the Window" is a common song from our childhood, creating the false image of happy puppies we see in the pet store. However, we have now learned of the true conditions from which these puppies originate, from puppy mills. Patti Page had recorded the song in 1952, but changed the lyrics, after learning this fact. Page's new version, "Do You See the Doggie in the Shelter" sheds light on all the homeless animals in desperate need of homes and love; the song is exclusive to The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS).

According to Janie Jenkins, Vice President of the Illinois-based nonprofit organization, The Puppy Mill Project (TPMP), Founder Cari Meyers was a board member of a large Chicago rescue; after a meeting, she realized the immense need for the puppy mill issue to be addressed, establishing TPMP in 2009. As Illinois's only organization solely devoted to the puppy mill issue, TPMP has closed pet stores selling dogs originating from puppy mills, created an education program, and most importantly, help facilitate pet stores transition into the humane pet store model, all within three years.

Jenkins considers true humane pet stores as those who do not sell animals. The humane pet store model is a business model intended to combat the institution of puppy mills. An unfortunate truth is that many people are unaware of "puppy mill pet stores," where the majority of puppies sold at pet stores originate from puppy mills. TPMP cites statistics (from HSUS, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) and Best Friends Animal Society), "Approximately 2.5 million puppies are born in puppy mills annually and more than 400,000 breeding stock dogs are imprisoned in these kennels." Consequently, an estimated 3-4 million shelter dogs are euthanized each year. The ultimate goal for puppy mills is profit, where puppies are born with severe medical and behavioral issues; their parents are often neglected, starved, and left sick and injured, not given proper medical care.

To TPMP and proponents of adopting from shelters and rescues, purchasing a puppy from a pet store is contributing to animal cruelty; Jenkins is adamant, "It is systematic animal cruelty." Jenkins describes, "Every dog I have ever seen that has come out of a mill had some sort of painful condition they were forced to live and breed with' [as] The needs of the animals are not being met and the animals are suffering." The suffering is at all levels, as the puppy is taken away from his/her mother at an early age to be shipped away, across the state or across the country. Consequently, the puppy loses the opportunity to learn "how to be a dog from its mom which is crucial to its behavior and temperament." The first days of the puppy's life are spent in deplorable conditions, as his/her parents are continually living in those conditions, a tragic life of imprisonment.

TPMP is periodically contacted in regards to puppy mill closures, where the organization has a rescue fund to facilitate the rescue of the breeding dogs, as well as sponsoring the dogs by financially aiding in their medical care, including the spay/neuter. Common inflictions include ear and eye infections, urinary tract infections, sore feet, and rotted teeth, all in desperate need of care.

Daphna Nachminovitch
Daphna Nachminovitch

Distributing hay with a Pitt Bull, Daphna Nachminovitch is the Vice President of PETA's Cruelty Investigations Department. | Daphna Nachminovitch, Peta, Animal, Cruelty, Rights, Cat, Dog, Activist,

TPMP has facilitated the rescue of over 200 breeding dogs, many of which have affected Jenkins. Jenkins recalls eight Poodles rescued last Labor Day. Pilots-N-Paws, an organization that helps to transport dogs for rescue, flew them to Northern Michigan; the dogs, all nine years of age and older, were living in Southern Illinois, each only weighing ten pounds, afraid of large spaces, and did not trust people. A 14-year-old male (one of the two) affected Jenkins the most. The veterinarian had found that his jaw was broken (due to teeth that had been so rotted), emaciated by bacteria, an affliction he has had long-term.

In efforts to combat the institution of puppy mills, TPMP was able to close stores selling puppies originating from puppy mills; TPMP had protested a particular pet store selling animals (located inside a mall), once a week for a month; in doing so, the message was spread. In addition, consumers who had purchased animals from the pet store discovered health issue in the animals, and began writing negative reviews on Yelp; consequently, the store could no longer stay in business. The pet store was seeking to open another location; as people knew of the controversy over this store, the store couldn't open.

TPMP had also been alerted of a puppy expo to take place at the state fairgrounds. TPMP discovered that those participating in the expo were large scale puppy mills, who had a number of violations. Meyers contacted not only the mayor, but the newspapers, and was able to stop the expo. TPMP was alerted to another expo to take place at the VFW on a Mother's Day. Armed with the breeder names and information, the VFW was contacted, where the gentleman was not aware of the institution of puppy mills. The expo was stopped.

Jenkins considers TPMP an education group, reaching children in nursery school to adults; it is imperative for the public to be educated in the issue of puppy mills, as "The fastest way to end puppy mill cruelty is to educate. Most people will not support this [multi-billion dollar] industry once they know about it." Jenkins continues, "It is critical that we in Illinois educate consumers so they stop buying," as Illinois is the fifth largest state for pet stores selling puppies. Jenkins also believes it is important to reach the children as they are the future, where they are taught how to care for the needs of dog, giving him/her a happy and healthy life; in educating hundreds of children, it "empowers them to spread the word and they do."

In connection to advocacy through education, TPMP seeks to introduce influential legislation in hopes of combating the puppy mill institution. TPMP was instrumental in helping pass the Pet Store Disclosure Bill which stipulates that pet stores must post the breeder information on the cages of the puppies they were selling, which was in effect as of January of 2011. TPMP is aspiring to make Chicago a puppy mill free city; Jenkins would love Chicago to be "the next LA or San Diego in banning the sale of puppies."

A major proactive means of combating the puppy mill industry is enacting the humane pet store model. The first pet store to "go humane" in Illinois was the Wilmette Pet Center in Wilmette, Illinois, working with Adopt a Pet Rescue. The owner had "always wanted to do the right thing," and transitioned into being a humane pet store with the help of the rescue. The Wilmette Pet Center fosters the dogs in the store, where adoptions are done through the rescue, saving hundreds of homeless animals since the transition.

The second pet store to transition was Thee Fish Bowl in Evanston, rescuing animals from Chicago's neediest shelters. TPMP was able to help Thee Fish Bowl transition to a humane model by connecting the owner with the Chicago's city shelter's Homeward Bound Program, where she was able to rescue a large number of rabbits as well as a small number of dogs.

The Dog Patch Pet and Feed in Naperville began rescuing puppies and kittens from Chicago's city shelter, saving hundreds of homeless animals; the owner recently started working with a rescue based in Tennessee, A Place to Bark. Bonnie Berlin founded the no kill foster and adoption rescue in response to the dire need of animal rescue in the Southern states, where overpopulation is rampant with few resources. Berlin has created a transport program with partnering shelters in Chicago and Florida in efforts to save more lives.

Alicia Silverstone
Alicia Silverstone

Alicia Silverstone, born October 4, 1976, is an American actress, film and television producer, author, and animal rights and environmental activist. | Photo: Getty Images |
A monumental transition was when the 60-year Chicago institution, Collar and Leash made the decision to no longer sell animals originating from puppy mills, when Meyers approached owner Sonja Raymond. Growing up in Chicago, Meyers was familiar with Collar and Leash, which sold high-end products, collars, toys, food, and grooming service, viewing Collar and Leash as "the perfect target" for transitioning into the humane pet store model. To Jenkins, many other pet stores who were selling the same high-quality products as Collar and Leash were successful, all without selling animals.

Jenkins remarks, "The timing was right and the stars were aligned. This was a dream come true for our organization." Collar and Leash hosted a grand re-opening weekend on April 6-7, which included onsite animal adoptions and animal wellness checks and vaccinations provided by the Broadway Animal Hospital. Collar and Leash holds adoption events every Saturday from 12-3 PM, where various rescues and shelters can showcase their animals available for adoption.

What people neglect to consider when approaching a pet store to purchase a puppy is his/her mother. As Jenkins astutely observes, "Once you've purchased [the puppy, the pet store is] calling another broker, [where consequently,] another mother is suffering." Jenkins continues, of the over 200 dogs TPMP has rescued, every one has had a painful condition; "not one was healthy and getting what they needed to be happy and healthy."

According to Jenkins, over 30 cities have implemented ordinances across the nation, as well as Canada, banning the retail sale of puppies and kittens. Jenkins encourages people to introduce an ordinance if you are living in an area without such ordinance, in efforts to further the humane pet store movement; furthering the movement will eradicate the puppy mill institution, as with no demand, it negates puppy mills' supply. Additional efforts to negate the institution include boycotting pet stores which sell puppies and kittens, writing to legislators to support laws stopping the industry, and spreading your message through social media. Jenkins advises to pet stores owners who seek to transition: hold adoption events as well as promoting those events. The key is to be proactive.

"I dream big and will never stop fighting for the freedom of the mill dogs," is the sentiment behind Cari Meyers's passion for animal welfare. Jenkins observes, the laws for animal welfare are changing slowly; although we must still work on the laws, educating consumers is the fastest way to create change. Fighting for the freedom of puppy mill dogs may seem to be a big dream, but that dream can be realized with awareness, education, and being proactive.

". . . Doggies and kitties who are homeless
With sad eyes and tails hanging down
Let's do what we can to show them kindness
And let them know that they've been found...
"' Patti Page, "Do You See That Doggie in the Shelter"

*Permission was given by Patti Page's manager to use the "Do You See That Doggie in the Shelter" lyrics for the article.

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Updated Aug 12, 2017 12:08 PM EDT | More details


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