Saving animals one pet store at a time
By Janice Brown and Brendan Quealy
Gloved hands reach in to pull the purebred Yorkie out of a cage barely bigger than her body. Pieces of hair and skin stick to the cage’s rusty-wired bottom. Her fur is matted—mashed feces and dried blood encrusting nearly every inch. Her paws and belly are cracked and raw from urine burns. There is no food or water anywhere to be seen—just rows and rows of cages stacked from ground to ceiling, with dogs just like her inside. Despite her condition, it is time for her to get pregnant with her seventh litter—and she is only four years old.
That is the life of a puppy mill dog—and the reason people work tirelessly to end the abuse.
Albert Einstein defined insanity as, “Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” Cari Meyers, president of The Puppy Mill Project, believes this to be true. Frustrated and fed up watching the owners of these barbaric puppy mills slip through legal loophole after loophole, Meyers knew that a unique approach was needed to hold irresponsible breeders accountable.
Meyers founded The Puppy Mill Project in September 2009, intent on raising attention to this issue. “You have to cut the monster’s head off,” Meyers says. “Every puppy mill puppy sold, and every bag of food or toy sold [at pet stores that sell puppies], keeps both the store and the puppy mills in business. It is such a vicious cycle.”
She set out to fix the problem by educating the public, fighting for stronger legislation to protect our companion animals, re-homing dogs rescued from puppy mills, and protesting stores that sell puppies and kittens. It is not an easy road to travel—but she has dedicated and passionate volunteers by her side. “People would walk into those stores with their hands over their ears and ignore us,” Meyers explains about the reactions to her protests. “They were happier not knowing, but we need to tell people the truth.”
On one occasion, a pet shop owner assaulted Puppy Mill Project protesters. He ran out of the store screaming and yelling—even shoving and spitting on protesters. Meyers was not fazed by the pushback, realizing that protesting gets the public’s attention. Still, she wanted to find a more effective way to communicate directly with store owners.
During a conversation with Greg Gordon of Dog Patch Pet and Feed, a pet store in Naperville, Illinois, she realized that working with—rather than against—those she was protesting was the key. “Cari and I were fighting and yelling at each other,” Gordon recalls, referring to a phone call that lasted more than an hour. “I got wind that she posted some pretty negative things about the breeders I used [to supply puppies] to my store. Finally, I just got so fed up, I said: ‘You know if one of you guys would just help me, I would be more than happy to do [pet adoptions]—I’d make the switch in a minute.’”
Meyers was quiet for the first time during the call, Gordon says.
She may have been momentarily speechless, but that is when the light bulb went off. Ecstatic, Meyers knew she had to act quickly before Gordon changed his mind. Within 15 minutes of hanging up, Brandy Gergescz from Annie’s Little Angels (a rescue in Plainfield, Illinois) was in touch with Gordon and the winds of change were in the air. “Frankly, as a businessman it was quite a leap of faith to wave goodbye to a revenue stream I had for 40 years—and I am not the type of guy who makes leaps of faith,” explains Gordon, who says adoption fees only cover costs to care for the puppies; he does not make any money from the adoptions.
After agreeing to stop buying dogs from breeders and instead supporting the adoption of shelter animals, Gordon and Dog Patch received a groundswell of support from the animal welfare community. As promised, The Puppy Mill Project and local rescue groups promoted the humane transition of his business through social media, word-of-mouth, public relations, and any other way they could. “I was a little worried when I made the switch that it would be some sort of admission of guilt,” Gordon says, who stands by his claim that he has never bought dogs from a puppy mill breeder. “But people who bought puppies from me for the last 40 years told me how happy they were that I made the switch.”
To Gordon’s surprise, he saw sales pick up. The monetary hit he took after he stopped selling puppies was negligible thanks to the increased customer base he gained. People went out of their way to show their appreciation by shopping at his store. Gordon bought his last dog from a breeder in November 2011. Since that time, he has been working to re-home dogs who are dangerously close to being euthanized. In fact, Gordon even adopted a dog of his own. Daisy was just 12 hours away from being put down when he rescued her from a shelter in Indiana. He credits Meyers and The Puppy Mill Project for educating him and helping him through this process.
While it is not easy, Meyers says getting pet stores to offer rescue dogs is a critical step in impacting the puppy mill issue at large. To her, it is simple economics: If there is no demand from pet stores, there is no need for mills to supply them. “The smallest victory keeps you going,” explains Meyers, who has created Puppy Mill Project branches all over the country. “When we close down a pet store—that is huge. When we get pet stores to go humane—that is huge. Every time we stop someone from buying a dog, every time we go into a school and students ask questions, every time I see a glimmer of hope—that keeps me going.”
Please visit ThePuppyMillProject.org to learn more.
Follow Cari Meyers’ blog at TailsInc.com!