August 6, 2015
Standing Up Against Puppy Mills
Last weekend I attended my first pet store protest organized by a local group called Puppy Mill Free Colorado. I had been following the group and meaning to join them for a while, but seeing the Dog by Dog documentary gave my procrastination a kick in the rump. While I knew that the protest group would provide signs, I thought that creating my own would both make the protest more personal for me, and solidify my determination. I hadn't been feeling well all week, but it was only an hour of my time, and I couldn't back out at the last minute if I put the effort into making a sign. Plus, I had the great resource of my artistic dad, so we made it into a family project. We stopped at a craft supply store and got foam board and adhesive letters, and all the way home I brainstormed my slogan. I was delighted to come with something rhyming and succinct.
My awesome dad drew the picture of the sorrowful caged dog and helped me with the lettering placement - straight lines are not my forte. My dad has always been on my side with my animal welfare projects, contributing his practical and creative sensibilities. We finished the sign just a little while before I needed to leave for the protest. I was a little nervous - I didn't know what to expect. My dad told me as I headed out the door that he was proud of me but that he would be embarrassed to do something like that. I responded that when it comes to animals and advocacy, I'm an extrovert. I may be a naturally shy and quiet person, but dogs help me find my voice, whether it's chatting about them with strangers or speaking up for their welfare.
As I parked my car and walked to the busy corner with my sign, I was welcomed by the other protesters. There were six of us in all, and we lined up with our signs facing the oncoming traffic and people that would be turning into the shopping center. I could see the puppies in their glass enclosures through the windows of the pet store. I spent some time reading online reviews of the store, and was horrified to see that even many of the "positive" reviews included tales of puppies sick with respiratory infections and parasites, as well as proof that the "reputable breeders" are in fact large-scale commercial operations. Perfect Pets is in Centennial, a suburb south of Denver. There have been legislative attempts to ban the sale of puppies in pet stores in Centennial but they have unfortunately failed, which is why it's imperative that education continue, so that enough people understand the reality behind the cute, instantly-obtainable puppy.
As the store opened a few cars pulled into the parking lot. The protest leader approached the would-be customers politely, asking if they'd like information about why they shouldn't buy from a pet store and adopt from a shelter instead. The reactions were mixed - some ignored her completely, one guy said he "didn't want to hear it," others said no thank you. A few took the handout, and best of all, two families actually got back in their cars and left Perfect Pets without going in after speaking with us. The most heartwarming of all was a young man with his kids, who were obviously excited to pick out a puppy. The young man was completely receptive to the information, and was especially concerned when he found out that pet store puppies often come from the unhealthy conditions of puppy mills. He actually said "Come on, let's go get a good dog from a shelter!" as they piled back into their car. I could have cried from happiness, and that fueled our enthusiasm for the rest of the morning.
It was one of the hottest weekends we've had this summer, and yet I didn't mind at all standing on the sidewalk in the sun, waving and gripping my sign. I felt an immediate camaraderie with these five other women who took time out of their weekend to effect change for animals. It's a message I deeply believe in, and every person that whooped or honked from their car meant another person that gets it. Some of the drivers that read our signs as they passed had never thought about it. Others may have thought we were "crazy animal rights activists" harassing a perfectly acceptable business. What mattered the most were those two families that made another choice that day, who didn't buy a puppy whose mother probably spends her life in a wire cage with no vet care, affection or shelter. That's the reason I'll be back with my sign another day, several times a month. No one left with a puppy from Perfect Pets during our protest, and I hope that little by little, these profit-driven commercial breeders will find fewer and fewer ways to peddle their shameful wares. In the meantime, I'll be out there aspiring to change just one more mind.