December 4, 2015
Braving the Cold for Animal Advocacy
Since August, I have been protesting the sale of puppies outside of a local pet store several times a month. I joined the group after seeing the documentary Dog by Dog this summer, inspired by Mindi Callison's efforts with Bailing Out Benji. Every weekend, on Saturday and Sunday, a group of dedicated advocates show up in all kinds of weather, from blistering heat to freezing temperatures, to educate the public about puppy mills and the deceptive doublespeak that leads people to unwittingly support them.
Every weekend, as we stand on the corner with our handmade signs, some encouraging adoption, some reminding of the unseen parent dogs left behind to churn out cute puppies for profit, we are met with support and objection. It's a busy intersection across from a popular shopping mall, the traffic is heavy with passersby on their way to breakfast, shopping or the gym. Some honk and wave, others shout at us, shake fists and extend middle fingers. Lately the pet store owner has been coming outside to engage with us, shouting nonsensical arguments, ignoring legitimate questions, waving English Bulldog puppies at us and yelling that his business is booming. It's true that with the holidays in full swing, we've seen an increasing number of puppies leave the store; however, his rants indicate that we are in fact, making an impression. Often potential customers will take our information and leave the parking lot without setting foot in his store.
We're asked how we know that this store buys from puppy mills, since they inevitably tell their shoppers that the dogs come from "good breeders." I've done my own research via Yelp reviews and the licensed USDA breeder look-up, and the store has purchased puppies from large commercial breeders in Nebraska and Kansas, with recorded dog numbers on premises of up to 500. Aside from that, it's plain common sense to me that good breeders don't sell their dogs at wholesale prices to a third party and fates unknown. It is incomprehensible that dogs are being kept stacked in wire cages with no basic comforts - certainly none of the love and attention lavished on their offspring - to produce the very animals that purchasers will consider family members.
On Black Friday, we organized an all-day protest in front of the store, working in two-hour shifts despite temperatures that struggled to climb out of the teens. We had a group of eight people there for most of the day, and I was overwhelmed with gratitude for this group of people I've come to know as friends, clutching signs in frozen fingers and standing on frigid feet in hopes of changing minds. As with each protest, we were met with both encouragement and criticism. A woman jumped out of her car to scream at us about how ridiculous we were and said she was going inside the store to make a donation because of us. A stranger brought hot coffee for all the protesters.
Every day we are bombarded with news of injustice and cruelty, of inexplicable events that shake us to our core. It's easy to feel helpless and hopeless and wonder what one person can possibly do. When I'm getting ready to attend a protest, putting on my winter 'protest hat,' - crocheted by one of our supporters - and my "Save All the Dogs" 'protest t-shirt,' I feel a sense of pride and purpose, a sense that I'm doing something that might make a small difference, especially on a day dedicated to greed and consumerism. Some of those people who listen to us might visit a shelter and adopt one of the millions of wonderful and deserving animals waiting there. Children pay particularly close attention to our signs, and perhaps when they get older they will make the decision themselves not to support a heartless industry. From a young age I've been speaking out for animals, and in a way it feels like getting back to my roots.
My mother was always a courageous advocate for disadvantaged people and animals, and I wish that she was here to tell these stories to, to meet these compassionate people I share part of my weekend with and stand beside me when she visited. It's easy to get discouraged and become complacent, to list all the reasons why things can't change and solutions won't work. It might not be easy to do something you've never done before, to put on your shoes and leave the house to join a bunch of people you've never met before in a cause you deeply believe in. It can feel scary, it can feel vulnerable. My mom used to goad me outside on cold days to fill the bird feeders or take the dogs on a wintry walk down the road, insisting "it's not that bad..." and it never was. I'm not asking you to join my cause, but to be true to yourself. Find something that matters to you, brave the cold, put on your shoes and raise your voice.
Top Photo Credit: Jennifer K./No More Pet Stores