Carrying "Herbie" from a long transport into the store where he would be adopted several days later.
Last August I started joining a weekly protest in front of a pet store here in the Denver area that sells puppies from commercial breeders. That's the nice way to say puppy mill. I'm someone who does her research, so I looked up the USDA reports from some known suppliers to this store. The numbers of adult dogs and puppies on the premises at times of inspection told me all I needed to know. These dogs were not frolicking in green meadows and sleeping in warm, comfortable beds. They were spending their lives in cages, producing puppies as fast as their bodies were able. I bought some poster board and my dad helped me make some protest signs. I showed up a few times a month at first, started making some friends and becoming more comfortable standing up for what I believed. As the holiday season approached, momentum built and we organized some all-day protests in shifts. Groups of dedicated volunteers stood on snow and ice in freezing temperatures for hours, holding signs in gloved hands. We didn't see very many puppies leave the store on those days, and the pet store was growing increasingly agitated by us.
Then everything changed. A holiday miracle of sorts. On Christmas Eve, the pet store owner agreed to go to an adoption event with our fearless spokeswoman. Three of us stayed behind with our signs at our sides and our mouths agape as they drove away together in one car, two individuals with wildly opposing viewpoints. The pet store owner thought he'd prove his point at this adoption event: that there were no young puppies in rescue; certainly, not any cute puppies that anyone wanted. What he saw there when he stepped outside the store would precipitate a change that led we protesters into the store, somewhere we never imagined we would be. That would be our next-to-last protest. He agreed to start offering rescue dogs in the store in the new year - that "simple" little thing we'd been rallying for all along - and that was where the real work began.
In these past few months our little group has mobilized into a non-profit organization, held board meetings, elected leaders, networked with other rescues and animal welfare organizations, held two fundraisers, saved almost fifty dogs from desperate situations and over-crowded shelters, and discovered just how challenging it is to implement change. A business that has been around for twenty years doesn't transform overnight. There are relationships, regulations, and logistics involved. A little band of animal lovers who have been peripherally and collectively involved in rescue doesn't transform overnight. We are figuring it out as we go, with the guidance of some experienced and influential advisers. We are finding time we don't have in our diverse and busy lives - what was once a one or two hour commitment on the weekend is now late nights entering data, morning meetings and afternoon conference calls, miles of transporting. It's not always comfortable, but the stuff that matters seldom is. There are still puppies from commercial breeders in the store, alongside the rescue puppies we bring in. It isn't as easy as black and white. We have learned that we weren't right about everything. That it isn't just puppy mill puppies that get sick. That the pet store owner cares deeply about dogs. That change is hard, and stressful and imperfect...and worth every minute of it.
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