“Tails and Truths” is Bailing Out Benji’s new blog authored by Becky Monroe with the intention to cover the latest puppy mill news and puppy mill survivor stories.
If you are interested in having your mill survivor featured or want to communicate with Becky directly, you can email her at email@example.com
What I have learned along the way
Written by Becky Monroe
When I started down this path years ago, I was naive to so many things. I learned usually the hard way. I was thinking it might be fun to share with all of you my learnings.
1) Never (ever) ask where someone got their new dog unless you are emotionally prepared for the answer.
I always thought I could handle the truth, but I couldn’t. When you spend much of your time in tears learning the realities of pet stores and puppy mills and some random person, or worse a good friend, tells you they just bought their puppy a local pet store chain or from an on-line site with hundreds of puppies to choose from, it is next to impossible not to want to scream at them.
Sometimes not asking is a blessing. Just picture them walking out of the local shelter with their adoption papers in hand.
2) Never walk into a pet store and start asking where they get their puppies from if you are unable to maintain your composure.
Another thing I thought I could handle, but obviously could not. After I I rescued Thorp and started to work through all of his issues and realized all that he had been through as a mass breeding dog, pet stores became my real target. Knowing that there were so many Thorps suffering in cages just to produce puppies for pet stores, my passion bordered hate. I had this grand, albeit delusional, idea that I could walk into these stores and calmly have a conversation with the employees about puppy mills.
Honestly, nothing could have been further from reality. I would walk in and go look at the puppies. An employee, usually very young, would walk over and see if I wanted to hold the puppy. I would start to shake and ask where the puppy came from. They would give me the whole, “We only get our puppies from good breeders, licensed by the USDA.” I would continue to shake, picturing the hundreds of parents imprisoned in cages in sweltering heat or freezing cold, never seeing the light of day or sleeping in a fuzzy bed. Tears would start to emerge in my eyes and my voice would crack as I would attempt to tell them they are full of it. I would begin a monologue I prepared all about Thorp and how they have no idea the cruelty they are perpetuating.
Within minutes, I would be leaving the store. My body convulsing and my blood pressure through the roof. It was a total disaster. Emotionally, I just wasn’t prepared to make those confrontations.
3) Never start ranting at a flea market when you see a woman selling puppies.
Yep, I did this. I was in Florida visiting my parents when we went to a flea market. We happened upon a large vendor area with all kinds of purse puppies for sale. The Shih-Poos, Malti-Poos, Havanese, you name it. If it was small and fuzzy, it was there.
I could just tell this wasn’t a good breeder by all the random breeds available and not a single adult puppy on-site. I couldn’t believe this was allowed at the flea market.
Of course, as always, I started to tremble and my heart began pumping out of my chest. I remember confronting the woman and asking where all these puppies came from and how they were registered and where she kept them all. Immediately, she asked me to leave her booth. I asked her what she was so afraid of -why she wouldn’t just tell me more about the puppies. She just kept yelling for me to get the hell out. I made sure to tell the browsing customers that she didn’t have the best interests of the puppies at heart and that they should ask to see the parents of all these dogs.
I wasn’t at my best that day. But, I did follow through and reach out to the Lee County Animal Control Executive Director. She was very kind and said she, too, was concerned with that vendor and would look into it. Eventually, that vendor disappeared from the flea market.
4) Even your own parents can be uneducated.
This one really got me. I don’t know if it was before or after I published my book or while I was working on it, but one day my Dad sent me an email with a picture of a yellow lab puppy and said, “Honey, look at the dog we are going to get.”
Immediately, I went into research mode asking questions. This puppy came from an on-line broker. I asked if my Dad had pictures of the parents. He proudly sent me two pics. The yellow mom was sitting in front of a Christmas tree and the black dad was sitting on a ski boat. I knew instantly these weren’t really the parents.
I had my dad give me the email of the broker he was working with. He did and that started a rather defensive conversation. In the end, my parents never got that puppy. He was totally from a puppy mill and those pics of his so-called parents were probably used a 1000 more times to sell the merchandise to some other unknowing consumer.
To this day, it shocks me that my own parents who had listened to me day after day talk about puppy mills and Thorp’s transformation and the legislation we fought for and yet, when it came down to it were willing to buy into the whole game.
You learn fast that people, even your own parents, believe what suits them. They wanted a puppy and, boom, in front of them was exactly what they desired.
I feel like sometimes people don’t want to believe what we tell them because it is sad and cruel, so they believe the scenario in front of them MUST be different. I guess that is when we start to learn that we can’t just preach the truth, we have to teach it.
5) Legislating to end puppy mills is complicated – very complicated.
This one is probably the hardest reality of all. When you think of man’s best friend and how so many people treat their dogs like family, it seems vastly irrational that in our country they are also treated so cruelly and it is legal.
After my very first auction I remember thinking that it had to be an underground operation because how could something so awful be legal? But, it was.
Of course then I assumed that legislators must not know what is going on or they would change it – immediately. Again – I was wrong. Legislators knew and while some were appalled, they weren’t all super eager to initiate bills to change things for the dogs.
When most people find out about puppy mills, they, too, assume it will be easy to re-write the laws and make things better. I mean no one really wants dogs to suffer… Well, while that statement might be true, there is so much more to consider. There were a few things that caught me by surprise and also help to explain why change is complicated and slow.
Beyond the normal opponents like pet store chains, is the American Kennel Club. They are supposed to be the “Dog’s Champion,” but they certainly don’t have the dog’s best interests at heart. They fight every single bill introduced to end puppy mills. See, they make a lot of money registering puppies and they simply do not care the conditions those dogs are born in.
Then there are the dog “owners groups.” These groups tend to fight puppy mill legislation because they fervently believe no one should tell them how to “own” a dog.
One of the largest lobbying groups fighting against us is what we call “Big Ag.” They represent the farming community. Those that raise pigs, cows, chickens, etc… I had no idea the stake they seem to have in the treatment of dogs. Their thinking is that if laws are enacted to better the care and environment of mass bred dogs, things will have to be improved for all breeding animals such as the pigs, cows and chickens.
These groups spend millions of dollars fighting our bills. The breeding of domestic animals like dogs and cats suffers simply because they don’t want to ever improve the way they raise agricultural animals.
This is one of the complexities of writing legislation to end puppy mills.
I was shocked to learn all of this as I dove into this world I knew nothing about.
For the last decade or more – we have tried to go about bettering mass breeding facilities only to fight against these groups backed by so much money. We would make improvements here and there, but we could not make the change that was needed.
Today, we are taking a much different, much more effective path. We are getting legislation passed that stops the problem at the source: the pet store. Armed with years of data, we are showing how sick the puppies are that are sold in the stores. We are showing the unfair business practices of the stores and how they are taking advantage of consumers.
Yes, of course, we still face hurdles and much of the same groups oppose our bills, but five states have already passed legislation that prohibits pet stores from selling mass bred puppies and this number will continue to grow.
6. Never doubt the impact your voice can have – even if you talk quietly.
I am not one for public speaking. Even in regular conversation, I have a voice that is hard to hear. But, I haven’t let that keep me from telling everyone what I know about puppy mills. At first it seemed moot, but I have so many people tell me how grateful they are for what I share. Little things here and there about all my mill survivors, legislation across the country, the truth about certain groups that act like they have the dogs’ best interests at heart, but definitely do not.
Once in awhile I get an email or Facebook message from a complete stranger who thanks me for sharing what I know.
And what is even better is when you share these truths with friends or strangers and they go on to tell others. The message spreads and it is definitely having an impact across the states.
At times it is difficult to swallow the actions of others, but if you can try and believe that many people do not know what we know and are just doing what they think is okay. I remember jotting down a quote from Oprah that she learned from Maya Angelou. Something to the effect of, “When you know better, you do better.”
When we educate others in a way that they can hear, we teach them to do better not just in the way they go about adopting a new dog, but in a way that they share their new knowledge with others and slowly we change the world for breeding dogs forever.
And I guess that is the most important thing I have learned on this journey. Screaming, attacking, even preaching are not the most effective ways to create change or to better anything for the dogs. We have to take all that passion and channel it using our talent in a way that allows us and everyone to feel comfortable, so the actual message gets across.
The dogs are counting on us to be their voice.
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