Building a Unified Front: Coordinating an Anti-Puppy Mill Movement
By: Rachel Yarger, Bailing Out Benji- Texas
When you learn about injustices happening around you, what do you do? Do you turn a blind eye and try not to think about it? Do you expect someone else to deal with it? Or do you stand up for what is right and fight for what is just?
Mindi Callison choose the third option. In 2011, Mindi learned about rampant commercial dog breeding in her home state of Iowa. She learned about the horrible conditions that these dogs lived in. They lacked human interaction and proper vet care. They were caged 24 hours a day, seven days a week. They were kept outside with little protection from the heat, cold, snow, and rain. They were bred until they could no longer provide a profit for their owners and then thrown away like trash. To make matters worse, Mindi discovered that a pet store in her home town was selling puppies from these breeders. She was outraged by this. She had to take action.
Mindi’s goal was to educate the public on what was going on behind these cute puppies in pet stores. If more people knew what was happening at the breeding facilities, they would also be outraged as well, right? Her first attempt at community outreach was planning a protest in front of the pet store in her town. She was unsure if anyone else would show up and support the mill dogs, but was presently surprised when a small group of volunteers came out to picket. Every Saturday, a small group would stand with their signs and educate those driving buy and shopping at the store.
Mindi knew that reaching a larger audience was the next step and decided to expand her puppy mill activism by founding the nonprofit Bailing Out Benji . They funded pamphlets, posters, bus ads, and even billboards to get their message out. She and her loyal group of volunteers were now informing people about the horrors of puppy mills across Iowa and the mid-west.
While Bailing Out Benji was growing in the mid-west, another group of concerned citizens in Central Texas were trying to raise awareness as well.
In the fall of 2015, Courtney Leigh and Rachel Yarger learned that a pet store in their own community of Round Rock, Texas had been selling puppies for years. They became extremely concerned since statistics showed that these puppies most likely came from a commercial breeding facility. The two knew that more and more cities were using puppy sale bans to cut off the income to commercial breeders. It seemed like a reasonable plan to propose the ban to the Round Rock City Council as a legislative fix to the community’s commercial breeding connection.
For three consecutive months, a small group of citizens presented their concerns and requests for the puppy sales ban at the city council meeting. They also met with officials to discuss their concerns in more detail. Unfortunately, the council decided not to pursue to ban.
But, instead of backing down and accepting defeat, the Round Rock citizens decided to modify their strategy. What if they could educate more of the community about the issue? Surely more people would be outraged if they knew where these puppies were coming from. With more community support, they could convince the council that this is what their citizens wanted. But how would they accomplish this?
After researching anti-puppy mill organizations around the country, it was evident that many of them had great outreach techniques and had success in passing legislation. Why not leverage some of these groups’ experiences and strategies in Round Rock?
Partnering with an existing organization appeared to be the best option. Having name recognition, nonprofit status, and access to educational material would allow the Round Rock team members to focus their efforts on community outreach immediately. After reaching out to numerous groups, Bailing Out Benji seemed to be the best fit. Bailing Out Benji’s mission aligned with the goals of the Round Rock group and they name was becoming well known across the country because of a recently released documentary, Dog By Dog, that featured Mindi’s story. Mindi agreed to expand into Texas, and a new partnership was formed. The Texas team now had the resources to table events in the community, runs educational ads in the local paper, and even fund a billboard on 1-35 in Central Texas.
But, it wasn’t just the Texas team that was benefiting from partnership. Volunteers from Texas and Iowa would now be able to share strategies, resources, and lessons learned. They could build a stronger national presence, expand the reach of their fundraising campaigns, and target a larger audience with a unified message. Soon groups in Nebraska and Pennsylvania saw the benefits of joining on. Volunteers from these states wanted additional assistance for their protests and access to additional educational materials for the public. They wanted to be able to strategize with others who had experience fighting against puppy mills. Bailing Out Benji provided this support and expanded their teams in these states.
Becoming a nationally known organization is more than Mindi could have imagined in 2011. What was once a small group of protesters outside a local pet store has turned into a multistate movement with a goal of ending puppy mills. Bailing Out Benji now plans on focusing more effort on retail puppy sale bans in their teams’ home states. They are building a larger database of puppy mills around the country and producing educational material for other states that have large commercial breeding operations. There’s a lot of work to be done, but with continued growth and coordination in public education, Bailing Out Benji is on track to make a huge dent in the commercial breeding industry in the coming years.
Now, Bailing Out Benji has spread to several states and is showing no signs of slowing down!
For more information about bringing Bailing Out Benji to your state, email firstname.lastname@example.org.