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Thursday, February 28, 2008

Yes We Can—Stop Puppy Mills

A new book scheduled for release this summer—“A Rare Breed of Love” by my good friend Jana Kohl—will change the face of the puppy mill debate in this country.  It’s the touching story of Baby, a poodle who survived a grueling decade in a northern California puppy mill factory, trapped in a tiny cage, churning out litter after litter for commercial sale.

Baby was slated to be put down after outliving her productivity, but she was lucky enough to be rescued and adopted by Jana. One of Baby’s legs had been so badly mangled in her former cage that it had to be amputated, and her vocal cords had been cut so the puppy mill owners did not have to listen to the dog's constant cries to be let out of her cage.

Obama_3 Baby now travels the country as a three-legged ambassador for puppy mill dogs everywhere, and she is pictured in the book spreading the word with celebrities such as Lindsay Lohan, Moby, Bill Maher, Amy Sedaris, Alice Walker, and Judge Judy.  Baby has also visited legislators and lobbied for animals on Capitol Hill. A few months after the book hits the shelves, in fact, there’s a chance Baby might have access to the White House—because one of the lawmakers featured prominently in the book is Senator Barack Obama. 

In a striking photo, Obama stands in front of the Lincoln Memorial, cradling Baby in his arms, lending his voice to the campaign to stop puppy mills. The solemn setting is a reminder of causes that are worth fighting for, and the image of battered Baby safe in Obama’s embrace sends the message that change is possible for these creatures, too.

If there’s any animal issue that needs public exposure, it’s this one. People who are seduced by puppy dog eyes at a pet store often don’t know that puppy’s mom is trapped in a cage, just like Baby was, at a puppy mill. These factory farms treat dogs like production machines, and the animals receive no socialization or human companionship. They’re not pets—they’re a cash crop.

While consumers need to take action by not purchasing dogs obtained from puppy mills, we need good public policies to stop the worst abuses, too. Senator Obama, in his response to a questionnaire from the Humane Society Legislative Fund, indicated his support for reforms to crack down on puppy mills, close loopholes that allow many puppy mills to escape federal regulation, and provide better enforcement of the Animal Welfare Act. He also supports legislation led by fellow Illinois Senator Dick Durbin to stop the imports of young puppies from foreign puppy mills—puppies from China, Russia, and Mexico who are shipped at just weeks old, exposed to extreme temperatures in airplane cargo holds and sometimes arriving in this country sick or dead.

Senator Obama doesn’t currently have pets, but holding Baby, he looks like a natural. And he has said that he promised his daughters they could get a dog when the campaign is over, providing a new opportunity to set an example as a responsible pet owner. By adopting a dog from an animal shelter or rescue group, Obama can send a powerful message that puppy mill cruelty is unacceptable. It’s a message of hope and change for all the dogs like Baby.

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