My Volunteer Journal: Episode 23 – Protesting Puppy Mills with Best Friends Animal Society

puppy_mill_cage“I am going to a protest!” I’ve been saying that to anyone who will listen for a whole week. That’s right, mild mannered me at a protest. A real protest. I’m a rebel. Yup. I am going to protest! And it's for a great cause!

The protest is actually very tame. I am joining Best Friends Animal Society for a tabling event in front of a pet store called Barkworks in the Westside Pavilion mall.  You must understand that Barkworks, like many pet stores that sell animals across the US, is a very nasty beast and here is why…

Pet stores, which sell purebred puppies in the US, are most likely getting those dogs from puppy mills.  Barkworks for example buys most of its dogs from puppy mills in the Midwest.  Best Friends found this out by writing down the names of the breeders listed on the glass cages in the store. They then tracked the puppies back to large factory like facilities, generally called puppy mills, in the Midwest. Puppy Mills are cruel places where dogs are bred in tiny wire cages under filthy and inhumane conditions.  To learn more about puppy mills watch this behind the scenes footage shot by journalist Lisa Ling.

Best Friends tabling events are orderly protests; they don’t march back and forth with signs or scream at people walking into the store, they focus instead on educating. When I arrived at the table, which was a few doors down from the pet shop, two cheerful volunteers named Christina and Catherine greeted me. They explained that we were passing out educational material and collecting signatures for a petition that would go directly to the Westside Pavilion mall management letting them know that their patrons disapproved of Barkworks.

Soon it became abundantly clear that more education was needed. A woman approached the table to sign the petition. She went on a tirade about puppy mills and how awful they were, but then she ended her diatribe with “I will never get a shelter dog [Big intake of disapproving breath from the protest table] and I will never get a puppy mill dog. I only get certified dogs from breeders.”

“Do you always visit the home the dogs are raised in?” I asked.

“No, but the last one we got was very expensive, registered and came from a farm in Oklahoma.  We had to fly it on two planes to reach us.”

No one at the table said anything.  The woman signed the petition and left.  When she had moved 100 yards down the hall Christina piped up. “Of course, a farm in Oklahoma that breeds dogs is usually called a puppy mill, but what’s in a name.”

Sadly, as this woman so clearly demonstrated, many people consider dogs a mark of social status like a car or a designer dress.  The fact that the animal is a sentient being with feelings is overlooked. Best Friends recently launched a campaign called “Puppies Aren’t Products” to change this way of thinking.

A few minutes later a girl walked up to us and said, “Barkworks sells sick dogs? I was just going to go buy one.” She was referring to one of our signs which points out one of the big problems with puppy mill dogs - they are often sick or extremely inbred. At this point it was all I could do to prevent myself from throwing myself at her feet and grabbing her ankles.  I would hold on desperately as she dragged me through the swimsuit section of Nordstrom, out into the main hall of the mall, past the day spa and into the offending pet store where I would make such a ruckus no transaction could be made. Instead, I calmly handed her info and explained why Barkworks was not a good place to obtain a puppy.  An older gentleman who was accompanying her rolled his eyes.

A few minutes after the girl and gentleman left a mother and her two sons ran up to us. She said, “The only time I go into that store is to complain about it! Where do I sign?"  Then her 11-year-old son stuck our “Puppies Aren’t Products” bumper stickers to his shirt on the front and back and went marching through the pet store.

Later in the afternoon a nice young couple came up to sign the petition.  They apologized saying that they hadn’t found out about puppy mills till after they had purchased their dog from a store adding that they would never do it again. We gave them info to give to their friends so they could continue to spread the word. After they left there was a sad moment when a family walked passed us carrying a newly purchased puppy and accessories. I think they looked embarrassed. They should be if they knew better, but in my mind anyone who knew what those poor dogs go through would never willingly purchase a dog from a store. I would like to believe that family made an innocent mistake.

Puppy mills and cruel pet shops still exist for the same reason that some people still wear fur – ignorance.  It signals a lack of education that is saddening and crushing.  If a society can be measured by how it treats it’s animals then what do these practices say about us?

Best Friends Animal Society has tons of opportunities for people to get involved beyond protesting.  Though, I will say that at the end of my 2.5-hour shift I really felt that I had made a difference by educating the masses and starting a conversation.  And I got to say that I went to a protest! For more information go to