"Dog by Dog"
This will lead you to the website for a compelling documentary film about the commercial dog breeding industry and the subject of "puppy mills" which has been getting more and more attention these days. The film is now available on Netflix, iTunes, Amazon, Youtube, Vudu and Google Play.
There are some materials which I consider compulsory viewing or reading for any animal welfare advocate, any person who cares about companion animals or any person who is interested in how we spend money in our country at federal, state and local levels. "Dog by Dog" is must see viewing as far as I’m concerned. I first blogged about Dog by Dog last August prior to public release of the film and I called it a game changer akin to "The Cove" or "Blackfish." I was fortunate enough to get a Q&A session with Chris Ksoll, the film's Executive Producer. Now that the film has been released for all to see and I have seen it myself, I felt it was important for me to talk about this film again and to implore people to watch it.
"Dog by Dog" introduces us to subjects we’re not used to hearing about related to puppy mills: money, power interests and legislation. Unlike some footage many of us have seen regarding puppy mills, this is not an "in your face" film that overwhelms you with disturbing images which will keep you awake at night. It is more of a thinking person’s film which helps us understand the topic logically and pragmatically while introducing us to some incredibly important people who are working really, really hard to change our society. And while I would hope what you see does not keep you up at night, I hope what you learn completely changes your opinion on this subject and compels you to get involved.
• We hear from Bob Baker, the Director of the Missouri Alliance for Animal Legislation, who helps us understand what happened to legislation in Missouri to regulate mills which was opposed by powerful and influential forces, but which ultimately led to enactment of the Canine Cruelty Prevention Act.
• We hear from people in the "weeds" of rescue like Mindi Callison of Bailing Out Benji who protests puppy mills weekly in an effort to educate the public and while saving mill dogs.
• We learn about the incredibly powerful influence of the American Kennel Club related to dog breeding and the regular opposition of the AKC to common sense legislation to regulate that breeding.
• And we learn about the staggering influence of "Big Agriculture" interests which fight incredibly hard to thwart legislation which would serve to help dogs using the "domino reasoning" that the legislation about dogs would surely lead to legislation about cows, pigs and chickens.
Christopher E. Grimes, Director of Dog by Dog
Q: What is the one thing that shocked you most about the subject of puppy mills during the course of producing the film?
A: I think the thing that really surprised me sits at the heart of the documentary: The influence of Big Agriculture on common-sense dog welfare legislation. I believe without their concerted efforts to fight nearly any change in law that would protect dogs, we would have passed both federal/state welfare laws years ago.
Q: What has the reception to the film been now that it has been released to the public? Do you think you are reaching the animal-loving public on the scale you had hoped?
A: Yes, but we are not done yet! The response has been tremendous, but we are honestly very early in the process. The film has only been available nationwide for about 3 months and on Netflix for about three weeks. We are still trending on Netflix, so we will literally reach possibly hundreds of thousands more folks in the coming months. The reviews have been tremendous and that certainly helps the documentary's momentum.
Q: What do you think is the one, single most important thing that people in America can do to bring an end to puppy mills as we know them now?
A: This is a market problem and while I wish we could regulate our way out of it, I honestly believe education is the final solution. If people don't buy puppies in pet stores or on the internet, then the market would dry up. If the Amish couldn't make money on breeding dogs, they simply wouldn't do it. Adopt, Don't Shop!
Q: Even though Proposition B (covered extensively in the film) was altered after the public vote, are you satisfied with the changes created by the legislation?
A: Yes, more than just satisfied, absolutely elated. Our new law has resulted in a dramatic reduction of puppy mills in Missouri. In 2010, when we started our campaign against puppy mills, we had 2,000 licensed commercial dog breeders and brokers in the state. We currently have 825. In addition, the standards of care have been improved dramatically. Cage sizes increased by 3 times what USDA currently requires, wire flooring was banned, dogs must have constant and unfettered access to the outdoors, each adult dog much have a physical examination every year and every breeding female has to have a veterinary certification that she is fit to be bred before each breeding.
In addition, the oversight of dog breeding facilities has been increased dramatically. As part of the enactment of our new law, the budget for enforcement was increased dramatically. Prior to the new law we had 7 state inspectors. We now have 18 inspectors and investigators including 3 veterinarian inspectors. One of our new investigators is a former undercover investigator for the state police.
In addition to improved standards of care and increased oversight by inspectors, our new law gave the Attorney General the authority to prosecute unlicensed and substandard breeders. In the past, we had to rely on local prosecutors. As a result of this new power, the Attorney General has established a special unit within his office to prosecute breeders, the Canine Cruelty Prevention Unit.
I also wish to clarify how this new law evolved. It is often misreported that the Legislature gutted the ballot initiative and our new law is what was left after Prop B was gutted. In fact, the Legislature repealed the entire ballot initiative. The dogs in the state were left with no added protection whatsoever. It was at this time that my organization, along with the Humane Society of Missouri, started to extensively lobby the Legislature as well as all of our state officials, including the Governor, for a replacement law.
We argued that the people had spoken on this issue and the public wanted dogs that were confined in commercial breeding establishments to be afforded adequate protection. It was through our determination and unrelenting work in lobbying this cause that we were finally able to convince the Governor and the Legislature to support and pass the Canine Cruelty Prevention Act. The Governor at the time, Jay Nixon, became our strongest ally in the cause along with Attorney General, Chris Koster.
So in a nutshell, the people passed a citizens initiative against puppy mills, the Legislature repealed the initiative, and then after pressure from state advocates, the Legislature passed the Canine Cruelty Prevention Act which dramatically improved standards of care, increased oversight by more than doubling state inspectors, and enhanced enforcement efforts by granting the Attorney General’s office the authority to prosecute breeders.
Q: It is amazing how a ballot measure clearly specific just to dogs was portrayed as an effort to control other agricultural animals. Was there much public push-back by the voting public after the law was changed? Were people outraged?
A: Yes, people were outraged and we used that energy to go back to the Legislature and demand that they address the public’s concern over puppy mills. The governor’s office also heard that outrage and became our strongest ally. Regrettably, some advocates and organizations refused to support our new law over their outrage at the Legislature and several animal welfare organizations actually opposed the passage of the new law for spite as it was not as strong as Prop B.
There is a strong lesson to learn from our experience in Missouri. While we are all passionate about animal welfare and for closing down puppy mills, it is important that we direct that energy and passion in a positive manner. This cause is not about our egos but about doing what is right for the dogs. Even after the Canine Cruelty Prevention Act passed, one national organization actually try to sabotage the regulatory process in setting up regulations that followed from the new law as they were still upset over the overturn of Prop B.
Q: There have been a number of documentary films made about the puppy mill industry. What do you think separates "Dog by Dog" from those other films?
A: I think that Dog by Dog is different because it focuses a lot on the money, lobbying efforts and big agriculture industries that fight so hard to keep the commercial dog breeding industry alive and going. It educates with facts and numbers, without trying to manipulate your emotions.
Q: What kind of feedback have you received since the film was made regarding your participation in "Dog by Dog"?
A: Over the last few years, in part to the Dog by Dog documentary and the small screenings it hosted, Bailing Out Benji has seen such growth on social media and our website. But, more importantly, we have been able to start volunteer teams all over the country formed from advocates who want to be a part of the bigger picture. It truly takes all of us to put an end to puppy mills!
Q: What do you think is the singe most important factor to bringing an end to the puppy mill industry as we know it?
A: I firmly believe that education is the only way we will see an end to puppy mills. What we have now is a billion dollar industry that is 100% legal. Lobbying efforts are consistently failing due to the deep pockets within the business of Big Ag and dog breeding. We need to hit this industry where it hurts... The demand. Once the public truly knows about where their puppies are coming from, they won't stand for it and you will start seeing a bigger transition to adoption and the humane acquisition of pets!
You will surely walk away from viewing the film wondering why in the world the mass production of dogs is even legal in America considering our otherwise progressive culture.