On April 27, 2011, I was getting ready to go to work when our lives changed. Storms had been predicted for that day. We didn't know that they would turn severe and it would happen fast. I stopped getting ready for work, we packed up our valuables into small bags and we hid in an interior room of our house with our leashed dog until the worst passed. I distinctly recall Rich saying to me, very calmly, "stop screaming. You're scaring the dog" as our house lifted up off of the foundation. It was one of the scariest experiences of my life. That was to be the first of two waves off tornadoes to pass through our area that day. We were very lucky compared to some. Many lives were lost that day and countless homes were destroyed. The F1 tornado that crossed our property did some roof damage to all of our structures, blew out some windows, threw debris all over and downed countless tall pines and cedars, but we were not hurt. We spent a really busy week of clean-up with no power, getting our news from a local radio station on a windup radio Rich had picked up a few years earlier and using a Coleman stove to cook.
As we listened to radio broadcasts of damage reports, people trying to find family members and the status of places to find gasoline and ice, we also heard countless stories of animals lost and animals found following the storms. As the weeks and months went by, we learned that thousands of animals who would ordinarily not be separated from their families could not be found and were presumed dead or missing. Large numbers of pets ended up being transported out of state and I never quite understood that process well. Surely there was some way to house found animals so that people could reclaim them, right? Wrong. The sad truth is that even under the most ideal of circumstances not related to natural disasters, most pets who are displaced from their homes never get back home. Whether pets go missing as the result of an open door, unlatched gate or natural disaster, the vast majority simply cannot be identified. They cannot talk, most do not wear identification and most are not microchipped.
Which leads to the purpose of this blog.
The first Saturday of April of each year is "Every Day is Tag Day." The third week of every April is "National Pet ID Week." Both of these annual events are used to encourage people to take proactive steps to make sure pets can be identified if they get lost or are stolen. Although a lot of people use collars and tags for this, and there is nothing wrong with that (provided cat collars are the breakaway type for safety purposes), nothing compares to the use of a microchip to make sure your pet can be identified. Chips are manufactured by a number of different companies and are available at a variety of prices depending on where you live and what your veterinarian charges to implant the chip. Some chips are sold with the price of registration included and others require a registration fee in addition to the cost of the chip itself. The chip is about the size of a grain of rice and contains a unique number which is a lot like a barcode. It is implanted under your pet's skin (normally at the base of the neck); in some states this can only be done a veterinarian or pet owner. If your pet ends up at an animal control facility, is found by law enforcement authorities or is taken to a veterinarian by a Good Samaritan, he or she can be scanned and the chip will be tracked back to you, provide you registered the chip and kept your information current.
I do volunteer work for my local animal control officer and some of the tasks I do relate to trying to get pets back home. I register found pets on a wonderful website called Helping Lost Pets, I prepare "Found" posters using that same website and I post about found pets on his Facebook page so the posts can be shared and we can find owners. Most of the dogs picked up have collars but no tags. One cat picked up a few weeks ago had been recently spayed. Surely she had a home. But we just could not find it because she was not chipped. Very seldom is a chip found in one of the dog who ends up in our animal control system. The good news in our area is that we have a great track record of keeping animals alive with the help of volunteers, donors, rescuers and adopters. Such is not the case everywhere. In many areas of our state and across the country, the fact that pets cannot be identified means that they are destroyed.
To honor the animals lost during the April 2011 storms in our state, we our promoting a Chipathon in our area during the month of April. People can make appointments now to have pets microchipped at one of a variety of locations for very low prices. The cheapest chips cost about the same as the price of a large bag of dog food or a couple large containers of cat litter.
My personal hope is that chipping of pets will become the norm and not the exception not only in our area, but across the country. Wouldn't it be wonderful if every lost or stolen dog and cat could be reunited with his or her family? If you love your pets or just value them in some way, please have them microchipped. It could honestly mean the difference between life and death for your pet and is just so easy to do.
I can’t really recall when I first heard about puppy mill survivor Harley Taylor. Harley is such an iconic figure that – for me - his existence is both constant and timeless, as if I have always known about him.
Harley was 10 years old and had been left in a bucket to die at a puppy mill when he was rescued. He was missing one eye (due to a power washer) and had a host of serious health problems. The fact that he was rescued and we all came to know his name is extraordinary in and of itself. The fact that he not only lived beyond all expectations (considering his health challenges), but went on to thrive and serve a Higher Purpose is simply beyond extraordinary. It is the stuff of legends.
I’m sure that I first heard of Harley and his family, Rudi and Dan Taylor, related to his “Harley to the Rescue” missions. Harley and his best buddy Teddy would go on trips to save other mill dogs, decked out in their little superhero capes no less. Who could resist the concept? Although many of us only see the end result of rescue missions to save these dogs, the reality is that it is dirty, shocking and heart wrenching work. Having two little superhero dogs help save other dogs from terrible conditions not only made the rescue process immensely positive, but it also served a purpose: to help calm the newly rescued dogs. We will never know just what Harley and Teddy said to the new arrivals, but we all know that dogs have a language of their own and I'm sure it was something very reassuring. "You’re gonna be okay now. The bad stuff is over. People are gonna love you and take care of you. Really." Harley and Teddy helped save thousands of dogs over a period of years and raised an incredible amount of money to help save more mill dogs.
I did my first project about Harley for the Taylors in 2014 which was called “A Dream to Call My Own” and which used a Fisher song called “Home.” I knew the song was a perfect fit for Harley the first time I heard it and the video got a lot of positive feedback. When Harley was nominated to be the 2015 American Hero Dog in the “emerging hero” category, I was so proud just to be able to say I knew his family and had helped people learn more about him in some way. When I watched the Hero Dog ceremony on television and heard his name being read as the 2015 American Hero Dog, I both gasped and cried. I knew it was coming because the ceremony had been taped months before it was shown on the Hallmark Channel, but it still took my breath away. We did a second project related to Harley's award called “Change the World” which has a similar vibe to A Dream to Call My Own.
When the Taylors were later planning a trip to Washington D.C. to attend a Congressional Hearing called “Dog Day Afternoon on the Hill” and to seek an audience with the Top Dog (the President), I was thrilled to be asked to create a project specific to that visit. Harley did not get his paw-time with the POTUS (since Joe Biden chose that day to announce he would not run for office), but the Taylors learned later from an aide that the President had, in fact, seen the video called “Dear Mr. President.”
Harley passed away on March 20th of 2016. I again gasped and cried when I heard the news. My reaction made no sense, of course. He was not my dog and I had never met him in person, but like so many other people, I felt the loss just the same. I had spent so many hours using his images and video clips and interacting with the Taylors that I felt like I had always known Harley. I know my empathy grief was shared by countless other people around the world as I blogged a number of times about the loss of a larger than life soul in such a small body, his extraordinary time here and his legacy. Now as we approach the first year anniversary of his passing, I wanted to touch on the subject of his legacy yet again.
In the time since Harley left this Earth, so very much has happened that I just can't list it all here. Harley’s family established the Harley Puppy Mill Action and Awareness Project to take his mission and his message to the public. They have since formed a new 501(c)(3) nonprofit called Harley’s Dream which is currently using donated funds to quite literally take the message to the streets through a national billboard campaign. Billboards are now on display in Chicago, Illinois; Denver, Colorado; Longmont, Colorado; San Diego, California; Orlando, Florida; Belton, Texas and at three locations in Minnesota. The billboards say simple yet captivating things like “Ask Harley What Happened to His Eye” and “Adopt, Don't Shop. End Puppy Mills.” A grassroots advocacy movement called Harley’s Heroes has begun and is growing with each month. It is a movement made up of ordinary people from across the country who are doing deeds both large and small to bring an end to the puppy mill industry.
Some other highlights of note are:
-Harley's Dream has a very active Twitter page and he has thousands of followers on his Facebook page.
- There is an “Ask me about Puppy Mills” t-shirt fundraiser going on now with FLOAT (For the Love of All Things).
- On online “Bidding for Change” Auction to benefit Harley’s Dream will begin in early April. Donations for Harley, Teddy and puppy mill related items are being accepted now.
- Small change = BIG CHANGE donation jars are showing up in more and more businesses to collect small donations to continue Harley's legacy.
- Billboards will be coming soon to Houston, Minneapolis/Saint Paul and Kansas City.
- Harley’s Dream has been approved to accept Facebook fundraisers and there are already 5 in progress.
- “Hops and Harley” will be held on June 24th in Berthoud, Colorado. There will also be an event which is still in the planning stages the day after Hops and Harley to celebrate Harley's life.
I think all of us long in some way to be part of something much bigger than ourselves. To know that we are making a difference. Although my contributions to Harley’s efforts were very small, Harley and his family helped me to feel like I was part of something big in terms of social change and for that I will be forever grateful. The fact that I am still able to help preserve his legacy in some way is a privilege.
I know that March 20th will be a very sad day for so many people. I'm sure I'll be sad too, but my plan is to just try really hard to make it a day of celebration instead. I hope you will join me. I am thankful Harley was rescued. I am grateful he was loved by a family who understood his Purpose and who are generous enough to share him with all of us. I know that I am forever changed thanks to the life of a little dog I never met but who means so very much to so very many people. And who is still changing the world each and every day.
If you feel strongly about Harley's legacy and want to get involved as as way to channel your grief, please visit the Harley's Dream website. There are a number of suggestions listed there to help you. There is no donation too small. There is no act of advocacy too small. You can support a billboard. You can wear a Harley t-shirt as a conversation starter. You can write a letter to your local paper. You can join a Harley's Heroes group in your state and share ideas with people who share your values to work toward ending puppy mills.
As Margaret Meade once wrote, "never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has."
Harley changed the world. Let's keep his legacy strong.
I got in a discussion with a contact of mine recently about the phrase "puppy mill." It was related to some differences of opinion about how many of us advocate to limit or end the commercial production of dogs (in ways which would shock and appall most of the dog-loving American public if they were to see, hear and smell the operations). This person and I do not agree on many topics, the most basic of which is use of the phrase "puppy mill."
So, what does the phrase really mean? It depends on who you ask.
For some, a puppy mill is a dog breeding operation, either large or small, in which profit is the focus of the business and in which the well-being of the dogs is of little concern or at least secondary concern. Dogs from this type of breeding operation routinely spend their entire lives in small cages. Many of the cages are wire crates which lack solid floors and are no larger than your dishwasher. The dogs are more often than not physically injured or psychologically scarred from the conditions in which they are forced to live and they receive no veterinary care at all. They have cancers, are missing eyes and parts of limbs, their teeth are likely rotted and they may have a host of other serious health issues which go unseen. They are bred repeatedly until they are no longer capable of producing profitable puppies. This is the type of business which is routinely the subject of media reports, articles written by journalists and solicitations for donations made by large animal welfare organizations.
For others, a puppy mill is any commercial dog breeding operation at all even if the dogs are treated with a greater level of attention and receive regular veterinary care. Most of these dogs also spend their entire lives in cages but are simply treated better. Some are socialized, given time to exercise outside of their cages and are better prepared to be someone’s beloved pet. (For the sake of this discussion, the word "commercial" is intended to mean a money-making business which exists for the sole purpose of producing dogs to be sold to the public in some way.)
There are some who go one step further and fault all dog breeding operations, even those by responsible breeders who only breed dogs periodically for families, for breed competitions or for use in some service capacity. These people proclaim that we should not "breed or buy while shelter dogs die" and see all breeders as the enemy.
Looking at the words which make up the phrase, we all know what the word "puppy" means. It refers to a young dog. The word "mill" is also understood by most people. It has historically meant a building equipped with machinery for grinding grain into flour. It can also mean a factory for certain kinds of manufacture such as paper, steel, or textiles. More recently, the word has been used to describe a business or institution that dispenses products or services in an impersonal or mechanical manner, as if produced in a factory. Examples include "divorce mill" or "diploma mill."
I have been told that those who breed dogs for a living, regardless of where they are located, take great offense at the phrase "puppy mill." I am told that to them, the phrase is the equivalent of a racial or ethnic slur and that if we are ever to reform the commercial dog breeding industry, we need to stop using the phrase "puppy mill" so we don’t offend these people. I simply do not agree.
I have no issue whatsoever with using the phrase puppy mill to describe commercial dog breeding operations. I would not call my dentist (who breeds Black Russian Terriers for dog competitions) a puppy miller because she is a responsible breeder who has had very few litters of puppies in the almost two decades we have known each other. Her breeding of Black Russian Terriers is to perpetuate breed standards and her dogs have competed in major competitions. When looking beyond these small-time breeding operations like hers, I focus on the meanings of the individual words. Puppies are being produced. They are being produced in a factory or mill-like manner for profit. So for me, a puppy mill is any industry which produces dogs on a regular basis in any volume as a money-making venture.
I appreciate the fact that some dog breeders are not happy with use of the phrase puppy mill. I presume that people who raise dogs as part of a multi-generation family business and who work hard to care for the dogs don't like being labeled in a way which causes them to be perceived in the same way as are those who see dogs as inventory, caring little for the well-being of the "breeder stock." To those people who feel offended, I would say this. The phrase is used to describe behavior related to a chosen profession producing dogs for profit. If you find the phrase offensive, that is because you are interpreting it personally, as if it is a personal attack on you as an individual. It is not. It is a reference to your mass production of dogs in an industrial or mill-like manner. If yours is an operation about which you are proud and which bears no resemblance to the types of horrid operations we read about in articles or see in programs on Animal Planet or see as the subject of marketing campaigns to solicit money to stop the objectification and abuse of dogs, by all means be proud of what you are doing.
People like me will continue to seek better for dogs until we find ways as a society to either limit your production of dogs or we find ways to ensure your dogs live in better conditions more in keeping with public expectations. And then police your own industry. If you don’t want to be compared to those "lesser" operations producing dogs which horrify us all, please put your damaged feelings aside and acknowledge that there are those who share your profession who allow dogs to suffer, who abuse dogs and who neglect dogs. Work in your own way to advocate yourselves to improve your industry as a whole.
Advocacy is about speaking out about things we want to change in our society. When it comes to animal welfare advocacy, we speak out on behalf of the animals who cannot speak for themselves. I think we need to careful to not blame the messenger for the fact that the message was necessary in the first place. The animal-loving public is becoming increasingly aware of, and alarmed by, what takes place in the commercial dog breeding industry. We don’t hate those who breed dogs in mass quantities as people. We disapprove of their behavior. And we want it to change or stop. Using the phrase "puppy mill" to help educate the public serves a purpose as our use of language is molded and shaped to fit our culture. It is a tool to communicate a concept.
(images courtesy of Pet Shop Puppies, Inc. and George Hodan)
There are few things more tragic in our lives than loss of life. Whether we lose parents, siblings or friends, that loss can have a tremendous impact on how we see the world and on how we move forward as we find our “new normal.” For many of us, the loss of a beloved companion animal is no less tragic and in some cases we are affected more profoundly than we are by human losses. We love the people in our lives, but we just don’t spend as much time with them as we do with our pets. When a friend dies, we grieve. When a beloved dog or cat dies, we may be changed as people. This is not to compare the loss of people to the loss of pets. They are just different types of loss and much of that comes from the fact that we spend so much time together. Your dog or cat is there when you wake up and there when you go to sleep. You spend hours feeding them, engaging with them, playing with them and caring for them. You likely take them places and celebrate holidays and birthdays with them. They are there on your worst of days, accepting you just as you are without judgment. Our companion animals become as much a presence in our lives as is breathing. When we lose them, the reminders of that loss cannot be escaped. The places where we live seem extraordinarily quiet without them, even if they did not talk much. The place where their dishes were located or where they beds took up space are constant reminders of someone we love who is no longer there each and every day to comfort us, understand us, make us laugh and make us cry.
Everyone who loves companion animals has suffered loss because there is no escaping it. If you are incredibly lucky, your beloved pet will pass in his or her sleep. If you are not so lucky, you have likely had to make what Marion Hale once called The Terrible Decision to have your pet euthanized to either end or prevent suffering. There are also occasions when animals get loose and are never found again, leaving questions for which there will never be answers. Regardless of how we part ways, our beloved dogs and cats simply do not live as long as we would like. We know that going in and we accept it anyway because the unconditional love they provide us is worth the eventual loss.
Because of our relationships with our pets, and how losing them is so very tragic, I wanted to take an opportunity to let you know about Poison Prevention Awareness Month which is recognized in March of each year. Do you know what substances are toxic to your pet? If your pet was poisoned, do you know what you would do?
There are a host of articles on the Internet on this topic that most of us don’t pay much attention to until we have to. In order to make sure we keep our companion animals as safe as possible, so they can live full and healthy lives, I encourage you to take the time to learn about which items and substances can either make your pets incredibly sick or may end their lives. Our time with them is too short already and we owe it to them to educate ourselves so we don’t inadvertently expose them to something which can hurt them and have them end up paying for our ignorance with their health or their lives.
The graphic shown here is a good start. I hope you’ll save it somewhere so you can refer to it.
I also recommend that you keep the following phone numbers handy in the event of a disaster:
your veterinarian’s office number and emergency contact number (if one is available)
the contact information for the emergency veterinary clinic near you; and
The Pet Poison Helpline
The Pet Poison Helpline is Pet Poison Helpline is a 24-hour animal poison control service available throughout the U.S., Canada, and the Caribbean for pet owners and veterinary professionals who require assistance with treating a potentially poisoned pet. They have the ability to help every poisoned pet, with all types of poisonings, 24 hours a day; their knowledge and expertise of pet poisons can put your mind at ease when dealing with a potential emergency. In order to provide this critical service, the Pet Poison Helpline charges a $49 per incident fee (payable by credit card) to cover the initial consultation as well as all follow-up calls associated with the management of the case.
This link also contains information about poisonous plants and may be helpful to you.
I hope you never have to get help for a pet who has been poisoned. If you do, I hope you are prepared with the information you need to be able to act quickly to save the life of someone you love.
(images courtesy of Mary McClure, Vegas Animal 411 and Candace Camp)
I have been referred to as a keyboard animal welfare advocate. Some use that phrase in a negative way, as if my volunteerism isn't enough because I'm not more hands on in what I do. I actually am hands on in many ways, as I was with my city in promoting our newly enacted dog ordinance with city officials and in coordinating and running the dog walk for my county animal control department a few months back. Because I work a full-time job, like most advocates I know, I simply have to pick and choose how I use my time while still balancing home, work and advocacy.
Beyond the websites I manage and the volunteer work I do for organizations like Harley's Puppy Mill Action and Awareness project, I do a lot of letter writing, send a lot of emails and do a lot of small fundraisers like one I am doing now. I am a huge fan of a company called Bonfire which I've used numerous times to do shirt drives to help animals. Bonfire is based in Richmond, Virginia. It creates a platform for organizations and individuals to raise money for non-profit causes or personal causes with no cost output and while helping people create and sell shirts that are both high quality and unique. There are other companies which offer similar services to Bonfire, but they just can't compete with the customer service and in terms of the products. As of the time I'm writing this, Bonfire shirts come in 11 different styles and each style comes in a number of colors and sizes. T-shirts, tanks, crew neck sweatshirts, hoodies, etc.
Sometimes a shirt is more than just a shirt. I admit that I have a kinda sorta t-shirt addiction and I have way too many "cause" shirts in my closet. But for me, they are both expressions of what I value and wearable conversation starters. When I've done fundraising drives for organizations, I am regularly told by people how they wore their shirt and people they don't know have come up to them to ask about the shirt, what it means and where they got it. This is an easy way to be an advocate and spread the word about your cause in a passive way that doesn't make people uncomfortable.
There are a lot of ways to fund raise to help organizations you support. I highly recommend shirt fundraisers and I also highly recommend Bonfire. You can easily raise a few hundred bucks to support a cause and you may raise more depending on how well you market it and the size of your audience. In the case of nonprofits or government organizations, people are given the opportunity to donate above the cost of their purchase and the donation is tax deductible.
I'm in the middle of a drive now to help animals in my local animal shelter. The money will go directly to my police department to help animals in our animal shelter. Funds will be used for things like basic veterinary care, heart worm testing, vaccinations and spay/neuter before animals are adopted. Yes, I will have done all of this using my keyboard. But animals will be helped, people in my community will become more personally invested in what happens in our animal shelter, we will have supported an American company and people will get great, good looking shirts. Sounds positive to me!
Looking for a shirt? Have I got a deal for you. . .
I am an animal welfare advocate. My goal is to help people understand some basic issues related to companion animals in America. Awareness leads to education leads to action leads to change.
image courtesy of Terrah Johnson