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 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