Toy Poodle Becomes Poster Dog for Puppy Mills

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Toy Poodle Becomes Poster Dog for Puppy Mills

Judith Davidoff for The Capital Times in WI, wrote a great story about how a rescued toy poodle became the posterdog for puppy mill dogs. Here’s the gist of it:

Shortly after losing her nearly 9-year-old standard poodle to cancer, Jana Kohl decided she wanted her next dog to be small and portable. Like many others, she turned to the Internet in search of a purebred toy poodle.

One especially cute puppy from a breeder in Texas caught her eye. Kohl called the breeder and mailed a deposit. A friend warned her of the horrors of puppy mills, but Kohl admits she only “half-listened.”

“What I discovered was a house of horrors,” says Kohl, who lives on the West Coast. “Barns and sheds filled with rows and rows of caged dogs who had never walked on grass, had never seen the sun, who were locked in cages their entire lives and used like breeding machines — treated as if they were inanimate objects.”

Kohl left without a dog but with a new mission in life: “I remember standing there that day, saying to myself, ‘You will never be the same.’ Because I knew I had to do something about it.”

A few months later Kohl adopted “Baby,” a 9-year-old toy poodle that had been rescued from a puppy mill, and the two have been inseparable ever since. Together they travel the country drumming up support to outlaw the inhumane practices and conditions found at thousands of puppy mills around the country.

A chronicle of their travels — with heart-melting photos of Baby and her conquests — is contained in “A Rare Breed of Love: The True Story of Baby and the Mission She Inspired to Help Dogs Everywhere,” a new book out from Simon and Schuster. Baby and Kohl will be in Madison on Monday, June 30, at Barnes & Noble as part of a 25-city tour to promote the book.

“We just don’t have laws on the books to protect these dogs from inhumane abuse,” says Kohl in a phone interview from her tour bus, which is wrapped with photos from the book and a plea to “Boycott pet stores and Internet breeders — adopt insteadI think the public is increasingly outraged and is demanding that we treat the animals in our midst with humanity and compassion.”

She was in college when she heard a speech by Rabbi Marvin Hier, who was in the process of founding what would become the Simon Wiesenthal Center, a Jewish human rights organization headquartered in Los Angeles.

“I went up to him that night and said, ‘I want to help you,’ ” recalls Kohl.

Looking back on the last several decades, Kohl says a common thread has run through her work.

Kohl dropped out of college and volunteered at the center for about six months before joining the staff. In the early 1980s she opened the organization’s Chicago office.

“For whatever reason, I’ve always been concerned about how society sanctions cruelty,” she says. “There’s probably no more hideous example of that than the Holocaust.”

Kohl eventually went back to school, earning a doctorate in psychology. Yet right after finishing her degree, she chose animal welfare work instead of a counseling practice.

She says she learned about inhumane factory farming practices by reading literature from the Humane Society. At the time, her standard poodle, Blue, was still alive.

“It was my relationship with that dog that really sensitized me to the sentient nature of animals,” she says.

Kohl says that is a common trajectory for people with family pets.

“The dog was the ambassador who opened their eyes,” she says.

The bigger question, says Kohl, is whether it is responsible for anyone at all to breed dogs when between 4 million and 5 million homeless pets are euthanized every year, according to Humane Society statistics.

“To me, it’s irresponsible,” says Kohl. “I say, ‘Find another hobby.’ “

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