Sunday, July 20, 2008

Saving the Puppy in the Window

(Greater Boston, MA) In 1989 when Deborah Howard noticed the cramped and unsanitary conditions at a Docktor Pet Center in Atlanta, one of more than 300 franchise locations, she became enraged. A tiny yellow Labrador puppy was pressing an open cut against the wire bars of its cage. As she held this puppy, she wondered about his origins. To her horror, Ms. Howard discovered out that almost all pet shop puppies come from “puppy mills,” commercial breeding facilities that mass produce dogs for resale. She knew she had no choice but to take action.

Every year, more than a half-million purebred puppies, destined for pet shops across the United States and Canada, are born in crowded and usually squalid conditions at Midwest, New York and Pennsylvania puppy mills. Unfortunately, these puppies become part of a society that routinely destroys millions of unwanted dogs and cats a year. The parents of these puppies spend their lives in wretched confinement, exposed to the elements, only to often encounter a cruel death at the end of their reproductive years.

At pet shops, puppies sleep on wire grates in small, poorly ventilated, and sometimes dirty cages. These puppies suffer from a plethora of illnesses and disorders as a result of inbreeding, inadequate shelter, dirty and overcrowded living conditions, transportation stress, exposure to random source animals, and improper veterinary care.

Many unknowing consumers cannot resist the cute puppy in the pet shop window of the local mall or shopping center. After purchasing the overpriced dog -- payment plans are often available -- they may then discover their puppy has a medical ailment that requires veterinary care. Pet shop warranties usually preclude reimbursement for veterinary expenses unless there is a state lemon law. The standard recourse for customers who have purchased a sick puppy is to return the puppy for credit toward another dog. Most customers, however, become emotionally attached to their puppies and will not return them. Tragically, some pet shop puppies may die or become so sick or aggressive they must be euthanized.

Ms. Howard contacted several national animal protections organizations, but none wanted to take on the pet shop issue. She decided that the best way to address this issue was through her public relations experience; she contacted “20/20” and discovered they had been thinking about doing a story on the pet shop/puppy mill issue but didn’t have the necessary documentation and video footage.

Steadfast and tenacious, she heard of a young man that had taken a job at one of the Docktor Pet Centers merely to help the animals. She provided him with a camcorder so that he could document conditions for the “20/20” expose. He also made copies of numerous store records. Through this groundbreaking news story, she me Robert Baker, then the foremost puppy mill investigator in the country. Mr. Baker is now a CAPS board member.

Ms. Howard also used her organizational skills obtained through years of working for political campaigns and causes, to organize pet shop protests the weekend before Christmas in 30 – 40 cities across the United States and Canada from 1990 to 1993. The producer at “20/20” even agreed to air an update story the night before the protests in 1991. The new CEO of Docktor Pet Centers claimed in his interview for this piece that the company did not buy from puppy mills; Mr. Baker’s footage proved otherwise.

Ms. Howard, a former radio news reporter, lawyer and PR professional, formed CAPS in 1990. The nonprofit became a 501(c)(3), in 1992. As a result of CAPS’ efforts, Docktor Pet Centers, Inc., who refused to do business without the sale of puppies, filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy in February 1993.

Ms. Howard has generated publicity on the pet shop and puppy mill issue with the following media: CNN, “Dateline,” “20/20,” (three times) “Hard Copy,” Life, People, Reader’s Digest, Detroit Free Press, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Tulsa World and numerous local television news stations and newspapers.

The Companion Animal Protection Society is the only national nonprofit dedicated exclusively to protecting companion animals, CAPS' foremost concern is the abuse and suffering of pet shop and puppy mill dogs. Founded in 1992, CAPS actively addresses this issue through investigations, education, media relations, legislative involvement, puppy mill dog rescues, consumer assistance, and pet shop employee relations.

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