In the world of puppy mills and dog sales, the local story tends to focus on where your community is on the supply and demand side of the business. If you’re from Missouri and Iowa, the number one and two states for puppy mills, the spotlight is on the breeders, auctions and legislation focused on breeders. In states like Illinois, it’s the pet stores that sell those dogs and the pet store protests that get the word out.
In the Chicago area, pet store protests are pretty common. The Puppy Mill Project has covered stores in the city, North Shore and Western Suburbs. Another organization, CAPS, has focused on southern suburbs. In Iowa, they are not as commonplace. Up until recently, the sole location for protests in Iowa was Dyvigs Pet Shoppe in Ames.
Recently, the group staging those pet store protests added a second store - Critter Nation in Webster City – to their list. After two years of holding peaceful pet store protests in Ames, they've walked into a much different situation in Webster City.
Animal advocate Mindi Callison Long has been using the protest to educate. She says her goal isn't to close down the pet stores but to work with them to move to a more humane option - adoption. In the meantime, the are looking at the tale of two very different protests.
Dyvigs Pet Shoppe in Ames
The protests at Dyvigs started in 2011 after Callison Long found out they sold puppies and she visited the store’s supplier, Century Farm Puppies, and didn’t like what she found. She started protests around the holidays – prime puppy purchasing season. They originally focused on holidays with some random protests thrown in, but have been there every weekend the past eight months.
“The town of Ames, where Dyvigs is located, is so open to what we have to say,” says Callison Long. “They don't see us as protesting a local business, they see us as educators. We don't yell at people walking into the store, we don't chant or make fools of ourselves. We speak when spoken to and just genuinely care about what is going on back at the puppy mill.”
Pet stores have become such a key education piece in the battle against puppy mills. Too many consumers see and fall in love with those adorable puppies in the window but haven’t connected the dots between the puppy mills and pet stores. That’s where the pet store protests come in.
“Since we have started our weekly protests, the puppies in the store don't move as fast as they used to,” says Callison Long. “We have never had a puppy sold while standing there. It helps that we always have adorable dogs with us that draw in the crowds and make it easier to start our conversations. All of our dogs have been rescued, several from puppy mills.”
Ames is home to Iowa State University. Because it’s a college town, they have connected with a lot of the kids there and that also helps get the word out. They’ve done a great job connecting with that primary market.
Since they’ve been protesting in that area so long, they have people walk up on the street and join in. Fans of Callison Long's Bailing out Benji Facebook have also started to participate. There’s a strong core group that participates each week that have helped her keep the protests going.
“As word spreads, more people want to be a voice for the voiceless. It is an easy venue since it is always so peaceful and the citizens are open to hearing the word,” says Callison Long. “Our biggest fight (so far) is that our local paper refuses to run the story, or any letters to the editor about it, because the town of Ames is ALL about shopping local. Since we are protesting at a local business, the paper ignores the fact that we are there, although they are a half a block away.”
That brings us to Critter Nation in Webster City and the pet store protests there. Dyvig once owned this store before selling it to an employee to focus on the Ames location. Both stores purchase dogs from Century Farm Puppies and New Design Kennel/Illusion Japanese Chin and Callison Long has USDA reports on those breeders.
A local contact offered to host the pet store protests if Callison Long would bring in volunteers to help spread the word there. They protested initially the first weekend in June with a smaller number of people. The store owner and some of his friends were menacing toward the protesters according to Callison Long. During the week, the pet store started to post statements prior to the next protest.
“We had a group of 15 make and we were quietly protesting,” she says. “At first it was fine, until the huge trucks showed up to block us. The first hour and a half went just fine, until the owner's wife came out.
“I tried to be polite and shake her hand, while explaining that I had been to the mill. She took my hand, clawed me with her nails and threw my hand down. After that, she was furious... That is when the camera started rolling. I was very proud of the protesters for keeping their cool while being heckled.”
Callison Long’s group focuses on peaceful pet store protests – they answer questions but don’t shout or do anything to make matters worse. She pointed out that prior to the incident at the protest, the store owner, breeder and their supporters had been posting information stating that this particular store sells puppies from local breeders who can’t sell their pups.
“Now, through all of my research, I have found that pet stores must use USDA licensed breeders,” she adds. “They are not allowed to use local, unlicensed breeders as that further aids backyard breeders and illegal puppy mills in making a profit. I am waiting to hear back from the state of Iowa to see whether or not that is legal. According to the ASPCA, it isn't.”
“Never once have I had people react the way that they did on Saturday,” says Callison Long. “Insane is the word that I have been using to describe it. Sure, in Ames we have had a few people who mutter a cuss word or two as they run by us. But to have a mob of people standing behind us heckling, and the store owner's wife screaming at protesters? The whole thing was very laughable.”
The conflict from the pet store protests has boiled over into the week as the two sides battle it out on social media sites. Supporters of the store have taken the mantra “Shop, Don’t Adopt” and have issued some threats to the group (see link). Callison Long’s group continues to point to the information they’ve obtained about the breeders and suppliers. It’s information that she’s gathered over several years of research.
“I have visited several puppy mills here in Iowa, as well as some in Missouri,” says Callison Long. “I have also been to four auctions in Iowa, plus a few in other states as well. One auction I went to had consigned dogs from New Design Kennel (breeder that supplies our pet stores). Her dogs were in horrid conditions - many were missing teeth, eyes and had open hernias (among other issues that the auctioneer noted).”
That has prompted her to step up and say and do more. She has raised funds for rescues on her Bailing Out Benji page. One fundraiser brought in around $2,000 and helped save the lives of over 40 dogs. She transports dogs and cats, speaks in the classrooms and has had an educational booth at Petco that covers puppy mills, pet adoption, pet food and safety.
“Our intent is not to see the store closed down, we just want them to adopt a more humane business model. Dale has several letters from me begging him to change his mind. Pride does play a huge role in this, but both parties know how to get the protesting to stop.”
In Chicago, The Puppy Mill Project has worked with three stores – Dog Patch Pet and Feed in Naperville, Thee Fish Bowl in Evanston and Collar & Leash in the city – to help them go humane. All stores now adopt out animals instead of selling pets from puppy mills and kitten mills.
Callison Long says that she has a tremendous group of supporters - her angels as she likes to call them - that participate in the pet store protests to get the word out. And, those protests will continue in Iowa. On Saturdays, they’ll be front and center at both pet stores. They start the Day at Dyvigs from 10:30 a.m. to 13:30 p.m. and will be at Critter Nation from 2 to 4.
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