The little Chihuahua was perched on the man’s shoulder, taking in the commotion of the festival. His tongue was permanently hanging out and I knew where the dog had come from before even starting the conversation. When my coworker commented about the dog being cute, that was when the conversation switched to puppy mills.
“He’s our puppy mill rescue.”
From there, the man talked about all the milestones their puppy mill rescue had achieved – from playing in the yard the first time to joining the pack to gaining confidence throughout the years. In the past year, he finally felt comfortable enough with the world to ride on his dad’s shoulder to go to a crowded event.
The Dog Days of Summer hosts the Dock Diving Dog Competition. The whole weekend is pet-focused with pet vendors and over eight rescues on hand and it's Lake County’s largest adoption event. In the past, the conversation has been about people's rescued dog or rescued cat. Now, it was more frequently about puppy mill rescues and the change underway in Illinois.
Throughout the weekend at the booth my company sponsored and throughout the event as I networked, I heard more pet families talk about how the story or photo of a puppy mill rescued dog (or dogs) had engaged them.
From young children to grandparents, there is now a shift in the conversation about where those pet store puppies come from. There is a also a whole new dialog as to what life has been like once a dog is free from the puppy mill. Some dogs settle in quickly, but many take along time to be what they've always should have been - a dog.
That face to face meeting with a dog rescued from a puppy mill is a turning point for many people who either didn't know or didn't want to know the truth before. After all these dogs have been through, it's hard for them to be in public at these events. That is why it's huge when some of the rescued puppy mill dogs are able to meet and greet or become a therapy pet or spokesdog. It has such a great impact.
Puppy mills and the dogs that live there are a part of my daily conversation. I hang out with the folks that stage educational protests at pet stores and run education programs at schools and elsewhere. My colleagues at The Puppy Mill Project have also worked with Chicago and Cook County lawmakers to outlaw the sale of dogs from puppy mills and cats from kitten mills in local pet stores.
As I get out to more pet events, I'm able to see that their work has had an impact on pet lovers and how we talk about pet sales and rescue. For once, other people were bringing up the new laws and talking about how important the pet store bans are.
One look in the eyes of their rescue or rescues tells the story better than any protests or testimony for local politicians. It is becoming a more natural conversation for pet lovers as they talk about the history of their beloved, furry family members. These moments become even more important as pet store owners making their living off the back of puppy mill dogs continue to misrepresent where they get their puppies and kittens.
Being involved in rescue and advocacy has a lot of highs and lows. There are weeks when you do feel like you are not making a difference. But, looking in the eyes of the Chihuahua riding high on his dad's shoulders, I know we have done just that. We've not only changed the laws regarding pet store sales of puppy mill dogs, we have changed the conversation about puppy mills - one dog at a time. And, we still have a way to go.
Here are some puppy mill rescues who have become advocates or who have come a long way since their rescue.
- Harley & Teddy - Puppy mill survivor rescues son and daughter during Harley to the Rescue & A dog's eye view of a puppy mill rescue
- Moxie - More than a little Moxie: Puppy mill rescue discovers freedom at 12
- Leo - Every dog deserves their very own bowl
- Lil' Olive - Lil' Olive: Was this puppy mill rescue dog to damaged to love
- Mimsy - Mimsy: A puppy mill rescue finds home
- Anna - The journey from puppy mill rescue to being a dog
- And, last but not least, Millie - Playtime for Millie: A puppy mill dog's spring day
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