Open Letter to Tom Collins, Puppy Mill Broker

Companies should not have a singular view of profitability. There needs to be a balance between commerce and social responsibility…

– Howard Schultz

Robin, don't be a douche

Robin, don’t be a douche!

Hi Tom.  (You don’t mind if I call you “Tom”, right?).  I don’t think we’ve been formally introduced..  I’m Kerry Stack.  Dog lover, animal rescuer, Supernatural fan girl.

dog dean

A German Shepherd and Dean Winchester in a ’67 black Chevy Impala. It’s on my Christmas list every year.

One thing you may not know about me is that I’m passionate about animal rights. You may be asking yourself what the purpose of this letter is.  Well, to put it bluntly, I’m truly hoping you can convince me that you are passionate about animal rights as well.

I’m aware that you run “Pick of the Litter” pet store in South Park Mall in Strongsville, Ohio.  Let’s just say that the results of a  search for reviews of your establishment have been less than stellar.  Reports of sick animals.  Stories of puppies stuffed into fish tanks.  And of course, the allegations that your animals are coming from puppy mills.  Knowing how the internet can sometimes be more of a lynch mob than a school of thought and logic, I think it’s you deserve to get a fair shake, and have your say.

So I ask you:

Why the fish tanks? With pine chips?

Yeah, I know puppies can be destructive little twerps sometimes.  As soon as you clean up a mess from them, they are off to make another.  And given your choice of (ahem) profession, I can see why you would need to keep them contained.

In fish tanks? On pine chips?

Two  dogs, one fish tank.

Two dogs, one fish tank.

Where are these guys supposed to run?  Play?  Not inhale sawdust?  I understand that you are in the business of selling dogs for profit, but is the most profitable way to sell them is to stuff them in fish tanks?  I’m aware that other puppy mill brokers pet shops such as yours (ahem: Petland) need to keep track of their inventory puppies, and that it’s better than the wire cages that Petland utilizes….

But that's like saying the guy on the left is cuter.

But that’s like saying the guy on the left is cuter.

Inhaled and ingested wood chips, small, confining fish tanks for puppies?  Seriously, you can do better.

Tanks!

…and that’s not a challenge.

What are your responses to the allegations that your dogs lack fresh water and adequate health care?

According to Lisa*, who purchased a pup, the puppies are unable to use the hamster water bottles placed in all the cages.  Luckily she is a veterinary technician, because her puppy almost died from lack of care given by Pick of the Litter:

 

 I am a registered veterinary technician so I had fluids on hand I gave him. I just remember him being very lethargic and dehydrated. As soon as I gave him fluids and some food he perked up. And then I realized as I was trying to give him water in a bowl he was just putting his mouth in the bowl but he didn’t understand he had to lick. He loved licking my hands though so I started putting my hand in the bowl for him and that is the only way he would drink any water for over a week until he figured it out. So since I couldn’t be home 24/7 I would supplement him with the fluids. All you have to really do is go in there and look at the gums on the dogs and if they feel tacky or if you pull on there[sic] skin and it doesn’t go right back they are dehydrated. My dog had both of these signs.
Unfortunately, this lack of concern does not sound like the actions of a person who has an animal’s best interests at heart.  There have been numerous stories of peoples’ contracts with your business being voided because they took their puppies to a vet other than your own personal vet.
Consider the story of John & Cindy Yakim who purchased a puppy from Pick of the Litter in 2013:
 I didn’t check the background of this pet store at all. First mistake.  Within the first 24 hours she was dying do [sic] to pneumonia. They told us at the store to bring her back and a portion of her purchase price could go towards another dog. Of course we didn’t do that and took her to our own vet. Some $4000.00 later she got well.  The store told us as soon as we took her to are own vet any contract was on null and void. I love my dog very much but feel I would rescue one from a shelter all though if I didn’t purchase her she would have been left for dead and no records would show how many puppies die in there[sic] care. I also feel she was not the breed that they told us she was. The callous nature of the sales and facility should have been my first deterrent.   The girl’s name was Diane and was dating the owner at the time. They wanted us to bring her in and they would take her to there [sic] vet. Never once did they give a name. She was close to dying at our vets and once they heard that the deal was off ( in there [sic] words). If any paperwork from our vet would help your cause I could get. We are not opposed of using our name. I have heard almost the same story regarding this store. I am personally sad they are still open.

Who is this “personal vet”, and why are the the “health records” you provide from said vet  (according to at least 3 testimonials I’ve received so far) merely some scribbles on a note card, if they even exist at all? If your standards are high, then why would a second opinion from a new dog owner’s vet be of concern to you?  Are you unable to stand by your puppies’ health?  Because the list of illnesses and congenital defects found in the puppies you sell are staggering:

- ear infections
- giardia
- patellar luxation (knee problems that require surgery)
- parasites
- heartworm
- pneumonia 
…and the list goes on.  It would seem that any diseases that are common in puppy mills, your puppies seem to get.  Which brings me to my final question:

 

Where do you get your puppies from?

The answers I’m receiving from previous customers and even some of your own friends and acquaintances are truly disturbing

I interviewed Cathy*, a former friend of yours.  She had initially defended you (on the Darwin Dogs’ Facebook page) from the allegations made against you.  She soon realized the awful truth.  Here’s what she had to say only one day later:

I have know Tom for years. I believe he once had compassion and truly tried and wanted to help animals. Last night I argued with numerous people on sight defending him. Now I have never supported the aquarium “cages” it not healthy in my opinion. But long story short after defending the man I knew who truly had a heart of gold I reached out to a few people who have close contact with him. I myself haven’t seen him in at least 4-5 years. Today I was given confirmation he DOES in fact get his dogs from Puppy Mills. He has a broker who obtains them from the mills. He said everyone does it. He claims to have local breeders which is a blatant lie. Please understand that this was devastating news for me to hear. I trusted him, I believed in him and I defended him. But today my respect ended. Today I learned he has become a money hungry monster seeking fortune at the expense of these helpless defenseless dogs.  … So to get confirmation that Tom is in fact utilizing Mill Puppies to stock his store. It’s inexcusable! I am extremely sorry I defended him last night. I’m extremely sorry to now know he in fact is using Mills. Thank you for doing what you do. Awareness makes a difference!!! Like the awareness of a man I respected is now an enemy to me.  Again my apologies for my defending him. But the sources and information today come from people close to him that are well aware of his doings. I hope the protest is wonderful and raises questions for many and changes are made. Thank you.

There’s a pretty slippery slope when it comes to selling animals.  For a lot of unwary and unsuspecting soon-to-be pet owners, it can be difficult to determine if a pet you’re considering purchasing is from a puppy mill or from a reputable breeder.  In short, some pretty damning evidence and testimony has been uncovered regarding your business practices and the inhumane treatment of your “stock”, or as we refer to them: pets, animals, living beings.  We await your response, Tom Collins.UPDATE - On January 2, 2017 we started receiving some messages from supporters of yours, including the following.  Please explain this, Tom.
It's okay, he's "rescuing" them from puppy mills.  And by "rescuing" he means "brokering".

It’s okay, he’s “rescuing” them from puppy mills. And by “rescuing” he means “brokering”.  Thanks for the clarification, Lynnette!

On Saturday, October 21, from 11-1, we will be protesting against Tom Collins and Petland for their animal rights violations. This will be our third protest against the cruelties inflicted by the puppy mill industry.  Please join us  for a peaceful demonstration against such practices as listed above. Attendees are encouraged to wear animal rights clothing, and carry signs indicating their disgust and revulsion of such blatant animal rights abuses.  We will be meeting in the Southpark Mall lot across the street from Panera, on Royalton Road.  The address is 500 SouthPark Center
Strongsville, OH 44136.  For more information, please visit our Facebook events page.  Thank you.
 Keep calm and pilot on
Kerry Stack
Darwin Dogs
Dog Training in Cleveland, Ohio
*Some names in this post have been changed for privacy

Personally Speaking

I am a great believer in found families and I’m not a great believer in blood.

Joss Whedon

Puppies-at-a-pet-shop-in--001

A few weeks ago I was chatting online with a friend of mine.  He wanted to know what I thought about a certain “breed”of designer dog.  His wife wanted one for the family, and she had fallen in love with a friend’s new puppy, and they wanted one, too.  He told me that the puppy was from a well-respected “breeder”.  They got the information on a breeder website….as in, “We breed schoodles, morkies and shih-poos…”.  As soon as I saw that, flags went up.  This wasn’t a breeder – this was a puppy mill.

I tried to explain to him that respectable breeders didn’t advertise online.  Nor did they specialize in more than one breed, let alone claim to be breeders of dogs that aren’t even a breed.  Unfortunately, it all fell on deaf ears.  They proceeded to purchase a puppy.  I don’t believe they even set foot in a shelter.  Rather than rescuing a new family member, they attempted to purchase a designer label.  But at what cost?

Puppy Mills

We all know the horror behind-the-scenes of a puppy mill.  We’ve seen the numerous dogs who were rescued.  I’ve worked with dogs who were saved from years spent in a tiny 2′x2′ crate, giving birth to litter after litter in squalid conditions.  These dogs are no more than livestock, there as a commodity, conditions be damned.  Each one of those viable puppies is worth between $800-$1000.  Unfortunately, those chasing after the supposed prestige that comes with having a purebred dog usually don’t want to pay purebred prices.  So they buy a knockoff.  Unfortunately, just like knockoff Prada, someone always pays the price, usually behind the scenes.  Child labor in sweatshops or abused and neglected animals. Both victims of the “designer” label.

ipj53

 

If you buy from a real breeder, you should feel as if you are applying for the CIA.  Background checks may be involved.  These are their lives’ work!  A breeder’s dogs are more like a family dog/work of art/live’s mission all rolled into one.  They will never let ou pick a dog from their litter – they interview you to find out which one of their puppies’ personalities will fit best in your household.  In other words, they have dogs, not investments. They aren’t a money making device!  Breeders typically don’t breed their dogs more than a handful of times in the dogs entire life!  According to Animal Rescue Corps., dogs in a mill have a much different schedule:

“Females are bred repeatedly, usually twice a year, every year, until they can no longer produce puppies. This is incredibly stressful on their bodies but they are viewed as moneymaking machines, as disposable property, not as individuals with inherent worth. Female dogs are commonly bred before it is safe to do so because the earlier they start, the more puppies they will produce in a lifetime. Puppy mill breeding dogs are often given hormones and steroids to try and increase the number of puppies they produce. These drugs can cause extreme pain and serious side effects – all in an attempt to increase the number of puppies for profit.”

But at least you got your cute puppy.

Designer Puppies

I just got a new niece. Her mother is Chinese, and her father is a mix of Finnish and Irish.  The baby is beautiful.  However, I am intelligent enough to know that she is one of a kind. I can’t recreate her, no matter how hard I try, even with parents of the same ancestry.  She will always be unique, from her looks to her personality.  My own children don’t even look like they’re related to each other, and their personalities are about as polar as they can be.

River and Eric at their favorite ice-cream shop.

River and Eric.  Or as my husband and I call them, Machete and The Professor.

So why are you trying to recreate your neighbor’s adorable puppy, who happens to be a something-poo?  Your inability to realize that you can’t recreate a living being is disturbing to me.  I can understand having a type…. I personally prefer Am-Staffs (or pitties). I also love Shepherds.

Yes, Orion.  Papillons too.

Yes, Orion. Papillons too.

But here’s the thing:  I can rattle off why I love those breeds:  I love how fun-loving and goofy pitties are.  How they are desperate to have a rollicking good time and want nothing more than a good snuggle, followed by more fun.  I love how Shepherds are always so desperate to learn something new, and how absurdly stoic they can be.  I love how Papillions are such lively little creatures who are really too big on the inside for those tiny little bodies.  I love how they are just as rugged of a dog as a Coonhound or a Lab.  I understand that each dog in a specific breed will always have its own personality, it generally falls within a certain area.  If you’re going with a purebred, finding out breed standard for that specific breed is a very good start to having a wonderful companion rather than a chore, or even worse, an owner surrender to the local shelter.

In other words, I love these dogs based on more than how I think they look. When I asked my friend why they were heading towards the designer “breed” they had in mind, the response was, “he’s cute”.  Seriously, they’re basing living the next 10-15 years with a dog on nothing more than “he’s cute”.  Temperament is merely an afterthought.  As is exercise requirements and how much Piloting the dog will need.  It is imperative to come up with a list of wants vs. needs when choosing a new dog, whether it be from a shelter or a breeder!

Remember that a mutt (which is what your designer dog is) is a dog that can not be reliably bred to have a certain standard.  In other words, if I were breeding Golden Retrievers, I can with a high degree of certainty state that the next litter will contain pups who will grow to be a certain size, with a very predictable temperament (fun, easy going, eager to please, and friendly).  Same with Poodles:  I can reliably breed very intelligent and active dogs of a certain “look” who, while easy to train, want to know why they should be listening to you and not following their own orders.  (For that reason, I generally steer families with small children away from poodles.)  Now, let’s breed a Golden and a Poodle together.  What do you get?  Just about any mix of all these traits.  Anywhere from a dog who looks exactly like a Golden but acts just like a Poodle (and vice versa), to a complete blending of the two looks and temperaments.  In other words, a mutt.

Mutts are awesome, but just like every other dog, they must be judged on an individual basis before you decide to buy/adopt. Judge the dog on who they are, not what they appear to be.

You Blew Your Chance to Save A Life

Seriously, Robin.  Don't be a douche.

Seriously, Robin. Don’t be a douche.

Let’s not forget the biggest reason to adopt rather than shop. Or rather the 2.7 million reasons to adopt.  That’s the number of dogs and cats euthanized each year.  Yeah, sure, you can argue that you can only rescue one,and what’s “one” in the face of such a large number?

"Just one" is the most important number Boise can think of.  He only has a 1/600 chance of making it alive out any shelter.  Check out Boise, who's up for adoption, at the Cuyahoga County Animal Shelter.
“Just one” is the most important number this little guy can think of. He hopes it’s his, because as a pittie, he only has a 1/600 chance of making it alive out any shelter.

To be truthful, I had high hopes of convincing my friend not to shop for a puppy, especially not from a place that hit every single hallmark for being a puppy mill. I’d like to say this hasn’t changed how I view my friend, but there are only so many matted, filthy dogs I can help rehabilitate before it becomes personal.  Only so many dogs I can work with who are afraid of everything, who’ve never been outside their breeding box in the 2, 3 or even 8 years they’ve been on this planet, before I become judgmental and angry, even with longtime friends.  There’s a finite number to the dogs I can say goodbye to, and take them for their last long walk and few moments of fetch, before their time is up before it gets personal.

Yes.  It is personal.

Keep calm and pilot on

 

 

Kerry Stack
Darwin Dogs
Dog Training in Cleveland, Ohio

 

A Simple Solution

If you only have a hammer, you tend to see every problem as a nail.

Abraham Maslow

 

Pure-Bred-Pitbull-Puppies-In-ShelterI’ve done many blog posts regarding my thoughts on different types of shelters, how to adopt from a shelter, and even what to do with your new companion after adoption.  We all know that saving a life and adopting can be a very rewarding experience.  Shelter dogs can easily become beloved family members.

But wouldn’t it be great if you couldn’t adopt from a shelter because, well, there weren’t enough dogs to warrant shelters?

I think we all know that the number one cause of all the homeless pets is overpopulation.  Dogs do not experience reproductive limitations like humans do.  Female dogs can give birth well into old age, as they do not go through menopause. Male dogs are capable of impregnating a female dog in estrus at any time after puberty.  Obviously, with each litter ranging from 4-8 puppies (or more!) this is a serious problem.

 Overpopulation of dogs isn’t just an American problem:  it is estimated that there are 375 million stray dogs in the world.  We got a glimpse of this through the Sochi Olympics.  Who can forget the images of all those dogs wandering through the street?

Stray dogs in Sochi

Stray dogs in Sochi

India is even worse.  Conditions in India are ripe for supporting a feral and stray dog population, resulting in India having the highest number of human rabies deaths in the world (estimated at 35,000 per year) due to stray dog bites.  Massive amounts of trash remain uncollected in streets, providing these dogs with food, if sub-adequate at best.  Further, in 2001, a law went into effect making it illegal to kill these dogs.

So how is this problem solved?

Obviously spaying and neutering a dog is expensive and time consuming.  Trap and release efforts can cause funding issues, especially with female dogs, for whom surgery is far more difficult, expensive and invasive.

But there’s a new technique of sterilization that may revolutionize how we approach the animal overpopulation crisis, at least with male dogs.  It’s cheap, painless, and costs less than $1 per dog:  calcium chloride.  A simple solution.  After a light sedative, an injection is given to a male dog, which renders them sterile.  According to a recent Wall Street Journal article,

“In three studies published in October in a Scandinavian veterinary journal, researchers in Bari, Italy, tested a variety of doses and solutions in 80 dogs over one year and concluded that a 20% solution of calcium chloride in ethyl alcohol was optimal, rendering dogs “azoospermic” (without sperm) and reducing testosterone levels by 70%, with no adverse effects.”

Seems like a no-brainer!  Cheaper, safer for the dogs (no general sedative is needed and no incision).  Well, there’s a problem. Calcium chloride can’t be patented (kind of like how salt can’t be patented – it’s a common chemical).  Therefore, there is no money to be made by drug companies on this form of sterilization, which means nobody wants to go through the time and expense of shuttling this through the FDA for approval.  Without FDA approval, it’s difficult to convince shelters and vets that the method is safe and reliable.

Further muddling the issue is that animal testing would be required for FDA approval.  Now, I’m against animal testing.  Usually.  But logic dictates that testing a group of dogs by sterilizing them to prevent perhaps millions of other dogs from needlessly dying due to over population is quite obviously the much lesser of two evils. According to the ASPCA, roughly 2.7 million shelter animals are euthanized each year.

Think of the benefits that are being wasted by not utilizing chemical sterilization: medical costs for shelters would drop, both with the cost of neutering and after-care issues.  This method is insanely quick to administer, so just the sheer number of dogs who could be sterilized is staggering.  Dogs who are neutered using this method have a decreased amount of testosterone (similar to dogs who have been surgically neutered), leading to less wandering, marking and dominant behavior that is associated with un-altered males.

Quite obviously this isn’t the entire solution to the epic catastrophe that is over population, but it is a possible lifeline.  Break the cycle.  End the euthanasia at shelters, not because it’s a good or bad way to deal with unwanted pets, but because it isn’t needed anymore.

Keep calm and pilot onKerry Stack
Darwin Dogs
Dog Training in Cleveland, Ohio

…With Little Help From My Friends

Going to try with a little help from my friends
  – Billy Shears/The Beatles

Photo courtesy of kindnessblog.com

Photo courtesy of kindnessblog.com

On August 2, 2014 something extraordinary happened in Illinois: three third graders changed the law.  Brooke Martin, Claire Hackmann and Maddie O’Dell, after reading a book about two kids rescuing a dog from a puppy mill, decided to take action and change the world, even if just a little bit, for the better.

They contacted local politicians, and even did some lobbying in their own school.  End result?  Doubled penalties for animal abuse.  This is beautiful on so many levels, from the children learning about something terrible and deciding to do something about it, to the adults actually taking to heart the kids’ message.  Frequently adults pooh-pooh children.  Sometimes they remind us of some of the more important messages of all: change for the better.

If this trio, who still don’t have all their adult teeth yet, can achieve this lofty goal, what can we as adults do?  “Like” and re-post on Facebook?  Awesome, but that’s not a lot.  Let’s get real.  Let’s get our hands dirty.

Go to your local shelter and volunteer.  Write a letter (yes, and honest-to-God, pen-and paper letter!) to your congressman.  Demand protection for our animals.  What about starting a kibble kitchen in your neighbourhood? There are so many ways we can help.

So let’s take a cue from these lovely ladies.  Don’t worry about how big a job may be, or how difficult a problem is to overcome. Start chipping away at it.  These girls did.  So can you. Do you have any ideas to share about how to help the animals in your community?  Post them in the comment section below!

Keep calm and pilot onKerry Stack
Darwin Dogs LLC
Dog Training in Cleveland, OH

Ugly Truth

  My eyes were made to erase all that is ugly.

  – Raoul Dufy

"Ug"- Britain's reigning champion of the Ugliest Dog Contest

“Ug”- reigning champion of the World’s Ugliest Dog Contest

“What an ugly dog!  Wow…it looks like he fell out of the Ugly Tree and hit every branch on the way down.”

“Why yes, he most certainly does look that way!  He’s the winner of the World’s Ugliest Dog Contest.”  

I absolutely despise these Ugly Dog contests.  Yes, I realize that these dogs don’t have feelings like humans do – they really couldn’t care less what they look like.  Problem is, they are perfectly capable of caring what they feel like.

Every time I see a pic of a dog on Pinterest, or on Facebook, touting how ugly a specific dog is, I cringe.  Ever wonder why a dog might look like that?  Yes, some dogs are lucky enough to randomly draw from the wrong genetic material, but for the most part, these ugly dogs are made.

When a woman is pregnant, she takes many precautions against her health.  Pre-natal vitamins. Doctor visits. Getting enough rest.  Why?  So she can have a healthy, happy baby.  But what if we locked her up in a cage? Forbade her to bathe? Fed her sub-par food?  Never allowed her even the freedom of movement? Made her sleep on metal mesh flooring? That would be a horrible and despicable act against humanity! But think of this?  What would happen to her child, if she were even able to carry it to term?

The world has seen examples of what can happen to mothers who gave birth after periods of extreme deprivation. War and poverty has produced birth defects in babies.  Poor health as children.  It is a wretched cycle.

So…think again how that that funny little dog came to be so funny-looking.  Not so funny anymore.  And how about the concept of the world’s ugliest kid?  Not too appealing once you realize how they may have achieved that dubious title.  Instead of laughing and celebrating the health conditions that lead to the title “Ugliest”…what about education instead?  How did this dog get to be so unhealthy that it even effected his physical appearance?  Poor breeding at best.  Probably a puppy mill at its worst.  Disposable dogs for a disposable society.

4-8-14(2)

Poor Ug was at a local animal shelter.  Fortunately, he was adopted into a loving home, and renamed “Dough”.  Even his current owner has an interesting statement about him, though:

‘When people see him they do a double take. He looks comical with his bug eyes and cross teeth and he’s always bumping into things.”

Isn’t that hysterical?  He bumps into things because he’s so malformed!  Such a bringer of amusement!

Let’s stop it.  Other’s misfortune (yes, even animals’) is never legitimate source of humor.  Ellen DeGeneres has a wonderful quote about what’s funny and what isn’t:

Most comedy is based on getting a laugh at somebody else’s expense. And I find that that’s just a form of bullying in a major way. So I want to be an example that you can be funny and be kind, and make people laugh without hurting somebody else’s feelings.

Yes, dogs don’t have feeling based upon what they look like, but they do have feelings about how they got to look the way they do.  Let’s put energy into making sure there are no more contestants for the Ugly Dog Contest instead of giving an award that amounts to Ugliest Puppy Mill Survivor.

Doug, I’m sorry you went through what you did. You didn’t ask to look like this, nor did you ask for what happened to make you look like this.  But fortunately, beauty is indeed skin deep, as you’ve already shown your new owners.

Never again will I laugh at how ugly a dog is.

Ug, renamed Doug, photographed with his new owner, Skye

Ug, renamed Doug, photographed with his new owner, Skye

 

Kerry Stack
Darwin Dogs LLC
Dog Training in Cleveland, Ohio

Keep calm and pilot on