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, April 29 from 12-2, we will be protesting against Tom Collins’ Pick of the Litter and Petland for their animal rights violations. This will be our fourth 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

Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Training (But Were Afraid to Ask)

In character, in manner, in style, in all things, the supreme excellence is simplicity. – Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Boots and Bee Photography - By Brittany Graham

Boots and Bee Photography – By Brittany Graham

Entering into a new training session, there are always a few consistencies.  I have only two hours to accomplish many things:

  • Gain the trust of the humans
  • Gain the trust of the dog(s)
  • Ascertain the situation
  • Develop a game plan for addressing the behavior issues
  • Create bonds of communication between dog and owner
  • Have fun.

It doesn’t necessarily happen in that order, but that’s a pretty good synopsis of everything I can accomplish in two hours.  It seems like a lot, but as I’ve stated numerous times, dogs aren’t stupid. I also believe that (most) people aren’t stupid either. There are, of course, occasionally the incredible human exceptions.  Dogs, however, are amazingly simple.  That’s why I’m able to keep my training sessions short and simple.  Remember, there is nothing wrong with your dog; he just sucks at being human.  And most people are pretty decent humans; they just suck at being dogs.  So, simply put, we need some communication going on, not a bunch of rules and regulations about how the two species should interact.  Three steps to working with your dog; that’s all it takes for any situation involving a dog to be solved.

I firmly believe dogs ask questions.  We’ve already agreed that dogs aren’t stupid, so of course they ask questions.  They’re curious creatures, and aside from wanting to know about their world around them, they want to know what you think of the world around them.  How should they react?  Should they react? And most importantly, is it time to eat?!

3-17-16-1

All of their questions can be answered, but not all of them necessarily need to be answered.  There are simply some that must be answered.  But more on that in a moment.

Working with your dog involves 3 components: Piloting, Activity and Work, or what we refer to as The PAW Method.  To break it down:

Piloting: Answer your dog’s questions. They only ask “yes/no” questions, so it’s pretty easy to do!  Learn how here.

Activity: Keep ‘em moving and active.  Ever experience something called a runner’s high?  Yeah, well, neither have I, but I hear it’s wonderful, and dog’s are addicted to it. They need their Activity, and either you give it to them, or they figure out how to get it themselves, and that’s never a good thing.

sled

Work: Dogs aren’t stupid, nor are they merely knick-knacks strewn about your house to be idly admired: they are thinking beings with cognitive abilities that we still haven’t fully explored in the tens of thousands of years they’ve been with us.  In other words, keep them mentally engaged. A bored dog is truly a destructive force.

03-17-16-2

That’s the groundwork, your foundation.  Make it a good, strong foundation, and you can build upon it by answering your dog’s questions. Dogs are binary, which means every question they ever ask you will require a “yes” or a “no”, which is different than “good” or “bad”.  Your dog is incapable of being bad: he will always choose what’s right for a dog, which may be in direct conflict of what’s right for a human.  Remember, you are merely answering questions for your dog, not punishing them, nor should you be inflicting pain or fear upon a dog.

Using “yes” and “no” can be very confusing.  When do you give negatives, and when do you use positives?  Simple.

Negatives/No

1) When you don’t like what your dog is doing.  Sounds simple enough, but you wouldn’t believe how many people don’t understand that “No” is a complete sentence and can be used liberally.  Ask yourself, “Do I like this behavior that Fido is doing?”  If the answer is “no”, then give them a negative.  Anything from jumping, barking, and getting on furniture to the simple questions Fido may ask on a walk: “Do we turn left here?”.  If the answer is “no”, then give them a negative!  Remember negative doesn’t mean bad, it just means “no”.

So how do you answer a dog’s questions?

Use your body language to answer these questions. If your dog is staring at a treat on the floor and then at you, he’s asking if he can have it. If you do not want your dog to have it, answer his question by walking in between him and the treat, facing him, with the treat behind you. This means that you are “claiming” the treat. You can move into his personal space to back him off it a bit.  Once he’s engaged with you, nothing, or everything (in other words, looking anywhere but at the treat), remove your strong body language by walking to the side or away from him. This shows him that he is giving you the correct response: accepting that the treat is yours. If he looks at your treat again, simply use the body language again.

Think of it as a game of hot/cold.  His question is, “Can I have that?”  The answer is “No”. You answer his question using that body language.  When he accepts the answer (looking at you, everything, or nothing, but definitely NOT looking at the treat), then you’re finished.  Remove your negative body language.  You may have to put the negative body language right back on him if he immediately tries to go for it, but that’s natural – it may take him a few times to accept your answer.  Remember, remaining calm is the key.  Anger should never be a part of this exercise.

So again, Piloting is answering a dog’s questions. You would answer the question in the same way if he is asking if something is a threat (stand between your dog and the perceived threat, facing your dog, and simply back him off while standing up straight). Pretty easy, huh? The more you show your dog that you are capable of being in control and the Pilot, the more your dog will be able to relax and actually be a dog. He’ll look to you for guidance instead of feeling as though he needs to protect you and your family from every garbage can, dog and plastic bag in the neighborhood.

2) When your dog is “Yo, Bitch”-ing you.  Wow….there’s a term.  What’s “Yo, Bitch”, anyway?   Symptoms include: slapping you with their paw, trampling you, pushing you out of your seat on the couch.  Basically, any behavior that would translate to : “Yo Bitch, give me a cookie”, or “Yo Bitch, pet me”.  It’s as detrimental to your healthy relationship with your dog as it would be in any human relationship!  Respect yourself enough to expect respect from your dog.  Your dog is perfectly capable of a “May I Please?” instead of a “Yo, Bitch”, and you know the “May I Please?” look.  It goes something like this:

03-17-16-5

 

“May I Please” ….have a cookie?  Go for a walk? Jump in your lap?  All of these can be answered with a “yes” or a “no”.  Your choice.  But if your dog is “Yo, Bitch”-ing you, the answer must be a negative.  Don’t accept a bully dog‘s behavior.

Positives/Yes

1) The “come” command.  Always, always, always…positive.  Give them a treat. Tell them how wonderful they are!  Scratch their belly.  Whatever it takes to get them to understand that what they did was wonderful.  If you need help with “recall/come”, check out this link.

2) Asking a dog to do a “human” behavior.  Your dog is a perfect dog, and can be expected to do dog things wonderfully.  Being a human, on the other hand…well, that’s a little different.  Any time you are asking your dog to do something that another dog couldn’t ask them to do, you must use positive reinforcement.  For example, a dog will tell another dog to go away, or play, or stay away from their toy.  But they don’t teach each other English (sit, stay, come, etc.), nor do they teach each other tricks.  If you ask a dog to do a human thing, make it worth their while.

3) When they’re calm.  This is the most important of all. I always tell my clients I want “calm” to be like a lottery ticket:

1) you have to play to win;
2) You probably aren’t going to win; and
3) But unless you’re holding a ticket, you’re definitely not going to win.

I want your dog holding a many lottery tickets as possible.  Because the more tickets they have, the better their chances are at winning.  Reward calm any chance you get, and pretty soon Fido will understand that “calm” is like a magic button he can press that will (sometimes) get him exactly what he wants.  If you see your dog sleeping on the floor, give him a gentle scratch behind the ears.  If you’re cuddling on the couch, give him gentle praise for being calm.

And remember, calm is about progress, not perfection. So if you’re dealing with separation anxiety, just reward progress.  If you are crate training, but your dog in the crate and walk into the other room.  He’s going to escalate to a decibel 11….simply wait him out until he goes down to an 8 before re-entering the room.  You are trying to catch a behavior: increased calm.  It’s not always immediate, and it is rarely perfect, but that doesn’t mean the behavior isn’t there to catch.  Make sure you reward it.

So let’s break everything down:

Your dog needs Piloting, Activity and Work (the foundation).  Only once you have given them what the need are you able to build upon that foundation by answering your dog’s questions using “yes/no”.  Pretty simple.  You’ll notice I didn’t give a lot of rules.  I hate rules.  They don’t take into account human and dog personalities.  I know many trainers who:

-Insist a dog should never be on your bed.  Why not?  I sleep better snuggled next to a dog.  Just remember it’s your bed, and your choice who is in it.

-Don’t give your dog people food. Because….?  My dogs get plenty of people food (in a healthy moderation, of course).  If it isn’t on the lethal list (grapes, onions, chocolate, etc.), and your dog isn’t “Yo, Bitch-”ing you for the food, go ahead!  Just remember, it’s their right to beg for food, (“Can I have some?”) just as it’s your right to answer “no”.  

- Never play rope toy/tug/wrestle with your dog because then they’ll know they can beat you.  News flash:  my dog already knows they can beat me.  Using that logic I should never run with my dog because they are faster.  Playing rope/tug/wrestling with your dog is all about setting your boundaries.  We bond through play, and this is a prime way to do it…if you wish.  Set your boundaries.  For example, when Sparta and I play, I have very limited rules:  she’s allowed to knock me down, grab the rope, even (carefully) bite me.  But the second I feel it has gotten too rough, I give her a negative, and she instantly stops.  Some days I’m up for a WWF-style match, other days I’m only good for a drastically diminished version.  Just because we romped hard yesterday doesn’t mean that’s what our game is going to be about today.  You set the rules for each and every match…anything from “no rules” to “not playing at all” is acceptable.  Think of it like Fifty Shades of Grey:  Anything’s okay so long as you are both okay with it.  That includes not wrestling at all.

grey

So stop complicating your bond with Fido.  No more lengthy list of rules and regulations trying to define your relationship with your dog.  Your bond is unique:  just as there will never be another bond like I had with my first dog, Darwin, there will never be another bond like the dog you have with your dog.  So no more One Size Fits All training style, nor endless rules for working with your dog..  Only you know what you need from your relationship with your dog, and now you have the foundations to build that relationship.

Keep calm and pilot on

Kerry Stack
Darwin Dogs
Dog Training in Cleveland, Ohio