Yesterday, Jana Kohl, my friend and one of the top animal advocates in the nation, appeared on Good Morning America to talk about her new book, "A Rare Breed of Love: The True Story of Baby and the Mission She Inspired to Help Dogs Everywhere." She did a magnificent job, and so did Baby—the gentle little dog who survived nine years as a breeding female at a puppy mill and whom Jana rescued from that grim fate.
This book is designed to inspire a movement against puppy mills, and it’s doing just that. Jana is traveling around the nation, urging people to take note of an industry that exploits dogs and profits from their exploitation. And she’s got a special ambassador in the form of the vulnerable creature she rescued.
Please do pick up this book, and commend it to others. If you’re in one of the many cities that Jana and Baby are visiting between now and the end of July or will be attending Taking Action for Animals, please try to meet them in person. And then join us in the crusade to eliminate this terrible industry.
Jana was kind enough to ask me to write the introduction for the book, and I have pasted it below with the permission of Fireside/Simon & Schuster, the publisher.
This book is much more than a story about a girl and her dog. It’s a story of two lives changed forever by an act of compassion.
From the moment that Jana Kohl caught a glimpse of a beaten-down, frail, and forgotten ten-year-old poodle, there was no turning away. Jana adopted that old girl who had been rescued from her hardship as a breeding female at a puppy mill in California. And now, with this beautiful book, Jana is going back to help the ones left behind.
The book is about transformation. The author has had a lifelong concern about animal cruelty, but only a more recent awareness of its scope and the acute misery and loneliness so many animals endure at puppy mills, research laboratories, factory farms, and other places where they are treated like commodities or mere objects. With this knowledge, things could never be the same for Jana, and so she has become one of the leading advocates for animals in this nation. She has helped to transform the lives of millions of abused animals, and Baby has been a remarkable motivator.
While serving as a breeding machine at the puppy mill, Baby didn’t have a name—just a number. She was number 94, which was tattooed on the inside of her ear. She was one of tens of thousands of breeding females languishing in cages at puppy mills throughout America, and just one of the victims at the puppy mill in California. A name replaced a number. There are millions of dogs at puppy mills, but they suffer one at a time.
The book is also about remembering. Jana adopted Baby, but she never forgot that she had to leave behind so many other dogs with numbers. She knew she could not personally rescue them all. So she decided she must throw a spotlight on puppy mills, convinced that when enough people learn about these wretched places, reforms in the law will follow.
There is a right way and a wrong way to relate to animals. Baby had been confined and neglected at the puppy mill. In her new life, Baby is out of the cage, a world away from the torments of the puppy mill, in a life filled with kindness and companionship. Now Jana and Baby go everywhere together. I’ve seen the sight for myself, and it’s a beautiful expression of the human-animal bond.
The book is about forgiveness, too. Baby went through so much, and such traumas can affect a dog forever. Her suffering at the puppy mill even led to the loss of a leg. You’d think she’d be bitter or aggressive toward people as a consequence—and you could hardly blame her if she were. But every time I see Baby, I know that I am in the presence of a gentle, loving, and trusting creature. She has all the best qualities of her species, and that says a lot.
In the pages that follow, you’ll see the images of Baby with many famous and powerful people. She has become a kind of ambassador for all dogs suffering in puppy mills. She reminds us of the life force in every creature and the will to live that is as strong in animals as it is in each one of us.
But for all the power of Baby’s story, no one creature can solve the problem of puppy mills and other forms of animal exploitation. It’s a human problem—a problem caused by a hard-hearted few—and it is for us to solve with reforms in law. Puppy mills exist because we have allowed greed and callousness to trump kindness and mercy. With better laws and rigorous enforcement, we can close these places down forever.
We are an animal-loving culture, with anticruelty laws in all of the states, more than 165 million dogs and cats in our homes, and annual spending on our companion animals now exceeding $40 billion. There are more sophisticated veterinary medical procedures administered than ever before, and through these often costly human interventions, we are extending the lives of dogs and cats like never before and improving the quality of their lives.
We have Animal Planet on television. Book publishing on animals, animal behavior training, and animal advocacy have never been so robust. And philanthropy for animals is surging, with one successful high-tech entrepreneur now in the process of turning over more than $1 billion toward the plight of homeless pets.
Yet at the same time, animal abuse is rampant. We keep animals in intensive confinement for food production on factory farms. We kill tens of millions of animals for fur, even though we have perfectly viable alternatives. Tens of thousands of people stage dogfights and cockfights and gamble on the outcomes. And, of course, we have the entire puppy mill industry, with perhaps as many as ten thousand of these mills now operating in this country alone. Even as this tawdry industry is churning out more than five million puppies a year for the pet trade, nearly four million healthy and treatable dogs and cats in shelters are euthanized each year because no one would adopt them.
At the mills, the dogs typically live in squalid and overcrowded conditions, housed in wire cages that do not shelter them from harsh winds of winter or the beating sun in summer. The puppies shipped off at eight weeks of age or even younger are often sick as a result of their unhealthy living conditions and their stressful lives. The animals produced by puppy mills are often inbred, and the animals sold through pet stores or on the Internet will suffer for a lifetime with their genetic defects.
With hundreds and sometimes thousands of dogs at a single puppy mill, and just a handful of workers who barely keep up with feeding and watering the animals, there is social deprivation and an utter absence of human attention. As people walk by, the dogs bark and jump, yearning for a gentle pat or a loving word. But there’s no such generosity offered, and it would be unthinkable to play ball with them or allow them to sleep in the bed.
Understanding this problem is the first necessary step in solving it. Animal abuse and exploitation may not be the worst of the world’s problems, but it’s not far down the list in my mind. And when the alternatives to harming animals are so practical and achievable—adopting animals from shelters and rescue groups rather than purchasing them from pets stores and puppy mills—we must not turn away from the responsibility.
This is a magical and poignant and uplifting book, and I hope you will share it with friends and acquaintances. And once you’ve spent time with it, I hope you will join in helping to solve this problem. Baby showed us how much love and devotion just one dog had to offer. And in puppy mills and shelters across the world, there are millions of others just like her.
From A RARE BREED OF LOVE by Jana Kohl. Copyright © 2008 by Jana Kohl. Reprinted by permission of Fireside, a Division of Simon & Schuster, Inc.