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Douglas Anthony Cooper Headshot

Thanks Cruella, But You Can Keep Your Puppy Mills

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Next year, 4 million dogs and cats will be killed in shelters. About 80% of those will have been healthy and adoptable. Some of us consider this a bad thing. Others, who consider it a good thing, will go to great lengths to justify their views. One woman -- a particularly loud and proud believer in the status quo (killing) -- has been repeating, ad nauseam, that those of us who would rather keep these innocent creatures alive must therefore be in favor of puppy mills.

First it's important to grasp the depth of this slander. Puppy mills aren't just bad: they're horrible. They are an effort to churn out as many pets as possible, without regard to the genetic health of these dogs, the circumstances of their birth and early lives, and their future lives and deaths in pet stores and often inadequate homes. The animals that are bred have it even worse: they are used, ruined, and discarded. Puppy millers tend to have nothing but contempt for animals: the dogs they produce are for them merely products, and if some of those products are, say, damaged or destroyed on the way to market, well that's the cost of doing business. The mills are gruesome places, where dogs are generally kept in barbaric conditions: tiny, filthy cages where they are fed poorly and made to sleep in excrement.

So. To have it suggested that you are in favor of puppy mills is about as ugly an accusation as you encounter in the world of animal rights or welfare: it is saying that you are in favor of the criminal abuse of animals.

This woman is especially vicious, but the truth is that you encounter this slander often if you embrace the No Kill Equation -- a program that you'd assume everyone would admire, as it has been proven to save at least 90% of animals taken into shelters.

Sometimes the slander is simply a result of sloppy thinking. Not everyone involved in the No Kill movement hates responsible breeders, for instance: I don't, even though I have never bred animals myself, and in fact spend a fair bit of time and money spaying and neutering street animals and rescues.

But these outraged souls are not capable of fine distinctions. To them, all breeders -- no matter how responsible -- are puppy millers. Hence, a professional with a graduate degree in biology who carefully works to breed out genetic weaknesses and to strengthen a line of dogs -- who produces perhaps three litters a year, and zealously tends to the health of all of her creatures -- is a "puppy miller."

I'll admit that lots of good and intelligent people -- probably the great majority of No Kill advocates -- believe that all breeding is wrong. I respect these people: there is always room for disagreement among allies. And you won't hear this puppy mill garbage from them, because they're capable of basic thought, and know a fair bit about the hell of actual puppy mills.

Not everyone who argues in favor of shelter killing is a rank moron by any means. Many simply refuse to believe that No Kill is possible, because they have not yet been presented with the overwhelming evidence of its success nationwide. These people are genuinely in error. I would never call them friends to puppy millers -- that's a loathsome charge, and many are convinced that they are doing the right thing by animals -- but they are unfortunately complicit in this irony: "Shelter Killing Benefits Puppy Mills."

So, that takes care of two groups virulently bent on undermining No Kill: those who can't think clearly, and those who can but simply don't have the right information.

The rest are liars.

Among the liars, some favor the extinction of domestic dogs and cats, and wish to achieve this state as quickly as possible. This is, depressingly enough, the approach of a certain mainstream branch of veganism. Thank God it is not true of all vegans, many of whom have joined the No Kill movement, and have embraced the somewhat veganesque idea of not killing shelter animals.

Others are upset that the No Kill movement tends to reveal uncomfortable facts about beloved organizations: PETA, for instance, which is perhaps the nation's most persistent cheerleader for shelter killing. Many would prefer that PETA's supporters stayed in the dark regarding this surprising policy. (Should you prefer the light, I recommend you read this: "Shocking Photos: PETA's Secret Slaughter of Kittens, Puppies." Alternately, you can go to the New York Times: "PETA Finds Itself on Receiving End of Others' Anger.")

Still others lie because they have personally worked for kill shelters; hence they cannot stand the idea of No Kill, as it demonstrates that they have been killing healthy dogs and cats unnecessarily.

The woman mentioned at the start -- that most vocal of slanderers -- falls into all of the above categories: confused, mistaken and (most of all) dishonest. A few days ago she sent the following, over Twitter, to a public figure whose work I admire: "Why are you following Douglas Anthony Cooper? Friend to puppy millers and factory farmers. No accounting for taste I guess."

When I encountered this, I was not especially calm. I fired off a series of perhaps intemperate responses, which I'll quote below. (Let's change the name to protect the unpleasant. We'll call her "Cruella.")

I sent a bouquet of messages to this woman, who was accusing me of enabling the ugliest form of animal abuse:

"But Cruella, don't you hang out with neo-Nazis, rapists and professional torturers? (See how easy it is to lie?)"

"Cruella, isn't it true that you want homosexuals stoned in public? & that you've strangled 6 kids? (Lying is fun!)"

"Cruella, aren't you the publicist for the Westboro Baptists? Don't they pay you in scalps? (Gosh I enjoy lying.)"

Finally I decided that I didn't really enjoy lying. Even humorous faux lies felt kind of wrong, not to mention juvenile. So I sent a last message:

"I'm trying to be amusing. I suppose I could just out you as a worthless, lying, dog-killing hypocrite."

The next morning, when I woke up, I couldn't remember precisely what I'd written. I was nervous: perhaps I'd been unnecessarily mean, or unfair -- both are possible, when you are truly enraged. So I logged in to Twitter.

Oddly enough, I found upon rereading them that I was reasonably happy with my words. They're not exactly polite -- "worthless" is harsh, for instance, and I hope not wholly accurate. I'd probably have stated things more elegantly, had I been in a yogic state of bliss. Still, these words are not really out of line, given the repulsive accusations that No Kill advocates have tolerated for years, for the simple crime of refusing to kill healthy dogs and cats.

Perhaps you're less impressed with my brief midnight rage. Before you judge me one way or the other, however, I strongly suggest that you read a little bit about No Kill, and what it is that I'm so passionate to defend. You might even discover that not killing dogs and cats is a wholesome and rewarding pastime. Start here: "No Kill 101."