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Trish Mitchell Headshot

The Battle of Oscar's Law

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DOG BEHAVIOR

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You're a dog lover, right? You probably wouldn't be reading this if you weren't.
Well. Imagine having a horribly abused little dog you'd rescued from an unspeakable puppy farm being ripped out of your arms in the middle of the night by the police. And returned to his abusers.

That's exactly what happened to Debra Tranter in 2010. This is her story. It's also Oscar's story. I hope it moves you the way it moves me.

Debra Tranter is the founder of www.oscarslaw.org -- an Australian people-power lobby group to ban puppy farms in the state of Victoria. Oscar is the dog taken from the distraught Debra's arms. But, more about that horrible night later.

As most of us know these days, the global industry of factory farming of puppies for profit is a legal, though cruel and unconscionable trade which supplies puppies to retail pet stores and the internet.

Debra began her relentless anti-puppy farm campaign back in 1993, when no-one knew they existed.

She received an anonymous phone call that year, while volunteering at an animal welfare centre. The caller spoke of 1000 dogs kept on the outskirts of the Victorian country town of Ballarat, breeding for the pet shop industry.

"I immediately passed on the information to experienced campaigners; they all told me it was a hoax and not to bother about it. There was something about the caller's voice, though, that convinced me this was real," says Debra.

"A friend and I then spent 3 months looking for this property, all we knew was that it was hidden in a pine plantation, so we walked through every one we could find on our map. We eventually stumbled across it."

And what they saw took their minds away.

"I was paralysed, I could not comprehend what we were seeing. We stood on top of a cliff and looked down at hundreds of dogs all pacing the same pattern. My friend and I sat still and simply stared for hours. When it became dark, we entered the property and spent about 5 hours filming and taking photos. We were appalled to see dogs living in 44 gallon drums -- matted dogs, sick dogs, broken dogs."

Loving dogs and hating injustice, that night Debra went home and typed up a media release. She coined the phrase "Prisoners for Profit" (hyperlink here) and the next day the footage made headlines around Australia. That was the start of her 19-year campaign to expose and abolish puppy factories.

"At first puppy farmers simply ignored all my written complaints, thinking I would go away. But I persisted and have had some success in getting dogs seized and getting the puppy farmers brought before the courts. It is very frustrating process, as the law currently protects to puppy farmers and they know how to use the law to their advantage.

One puppy farmer has adjourned his court case 4 times over 2 years, meanwhile his dogs remain inside one of the worst sheds I have encountered, still breeding to supply pet shops.

Since 1993, Debra has devoted her life to saving puppy farm dogs -- a long and at times wrenching struggle.

How does she keep going?

"It's simple," she explains.

"Every time i enter a puppy factory I make a promise to those dogs that I will not turn my back on them; that I will do everything in my power to expose what they are enduring. Puppy factories are the ultimate betrayal of our best friends and I cannot ever stop until this brutality is abolished.

I am transported back to the sheds in everything I do and see. Its almost like I am walking between two worlds. Seeing someone walking their dog in the park will immediately take me back to the sheds, thinking of the dogs that will never experience life the way they should. I wake up every day thinking 'what can I do to help my dogs today?' I've come to think of these dogs as mine -- that's what keeps me going."

So, how did the Oscar's Law campaign come about?

"I rescued Oscar in January 2010 from a terrible puppy factory in Central Victoria. He needed urgent vet attention. His fur was so matted it was restricting his movement, he had ear infection, rotten teeth, inflamed gums, and he was severely malnourished."

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"I spent the next week nursing Oscar after his vet work and calling all the authorities in an attempt to help the other dogs in that shed."

But instead of offering help, police raided Debra's house at midnight whilst Oscar was still recovering from surgery. They literally wrenched him out of her arms and returned him to the puppy factory. Debra was arrested for theft and fined $1500."

After she was released from the police station, Debra was distraught to the point that she could not function.

"I ended up driving to the country and sat under a tree for hours just sobbing. I had failed this little dog, he had experienced freedom and love only briefly. I grieved for Oscar and could not bear to think of what he was going through.

At that moment of deep sorrow, I questioned my style of campaigning, what -- if anything -- it had achieved in 18 years? My belief that simply showing the horrific images from inside the sheds would shut the industry down was not working. I thought of quitting, but give up on these dogs? I couldn't live with that."

Debra kept saying to herself: "I wish there was a law I could use to help Oscar, to help all these dogs gain freedom, I want Oscar's Law."

It was then, using strength that Oscar had given her, she saw her way through her grief and began to focus on a more empowering campaign -- she would make Oscar's Law happen.

So here we are in late 2011, and the Oscar's Law campaign has had significant success through social networking.

"I found that graphic images make people feel sad and powerless. Social networking has been important in helping us get our campaign out there", Debra says.

"People like to feel that they can do something. By letting them know the power is in their hands, people to feel empowered and engaged with the campaign.

Our best friends deserve so much better, they deserve this fight" she claims.

"In the end, it will be everybody all together who will achieve Oscar's Law."

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Debra Tranter for President of the World, I say.