Jana Kohl started her trip across the nation six weeks ago in Los Angeles to promote her new book, "A Rare Breed of Love," the story of her adopted dog Baby, a three-legged puppy mill survivor. She's concluding her tour Monday on the steps of the Capitol in a rally to raise awareness about the abuses at puppy mills, after speaking at this weekend's Taking Action for Animals conference in Arlington, Va. I had the privilege of writing the foreword to Jana's book and it's one that I recommend. She took a few minutes to chat with me recently on her tour.
Wayne Pacelle: In “A Rare Breed of Love” you say that you're always amazed by the reaction you and Baby receive. Did you find anyone, in your trip throughout America, who did not sympathize with your critique of puppy mills?
Jana Kohl: Everyone we met—from politicians to the people on the street—said, “we need to shut these places down.” When many people heard about what happened to Baby they asked if the people responsible were now in prison for their actions. When I told them that puppy mills are legal in this country they were outraged and asked what they could do to help shut them down.
WP: I am always struck by the contradictions in society about animals—so much professed love for animals, yet tolerance within our society for truly appalling and widespread forms of institutionalized abuse. How does this schizophrenia persist?
JK: When money is involved, people rationalize all sorts of misdeeds and cruel acts toward others. Animal-based industries are lucrative enterprises and the people who run these houses of horror have rationalized that animals “have no feelings.” I had more than one puppy miller tell me this. As a psychologist who's concerned with why we're capable of such cruelty, I see that the denial people practice in order to abuse animals for profit is often due to do what is called “narcissistic injury.” In fact, I believe this mental pathology is responsible for most of the world's ills.
WP: The issue of puppy mills has been a front-burner issue for the humane movement for decades. Now that you've done such a deep dive into the problem of puppy mills, why has it been such an intractable problem? Who is defending these mills and who are the impediments to change?
JK: In addition to being a highly profitable business for the puppy mill owners and backyard breeders, one that's easy to hide from the IRS, by the way, it's also a multi-million dollar enterprise for the AKC (American Kennel Club) and other breeding organizations, such as PIJAC (Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council). They make millions each year off the suffering of innocent animals and they're fighting tooth and nail to maintain the status quo at puppy mills so that their livelihood isn't compromised. The American people need to know just how little these groups care about animal welfare. They are greed personified.
WP: What is the most important thing that we can do—each of us, individually—to help put puppy mills out of business?
JK: The single most important thing people can do is to adopt and NEVER buy a dog from a pet store or inhumane breeder. People ask me all the time, “What about humane breeders?” My reply Is to remind them that in this country we are euthanizing about 2 million homeless dogs a year, at a cost to taxpayers of more than a billion dollars a year. So long as we're killing millions of homeless dogs each year, why should anyone be adding to the pet overpopulation problem?
WP: Are you a changed person because of this entire experience—rescuing Baby, writing the book, and doing a national book tour by bus?
JK: I've done a lot of things in my life that I felt were important, including working for the Simon Wiesenthal Center for Holocaust Studies, but adopting a puppy mill survivor has been the most important and meaningful experience I've ever had. To give a loving home to an animal who was abused is a life-altering, soul-fulfilling experience. I believe our mission in life is to ease the suffering of others, and the animals in our midst who are so cruelly abused have the fewest advocates. I'll never be able to rest so long as a single one is being mistreated. As for this cross-country tour and my mission to end puppy mills, it's been extraordinary to meet so many big-hearted people, including other rescuers, but the most gratifying is when someone comes up to us and says, “Your story changed my life. After reading your book and hearing you speak, I will only adopt from now on. I'm a changed person.” That makes this long, hard schlep worth every minute on the road.