"As we made our final turn onto a dirt road on a very grey and cold morning on March 12, 2008, we saw the protestors lined up against the parking lot entrance, each boasting bright orange clothing, holding signs: one person clinging to a single rusty, wire cage stuffed with toy dogs shouting, “Ban puppy mills.”
We pulled into the gravel lot and made our way to the pole barn, walking passed Amish buggies, Ford trucks and VW Bugs parked through out the muddy field. The day was dark and the auction barn seemed grim. The sign on the door read, “No cameras, no recordings.”
We entered, completely unaware of what we would see or how we would be seen. It was never our intent to go in. I had come as a web writer for Best Friends Animal Society to report on the protestors. But when I confronted Eilene Ribbens, President and Founder of NO WI Puppy Mills organization, the group leading the protest, she said that if I really wanted to understand the protest I would walk into the barn and see for myself.
At first glance, we saw chairs and bleachers set up...and to our right, there were bales of straw, an apparent failed attempt to mask the numerous cages behind them: filled with dogs. It was hard to not notice the influx of both Amish and Mennonites. Dressed in clothing of days gone by, gathered in small groups in the cold barn: father, mother and obedient children. The pungent smell of fresh baked bread and dog feces didn’t settle my already queasy stomach.
We slowly made our way passed a stage with a speaker system and podium poised with a gavel atop and came to an opening in the stacks of the straw. At first glance, my eyes blurred and all that lie ahead of me became a hazy grey.
Without any thought and barely a sense of emotion I looked to my left and the first dog I saw was an unrecognizable Maltese, a matted, white ball of fur. She was huddled in the back of a small plastic carrier with a broken door that was piled on top of other crates full of dogs. She shook on top of wet straw and her beady eyes pierced mine.
I looked away towards the rest and saw hundreds of dogs in metal cages: no barking, no whining. Some not doing anything –only curled up, looking away from all of the people. Cage upon cage, I saw some dogs shaved down to bare skin, many malnourished, often with infections in their eyes or on their coats, but all with no revealing spirit: no wagging tails. They wouldn’t respond to even the friendliest of hands. They were broken and it broke my heart."
March 12, 2008. Our first picture together outside the action barn.
The day Thorp earned his CGC and passed the Therapy Dog International exam.
WI Governor Doyle signing the bill into law that would help protect breeding dogs.
Photo by Frank Schemberger
Actual mill dogs at Amish puppy-mills in WI.
Photos by Frank Schemberger