This article appeared in the Oct. 10, 2008 Jewish Advocate.


Kohl book tour exposes puppy mill industry


By Susie Davidson

Special to the Advocate


Dog owners know that nothing compares to returning home to 15 minutes of ecstatic jumping and high-pitched barking. What could possibly make one feel more appreciated, important, loved? But the sad reality is that good homes are often hard to find for some of these unselfish balls of joy, and some are, incomprehensibly, subjected to needless mistreatment and cruelty.

Jana Kohl and her dog Baby are on a cross-country mission to unveil these stark truths, appearing at bookstores, universities, pet stores, baseball games, on “Good Morning America,” and other shows. Her book, “A Rare Breed of Love,” just released on Simon & Schuster’s Fireside division, chronicles the adoption of the adorable, white, and three-legged poodle. Its glossy photos show Baby cradled by politicians, musicians, actors and other notables who include, locally, Senator Ted Kennedy, Steven Tyler and Medford native Maria Menounos, and nationally, such diverse figures as Lindsay Lohan, Bill Maher, Gloria Steinem, Heather Mills, Sen. Elizabeth Dole, former Senator Rick Santorum, Patti Labelle, Moby, Amy Sedaris, Alice Walker, and Judge Judy. (The book includes a four-page section on Judaism and animals, and quotes from Rabbi Asher Lopatin of Chicago.)

Would that Baby had been treated thusly all her life. But she was born a breeding dog, within the grip of the nefarious purebred puppy-mill industry. She was tattooed with a number and kept in a cage, her vocal cords cut to keep her quiet. On the day she was to be killed because she had outlived her breeding capability, with abuse so extensive a leg had to later be amputated, a passing stranger rescued her. Who would think that this fate lies behind newspaper or internet ads, or the cute puppies in pet stores?

The Humane Society of the United States concludes that there may be as many as 10,000 puppy mills operating across the country.

Several years ago, Kohl, who is the granddaughter of department store founder Max Kohl and niece of Senator Herb Kohl (D-WI), had allergic reactions to a pet cat and decided that she wanted a hypoallergenic, toy poodle. On, she found 9-year-old Baby, and subsequently, much more. “After I saw a puppy mill for myself I knew my life was never going to be the same,” she said last week from her native Chicago.

Kohl’s other grandfather was a World War II general and concentration camp liberator; while a junior at UCLA, she began working at the newly-opened Simon Wiesenthal Center and later opened its Midwest office in Chicago, eventually leaving to earn a Ph.D. in psychology at Northwestern. She sees parallels between her Wiesenthal years and current focus. “The Holocaust is the ultimate example of legally-sanctioned cruelty,” she said. “As a society, we are allowing factory farming, the fur industry or puppy mills to happen. Legally, psychologically, and socially, we accept this torture of living beings.”

On a March 29 Oprah segment, correspondent Lisa Ling’s hidden camera at Pennsylvania puppy mills exposed horrors unbeknownst to well-meaning pet seekers. “Contrary to what buyers are told, these dogs are not raised in clean kennels or loving homes,” concurred Kim Agricola, Director of the Medfield Animal Shelter, which drew over 150 people to its Sept. 20 Puppy Mill Awareness Day and Adopted Dog Parade. “They are locked in small cages where they freeze in winter and roast in summer. The dogs receive little or no veterinary care, are bred repeatedly, and are killed when they can no longer reproduce,” she said.

Kohl says it costs taxpayers 2 billion dollars annually to round up, shelter and euthanize the four million homeless dogs who simply need a loving home. She advises going to a local shelter, rescue group, or for your waiting best friend. There are also rescue organizations for any desired breed. How’d she get all her subjects? “I was a noodge,” she responded, relating how dog lover Ted Kennedy thanked her profusely, while praising the thoughtfulness and focused nature of Barack Obama, the sweetness of Tyler and the dedication of multiple-adopted-dog owner Menounos.

“As a Jew, I feel that when any form of cruelty occurs in my world, against minorities, children, women, the poor or in this case, animals, I must speak out,” said Kohl. “G-d’s third commandment states you shall have a rest, and so shall your animals.”

Agricola said hundreds of thousands of dogs suffer in puppy mills all over the country. “Only when people stop patronizing pet stores, newspaper ads and slick websites, will the puppy mills go out of business and the misery finally end,” she said, adding that the meat-based diet is the single largest cause of global warming, with methane-producing and land-destroying livestock farming particularly at fault. “And if animals are not being raised and slaughtered humanely, how can that meat be considered Kosher?” she asks.

“Hundreds of thousands of dogs suffer in puppy mills all over the country,” said Agricola. “Only when people stop buying puppies in pet stores and from newspaper ads and slick websites, will the puppy mills go out of business and the misery finally end.”

“It is particularly egregious and especially offensive,” said Kohl, “because can make humane choices and the government can make humane laws. It’s a shonda - a disgrace.”