The Mayan Theater in Denver held a special movie premier last Thursday. Colorado Citizens for Canine Welfare sponsored the Denver screening of Dog by Dog, a documentary by Chris Grimes and 5414 Productions. The film profiles how puppy mills, places where breeding dogs are kept locked in cages 24/7 in order to produce as many litters as possible, are still a fact of life in this country along with some interesting reasons why they continue to exist and, most importantly, profit.
The event was attended by some high profile animal rights supporters, including Paige Elway, who brought her husband, Denver Broncos General Manager John Elway, and were on hand for photographs and to see the film. Other supporters included Chris Halsne, Investigative Reporter for Fox 31 News in Denver who MC’d the event and State Representatives Beth McCann and Steve Lebsock.
President of 3CW, Cheryl Gross MD, said she is thrilled to be able to show this film to Denver audiences. Paige Elway, who has hosted several dog adoption events through the Denver Broncos, reached out to 3CW about holding a fund raiser. At the same time, Director Grimes had contacted the group about showing his film in Denver because, Gross says, the organization contributed to his Kickstarter campaign to help fund the film.
“Everything came together really fast!” says Dr. Gross.
The film’s title refers to the ways that shelters and society in general have gone about rescuing dogs from puppy mills. Usually it is one dog at a time and by the time most are rescued, they have spent a good portion of their lives in a windowless building. Grimes wanted to follow the “money trail” to see why puppy mills still exist and if there are better ways to stop this practice. Here are a few of the themes the film explored and people profiled.
The film focuses on the four states where puppy mills make up a majority of dogs that are sold in pet stores or online in the US: Iowa, Missouri, Ohio and Pennsylvania. As mostly agricultural states, puppy mills are able to operate under the jurisdiction of farms and under the radar of the public. The film also profiles two people who purchased animals both online and in a pet store and the horrible medical condition both animals were in when purchased.
From there, the film gets broader going into the history of many of these large-scale farming options that also house breeding dogs. Dogs are viewed as a cash crop and the goal is turning a profit. Something the film points out that is also forgotten is the purchased animal’s mother and father are still at the mill and continue to suffer in small wire cages, not allowed outside and for females, forced to be pregnant over and over and over again. The parents, the one whose names are listed on the pedigree papers that you received when you purchased that animal, are the ones suffering the most. If people stopped purchasing pets at for profit stores, that would lower the industry’s incentive.
Will that completely stop the problem? The short answer is no, but it is a step in the right direction. However, as a society that values dogs as family companions, people would think that there are laws in place to protect them from abuse. The film shows that this is not the case and the four states mentioned as the worst offenders have the fewest laws. The film shows that legislation can be tough to achieve, specifically profiling a legal battle in Missouri. The film claims that large-scale agriculture businesses have put forth efforts, and millions of dollars, to fight legislation to help dogs because they are worried making conditions safer for dogs will lead to similar legislation for commodity animals, such as cattle and chickens, and thus hurt their bottom line.
After the screening, Chris Grimes thanked the audience and took some questions. He also introduced a person he profiled in the film who was in attendance, Mindi Callison, Founder and President of Bailing Out Benji in Ames, Iowa. During his presentation he gave his ambitions for the film.
“The goal is national distribution,” he said. “Look at what happened to SeaWorld…They lost the debate because people watched Blackfish and made a change…That is the impact that documentary films can have…What we’re saying is let’s make a change.” Grimes’ wife and Executive Producer of the film, Leigh Cavich-Grimes, also added that they are working on large-scale distribution channels, such as Netflix and HBO, and to follow Dog by Dog on Facebook to learn more about the film’s distribution for those who want to see it.
Dr. Gross then provided information on what 3CW is working on in Colorado.
“We have about 160 puppy mills in Colorado that are licensed; those are the ones that we know about,” she said. “And we have something in Colorado that makes us stand out from most other states and it’s called PACFA. That stands for Pet Animal Care Facilities Act. Through the Colorado Department of Agriculture, PACFA actually inspects all pet animal care facilities in Colorado, in addition to what you saw in the film, which is the federal inspections. PACFA is great and we’re very happy to have it, but it does have its limitations. There are over 1800 pet animal care facilities in Colorado, that includes grooming and doggie day care and pet stores and on and on and for all pet animals like iguanas, lizards and snakes. There are five inspectors in Colorado for 1800 pet animal care facilities.”
Representative Beth McCann of District 8 in Denver also spoke after the film about her own experiences working with puppy mill legislation in Colorado.
“My first year in the legislature, Holly Tarry [former Director of the Colorado chapter of the Humane Society of the United States] approached me about puppy mills and couldn’t we do something about them legislatively and being a relatively naïve new legislator, I said, ‘Of course! Who could possibly be against a bill relating to better conditions in puppy mills’?” This was greeted with laughter in the audience.
“So we did bring that bill forward,” she continued. “It was relatively mild – limited to 50 breeding dogs, requiring a vet visit once a year for every breeding dog and some 15 minutes outside every day – and it is exactly what was described here [in the film] that happened in Missouri…The bill was assigned to the Agriculture Committee, which is primarily made up of ranchers and farmers and they really believe that any encroachment on how you treat an animal is threatening to their farms and their ability to treat farm animals. Even though as they said in the bill and the movie, everything is limited to, it was very clear, to certain situations and to just dogs…Sure enough we could not get it out of the Agriculture Committee…It was an education to me about how difficult these bills are.”
This film provides many insights into why puppy mills continue to exist and while it may not have all the answers, the film does highlight the work that many people and organizations are doing around the country to fight for these dogs. If you missed the screening in Denver, the film is scheduled for Ames, IA, on August 8 and Austin, TX, on August 20. The Grimes have plans to screen the film in the Midwest and on the East Coast in the fall. Visit the film’s website to learn about the team behind it and what you can do to support the film and the cause.
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