Q&A with CAPS Chicago Outreach Coordinator Dianne Arp

CAPS_picDianne Arp is an animal lover by nature. When she’s not helping companion animals as a licensed veterinary technician and volunteering at the labrador rescue group Great Lakes Lab Rescue, she’s educating the public about the pet shop – puppy mill connection as CAPS’ Chicago outreach coordinator. Dianne has been protesting pet shops since the summer of 2011 when she found out about one of CAPS’ protest events via Facebook. During the past two years, Dianne has participated in peaceful demonstrations against Happiness is Pets stores in Lombard, Arlington Heights and Orland Park, IL and most recently Puppy Parlor in Lisle, IL.

1. How did you first find out about CAPS?

It was about 2 years ago on Facebook. I saw a post about attending a Happiness Is Pets protest in Lombard, IL, which led me to Ida McCarthy, CAPS Chicago campaign coordinator. Protesting pet stores had been something I’d wanted to do for a long time. I’ve been involved with CAPS protests and the CAPS organization ever since.

2. What pushed you to protest pet shops and how did you find out about what was happening in these stores?

I’m a licensed veterinary technician. At our vet hospitals, we saw so many sick dogs that had a common bond – they all came from local pet stores like Petland or Happiness Is Pets. It was the veterinarians who first told me about puppy mills and from that point on it was my desire to protest these stores and educate the public about the horrors of puppy mills and the risks of buying a puppy mill puppy. For the past two years, we’ve been protesting the Happiness Is Pets pet store chain in the Chicagoland suburbs.  

In late 2012, a Department of Agriculture inspection report was published on its investigation of Puppy Parlor, a pet store in Lisle, IL. The pictures were horrific: over 100 dogs and puppies crammed in cages stacked 3 and 4 high in the back room of this strip mall pet store, sick dogs in awful conditions, etc. Some of their puppy mill suppliers were named in this article. We’ve been protesting this pet store since December 2012.  

3. What has been the most common reaction from those who see your posters and protesters firsthand?

Initially, curiosity. Then, when people ask us why we’re there, shock, horror, and surprise. Shock because most people don’t know what puppy mills are. Horror when we tell them about puppy mills. Then surprise when they find out that the pet store they’re about to go into sells sick, puppy mill puppies. Surprise at the list of shelters we give them. More surprise when we tell them 25% of shelter dogs are pure breed dogs. And yet more surprise to know there are breed-specific rescue groups out there adopting out pure bred dogs. We get a tremendous amount of support from cars driving by honking.

4. How have the pet shop employees and owners reacted to your demonstrations?

As you can expect, not very positively. Initially, they laugh at us and pay us no attention because they think we’re going to go away. Then they get annoyed when they realize we aren’t going away. At that point, they become verbally abusive and the obscene gestures begin. They often call their friends and family to come by the store and harass us too. When they realize we’re there to stay, they make false 911 calls to police alleging all kinds of crazy things.  

This is understandable because our protesting and the education of their potential customers take away from their bottom line. There are better ways to make a living than from the blood of dogs suffering in puppy mills. Supporting yourself through animal abuse and cruelty is unconscionable.

5. Do you have an anecdote about your experience protesting pet shops?

We’ve protested both Happiness Is Pets stores (Lombard, Orland Park and Arlington Park, IL) and Puppy Parlor in Lisle, IL. The pet store employees often make false 911 calls to the police claiming all kinds of crazy things. One can only assume they’re trying to annoy us.

A Happiness Is Pets employee once called the police and said we were protesting naked. We had a good laugh about that one, even the police found it humorous.

Puppy Parlor employees have claimed we were pounding on customers’ windshields and preventing them from getting into their cars. While their claims provide a funny visual, we are an organized group and conduct ourselves in a professional manner. We abide by the law.  

6. Protests are hard work, what do you hope to accomplish after spending so many hours in front of pet shops?

We would like each pet store to go humane, i.e. stop selling puppy mill puppies and work with rescue groups and shelters to adopt out dogs and cats that need homes or just sell merchandise – not dogs or cats. There are documented cases of stores that have successfully gone humane. Unfortunately in our experience, we’ve found most pet store owners to be rather narrow minded and set in their cruel, abusive ways.

Education is key. We enjoy the interaction with potential customers, some of whom have joined our protests after finding out the truth about that particular pet store. Seeing the light go on while we’re talking to them is priceless. Because we’ve had an impact on them, they’ll tell their friends and the word will spread. I feel it’s this type of grass-roots movement – from protesting and the use of social media – that will result in the demise of all pet stores selling puppy mill puppies.

7. What has been your biggest accomplishment since you started protesting?

Seeing the sales figures for the Happiness Is Pets chain drop significantly, so much so that one of their stores – in Oak Lawn, IL – closed down. They’re now down to 5 stores in the Chicagoland area.

Puppy Parlor has significantly reduced their prices on their dogs and puppies. They’ve also been forced to extend their business hours as a result of our protesting and educating the public. These are huge victories.

8. What has been the most shocking thing you’ve experienced during demonstrations?

The lengths to which pet store owners and employees will go to get us to leave or stop protesting: the false 911 calls, the lies, and the level of verbal assaults, all shocking behavior from supposed adults.

9. How aware are pet shop owners and employees about puppy mills? What about potential clients?

This is difficult to gauge, as we don’t have regular conversations with the pet store owners or employees. The few who have commented on local online newspapers only seek to defend their cruel and abusive ways and attempt to lie their way out of the facts we post. We’ve had former employees approach us at protests or email us to tell us what they’ve witnessed working at these pet stores. The stories are horrific.  

The majority of potential customers are receptive to what we have to say. We back it up with a package of information – facts about that particular pet store – so they don’t have to take our word for it. They can do their own research. As a matter of fact, we encourage it. The majority end up leaving and not going into the pet store, which only infuriates the pet store owner and employees. 

We’ve had local residents, even people just driving by, bring us coffee or hot chocolate on cold days, or doughnuts and lemonade to show their appreciation for what we’re doing. We get so much support from the honking cars driving by. I’d say up to 80% of the cars driving by honk.

10. Do you have any suggestions for people who would want to start a CAPS’ sponsored group to protest a pet shop that sells dogs from puppy mills?

I would first tell them to try to open a dialogue with the pet store owner to see if they’re open to going humane. It’s always a good idea to try to partner with them if at all possible.

In the event those efforts fail, make sure, absolutely certain, they have done their research about that particular store before protesting. They should have reports from the Department of Agriculture showing the horrific conditions inside the store. They should also have documented proof that the “private, reputable breeders” the pet stores tell their customers they use are in fact puppy millers. The CAPS website has a significant amount of undercover film footage shot inside puppy mills. It’s a great place to start when verifying the “breeder” is really a puppy mill. It’s critical that they have their facts straight because if they don’t, they’re leaving the door wide open for a slander lawsuit.  

Then I would suggest using social media sites to boost their visibility and mission. Facebook is a great place to post event pages for upcoming protests and invite friends to come.  

Having professionally printed signs boosts the credibility of the protesters. So does having matching CAPS t-shirts. It sends a message that they’re a professional organization.

Business cards for CAPS ‘employees’ also helps contribute to our professional image.

It’s also important to review with protesters the dos (and don’ts) of protesting, such as staying on public property at all times, contacting the local police department before each protest to give them a heads-up, making sure all statements are factual, conduct during the protest, etc.

Compiling information for handout packages is a must. It gives the potential customer something to take home and look through at a later time. It also gives them the information they need to do further research on their own. Having CAPS brochures inside the handout package lends credibility to the information.

I’d also try to suggest they have a little fun during protests. It helps take our minds off of the awful conditions inside the pet store being protested. Becoming friendly with protesters lends itself to an extended family-type appeal. 

Showing appreciation for your protesters is a must. Something as simple as a face-to-face thank you goes a long way to recognize the sacrifice people make to attend a protest.  

1011153_10152096355713626_1825143166_n-1Click here for more information about Happiness is Pets

Click here for more information about Puppy Parlor

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