Freelance Writer
The transition to gay conservative: how one gay man explains and defends his position
09.22.10 | No Comments

As printed in Central Massachusetts Pride Magazine

The words conservative and gay don’t often end up in the same sentence. Especially in some areas of the country, being gay and also a conservative are as rare as a lesbian who doesn’t like Melissa Etheridge’s music. Yeah, it may sound like a stereotype, but mention you don’t like Etheridge at a lesbian gathering and the record scratches, and people stare. Really. Try it.

The same thing happens to the gay conservative.

But Christopher Budden says there are more gay conservatives, and “objectivists,” coming out of the political closet.
A 39-year-old gay male, Budden writes his blog, “The Conservative Rainbow,” for everyday right of center political commentary. He reserves the other blog, “The Objective Chronicle,” to try to “dispense with the left/right paradigm and comment on current events from a strictly objectivist point of view – leaving the down and dirty, in the mud politics, aside.” Budden also contributes to gayconservative.org and Right Pride.

“I think many gay men and women operate like this,” Budden said. “They think, ‘Since I am gay, I must be a democrat and support the Democratic Party at all costs.’ It’s an extremely myopic attitude not based in any deeper philosophical thoughts about freedom other than ‘What can I get for free from the federal government?’ As we know, nothing is free.”
Currently unemployed with a strong background, professionally, in kitchen and bath design, Budden is considering going back to technical school to get a degree in technical drafting. Once transitioned back into the work force, his goal is to take courses from the Ayn Rand Center for Individual Rights so he can give lectures to students and businesses on the philosophical constructs of rational egoism/objectivism.

Politically, he considers himself a Libertarian Conservative, but wasn’t always.

Throughout his teens and twenties, Budden leaned toward very socialist beliefs, though he didn’t necessarily identify them as such. “Most people, I tend to believe, get their politics from their parents,” he said, “and then they never question those positions after that. I didn’t really have that experience. My folks were, most definitely, more conservative but we never discussed politics and they certainly never forced their beliefs on me.”
Since he was not educated in politics, Budden says he didn’t know what socialism was. He just knew that “I used to believe in equality of results rather than equality of rights.”

When 9/11 happened, it was the seminal moment of his transformation. After that horrific day, Budden says he started to pay attention to news, current events and the world around him like never before. “I became much more attuned to the political spectrum,” Budden said.

“Very simply, I found myself agreeing, more often than not, with conservatives rather than liberals. It simply seemed to me that every time I heard a democrat or liberal speak, it seemed like lies coming out of their mouths. They said things that I knew were not true, at least from a philosophical perspective. “
Budden submerged himself into studying the American form of government, libertarianism, conservatism and how “freedom was necessarily dependent upon constitutionally limited government.”

As his political views shifted, so did his concern grow that he was siding with a viewpoint that was often at odds with the gay person. It caused conflict, even within himself. So he searched further.

“It led me to search out and find other gay conservatives,” he said. “I knew that I couldn’t be the only one. Eventually, I came across the Log Cabin Republicans, GOProud, and gay conservative spokespeople like Tammy Bruce, Steve Yuhas and Al Rantel. “

The fact that Budden had disagreements with more religious people in regard to civil recognition of marriage didn’t matter in the end. He sought out social networks actively with people he used to believe were against him. He realized, in fact, that if there was hope in recognizing these relationships, he’d have to talk to these people.

“I preferred talking and opening the lines of communication,” Budden said, “as opposed to engaging in the tactics the gay left is famous for, and for which I now find to be extremely immoral and distasteful; that of intimidation and tearing down one’s opponents. I began to understand how throughout history leftists sought to conquer the countries they wanted to take over, and intimidation, tearing down, destroying capitalism, lying and deception were all important elements. Once I made the realization that my former beliefs, which in essence were socialism, I dropped them like a hot potato. I knew I was supporting tyranny if I continued to hold on to those beliefs, and I knew individualism was, in fact, the core of what I needed to retain my freedom as a gay man.”

In terms of creating enemies, and losing friends, over his political beliefs, Budden says he’s “been lucky.” He hasn’t lost any friends due to his views, yet. Not actively seeking to date at the moment, that issue hasn’t come into play, either.

“I must say that it is comforting to know that there are more and more gay conservatives and objectivists coming out of the political closet all the time,” he said.

Budden argues that there are some gay liberals who are “liberal in the classical sense,” meaning socially liberally but fiscally conservative. “However,” he said, “they don’t make the connection that the democrat party, as it is currently configured and run by modern liberals, is really run by leftists. In other words, they don’t understand the philosophical difference between the two types of liberalism. I have run into gay liberals who, once this is explained to them, they have an ‘ah ha!’ moment and proceed to say, ‘Well, that’s true, I’m not a leftist. I never understood this before.’ Then they begin to modify their thinking in regard to their political positions.”

Other gay liberals, he says, are very aware of the difference between classical liberalism and modern liberalism. The former, he argues, is based on freedom, while the latter is based on tyranny. Still, he maintains, “they are leftists and they know what they’re doing.

“They want to destroy capitalism, believe in a welfare state, and want an all-encompassing powerful federal government in order to tell them how to live their lives. I think much of the hardcore gay left falls into this category. They operate from the belief that you must tear down the civil society in order to destroy it, so it can then be rebuilt into a tyrannical structure.”

What Budden has noticed, by and large, is that many gay people feel they must vote democrat based on the gay marriage issue alone. To him, this is extremely damaging to the rest of their freedoms, and reminds people that it is not the federal government’s job to be involved in marriage, gay or straight, in the first place. That, he says, is a state-level issue. Abortion issues, he says, should have remained at a state-level as well.

“The problem with politicians is that they create issues on the federal level,” Budden said,” which should not even be issues, most times in an effort to divide people to get themselves elected or to retain their jobs. Conservative states should have been allowed to keep abortion illegal if they chose and liberal states could have had legalized abortion. The whole purpose of the federalist structure, as set up by the founders, was to restrain the power of the federal government. They knew what happened when too much authority was concentrated in one place – you end up with tyranny. Under federalism, people can vote with their feet. If they don’t like the policies of a particular state, they are able to move to a state that reflects their values.”

Federalism, too, Budden says, was constructed to act as an incubator of sorts, in the sense that if a state wanted to try socialized medicine, for instance, they could. But it wouldn’t affect an entire nation. If it worked, or didn’t, it wouldn’t have affected – and in some cases destroyed – a country.

Modern liberals, Budden maintains, tend to be leftists who disguise themselves as classical liberals. To Budden, this is deceptive, and ultimately has destructive consequences if not challenged by those who know what true freedom means.

“Leftists, or progressives, do not operate psychologically from a reality-based view of the world,” Budden said. “They believe mankind is perfectible, or at the very least that his existence can be perfectible, in a Utopian sense. They honestly believe that all of the worry that accompanies free existence can be gotten rid of – that mankind can live in some kind of Utopian Heaven-on-Earth existence in which he is relieved from the burdens of living. And many times, a very nihilistic world view, the idea that existence has no meaning, accompanies the thought processes of these types of people. This is why you so often see denigration toward all moral and ethical thought.”
Budden also maintains that progressives are quite aware of what their policies have created throughout history. But, he says, that fact is usually ignored.

“Usually, they continue to believe what they believe because they think, ‘It just wasn’t done right or it wasn’t tried by the right people’ in all those failed experiments throughout history,” Budden said. “As much as they view themselves as ‘open-minded’ they, in essence, are really close-minded. They shut off their reasoning faculties because if they actually began to think critically about what it is they espouse, many times their belief system would fall down around them, and they can’t face it. It’s like a five year old having a temper tantrum; there is no room for acknowledgment of that which life and nature does not guarantee to anybody – a worry free existence. Due to this, modern liberals and progressives have learned to disguise their speech and policies amidst lies and deception. Leftists of history many times would have taken over a nation with an armed revolution. Today’s leftists have to be much more subtle in their deceptions – they know people do not give up their freedom that easily.”

Often, conservatives are portrayed as racists, bigots – ignorant fools who wave flags in the face of rational thought. The tea party member who holds the misspelled sign. The republican who “just needs his gun and God.” It’s a misperception, and a damaging one at that, Budden explains.

“Conservative and classically liberal people, I have found, tend to be much better educated,” Budden said, “especially in the areas of philosophy and economics. You have racist and ignorant people in any sub-section of society – no matter what group you are talking about. Many of the gay left are extremely intolerant of those who espouse religious views. They demand tolerance for themselves but refuse to give it – even to the point of shutting their ears to any further conversation. That is the mentality of someone not operating with a grown up, mature attitude – it is still the temper tantrum on an adult level. What I have discovered, since opening myself to more communication among religiously-minded people, is not that they are intolerant of gay men and women per se. They simply see heterosexual marriage as necessary for the sound bedrock of any civil society. That makes them sociologically responsible – not necessarily homophobic; the two conditions are not necessarily interchangeable.”

And where does Budden see the future of the Republican Party headed? For him, he thinks the party has given up its limited government role to the ideas and attitudes commonly expressed by the left. He has heard some say that’ democrats have already won the notion of the need of the welfare state. But the republicans, in fact, think they can manage that welfare state better.”

“This is extremely dangerous,” Budden said. “To a certain degree, republicans have already admitted defeat. They don’t know how to communicate capitalism as a necessary element of any free society – unhinged from the welfare state. It is a morally superior position, but they have, in many respects conceded defeat to the left. If that attitude is not changed with an intense degree of roll-back of left-wing ideological statism, then I truly believe this country will fall just like many other republics have fallen throughout history. It will only be a matter of time before the collapse. We may already be there for all I know.”

Budden has become a sound advocate for objectivism as outlined by Ayn Rand. Having studied much of her work, he considers Rand to be the spokesperson for outlining answers conservatives need to defeat statism. Still, he thinks many continue to shut their eyes to lessons and realities she discovered, and uncovered.

“Republicans have their own demons to exorcise,” Budden said. “They can be collectivist and statist-oriented as well in regard to theocratically collectivist notions. Morality and ethics need not be tied to religious belief. Morality and ethics can be studied and passed on through a philosophical spectrum. The republicans, oftentimes, defeat their own arguments by trying to approach them from a faith-based position. God is not provable. When you begin your argument by basing it on something like God, which is not provable, you’ve already defeated your own argument and helped your enemy. The faith of the right is as mutable as the emotions on which leftist rely, which is why both positions can go horribly wrong.”

Designed to Sell
06.22.09 | No Comments
Category: Trade Magazines

Designed to Sell
Making the club’s pro shop effective and profitable

Appeared in Club and Resort Business Magazine, 2008

A definite trend toward clubhouse facelifts has escalated within the past ten years, lending courses to rethinking the position, shape, style and size of the pro shop. Now, more than ever, clubs and resorts are realizing the potential with their shops, as well. With the latest wave of clubhouse renovations, properties are putting time, money and energy into rethinking the pro shop’s position on the course, the layout of the store, the décor, inventory and more.

Brian Kittler, PGA director of golf operations for McConnell Golf, surmises that this trend toward renovating developed out of necessity. “Some of the clubs not reacting to this 10 years ago,” says Kittler, “have to play catch-up, and they are losing members because they didn’t update 10 or 15 years ago.”

It was the right move for Haig Point Club in Daufuskie Island, South Carolina. Established in 1986, the course recently underwent an entire renovation and this included the pro shop, redesigned by an architectural firm.

Since Haig’s 1,000 square foot shop had an existing horseshoe-shaped counter, the designers used the structure as the centerpiece. The counter, newly stained to a darker hue, now commands the middle, spouting four corner columns that stem to the 30 foot ceiling. Square in design, there is a double door entrance and also double doors leading to the clubhouse. A large pane of glass claims 50 percent of the walls. Alcoves, which display hanging merchandise, separate each of the glass areas and display tables pepper the main areas. A staircase located within the shop leads to the assistants office as well as a storeroom. The design allows flow around all side of the counter, as well as the display tables.

“How the shop is set up is one of the most important decisions,” says Jason Cherry, director of golf at Haig Point,“because the setup dictates the flow of traffic and how accessible it is for the customer. The new lighting, decorations, paint color and counter stain color really changed the overall look. It gave it a more masculine look.”

When choosing the new display tables, they went with smaller tables, but a larger amount of them, allowing them to carry more merchandise, display each line on its own table, and create more flow through the shop. Ultimately, the alcove merchandise will change. Currently, the clothing faces left to right. The notion is that the impact would be stronger if the items faced outward toward the shop.

“I feel that one of the most common mistakes is overstocking,” says Cherry, “as well as improper stocking. Some shops are so full, you have to literally pry shirts apart on racks to see the merchandise, and you also feel like you are tripping over and backing into merchandise as you go through.”

When McConnell Golf purchased the Cardinal Golf and Country Club in Greensboro, North Carolina and The Raleigh Country Club in Raleigh, North Carolina, Kittler says they knew it was crucial to upgrade its facilities in order to maintain – and attract – membership. McConnell bought the legendary Cardinal in June of 2006, and it wasn’t long before the company embarked on some much needed renovations. With a group of designers in Virginia, McConnell bounced around ideas for a good six months, discussing everything from the color of the wood to the carpet, placement of tables and chairs, and lighting fixtures.

The golf shop was already located in an ideal spot. “It is accessible from the men’s locker room and the fairway grill,” says Kittler, “as well as the first tee and ninth fairway, which makes it a high traffic area.”

According to Kittler, the ideal size depends on several factors: type of facility, the type of membership you are trying to attract, and the amount of play/volume you are anticipating. “For us,” he says, “about 800 square feet is ideal. It is just big enough for us to have proper displays, enough room for our customers to move freely within the shop and keeps with the theme of welcoming and hosting our customers. This also keeps our merchandise and overhead costs to a minimum, which helps maximize our revenues.”

Already in a spot that invites plenty of customer in, Kittler and his associates concentrated on a plan that would increase flow throughout. They splashed darker stain throughout the room, giving all the woodwork a classical feel that complemented the changes throughout the course. They concentrated on keeping it an open, uncluttered plan with lots of displays, and a slat wall built in so it looks “natural.” “We use a lot of displays on the periphery of the shop,” says Kittler. “We use tables to showcase new arrivals, as well as nesting tables. When someone walks in, they see new merchandise and it sets the tone of what we carry. There is a ladies section, shoes has its own section, the hats – everything has its own place, like a department store.”

Not unlike a small Filene’s or Macy’s, Kittler says the shop at the Cardinal is also sectioned in an effort to build brand loyalty.

“We wanted to restore the clubhouse the way it had been done in the ‘70s and ‘80s,” says Kittler, who estimates they sunk about a half a million into the clubhouse. “We needed to modernize the clubhouse, as well. Before, it just didn’t look right. They had canned lighting in the ceiling. We did a lot of accent lighting in rows so you can direct it. We softened it. It’s warm and welcoming now. ”

Kittler emphasizes that it’s important to avoid clutter. Not over-purchasing is key to keeping the store neat. “Even though it’s small,” he says, “customers don’t feel like they are tripping over things. They’re not bumping into racks. We kept the counter on the back wall so when you walk through, you have to walk to the back to check out. You want your customers to see everything.”

McConnell purchased The Raleigh Country in November of 2003, pleasing many who feared the property would go the way of condos or strip malls. Plans are in motion to create a new pro shop this November, in addition to many other renovations.

The plan involves flopping the Fairway Grill with the shop to expand the men’s locker room. “Everything is intact,” says Kittler. “It’s just a matter of flipping them. We haven’t seen the actual plans, but we have input like we did with the Cardinal. Structurally, the clubhouse itself won’t be changed, but we will change the carpet and the lighting.”

The flip will mean not only moving a large hardwood bar, but a smaller shop, which Kittler says is welcomed; it is presently too spacious in some areas, and too small in others. The new design will give it a “more uniform look with high traffic area.” The new fixtures, as with the Cardinal, will function to highlight merchandise.

“We are telling designers how the flow will go,” says Kittler, “and they talk about how they envision the flow. You don’t buy fixtures or anything until you know what you need. You want to know what color or stain you want so you match your fixtures. You try to get your fixtures through the design company and incorporate that into the cost. It’s good to consult with the designers because sometimes golfers are too conservative and it gets you out of the box.”

The motivation behind renovating the Raleigh Club is based on timing and a need to create a buzz. “We have been kicking around this project for three years,” says Kittler. “The beauty of both of our projects is that we did these as a company, and the members were not assessed a dime. We did it because the need is there.”

Likewise, Indian Spring Country Club in Boynton Beach, Florida, sunk a lot of time and funds into rebuilding and redesigning the entire clubhouse in 2000. Expanding it to 52,000 square feet, this included a 1,700 square foot shop furbished with fine wood fixtures and detail that focused on a clean, elegant and timeless look.

Upon approaching the Indian Spring pro shop, the customer is first enticed by elegant window displays that rotate on a weekly basis, showcasing the latest in golf and tennis apparel and accessories. The entrance features a sitting area with an oversized find leather couch and TV that previews the latest sports info.

“We created a space that was centrally located and that was a warm and inviting meeting space,” says Jamie Chavez, diector of membership and marketing. Chavez, who admits the store is a bit too large, says they sometimes struggle with having so much inventory. “We have to stay attentive,” he says, “to making sure we are moving intentory in a timely manner.”

While many spoke positively, and were pleased with the layout and operation of their stores, Bruce K. Harwood II, PGA head golf professional at Stoneybrook Golf Club in Estoro, Florida, is more critical of his present setup. “The pro shop was not planned out as well as it could be,” says Harwood. Since Stoneybrook used an architect that relies on a standard design, Stoneybrook “pretty much has a cookie cutter design.

“Instead of the cart being on the pro shop side of the clubhouse,” he continues, “it’s on the exact opposite, which makes our cart staff have to get here an hour earlier and leave an hour earlier each day. The design of the shop is not conducive to holding a lot of product or selling it more than it is for aesthetics.”

Spanning 1999 to 2000, it cost 1.5 million to renovate the whole building that houses the golf shop. It sits at the entrance outside the community gates, attached to the clubhouse. At 1,000 square feet, lots of windows allow for plenty of natural light, but at the expense of wall space for displays. Harwood says they use an abundance of floor displays and creativity to make the shop inviting, and the three entry points are helpful. “We do design the floor layout that makes you have to walk a certain way,” he says.

Despite the challenges, Stoneybrook uses its floor displays strategically, putting the floor gondolas in a way that separates the sections of apparel. They also use the front counter to break up the hat section from the shoes. “We constantly move product around the shop to give it a fresh look,” says Harwood. “Even though we are a daily fee public facitility, we do have a tremendous amount of regulars, so by moving product around often, you would be amazed how many people look at the same shirt twice and ask, ‘when did you get this in?’ Keeping a fresh look is crucial to having success in sales. You must have a method planned out at least a year in advance. We do a great job at it each year.”

Harwood again stresses the importance of product placement. “Take yourself as an example,” he says, “and what you would expect the location of something to be, and what you would possibly purchase, even if you weren’t looking for it. You can guarantee that every single person will end up at the front counter.”

And in the end, getting those shoppers to the counter is all that matters. Sound advice, indeed.

Factory Animals: Some are born there, some never make it out; exploring the puppy mill business
12.04.08 | 1 Comment
Category: Animal Activism

The dog pawing the bars at the pet store is undoubtedly a cutie. As a youngster, it was always fun to browse the store and giggle at the adorable pets for sale, hoping our parents would say, “OK, we can have him.” You didn’t think about where they came from. You didn’t think about the fact that the cunnin’ Shitzu or Cocker Spaniel unfortunately represented and perpetuated a massive, lucrative, cruel pet trade. Neither did our parents. Then, we didn’t know much about where these pets came from. Like with marshmallows, we’re largely ignorant to their origin.

As the ASPCA reports on its Web site, “that cute little puppy most likely came from a large-scale, substandard commercial breeding operation, commonly known as a puppy mill. Puppy mills usually house dogs in overcrowded and often unsanitary conditions, without adequate veterinary care, food, water and socialization. The breeding stocks at puppy mills (possibly your new puppy’s mom and dad) are bred as often as possible in order to increase profits. Unlike your lucky puppy, the mom and dad will probably never make it out of the mill.”

The standards are changing, but not enough. Not enough to stop the flow of purchases that fuels this problem, and not enough to shut down the countless puppy mills that supply these stores or many “kennels” that are really just pet stores with attractive masks.

The puppy mill (as well as mills that breed birds and other smaller animals) problem is a frustrating and seemingly insurmountable one at times, but there’s no giving up; too many animals will suffer as a result. “While many people are aware of the existence of puppy mills,” said Monica Engebretson, project director of Animal Protection Institute, based in Sacramento, California, “few people realize that birds, reptiles and other animals are also frequently produced in mill-type situations where many, many animals are kept in barren cages, and under horrible conditions in order to churn out animals for the pet trade.”

“One doesn’t need to be an animal rights extremist to be horrified by this sort of treatment,” echoed Leigh Grady, who runs the Sterling Animal Shelter. “To treat living beings so crassly, so objectify them as ‘things’ and see only their financial worth is morally wrong.”

The mills, graphically explored in a variety of high-profile investigations for TV and newspaper coverage, are indeed that horrific. With a remarkable number of animals jammed into small crates, devoid of socialization and loving treatment, the mother dogs are usually bred their entire life in captivity, sitting in their own filth and unable to run – or “live.”

Deborah Howard is president of the highly visible Companion Animal Protection Society (CAPS), a national animal welfare organization dedicated to protecting companion animals that has a strong focus on researching and investigating pet stores, puppy mills and breeding facilities. As it states on the Web site, “since 1995, CAPS’ focus has been on the USDA’s failure to enforce the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) as it pertains to commercial dog breeders and brokers. In order to document AWA violations, CAPS investigates federally licensed facilities in the Midwest (more than 100 since 1997).”

“Puppy mills still exist because there is still a demand,” says Howard. “People buy on impulse. There are payment plans.”

She started her crusade in 1989 after wandering into an Atlanta franchise of the Massachusetts-based Doctor Pet Center, which had more than 300 stores across the country. “First of all,” says Howard, “I was appalled by the conditions. I saw a lot of sick puppies there, and it wasn’t’ too clean, so I decided to find out where they got the puppies from and then I found out about puppy mills.”

Backed by her background in public relations and a law degree, she dug further into the puppy mill business. Her findings fed an ongoing passion to stop them.

She’s not alone. Large animal rights organizations are devoting a lot of energy and funds toward this issue. Stephanie Shain, who is the director of outreach for the Humane Society of the United States, directs the Stop Puppy Mills campaign for the HSUS. Involved in all aspects of the work on mills, it includes supporting legislation to better regulate factory style breeding, working on a billboard campaign, educating puppy buyers and working with grassroots activists.

“There are so many issues facing animals today,” said Shain, “and so many abuses that could be prevented if more people knew about them. I think what makes the effort to stopping puppy mills so important and unique is that it is the systematic abuse of animals who are one of the most beloved in our country. The same people who spend hundreds of dollars on clothes or beds or leashes for their best friend may also have supported a business that looks at neglect of animals as business as usual.”

Howard and CAPS have been involved in a multitude of media investigations, jumpstarted by an undercover investigation for 20/20, as well as a number of pet shop protests throughout the US and Canada in close to 40 cities in 1990. Her grassroots efforts and PR work now make her a popular source for media coverage, namely a two-part feature on “Dateline” in 2000 that had the second most responded to story in the history of the TV show. “We got so many emails,” said Howard, “that it took me three weeks, seven days a week, 12 hours a day, to answer them. People love animal stories. They are really affected by them.”

Now, CAPS is shooting its arrow at the USDA, which in charge of inspecting the federally licensed facilities in two classes: A and B. The A dealers are the actual breeders and puppy mills. The B dealers are the brokers who sell the dogs to the pet stores. Working with a law firm in DC, CAPS has a bevy of lawyers working pro bono lobbying in an effort to change the standards by which the USDA operates. “Sometimes, we go in a day after an inspector goes in [from the USDA],” said Howard, “and has said there are no violations and we find plenty. And sometimes, even when they find one, they don’t go back to see if corrections have been made.”

Shain adds, “It is important to understand that these standards [that the USDA ensures] require the bare minimum to keep these animals ‘healthy.’” These requirements include the size of the cage, that animals should have food free of bugs, that they are provided water and veterinary care. There are no laws that ensure that the dogs ever be taken out of their cages or given attention or affection. “The dogs are treated like little breeding machines,” said Shain. “Additionally, enforcement is pretty poor. There are about 100 inspectors nationwide and about 4,000 breeding operations. Those 100 inspectors are also charged with inspecting animal research facilities, circuses and other exhibits that involve wild animals. The math isn’t complicated.”

The puppy mill industry is well funded, and Shain reports those mills are working harder than ever to ensure that its way of treating dogs is protected. Conversely, every effort is being made, mightily, by those who want to protect these animals, but like the puppy mills in question, it is like throwing tomatoes at a well-armed bully with a lot of friends. “No decent breeder would ever keep his or her dogs the way puppy mills do,” says Shain, “in cages for their entire lives, churning out puppies as fast as they are physically able, and much to their physical detriment.”

Additionally, the USDA has never required dealers that sell animals directly to the public to apply for licenses, regardless of its size. The Animal Welfare Act excludes retail pet stores from its minimum requirements. It’s the USDA’s position that these dealers are retail pet stores. What does that mean? Well, someone could keep hundreds of dogs in cages and bypass the licensing procedure (however lame that procedure is) because they sell directly to the public. More and more, Shain says, this selling is being done on the Internet. There are thousands of puppy mills operating that no one is even looking at. The current laws are insufficient, argue people such as Shain. Like animal cruelty laws in most states, they don’t do the job.

So one would ask – why the lax attitude? Why does this look-the-other-way approach seem to be prevalent regarding the laws that supposedly “protect” these puppy mill animals? “They are looking at agricultural interest,” said Howard. “They think of dogs as livestock, and it’s a very bureaucratic agency.” CAPS meets with the agency occasionally, namely with Dr. Chester Gibson, the deputy of APHIS (Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, which oversees animal care). They made progress when they connected with the former Deputy Secretary of Agriculture, who was appalled at the situation and called in Dr. Gibson for action. “Very little was done,” said Howard. “It’s really hard to shut these places down because, first of all, they are federally licensed, and local authorities don’t want to get involved. Almost all of these places are in rural locations in small tight-knit communities where breeders know the authorities. The USDA just doesn’t do anything. We can present evidence to them. They say, ‘Yes, we are interested in seeing evidence.’ But now, they claim they cannot tell us what happened [with the evidence].”

Now, says Howard, concerned citizens are forced push its requests on these violations via the Freedom of Information Act, a tedious and often fruitless endeavor.

Howard says soon, they are headed to Washington (for the eighth time) to lobby for a congressional oversight hearing, hoping to instigate the Governmental Accountability Office to launch an investigation of their own. “It’s a way of looking at government management to get them to look at the USDA,” says Howard, who is opposed to breeding in general – reputable or not. “Why would you want to contribute to the pet overpopulation. It really bothers me.” I hate to see animals killed, and millions of them lack homes. I don’t understand this obsession. Why do people have to have puppies? They grow up so fast. I love mixed breeds. A rescue dog usually is better because they know you did something special for them. I don’t understand why people need to buy a purebred dog.”

Being affected and reacting in a proactive way are two different things. Even those with the kindest of hearts can be unaware of where an animal may come from that is at a kennel or pet store. Either that, or they repress the knowledge and convince themselves that it is ok.

And actually, Massachusetts is not a puppy mill state. We don’t technically have any here. Most, experts say, operate in the Midwest. Pennsylvania, particularly Lancaster County, is also known for puppy mills. “They have really bad facilities for the most part,” says Howard. “There are a lot of Amish bred puppies. We’ve investigated a number of facilities in Lancaster, and Holmes County in Ohio. Holmes is actually a lot worse.” There are mills located in Oklahoma and New York, as well. The problem is mushrooming as some operate with 20-30 dogs in cages in a garage, unloading the pups through the Internet or ads.

The puppy mills are not in this state, but the puppies bred there definitely are. In fact, says Howard, more than 90 percent of the puppies in pet stores come from mills. One of the “tricks” these stores use on customers is to argue that they are a “USDA licensed facility.” We’ve covered that one. That means you are buying from a puppy mill. “Pet Land really twists the truth,” says Howard. “I’ve seen a lot of their paperwork. They don’t list the broker’s name. They only list the breeder. They want you to think they buy directly from the breeders. That’s why your puppy costs so much; there are several layers involved.” Howard has CAPS members who work undercover at pet shops and says many are given training manuals to educate the worker on what to say to the customer who asks, “do these puppies come from puppy mills?”

In Massachusetts, where a “puppy lemon law” does exist (but is weakly enforced and little known), there are numerous offenders. Essentially, if it is a pet store, chances are you should stay away. And many kennels position themselves as responsible rescues or breeders, but in essence are pet stores in disguise. Laughlin Kennels in Oxford, for instance, last year went through a nasty dispute with Cathy Denaris and Tina Mastrototaro, who say the kennel adopted to them a very sick puppy. The two, who had to adopt the puppy to another family because they couldn’t chase the medical costs, maintain a campaign online and in local papers to warn others of Laughlin. While people such as Shain are reluctant to name names (though others will – just poke around the Internet), the bottom line is that when looking for a new puppy, never buy one unless you see with your own eyes where this dog came from, and that it is humane.

“Many people think that if they don’t have a puppy mill down the street,” says Shain, “then they don’t have a puppy mill problem. Those people couldn’t be more wrong. Puppy mills deliberately operate far from the public eye. Walk in to your local pet store and ask to see the paperwork that comes with the puppies. What you will likely see is that the puppies have been shipped across the US – and just a few weeks of age – to be sold in that swanky pet store.”

Holly Sternberg is the founder of www.petstorecruelty.org, which is both the name of a Web site and a group based in Washington DC determined to end the sale of animals in pet stores: that includes puppies, kittens, rabbits, birds, ferrets, hamsters and all over living creatures. With energy directed at large conglomerates such as Debby’s Pet Land, the group runs an extensive list of companies to boycott on its site – including Massachusetts – that are padded with customer testimonials urging others to resist buying from these stores.

Sternberg became involved in animal protection in 1980, after her image of the US being animal-friendly was shattered while working on her BA in Neurobiology and Animal Behavior at Cornell. “We feel that animals should not be treated as merchandise,” says Sternberg. “Some of these animals, such as birds, are still wild, and should not be kept in captivity at all. We let people know about the horrible ongoing homeless animal crisis and encourage them to help stop the killing by adopting their animals from shelters and rescue groups.” (Note: Sternberg does not imply that bird owners should just open a window and let their pet free. She is arguing that birds should not be captured in the wild and forced into captivity, or bred into captivity, as their complex behavior demands that they fly and flock – a subject for a later issue of Pets!)

There is often the argument of “but I want to save the pet in the store.” But what people need to comprehend, say experts, is that saving that one only kills 100s because it keeps the business alive. With all the lobbying, fighting with the USDA to do its job and trying to shut down pet stores, the answer really lies with the animal buying public. “People need to stop buying the puppies,” says Shain. “It really is that simple.”

Psychologically speaking, people don’t want to believe that the person selling that adorable puppy would lie about where it came from. Furthermore, when the buyer ends up with a sick – or dead – animal, they often are too drained to take legal action. Fighting these companies, and mills, takes so much energy that some have gotten tired of fighting. But thankfully, there are still strong-willed folks on the frontlines.

We are making strides in terms of the public’s knowledge of these places. However, in response to the buyer’s awareness, those who profit from the puppy mill business are developing more savvy tactics to deceive the public. A newer approach is for mills or stores to place ads in community newspapers to give the impression that it is a small, conscientious breeder.

“I am never surprised,” says Shain, “when I talk to someone who has bought a puppy who seemed healthy in the store but who died soon after, and they tell me that the store promised them the puppy came from a good breeder. I have yet to see a case when that is true. In my experience, they have always come from a mass breeding operation. A puppy mill. If you are buying a puppy mill puppy, you are part of the cycle of puppy mill abuse. Your money keeps your puppy’s mom in a cage for her entire life.”

Think about that, and head to a shelter next time.

SIDEBAR: One reporter’s findings

Andrea LePain, investigative producer and co-managing editor for NECN (New England Cable News), spent six months investigating a pet store in Stoughton, MA, called Missy’s Puppyland. The investigation was spawned by several customers complaining to the station that the dogs from the store were sick or genetically defective. Some had incurred thousands of dollars in vet bills.

What she found was surprising, and the result even more surprising.

LePain started her investigation at the Bureau of Animal Health, with which she filed a public records request. It produced a long list of consumer complaints, and Missy’s Puppyland had been cited numerous times for violating state health rules. LePain wanted to check this store for herself. Hidden camera in tow, she noticed some of the dogs for sale to be skinny, timid and unusually lethargic. Others, she adds, had diarrhea, and there was a strong smell of urine permeating the store.

“I went a step further and bought a dog so that I could have it checked out by a vet,” says LePain, “but when I went to pick the dog up, the store owner told me it was too sick to go home with me. So I ended up getting a different dog, and I took that one directly to the vet. The vet found a couple of problems – something with the dog’s eyes and its tail. He also said the puppy was underweight and not breed standard. When he heard I got it from Missy’s, he said he had treated many dogs from that store and had just seen bad health in general.”

Ultimately, LePain confronted the store’s owner, Linda Snow, asking for answers about the problems related to her store. She denied any issues. Interviewing the Bureau of Animal Health produced few answers either. “They basically said all pet stores have problems,” she said, “and they were trying to work with Missy’s rather than shut her down.”

Generally speaking, LePain says people understand what a puppy mill is, and assume that some pet stores get their dogs from such places. However, seeing that cute pup in the store erases this knowledge –at least for the time being. “They can’t resist buying it,” she says, or they feel sorry for the dog and buy it in an effort to – in their minds – rescue it.”

LePain’s story generated dozens of viewers calling or writing to NECN, stating that they were angry that Missy’s – and stores like it – were allowed to stay open. Protests even erupted from the story. Others wrote to the Bureau, trying to urge them to close Missy’s. “To my knowledge, Missy’s is still up and running,” says LePain. “It appears the Bureau issued them a new license this year.”

SIDEBAR TWO: Important Web sites

Confused about where to go, or want to know more about the action being taken regarding puppy mills and the stores who buy from them? There are countless sites focusing on this issue. Do Google all you want, but here are some to click on:

http://www.hsus.org/pets/pet_adoption_information/how_to_find_a_good_dog_breeder/

www.stoppuppymills.org

www.puppybuyersguide.org

http:www.consumeraffairs.com/pets/lemon_ma.html

Attorney Sarah Luick, Animal Champion: Because Animals Should Have Their Day in Court, Too
12.04.08 | 2 Comments
Category: Animal Activism

Appeared as monthly column, “People Making a Difference” in Pets ! Magazine

The world grinds slowly. Social consciousness chugs along so that sometimes we barely sense the advances. This frustrates those passionate for change; Passionate about injustices that, though they seem so blatantly, well, wrong, aren’t addressed with appropriate speed. It can get discouraging, no matter what the war.

Animal lovers crave some good news from the battleground. They want to hear that the wheel is turning. That we are evolving.

We are, especially if you listen to advocates such as Sarah Luick, a Massachusetts attorney with a penchant for animal law.

As a kid, Luick would keep tabs on animals in her neighborhood and make sure they got home safely. She’d watch birds and marvel at them taking off and going about their business. She didn’t want to dominate them. She only wanted to protect them.

She was destined to protect them. As a board member with the Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF) and the Massachusetts Animal Coalition, she’s on the frontlines in the battle against cruelty. And though she says we’ve got some serious hurdles to clear, people are becoming more intolerant of injustices against animals.

“It does frustrate me,” says Luick, “but there are changes. I think the media even covering cruelty cases leads to outrage often. Just having it in the public view has made changes in how we view our pets. We are beginning to see changes, even with information on how cruel we can be with food animals and lab animals. We’re starting to see that industries using these animals have to pay attention more than they ever had to in the past.”

Luick serves on the board for the Massachusetts Animal Coalition, which is meant to gain working relationships and networking for those who do companion animal work as well as feral cat work (and much more – visit www.massanimalcoalition.org for lots of information). And since the early ‘80s, for ALDF, which is an organization that provides free legal work for any prosecutor across the country trying an animal cruelty case, Luick has been assisting with expert legal advice to give their cases the best chance at victory.

As a child, watching those birds in flight, she might not have been able to express it as eloquently as she can today, but Luick was always infuriated by humans‘ disgraceful treatment of animals. “I don’t understand why society should ever allow pain and suffering and depravation of any creature capable of feeling pain,” she says. “At the very least, you have to justify it through the balance of interest tests. I always wondered why I didn’t go down the same route as rescue people. But to me, this is about people. Why is this acceptable? If you can’t use people the way you use animals, how can you get away with it without anyone questioning it?”

In Massachusetts, if the District Attorney deems an animal cruelty crime a felony, someone convicted of the crime may be punished with up to five years in jail and a $2,500 fine. Many agree that the law should not only be stricter, but more strongly enforced. Cruelty laws tend to be “interesting” in that they are rather vague, which sometimes can be a strength in court, and sometimes a weakness.

Luick says that’s where ALDF helps, and where those in law enforcement are coming around. To her, attention is slower to come around to what she calls “institutionalized cruelty,” such as puppy mills, laboratories and farms. “We really do have more of an ethic in regard to our companion animals,” says Luick, “in that we won’t accept animal cruelty. That means local police departments can’t ignore it either, or it will be on the news that they have. I think the difficulty comes in where you’re talking about a large number of animals. The remedy to prevent it from continuing or happening again needs new direction and new thought and new cooperation between all organizations.”

Growing up in Boston, Luick attended Suffolk University, and specialized in animal law. It was a rarity 25 years ago, but thankfully, more common today. Now, more law schools have courses in animal law. More bar associations have animal law committees. And it’s becoming standard for law schools to have student groups involved in animal laws. In years to come, as these students enter the work force, the change will only positively infiltrate the system. The animals of the world are quietly applauding.

But it’s something Luick knew long ago. She’s glad others are coming along, and is full of faith. “I think because I’m an attorney,” says Luick, “I have confidence that our legal system is really meant to address and find a remedy for what are clear and obvious wrongs.”

For more information on the Animal Legal Defense Fund, visit http://www.aldf.org/.

SIDEBAR: The state of animal cruelty

In February of this year, the ALDF compiled statistics for 50 states to report on how each fared in its laws to protect animals from cruelty and neglect. Stephan Otto, ALDF’s director of legislative affairs, reported that while each state had room for improvement, some states were clearly stronger than others in their concern for animals.

Here’s what they found.

Comparing overall strength and comprehensiveness

States with the best laws
California
Illinois
Maine
Michigan
Oregon

States with the worst laws
Hawaii
Idaho
Kentucky
North Dakota
Utah

The top tier (the states that treat their animals the best): California, Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Hampshire, Oregon, Rhode Island, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin, Vermont, Virginia

The middle tier: Alabama, Arizona, Connecticut, Georgia, Iowa, Louisiana, Maryland, Missouri, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York, Nevada, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee

The bottom tier: Alaska, Arkansas, District of Columbia, Hawaii, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Mississippi, Montana, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Wyoming

Those that made the “worst” lists landed there for a variety of reasons, including no felony animal cruelty provisions, inadequate definitions/standards of basic care, no humane agents, inadequate provisions for forfeiture of abused animals and no separate crime for the sexual assault of an animal.

This report by the ALDF is the first of its kind, and the organization has plans to release one on an annual basis. Visit the site for the complete report.

SIDEBAR 2: a major victory for ALDF

The Animal Legal Defense Fund is often victorious for our animals in the courts. But as a group, it has been highly concerned in recent years with issues that affect large groups of animals such as hoarding, puppy mills and factory practices. Last year, the ALDF made history when it was successful in getting a mill shut down.

Sarah Luick explains: “The Animal Legal Defense Fund recently won a first of its kind and unprecedented court victory in Sanford, North Carolina where a unique state law allows any person or organization to sue an animal abuser. In April 2005, the judge granted an injunction allowing ALDF and county authorities to remove more than 300 diseased, neglected and abused dogs from the home of a local couple. As a result of this lawsuit, the couple was prosecuted for and found guilty of animal cruelty. In addition, ALDF was granted custody of the animals with the ability to provide them with needed veterinary care. ALDF subsequently won the right to restrict the couple’s visitation rights while the dogs remained in custody during ongoing appeals.”

Letting Go: The Pain of Saying Goodbye to Your Best Friend
12.04.08 | No Comments
Category: Animal Activism

As published in Pets! Magazine, 2007

Tina Zlody and Louie Despres spent years keeping their dog Olivia’s Cushings Disease at bay with monthly acupuncture sessions. Heart disease, too, would plague her later in life. Her heart finally took her at 14 years old last year. That prior August, Zlody had to put her cat Tawny Kittaen to sleep because of kidney failure at only nine. A stray in “not the best neighborhood,” Tawny had worked hard to win over Zlody, who had never grown up with cats.

“The day my husband was to leave on a trip,” said Zlody, “was the day we had decided that she needed to not be in pain anymore. He offered to postpone the trip in order to be with me. I explained that she was my cat and that I had to do it alone. I miss her every day. Olivia had a great long life. Tawny had a short, bad life.”

But the death that resonated most deeply, in retrospect, was her first dog, Maggie. Zlody got her after moving out of her parents house and it was the first that was “hers,” and she was Maggie’s. “In so many ways she kept me on the right path,” says Zlody. “I could have done very silly things, but just the idea that I had to be there for her, care for her, made me more responsible. She was with me through relationships, job changes, moves and was the one constant in my life. She was my soul dog. She got sick with pancriatitis and I didn’t see the symptoms in time. Again, it breaks my heart to this day that I had to put her to sleep, and not at our vet.”

The loss is profound, and difficult to recover from for true animal lovers. “We do everything for them,” said Zlody. “and that is a huge emotional investment, so the loss leaves a huge void. They play a role in everyday activities. They are the first thing I deal with when I get up and the last thing at night. I also think that people, if they are dealing with a longterm human illness, have time to hopefully make peace with each other. I had no opportunity to apologize to Maggie for missing her symptoms and to thank her for all she had done for me.”

It is love in the absence of words that makes it transcend language. It is the lack of a language that makes it hard to explain and hard to say goodbye. It is the way pets are woven into the very fabric of our lives that make it feel that the world is unraveling when they go.

Jeannie Hebert of Shrewsbury has lost many animal companions in her years of adopting dogs and cats. Within the past year, she said goodbye to her 21 year old cat Louie, and more recently, her white German shepherd Kirby. “To me, it is as if I have lost a child,” she said. “Kirby was my constant companion and the source of much joy to me. During the span of those years [with him] my life changed drastically. My marriage broke up, I changed careers, but Kirby was there for me each and every day. Even when those I believed to be my most trusted friends disappeared, he was there with love and compassion….when he passed I was crushed. He seemed invincible to me.”

They are our rocks. So how can you cope when that rock is gone?

Judith N. Stone, LICSW and grief counselor with more than 25 years experience, works with Vescone, a 24-hour veterinary emergency and specialty center that offers 24 hour coverage, in leading its free pet loss support group. “People can call Vescone 24/7 for support and information about pet loss,” said Stone. “They can come once or as many times as they would like.”

Stone explains that many have such a difficult – sometimes seemingly impossible – time coping with the death of their pet for a variety of reasons. “First and foremost,” she said, “pets tend to provide unconditional, uncomplicated love and devotion to their owners. Their needs are simpler and they provide true and steady companionship and comfort, something that can be harder to find in human relationships.” They also enhance human relationships, she reminds us. Couples and families refer to and think of pets as members. For single people, they are family.

“There is more and more evidence of a wide range of emotinal experience in animals. I think we as humans get great satisfaction from experiencing that emotion and mutuality with another species. For all of these reasons and more, the death of an animal companion means the breaking of a powerful bond, the rupturing of an attachment, and it can therefore be devastating.”

There are lots of ways to help people cope with this devastation, explains Stone. It’s important to validate the range of feelings, which include pain, sadness, confusion, fear, anger, emptiness, loneliness and disbelief. Sometimes it can be hard to find this empathy, and it is a critical part of support. It is particularly helpful in a group setting, said Stone, because members share stories, grief and their own ways of coping. Almost always, Stone finds, people who come to the support group have experienced a lack of empathy from others – others who lack the understanding of the animal-human bond.

As with losing a human, at first, many cannot grasp the reality of the death. “When Kirby passed,” said Hebert, “I literally took to my bed. I would collapse in a sea of tears at just the mention of him.” It’s important to allow space to those who need to grieve. In Stone’s group, there is discussion about the stages of the grief process.

“Crying, thinking a great deal about their companion, talking, even ‘talking to’ the lost loved one,” said Stone, “keeping a toy, blanket or other object that reminds them of their pet for a time can all be useful ways to move through grief.”

For Hebert, part of letting go meant giving Kirby a proper burial, just she had done for her beloved Hannah, who died years earlier of the same type of cancer, and others before them. She had already picked out a plot at Angel View Cemetery in Middleboro, which took care of the arrangements. “They were so kind and understanding,” said Hebert. “It was exactly the same as planning a funeral for a human. To me, Kirby was as important to me as any other human in my life. Much more than some, really.” Kirby’s family and friends gathered around him to say goodbye, and be there for support.

Hebert will most likely adopt another pet, eventually, especially to fill the void and give a companion to Pia, Kirby’s best buddy. But Stone reminds us that it’s usually a good idea to wait for some time so the person is emotionally ready to accept another pet into their home and heart. It’s advisable, too, that the new pet not look like the one that has passed.

“I think there is a great need for grief counseling,” said Stone, “but often people have a hard time asking for help or don’t know that resources are available. Our culture doesn’t offer a lot of support for grief. Working with people who are grieving is a powerful, fulfilling experience for the counselor. It gets down to the bedrock of human experience. It can allow for a special kind of openness and healing that is like no other.”