Blackfish Killer Whale Trainer Makes Big Splash at New York’s Animal Advocacy Day

Blackfish Killer Whale Trainer Makes Big Splash at New York’s Animal Advocacy Day

John Hargrove and Kim Clune

New York’s Animal Advocacy Day

An army of animal advocates descended upon the Legislative Office Building for New York State’s 4th Annual Animal Advocacy Day on Wednesday, May 28. This free, bipartisan, and yearly event, hosted by Senator Greg Ball and Assemblyman Jim Tedisco, enables animal supporters to network, share information, and lobby legislators. This year, topics ranged from creating a registered list of NYS animal abusers to the prevention of horse slaughter.

Animal Advocacy Day 2014

While I attended as president of Dog House Adoptions, the dog rescue I co-founded in 2012, my humane interests have long revolved around all animals, domestic and wild. This was my impetus for co-founding the community based animal advocacy site Be the Change for Animals in 2010 (which will be resurrected on June 28th). The site highlights causes that advocate for humane treatment of circus elephants, captive exotics, mill dogs, migrating birds, whales of all types, and more.

John Hargrove of Blackfish

Thanks to that last hot topic, a significant highlight of my day was meeting John Hargrove, one of many former SeaWorld killer whale trainers featured in the documentary Blackfish. As the film’s website descibes:

BlackfishBlackfish tells the story of Tilikum, a performing killer whale that killed several people while in captivity. Along the way, director-producer Gabriela Cowperthwaite compiles shocking footage and emotional interviews to explore the creature’s extraordinary nature, the species’ cruel treatment in captivity, the lives and losses of the trainers and the pressures brought to bear by the multi-billion dollar sea-park industry.

John is co-sponsoring the Orca Welfare and Safety Act in California and similar proposed legislation in New York, hoping to end the use of killer whales in captivity for entertainment. A petition in support of the New York legislation has received over 10,000 signatures. To sign the petition visit:

John is the [Photo] Bomb

Slated as a special guest speaker for Animal Advocacy Day, John was running a bit late. As the remainder of attendees filled the stairwell of the Legislative Office Building for a group photo, John slipped in under the wire and addressed us all. The most poignant point he made is that awareness is an evolutionary process.

We start as trainers because you love those whales. You want a life with those whales. And then, as you progress higher through the ranks, you start to see things from the corporate end of it, the corporate greed and exploitation that you don’t agree with. And, even as a high ranking trainer, you cannot stop those things from happening.

But John knows that you can stop it from the outside using pressure from the media. And he’s now taking every opportunity to do just that. He followed up with this note to me:

You were awesome and it was incredible for me to be around so many who care about animals just as much as I do- regardless if you’re experience is with killer whales, dogs, horses, or whatever/ we all have the same heart and [were there] for the same reasons. I had a great day- and we are winning this fight. It’s really happening.

Watch John’s Talk

Shooting video from a tripod during the final photo, and with my DSLR on me as I stood in the crowd, I felt lucky to have captured a distinctly moving talk from a man who spent 14 years so intimately working with captive whales, knowing their suffering and acting as their voice. Now you can experience that, too.

More on Blackfish

If you haven’t yet seen Blackfish, you can view it through iTunes, Netflix and on DVD.

For more about John’s thoughts on his career and the treatment of the whales, watch DP/30’s interview of John with Blackfish documentarian Gabriela Cowperthwaite.

Bonus Material

How fun is this?! This screen grab is a picture I posted to my Facebook timeline, which John then made his profile picture…

John Hargrove and Kim Clune

Every African Elephant Lost Within 20 Years?

Every African Elephant Lost Within 20 Years?

Wild Elephants of Mole National Park, Ghana - Photo: Kim Clune

Wild Elephants of Mole National Park, Ghana, July 27, 2008 – Photo: Kim Clune

One of my life’s most magical moments was watching a family of four wild African elephants emerge from Mole National Forest for a swim. Mole refuge spans 3000 square miles but, as large and mostly untouched by humans as this special place is, poaching elephants for ivory is still greatly feared. You Can Help These Elephants.

Humane Society International shared a startling fact last week.

Every single day, 100 African elephants are slaughtered for their tusks. If current poaching rates continue, this beloved animal will be gone forever in the next 20 years.

Being born a majestic elephant is an ill fate indeed. Whether captured for carnival cruelty, limited to life in a zoo, or shot dead to make souvenir trinkets, our human impact has made this world a deadly place for these magnificent and emotional beings.

Good News on the African Elephant Horizon

In November of 2013, the U.S. government crushed more than five tons of its confiscated ivory stockpile. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe said:

We’re doing this to send a signal to the world that we need to crush the illegal trade in ivory and wildlife products in general.

Weeks later, China, the world’s largest market for elephant products, followed suit by publicly crushing six tons of confiscated ivory, an equivalent to 2,000 poached elephants. While there are plenty of issues still as stake, like China’s still legal ivory trade, this is an important first step.

Keep the Momentum Going in Hong Kong!

Join forces with Humane Society International. Urge the Hong Kong government to destroy the ivory it has confiscated.

It must join the U.S. and China in sending a message to poachers and traffickers that their days of profiting from killing are coming to an end.

Sign the Petition!

Humane Society International - Destroy Hong Kong’s Ivory Stockpile!

Petition Text: African elephant poaching has reached critical levels. With 100 elephants being killed every single day and tons of illegally shipped ivory being seized on an almost monthly basis, urgent action is needed to put an end to this crisis.

Hong Kong needs to join other governments — including those of China, the Philippines, and the United States — in taking meaningful action to protect elephants by destroying its stockpile of confiscated ivory.

This important step would highlight the plight of the tens of thousands of elephants at risk of being wiped out by greed. I urge you to destroy the Hong Kong government’s stockpile to help save these majestic animals before it is too late.

Thank you for caring about wild elephants like the ones I met in Ghana. 

Wild Elephants of Mole National Park, Ghana, July 27, 2008 - Photo: Kim Clune

Kim Clune with a Park Ranger and Wild Elephants of Mole National Park,
Ghana, July 27, 2008

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Say No to Whales! #BTC4A

Say No to Whales! #BTC4A

2012.10.28 Georgia Aquarium

A free ticket and a desire to learn about ocean conservation landed me at the Georgia Aquarium a year ago. I was wholly impressed with their tremendous space, engineering, advanced technology, and how much information I absorbed. That was until, ultimately and sadly, I entered the dolphin show to see the equivalent of a circus performance and not the premium educational program I expected. Explosive music hurt my head and flashing lights were nauseating.I couldn’t fathom how this act of fairy-tale fiction was part of GA’s mission for education, research, or conservation. All I could see were 2 kids saying “I want one!” Terrific.

I headed for the door. Watching wildlife enslaved and exploited solely for human delight isn’t my thing.

On my way out, I passed the Beluga whales. As I watched them gracefully glide and float, anger subsided and joy took its place. I can’t help but think that these are one of the most beautiful species on this planet. Taking a seat for what I thought would be just a moment, I couldn’t tear myself away. But my perception changed as I sat watching. Over and over again, these beautiful whales rounded what amounts to a pond, bouncing themselves off of the confines of the glass.

Watch for yourself. This is the video I shot in October of 2012.

These creatures who had so quickly captured my heart were the cause of it breaking as I realized what a very sad and repetitious life they lead. GA boasts of having the largest aquarium habitat in the world, but it’s nothing more than a small prison to these incredibly intelligent whales who naturally explore 100s of miles of ocean out of sheer curiosity.

1.) Say No to New Russian Import Whales

I learned upon my return home that the Georgia Aquarium was asking permission from NMFS (now NOAA) to import 18 more Belugas from Russia for display. Sustainability of the whales in human captivity was of great concern, as was research and conservation – although the GA spends only 3% of their annual funding on conservation efforts. GA’s application, the first of its kind in more than 20 years, was also the first public display permit ever denied by NOAA in August. NOAA’s reasons include all the various ways that removing the whales from their natural habitat would cause considerable damage to the animals’ wild population. Read NOAA’s decision for yourself.

Guess what. GA is appealing the decision.  If overturned, Georgia Aquarium will transport the whales under breeding loan agreements to other U.S. partner facilities including Sea World of Florida, Sea World of Texas, Sea World of California, Shedd Aquarium and possibly Mystic Aquarium. (See SeaWorld’s issues below.)

How do these animals come to be captured? Watch if you’re brave enough.

If you agree that public display and hope of successful captive breeding to keep displays full isn’t enough reason to open Russia’s door on cruelly capturing and selling wild marine animals, tell GA!

Contact Public Relations:
Meghann Gibbons
Director, Communications
(404) 581-4109


2.) Keep Whales Off Our Streets!

sad orca

And now, just in time for Thanksgiving, turkeys aren’t the only ones running for cover. SeaWorld will get promotional glory in Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade with their own float… unless we decide that it is not acceptable to enslave highly intelligent marine creatures like whales and dolphins. When these animals are confined in a small space, they become bored, angry, and lash out. Their human handlers have died when this happens, but it is humans who are at fault.

According to PETA’s petition, they have made Macy’s well aware of SeaWorld’s cruel treatment of animals, lack of concern for safety, and willful violation of federal law. Macy’s doesn’t seem to care, so let’s tell them how much WE do.

Tell Macy’s that promoting SeaWorld at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade is offensive.  


3.) Keep Wild Aquatics Out of New Aquarium

2012.10.28 Georgia Aquarium

In June, Omni Development Co. announced a plan for a downtown Albany, NY science museum, aquarium and an IMAX-type theater on land originally targeted for an Albany Convention Center. On August 21, they announced hiring a consulting firm to study the feasibility of such a project. ConsultEcon of Cambridge, Mass., described as “the leading consultant to the aquarium and educational attractions industry,” has done numerous aquarium studies for cities in the U.S., Europe, Asia and Australia … including Atlanta. (Feel like you’re circling the same tank over and over yet?) The first phase of results is expected to be finished by the end of September and the findings shared with the public.

Well, some of the public isn’t waiting to be asked. Thanks to, a petition exists to express why a new aquarium is a bad idea. Albany may not be your home town, but consider this. The aquatic animals ripped from their natural habitat belong to none other than this Earth. And it’s our collective job to protect them no matter where you live.

Please tell Albany “No New Aquarium!”

Thanks for all your help today! This post (and those listed below) is written in honor of Blog the Change for Animals, which happens the 15th of every January, April, July and October. Join us!

Too Many Mill Dog Rescues. Make It Stop. #BTC4A

Too Many Mill Dog Rescues. Make It Stop. #BTC4A

Leila, our latest Mill Dog Rescue

In April, my dog rescue was invited to work in support of another to save mill dogs. Contrary to my title above, there are never too many mill dog rescues. I want to save them all. But there are far too many reasons to have to rescue, and that’s what needs to stop. You have the power to make the difference just by making a simple, educated choice – even if you aren’t in the market for a dog.

How the dogs come…

An unending supply of beautiful little souls arrive through a contact who begged puppy mills to give up their unwanted dogs. These dogs would otherwise be shot for lack of productivity or for missing traits of the breeds that they are supposed to represent.

Our contact gets the call, retrieves dog-filled crates at the end of a mill’s driveway, surveys the dogs for immediate health concerns, and sends them on a 12 hour transport to freedom.

When 2 means 30…

Last Thursday’s call said two dogs were ready for pickup. Somehow 2 meant 30. Mills are dumping dogs now that a new law went into effect. Puppies were pulled from 3 young moms by millers that morning and the mothers, leaking milk, were shoved into small crates two at a time.

On Friday, 11 of the 30 dogs came to New York (photos). Before that it was 17. It takes 3-4 rescue organizations to handle this many dogs at once and so we’ve joined forces to do the greatest amount of good.

11 Puppy Mill Rescues

Its estimated that our mill sources house anywhere from 500 to 800 breeder dogs living a life of pure hell. Jemma, a white rescued Chihuahua, was just one of these dogs. And yet she is such a happy, shining soul despite her need for reconstructive surgery for poor genetics (We know her one son, now adopted, was born the same way and nearly thrown away, yet the mills kept breeding Jemma and selling her “purebred” pups.). Can you please chip in for Jemma’s care? 

When the dogs arrive…

Never have you seen a more happy dog when the world opens before them beyond a crowded chicken wire cage. These dogs light up regardless of oozing paws damaged from wire cage floors, eyes so sticky the dog can’t see through the flies, internal parasites so plentiful that up to 3 dewormings are required, teeth fully rotted from poor nutrition and lack of water, or kidneys so weak they only have 35% function.  Some immediately seek human touch and comfort. Others take a bit longer to understand, but they do learn with patience and love.

What boils my blood…

We protect our contact’s identity to preserve a mill’s hard-earned trust, trust that took years to build and which remains precarious regardless. But I abhor the fact that we must shield the identity of the mills in order to save the dogs. None of us in New York know where exactly the dogs come from beyond which state. The paperwork is color coded so we are kept blind to the details. We must often remind ourselves that, at the end of the day, our contact and the Companion Animal Placement Program has saved truckloads of dogs this way and that we at Dog House Adoptions have joined a valiant and vigilant fight.

Know the facts…

Pet stores will tell you that their puppies come from “USDA licensed breeders.” USDA licensure is a good indicator that the breeders are, in fact, puppy mills. Licensing by the USDA as a commercial breeder is strictly reserved for those selling puppies to pet stores or brokers. Even the meager guidelines they tend not to enforce are horrific.

According to the ASPCA:

Under the federal Animal Welfare Act, which is enforced by the USDA, dogs in commercial breeding facilities can legally be kept in cages only six inches longer than the dog in each direction, stacked on top of one another, for their entire lives.  It’s completely legal to house dogs in cages with wire flooring and to breed female dogs at every opportunity.

One way mills skirt the law is to sell their dogs strictly online. This type of sale falls into a loophole that does not require USDA licensing or inspection. If you think paying good money for papers ensures a healthy breeding stock, you are sorely mistaken.

Do your dollars support the mill dog industry?

ASPCA - Don't Shop 'til They StopYou may be supporting a life of cruelty for millions of dogs confined to pumping out puppies like machines. Refuse to do either of the following and you can change that fact:

  • Do not purchase a puppy at a pet store or online
  • Buy your pet supplies from stores (online or brick and mortar) that do not sell puppies

Find ethical pet stores by zip code thanks to the ASPCA. Visit the database to find one near you or add one that you know of! Just remember, don’t shop ’til they stop. Your dollar makes the difference.

Meet the one that grabbed my heart…

Kim Clune and Puppy Mill Rescue, Leila

Kim Clune and Mill Rescue Leila

This little lady from Friday’s transport made me fall apart, a little momma who ran joyfully like the others but instantly froze and closed her eyes at my touch. Being spayed today, she’ll never have to deliver or lose another puppy. (Her last puppy was taken away.)

We’re going to heal her eyes and I will do everything in my power to help her see that touch is every bit as good as she thinks it might be. Last night, in my lap, she flattened to me as if to disappear … yet she let me feed her this way. I set her down and she came right back. It’s a start.

I’ve named her Leila, honoring her with more than a number, if she even had that. My husband and I are personally sponsoring her care. This one has my whole heart wrapped around her. If she weren’t at the vet, I’d be with her right now. Since I’m not, I’m using my time to ask for your help.

Please consider adoption.

Every single day, sweet dogs like Leila need you and they will quickly blossom in your care. Nothing feels better than knowing that you gave a dog a chance.

Blog the Change for Animals the 15th of every January, April, July and October, an event sponsored by Be the Change for Animals.

Neil Brogan Dishes on Life With Dogs!

Neil Brogan Dishes on Life With Dogs!

Neil Brogan Still Living Life With Dogs

If you haven’t already heard, the Life With Dogs website is a world leader in dog news and entertainment. You’ll find dogs in the news, reviews and giveaways, fun dog and puppy videos, and the co-home of the Saturday Pet Blogger Hop.

The site, now managed by multiple authors, leaves little to be desired for the dog obsessed pet lover. Except for Life With Dogs’ creator, Neil Brogan. Oh, he’s still around in an advisory capacity, but he’s also shifted focus on life, love, and how to best use his talents to impact dogs’ lives going forward.

I miss Neil’s larger-than-life presence, and I recently caught up with him (interview below). Doing so brought back lots of memories.

Life With Dogs: The Early Years

What I treasured most about Life With Dogs: The Early Years were Neil’s hilarious, shoot-milk-out-your-nose memoirs and comics. If you’re new to the site, you’ve missed spectacular stories about what it meant for Neil and his wife, Mrs. Author, to be pet parents to dogs Nigel, Sola and Truffles – and Cracker, the oft dog-snubbed cat.

One precious gem entitled “Who You Gonna Call?” offers a voyeuristic glimpse into life at the Brogan household. Neil writes:

Got junk? Life With Dogs For some reason not known to me, Nigel, Sola and Truffles share a common goal: complete and utter fruitbowl decimation. Not a day passes without a paw, tail, or deliberately thrown snout making contact with my nether regions. It is not at all uncommon for Mrs. Author to walk around a corner to find me writhing on the floor, cursing one of our critters.

SPOILER ALERT: Mrs. Author crafted this fashion accessory in Neil’s defense. Meet Mr. Strainer … and then go read the whole bit. It’s 100% worth it.

Strained - Life With Dogs

Where in the World is Nigel Buggers?

Dog lovers identified a bit of themselves in Neil’s stories, and a special bond grew. But Neil didn’t stop at storytelling.

Leading greyhound Nigel Buggers appeared in a limited edition print by Kathleen Coy used by the Friends of Buggers Society (FOBS) to raise funds for A Place to Bark animal rescue. The project not only raised a good deal of money, it joined an entire global community in a game of  “Where in the World is Nigel Bugger (WITWINB)?

Nigel’s print appeared around the world – from posing with Elvis and Gene Simmons impersonators in Vegas to crashing tropical island weddings. And Neil shared every picture that came in saying:

This journey continues to astound me, and I am ever so thankful to this gutsy, humorous, dog-crazy group of fun loving people who continue to push the boundaries of good taste in the name of charity.

Nigel and Elvis Nigel and Gene Simmons

The Funtastic Fudge and Friends

Fudge and Friends Stick

The site also became home to Jason Dodge’s Fudge and Friends comic strip, complete with story line competitions that earned winners a comic strip featuring their own dog.

To see our winning entry, visit Our Favorite Dog Word: “Fudge!”. Although our use of fudge is a euphemism for another delicous F-word, Fudge in Life With Dogs’ terms refers to Neil’s beloved dog Truffles who is also nicknamed Fudgepants.

LWD Turned Activist

One of the more difficult shifts for me to watch was the very conscious decision Neil made to raise awareness about the not-so-pretty life of dogs. In 2010, the passion of pet bloggers attending a conference opened Neil’s eyes to the power of online animal welfare education. So moved by the community, he decided to use Life With Dogs to shed a bright light on the dark underbelly of animal abuse.

As an animal advocate often working in the trenches, it is too difficult for me to follow abuse cases of situations that I cannot change, and so I stopped frequenting Life With Dogs but for the fun and funny post that would grab my attention on Facebook. I know many others who felt the same way. But we are clearly in the minority.

Life With Dogs’ popularity rapidly grew and, while dog lovers rallied in anger behind the abuse stories, they also frolicked in the fun stories, cried at the most endearing stories, and laughed out loud at the most silly dog situations. What Neil says he prided himself on was daily care and attention to always mix it up. You never knew what you were going to get at Life With Dogs but you’d often experience every emotion available to humans.

An Interview with Neil Brogan

So, how did Neil manage all this, a career in IT, a marriage, and still remain connected to his 4 pets? I asked him to spill the beans…

TOWL: Neil, what kind of commitment did it take to run Life With Dogs and how did that level of commitment change over the years?

NB: Those are two entirely different questions – because the focus of the site changed so dramatically. Initially, I only worked when inspiration struck. Once it was apparent that an audience was building, I had to reevaluate where my time was best spent. So for the first year or two I had a normal, sane life. Then everything exploded.

When our content focus shifted I felt self-induced pressure to stay on top of all things dog related. That is impossible of course, but holding myself to a high standard benefited the site in the long term. I considered it sweat equity. And for the last two years, LWD ate up my entire existence. There isn’t a single night in that period when I got more than 4 hours of sleep. I worked around the clock.

TOWL: How did two-legger Mrs. Author, survive it – (or has she)?

NB: Just barely. Were she not the most patient woman I know we could have ended up in trouble. She jumped in to help with giveaways, PR and reader relations. And it was still too big for both of us. For the last year, we had no time for non-essential communication. We had a million visitors a month and were receiving 150-300 e-mails a day. So call her a saint…

TOWL: When Life With Dogs eventually became about all things dog, advocacy suddenly and often took center stage. You began to share and track dog abuse stories in order to raise awareness – a move that felt very different from LWD historically. What was the specific impetus for this shift?

NB: I shifted the focus – away from myself and my dogs – because I knew that a large audience could actually impact some of the greater challenges facing this wonderful species that gives us so much more than we were able to give back.

TOWL: How did your readers react?

NB: Surprisingly well. They rolled with it and I did not expect that. But by this time many readers were also friends and were willing to support the change.

TOWL: What was your most popular type of feature?

NB: Given our demo (75-80% female readership) stories that featured women saving dogs or dogs saving women were always a hit. And our features regarding dogs that had languished in shelters for years were shared far and wide. Each ended in success, and those were my personal favorites. Seeing a dog go home after 8 or 10 years in a shelter was a huge relief.

TOWL: Have you been involved with any real-life advocacy projects beyond Life With Dogs?

NB: We were instrumental in getting public support for a bill that outlawed roadside puppy sales. We did news interviews and helped make Vermonters aware of the bad breeders who were coming here from other states to peddle puppy mill dogs.

We celebrated the passage of the bill, and shortly thereafter, three dogs we rescued from a mill breeder (who was selling sick dogs on the side of the road in Vermont) all died in a one year span – and all from complications caused by bad breeding. It was a heartbreaking exclamation point of sorts.

TOWL: What has the latest transition at Life With Dogs been like?

NB: Hard. I am very much a hands-on person and am no longer allowed to be. I am retraining myself. I like to roll up my sleeves and get in the trenches and I have to resist that temptation.

TOWL: How involved are you still?

NB: I remain involved in an advisory capacity. I no longer create daily content. I need time to grow the non-profit I’ve founded and can’t find enough time in a day to do both.

TOWL: What do you like most about Life With Dogs now?

NB: The fact that it has so much reach and impact. It continues to grow to this day, and I’m smart enough to realize that at this point it would probably continue to do so without me. I like that.

TOWL: How are the dogs and cat enjoying semi-retirement? 

NB: That question assumes that they have worked at some point. If they have, I want their jobs!

LWD - Shuffleboard

In all seriousness, this has been great for them. It’s ironic – I created a website for dogs that became so busy I had little time for my own. When I realized that was the case, I knew it was time to step back and reclaim my life. Hence, the merger. Now we have time again, and it’s been a blessing.

TOWL: What does the future hold for the Life With Dogs clan?

NB: We’re getting ready to launch a new non-profit. If all goes well, it will provide millions in charity (on an ongoing basis) for shelters and rescue organizations.

TOWL:Neil, this is all very exciting, and I wish you all the best! I do hope you’ll come back and talk about your launch.

And to you, my dear reader, I suggest you keep a lookout. From everything I’ve learned about Neil’s exciting new non-profit, its grand scope will make an enormous difference for dogs in need – in a way that every pet lover can take part.

While trading in his punchy personal essays for a massive IT challenge, Neil remains dedicated to the many loves of his life (in addition to Mrs. Author, of course)…. dogs. And we’d expect nothing less from the man who brought us that special online community with the grandiose life of its own, Life With Dogs.

Help Comedian Steve Hofstetter End the Mills

End The Mills with Steve Hofstetter

Following Comedian Steve Hofstetter’s dog journey, I grow more and more fond of the funny man. Yes, I’m a fan of his comedy, but I’m an even greater fan of his compassion and commitment to animals.

Steve went from respecting his wife Sara’s animal welfare interests at a distance to adopting a rescue dog now named Bea Arthur and using his celebrity status to promote rescue. Offering a stray dog named Carlin the only comfort of his last few days on Earth last month, now Steve is turning animal activist to change the outcome of a topic so large that it hasn’t been properly tackled to date – ending puppy mills.

Having been part of the enormous 4-rescue effort of rehabilitating 17 mill rescues brought to New York two weeks ago, and poised to personally rescue more in the coming days with the Companion Animal Placement Program and Dog House Adoptions, I’ve learned that the work involved in unraveling the damage done to a single dog by a single puppy mill, while incredibly rewarding, takes a significant emotional toll. Many thousands if not millions more dogs need our help.

Steve’s latest message gives me hope. I share it with gratitude for the work he and Sara are doing to make a very real difference. We can rescue mill dogs all we want, but the problem will always be bigger than the resources available to cope – unless we eradicate the problem’s source.

From Steve:

My wife Sara reached out to you with our story about Carlin, the abandoned dog we found in a gas station parking lot that had to be put down. The support and kind wishes we received were overwhelming, as close to 250,000 people read and shared Carlin’s story.

I wanted to reach out with a thank you, and some good news. The heartbreak inspired me to start a legislative campaign to end all puppy mills once and for all. With my contacts in the media and government, passing this is a realistic possibility. And Carlin’s story convinced our landlords to let us have a second dog – so we might not have saved his life, but his life saved another.

If you’d be willing to share this story [featured below], it’s a lot more uplifting than the last one, and will hopefully inspire more people to adopt.

And if you’d like to join our campaign to end puppy mills, please visit Even one petition signature helps a great deal, as we’ll be pursuing legislation on a federal, state, city, and local basis.

Thank you so much,
Steve Hofstetter

The Happy Ending

Steve Hofstetter and CarlinIt’s been 18 days since my wife, Sara, and I found a stray dog in a gas station. It’s been 18 days since we cleaned him off, fed him, and named him Carlin. It’s been 18 days since we learned Carlin was in the advanced stages of distemper and we had to put him down. It’s been 18 days since I cried for the first time in years.

I knew I’d become a dog person already. What I didn’t know was the extent. For two years, we had a little Puerto Rican roommate named Bea Arthur that showed me just how much I could love a dog. But in just a few hours, Carlin taught me that loving one was not enough.

I will never forget the shock of the vet telling me that Carlin had distemper. We knew something was very wrong. But the optimist in me thought everything would work out. The optimist in me likes to get my hopes up just enough to set up an impending heartbreak. Turns out the optimist in me is also a sadist.

There was a brief moment when I was thrilled that the vet agreed to take Carlin in, before I realized that he was taking him in just to end things mercifully. That emotional cliff dive was like nothing I’d ever experienced. I went from the relief of knowing Carlin would be cared for to the anguish that this was somehow our fault. We were happy to give Carlin his literal moment in the sun. But, as illogical as the thought was, I couldn’t escape the fear that we were partially responsible.

I wrote a column about Carlin – both as catharsis for me and a tribute to him. I must have re-read it a dozen times, hoping that somehow the results would be different. But you can’t change the ending. Ilsa gets on the plane, Soylent Green is made of people, and the boat always sinks. Sara and I weren’t whole for days.

The oddest part was when we’d interact with other people. When you’re that emotionally distraught, it’s difficult to understand that everyone around you isn’t just as sad. Even a world champion in empathy can’t truly relate to someone else’s loss. We couldn’t connect to anyone.

Well, we connected to a few people. We live in the top floor of a house, owned by a wonderfully sweet couple named Larry and Lee who have an adorable mutt named Hannah. Months ago, we’d asked if they would allow us to have a second dog; we assumed that due to our shared love of everything pup that they’d relax their previous one dog policy. We got a resounding no.

After we lost Carlin, a second dog wasn’t even on our minds. We knew the rules – and having just lost our brief friend, we were gun shy. But Lee could tell something was wrong. Having trouble explaining what had happened, I pointed her towards the column. A few hours later, I received an email from them that didn’t just allow us to get a second dog – the email pleaded for it. This time, we didn’t ask for them to let us get a second dog – the universe did.

It turned out that Larry and Lee had just rescued another pup of their own, and they could see just how good of a home we would be for one more. That email was the first time I’d truly smiled since we lost Carlin, and I had done a show the night before. Outwardly, I’d smiled plenty. But that was the first time I meant it.

I was excited that Carlin’s death would save the life of another dog. And the sheer volume of support we received regarding Carlin was staggering. Close to 250,000 people read the column, and it was shared all over Facebook, reprinted in blogs, and even appeared in some newspapers. Carlin’s life hadn’t just touched us – it touched everyone we told.

End The MillsI was inspired. I spent a few days building, a website based around the idea that with simple legislation we could end puppy mills forever. I didn’t want Carlin to just save one dog. I wanted him to save them all. It was an immediate success – through signatures, publicity, and donations, there is a realistic possibility that my little gremlin could be the catalyst to end the systematic overbreeding and abuse inherent in the mill system. The ending of Carlin’s part of the story couldn’t change – but the movie wasn’t over yet.

Sara went home for a week to visit family, and then I had a few gigs. So this weekend was our first chance to adopt a little brother for Bea. I’d gone through the seven stages of grief – shock, guilt, anger, depression, the turn around, reconstruction, and hope. As much as those few hours with Carlin will always be with me, I knew that the real way to end the movie was to find the first dog who’s life Carlin would save.

We went to No Kill Los Angeles, an adoption event sponsored by Best Friends Animal Society where dozens of rescues and shelters bring over a thousand animals to be adopted. We didn’t know if we’d meet “the one” there. But it was a great chance to try.

I never imagined that I would be looking for a second dog – let alone a Chihuahua mix – but I wanted to find a dog that reminded me of Carlin. The first dog we met was Jack – a sweet little guy from Best Friends themselves. But it would be ridiculous to fall in love with the first dog we met. And one named Jack? That’s the grandfather I wanted to name a child after. Fate couldn’t be that obvious, could it?

After meeting several more with too much energy for a family of couch potatoes, we found a second candidate. Charlie had been fostered by a rescue for close to a year, and was incredibly chill. He was great with people, great with other dogs, and grateful that we wanted to meet him. But our heart, somehow wasn’t in it. Maybe it’s because Jack looked more like Carlin. Or maybe because Jack was smaller and needed more help, or maybe because we just met Jack first. Whatever the reason, Charlie reminded me of the platonic friend you know would be a good choice to date, but there’s just not enough spark to go through with it. Sorry Charlie – we’re just going to be friends.

Steve Hofstetter, Bea and MitchSo where is the happy ending? I’m writing this, sitting on my couch, while Bea Arthur and Mitch Hedberg are asleep next to me. We changed Jack’s name to Mitch – I may not ever have a son, but if I do, I’m keeping the name Jack available. Besides – Mitch is a fitting tribute to Carlin, another one of comedy’s greats. And Mitch Hedberg was a one-liner guy. Seems right for a dog small enough for me to palm.

Bea is a wonderful big sister. Despite how selective she can be with other dogs, I feel like somehow, she knows. She understands that Mitch is family.

It’s been 18 days since everything changed. It’s been 18 days since I started grieving. And it’s been 18 days since we got to spend one afternoon with Carlin. But that afternoon will allow us to spend a lifetime with Mitch. And hopefully, it will inspire other people to help us end the mills permanently, preventing street dogs like Bea, Mitch, and Carlin from ever needing a home again.

The movie isn’t over yet. That happy ending is up to you.


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