Our first billboard went up on the PA Turnpike in 2005 and brought attention to Lancaster County's unusually high number of puppy mills. Long known as the "Puppy Mill Capital of the East," Lancaster County, Pennsylvania had the highest concentration of commercial kennels of any county in the United States. This board began a collaboration with CBS Outdoor that lasts to this day. It was also the first billboard designed by Paul Harlacher. Paul has designed all our billboards with the exception of our "Santa" billboard which was created by Mayr Budny. We wanted this board to resemble a postcard and relied on satirical imaging rather than graphic photos to make our point.
When commissioners at a local zoning meeting asked a breeder, seeking a variance to enlarge his kennels, what he would do with any puppies he couldn't sell, the farmer explained he would destroy the dogs and compost their bodies. "Fortunately, puppies are biodegradable" he said. Horrified by his response and the fact that it was indeed legal to shoot your dogs and spread their remains on fields of vegetables, we sponsored this billboard near Harrisburg. Many commercial dog breeding facilities house over a thousand dogs a year. The tons of waste from those dogs (plus the decomposing bodies of their dead dogs) pose a major threat to our ground water supply and is routinely sprayed or spread on crops consumed by unsuspecting families. Thanks in part to our efforts legislation was passed a year after this board went up making it illegal for commercial breeders to shoot their dogs.
In 2010, a handful of legislators representing Pennsylvania's commercial breeders attempted to introduce a resolution to study the impact PA's new dog laws had on the commercial dog breeding industry. They falsely claimed our new laws, designed to improve conditions for puppy mill dogs, cost the Commonwealth revenue (in the form of sales tax) and jobs (as bad kennels closed). MLAR has received hundreds of complaints over the years from consumers who purchased sick dogs from substandard kennels, and rarely do their receipts include any mention of sales tax. The majority of breeders in PA's Dutch Country demand cash only when selling their puppies. And since the mass breeding of dogs is an industry of based on secrecy, farmer/breeders rarely employ outside labor - depending on their unpaid children to do the majority of the work. If these legislators were really concerned about lost revenue, they would have insisted these breeders pay sales tax on the millions of puppies sold directly to consumers over the past thirty years.
Sponsoring a billboard four blocks from Chicago's famed Harpo Studios, MLAR asked Oprah Winfrey to do a show on puppy mills. Four days after the billboard went up, Oprah noticed our board on her way to work. Before we knew it Lisa Ling and a film crew were accompanying MLAR volunteers as they traveled the back roads of Lancaster, Chester, and Berks Counties, rescuing dogs from substandard kennels. The undercover footage was later featured on Miss Winfrey's show and millions of people around the world saw firsthand just how horrendous conditions are for dogs inside our nation's puppy mills. The program became Oprah's third most successful show of all time and kicked off a movement that has seen new laws passed in over a dozen states. This board is now featured in a college textbook on marketing.
Actors Ashton Kutcher and Demi Moore have over ten million followers on Twitter. In an attempt to educate as many people as possible, Main Line Animal Rescue and author Jana Kohl sponsored a billboard in Los Angeles asking the power couple to tweet their fans about puppy mills. The billboard soon came to the attention of comedian and long-time MLAR supporter Carol Leifer who used her considerable contacts in the entertainment industry to convince Demi Moore to tweet her four million followers. On June 2, the Ghost superstar tweeted "Help spread the word about Puppy Mills - Millions of Dogs desperately need our help!" and included our web address and a link to a photograph of the above billboard. Hours later The Biggest Loser's Jillian Michaels and Bob Harper retweeted Demi Moore's tweet and urged their half million followers to learn more about puppy mills.
In the film Black Swan, a beautiful ballerina descends into madness and transforms into a black swan. On our billboard a beautiful MLAR volunteer descends into madness after visiting a Lancaster County puppy mill and transforms herself into a Labrador Retriever. Instead of running in fields of clover, adult breeding dogs in puppy mills pace endlessly in overcrowded hutches or spend years spinning in their tiny cages. Many are housed in dark barns in plywood sweat boxes similar to those used to torture POW's during the Great War. The mental strain on these animals often exceeds the physical punishment their bodies must endure. When dogs can't do what they are bred to do, they can suffer irreversible psychological damage - and their puppies, sold in your local pet store, can inherit these traits.
Our "Beagle in the Dishwasher" billboard successfully illustrated just how small cages are in your average puppy mill. A dog the size of a Beagle can actually spend her life in a cage the size of a dishwasher and never be let out. USDA regulations for housing breeding dogs in federally licensed facilities requires cages be only 6" longer than the dog's body. This image, situated high above the Pennsylvania Turnpike, was instrumental in pushing through Pennsylvania's new dog laws - laws designed to improve conditions for dogs in commercial breeding facilities. So successful was this billboard the image was used (with our permission) by other rescue organizations throughout the United States and in Canada.
Images of grandmothers holding baked goods and children's faces smeared with sweet jams and apple butter grace billboards along the highways and back roads of Pennsylvania. Wholesome goodness and local delicacies offered to tourists driving through the Keystone State. Would you like a buggy ride or a slice of pie? Antiques or fresh picked corn? There is another "product" synonymous with rural Pennsylvania - puppies bred in some of the worst puppy mills in the country. Even with heightened public awareness and stronger laws, Pennsylvania is still a haven for those wishing to make an easy profit at the expense of innocent animals. Tell your friends to eat our pies and admire our quilts but if they buy a puppy bred in one of our infamous puppy mills, they'll be contributing to the suffering of that dog's mother. Plain and fancy - plain and simple.
And when former Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell refused to enforce our hard fought new dog laws in the summer of 2010, MLAR photographed one of our more limber volunteers and asked the question "Why is the Rendell Administration Bending Over Backwards to Accommodate PA's Puppy Mills?" The young woman on the billboard attracted considerable attention - so much so MLAR wrapped a DC transit bus with the same image as part of our campaign focusing on the USDA's unwillingness to prosecute those who abuse dogs in federally licensed dog breeding facilities.
For years, our Department of Agriculture overlooked the inhumane and often illegal activities of many of the worst puppy mills in the Pennsylvania. State inspectors walked by breeding dogs missing eyes in one breeding kennel for over five years and did nothing to help them. Inspectors attempted for photograph their breath inside another kennel to show how cold it was because administrators refused to buy them two dollar thermometers. And the Secretary of Agriculture in 2005 routinely issued state kennel licenses to breeders convicted of animal cruelty. Dogs suffered and died and complaints and pleas for help from animal welfare organization were ignored. Eventually, Main Line Animal Rescue decided to make known the administrators disregard for the dogs they were being paid well to protect by placing with billboard outside Harrisburg.
In 2009, animal welfare groups cheered as then Attorney General Tom Corbett closed down one of the worst puppy mills in Pennsylvania by enforcing an earlier consent decree against a breeder involved in the sale of sick and dying puppies to 171 consumers. For years, many believed this woman to be the embodiment of everything wrong with commercial dog breeding. Her factory farm churned out sick puppies at an alarming rate (2039 dogs in 2008 alone) and consumers in five states had to learn the hard way that healthy dogs bred in puppy mills can only really be found somewhere over the rainbow.
Strong laws mean nothing unless they're properly enforced. For years, the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture looked the other way as bad dog breeders flourished and substandard kennels made Pennsylvania the "Puppy Mill Capital of the East." Concerns that our new dog laws (passed in 2008) would not be properly enforced were shared by many animal welfare organizations throughout the Commonwealth. In an effort to bring these concerns to light and to put pressure on the Director of the Bureau of Dog Law Enforcement to enforce our new laws, MLAR created our "laughing board." Motorists along the PA Turnpike were regaled by the sight of MLAR volunteer Gina Lasky - a girl who laughs easily but finds the problem of non-enforcement to be a very serious matter.