The person behind Bailing Out Benji
In Chapter 5 of ‘Saving One More’ readers meet Mindi Callison, founder of the US group Bailing Out Benji. Mindi’s dedication to campaigning against puppy mills has impressed me from the start and right now, during Puppy Mill Awareness month, she’s coordinating a #ThirtyDaysThirtyProtests campaign. This entails Mindi with a team of tenacious volunteers peacefully protesting every day outside their local pet store, Dyvig’s, which they’ve been doing every weekend of the year for over 4 years now. It seemed a perfect time, ahead of this Sunday’s National Puppy Mill Awareness Day to find out a little more about Mindi, the driving force behind Bailing Out Benji, so I began by asking her to tell me about the dogs that share her home:
Mindi – Where do I even begin?! We’re blessed to have 5 rescued black lab mixes. Zeppelin, a chow/lab mix and Ellie a standard lab have been with us for 5 years. We rescued them 3 months apart, when they were both 6 months old. We can attribute their love and loyalty as to why we’re devoted to rescuing black dogs.
Next came Miss Crystal, a lab/shepherd mix. We were “just fostering” her until we realized that no home was good enough for her. Crys came to us from a condemned motel, where the sewage had backed up and she had a severe case of pyometra. She almost didn’t survive the surgery, and needed some much needed recovery time. Due to her high confined upbringing, Crys has some quirks. But we love her all the same.
Fannie, is a blind, senior lab mix who was abandoned at a kill shelter for being too old. We’ve had her for over a year and she’s as happy as can be. Miss Fannie’s my spirit animal and gets all of the sleep that I’m missing out on.
Next is Miss Lola. We rescued her 5 months ago from one of the worst puppy mills in the entire country. Although she wasn’t able to trust right away, her non-stop wagging tail showed us that she really did want to. After a month of running with the dogs and ignoring the humans, she came around and realized that we aren’t so bad. She LOVES that she finally has her own food bowl and she gets to sleep in our big, cozy bed at night, but she chooses to sleep on top of Jason. Lola shows us everyday that she is so grateful to not be in that puppy mill anymore.
Miss Abby, that has since passed away, is my heart dog. We only had her for one year, but that was the best year of her life. We’ve also fostered several animals over the years: Black labs, mastiffs, even yorkies. We also have a rescued kitty!
Q. What made you first start to speak out for puppy mill dogs?
I first started being a voice for the puppy mill dogs when I realized just how bad the problem is here in Iowa (and beyond). We have over 220 puppy mills currently and that equals out to over 17,000 adult dogs that are forced to live in misery…. Think about that. 17,000 dogs in puppy mills in IOWA alone. That has got to stop. So, I started talking and educating…. That was in 2011, and I won’t be stopping anytime soon! Once you learn about puppy mills, you can never forget that information.
Q. Tell me about the first protest you organised for puppy mill dogs.
The first Dyvig’s Pet Shoppe protest we did was terrifying. It was the first one that I had ever attended/organized and I had no idea what to expect, what to think, what other people would think…. And I had no idea if people would actually show up. Thankfully, since it was a new event, we were able to get groups of 10-15 volunteers each Saturday for the first few weeks. It’s been 4 years now and we protest 3 pet stores here in Iowa; Dyvig’s Pet Shoppe (Ames), Petland (Iowa City) and Pet’s Playhouse (Cedar Rapids). We have around 20 active volunteers between those three cities that are committed each weekend to fighting puppy mills!
Q. You write on your blog about your experiences of attending dog auctions. The descriptions are disturbing, how do you cope with the personal demands these make on you as a compassionate person?
I didn’t sleep for days after my first dog auction. The sights, smells and sounds wouldn’t leave my brain. The faces of the poor dogs we can’t save still haunt me each time I go to one. But I find comfort in knowing that more and more puppy mills are going out of business and that there are rescues and organizations like Bailing Out Benji who are committed to saving the old, sick and unwanted dogs.
Coming home afterwards to a houseful of spoiled pets and an amazing husband is the best help of all though. I can’t explain it… But my dogs just “know” what I went through. Maybe they can smell the suffering that I was a part of, maybe they are just sensing my sadness. But the cuddles I get after a dog auction don’t compare to any others.
Q. When you’re not campaigning and protesting, how do you spend your time?
Free time? What is that?! I guess that I always find something to keep me busy. I have a full time job, besides all of the animal work that I do, and then taking care of my own family. My husband, Jason, talked me into joining a volleyball team with him and a few friends, which has been amazing stress relief. I also love reading.
Q. Turning to your protests, which are now seen by thousands in the film Dog By Dog and internationally across social media, what do you hope to achieve with your efforts?
Honestly, we just want to keep reaching that one person who has no idea. There will always be someone who doesn’t know about puppy mills and their connection to pet stores. It isn’t just about Dyvig’s Pet Shoppe or the two puppy mills they use. It’s about putting an end to this cruel industry once and for all.
Time and time again, the inspection reports have proven that the laws aren’t working. Old laws, new laws- enforcement isn’t happening. The way we will see an end to this cruel puppy mill industry is by educating our friends, family and coworkers. Person by person, we will beat the commercial dog breeding industry!
The film has been amazing outreach for our organization though, and I cannot wait for it to hit the general public through television. Even though Dog by Dog has only had a dozen screenings around the country so far, our efforts have helped start new protests all over the country. Each week, those people are inspiring and educating others. This is all about making our corners of the Earth a little brighter and giving people the power to make a difference.
One of the quotes that never leaves my mind is “As long as greed is stronger than compassion, there will always be suffering.” But as long as there are people like us, animals will never suffer in invisibility again.
Q. What are your favourite things in the world?
Besides my family…. My favorite things in the world are not things. They are the people who hold down the sidewalk with me and are so passionate about putting an end to puppy mills. As you (Janetta) said in your latest book, getting angry about the puppy mill industry only does so much. You have to put that anger to use through action. Through the extreme heat, the freezing cold, the rain, the snow these amazing people show up day after day for the dogs. They inspire me because, at one time, they too had no idea about puppy mills. I have met some of my best friends on that sidewalk, and I am so lucky for that!
Ways to Support Bailing Out Benji
If, like me, you’re impressed with the dedication that Mindi and her group show and wish to support them, they are a completely voluntary group that relies entirely on donations to help them with the costs of their campaigning.
If you are ever within reach of Ames, Iowa, join them for a weekend protest, they run throughout the year and everyone is made welcome.
For each sale of a signed copy of my books, a percentage will be donated to Bailing Out Benji. Orders can be made here.
Follow them on Facebook
and Instagram @ bailing_Out_Benji