I don’t even know what to say…. 5 years ago was our very first protest in front of Dyvig’s Pet Shoppe. It was my first protest ever. I was scared as hell and had no idea what to expect. It was chilly, it was spitting rain and we were not sure what would happen. We had a larger group join us, as we did quite often back then and we (of course) faced a lot of anger from Dale, the store owner by way of shouting and threats to sue us. ‘Bailing Out Benji‘ was only 6 months old, but our passion was truly ignited that day.
In 2011, when these protests first began, Dale Dyvig was quoted by a local newspaper saying that “We are trying to get along the best we can,” (due to the protester’s presence) and “I’m not sure what they want, but I get to be the victim.”. To this day, Dyvig stands by his choice to use Century Farm Puppies and New Design Kennels as their puppy supplier- even though they have a history of having hundreds of dogs on their property and a history of violations. This is the third pet store that Dyvig has owned, while buying from the same two puppy mills, and he still doesn’t see that the parent dogs are the victims– which is why we are still there. The breeders each currently have over 150 dogs on their property (which has dropped down from over 450 dogs in recent years).
Fast forward five years and we have been in front of this particular store for over 1,000 hours in the last five years (that is 60,000 minutes!!)- not to mention the other two Iowa protests and the protests across the country we helped inspire and coach. Our organization put up the first puppy mill PSAs in Iowa (on three bus ads), we have an ongoing puppy mill billboard just blocks from Dyvig’s AND we have two big things coming to Texas soon. We have also seen the number of puppy mills in Iowa go from over 450 to just over 220 in the last 5 years. This is, in large part, due to increased public awareness about the puppy mill industry!
Over the years our “fight” against this local pet store has moved away from the sidewalk into the courthouse, so to speak. While there has never been a lawsuit against Bailing Out Benji or its volunteers (because everything we say is 100% backed up with facts), Dale Dyvig has tried at least twice to prevent us from doing our civic duty. The first came in February of 2014, just 4 months after our first two puppy mill PSAs became live here in Ames. It turns out, Dale had been contacting the CyRide (Bus) board every month in hopes of getting our ad removed because he claimed it “directly targeted his store”. After so much harassment, the board finally voted to have the issue put on the agenda for their next meeting. A few volunteers and I stated our case as to why we chose to have our ad here in Ames and why we worded it the way we did. If you aren’t familiar with our bus ad, here it is:
After 3 hours of debate and discussion, we were allowed to keep our bus ads up! It wasn’t because we were “right” however… It was because Dyvig let two puppy mill owners speak for him and they were less than professional. Nancy Carlson of New Design Kennels actually accused us of having invisible drones flying over her property daily (which prompted a snicker from all of the businessmen on the CyRide board) and Rob Hurd, mill owner who had his license revoked and was given a hefty fine, accused us of being political activists who want to end all animal ownership. Hurd also said he would go right down to the bus barn right then and “fix” our sign for the bus company, which caused several board members to tell him to calm down and they reminded him that vandalism is a serious crime. After that circus and all of our examples of other ads put up across the country (animal related and non), we were allowed to keep our bus ads going! And, to this day, you will see them rolling across town on two huge buses!
The second (third and fourth…) time Dale Dyvig tried to drastically change what we do and how we do it is when he started a petition to the city council to inflict harsh regulations on protesting. He literally had a few hundred friends, family and customers sign a petition asking the city council to make us protesting his store illegal. When he presented his petition to the Ames City Council, he had insane regulations including: no out of state protesters (later changed to them needing their own permit), signs had to be small, no umbrellas, no dogs, no children under 18 (later changed it to 10), and he wanted us to have to pay for a monthly permit. This made the news, and once it was time for the city council to hear the case, they voted unanimously to uphold the first amendment and not look into this issue any further.
So yes, a lot has happened in the last five years between us and Dyvig’s Pet Shoppe… But what he fails to see is that this issue has always been bigger than him versus us. Our volunteers work tirelessly every single day to raise awareness about the puppy mill industry, not just this one pet store.
Moving past the store, the last 5 years have been a whirlwind for Bailing Out Benji. Here are a few of the “highlights”.
Perhaps the biggest thing to have happened to us over the last 5 years is being featured in the Dog by Dog documentary, which is set to come out everywhere in early 2017. From being filmed, to being lucky enough to travel with the documentary crew and bring this film to almost 10,000 people in various screenings across the country, we have helped groups from all over the country find their voice and start peaceful protests of their own!
This year, itself, was also crazy! I was chosen as a 2016 “Advocate We Love” by the Humane Society of the United States. I was also invited to be the guest speaker at the “2016 Nebraska Humane Lobby Day.” A few months later, Bailing Out Benji was named one of the top 5 organizationsin the entire country who is fighting puppy mills.
On top of all of this, our website has reached (and educated) almost 400,000 people to date, our social media accounts reach thousands of people daily, we educate thousands of people a year in front of the store and we mailed out hundreds of packages of educational materials to people across the country to want to educate in their home towns. That’s not too shabby for a group that is entirely volunteer based- not to mention us all having day jobs.
Wait- Did I mention that Bailing Out Benji now has volunteer teams in Texas and in Nebraska, too? We are so honored to have had volunteers reach out and ask us to help them educate in their state. This has resulted in dozens of educational events in both states and hundreds of people learning about puppy mills and their connection to pet stores!
I mean it when I (always) say that Bailing Out Benji has the best volunteers. Whether it is -40 degrees, 110 degrees or anywhere in between, our amazing men and women don’t hesitate to grab a sign, set up an educational table, hop in the car to save dogs, or spend hours doing puppy mill research. Every single life we have touched has made a ripple effect of education that can never be felt. So, when people say “Wow, you have been protesting Dyvig’s for five years and they are still open?!”, I smile and just say “Yeah”.
Because this is bigger than Dyvig’s Pet Shoppe.
it’s bigger than Ames, Iowa.
We won’t stop until we have taken down the whole puppy mill industry. One pet store and one puppy mill at time.
Thank you all for your love and support over the years. Whether you are a volunteer, donor or silent supporter, thank you so much for keeping this small nonprofit afloat. 💙
(This picture is from my very first protest on Black Friday, 2011 )
— Mindi Callison, Founder of Bailing Out Benji