Few things in life are certain, but this is: a gentle, white miniature poodle named Baby is the most famous three-legged, barkless dog in the world. She’s also the only one to tour the country in a bus with her likeness emblazoned on the side, and have her picture taken with, among others, Barack Obama, Bill Maher, Amy Sedaris, Steven Tyler, Jane Fonda, and Eric Idle. “She transcends political parties,” says Jana Kohl, her owner. “People from so many walks of life are so moved by her.”
Baby has gone from rags (in a puppy-mill cage, where she spent most of her life in squalor) to riches (this past week she was riding in a plush baby carriage at the Four Seasons). She is on the road with Kohl, who’s wrapping up a 30-plus city tour promoting her book, A Rare Breed of Love, and exposing the horrors of puppy mills (as well as championing other animal-related issues). Kohl, 49, and Baby met for a vegan lunch with some folks this past Thursday in a function room over the Bristol Lounge.
I sat next to Baby, who made loving eye contact and was pleased to be petted. Kohl — a psychologist from Chicago — was on Baby’s other side. Baby, now 12 or 13, is a rescue dog. By age eight or nine, she was a worn-out birthing machine in a Californian puppy mill. The breeder had cut her vocal cords so she couldn’t bark. Her bones were brittle; she had osteoporosis. (That later led to a leg break and amputation.) Her breeding use had ended.
As for Kohl, her previous dog, Blue, had died and it was time for another. The journey to Baby — who she found on a rescue Web site — started with exposure to the inhumane world of puppy mills, where breeding stock like Baby are kept alive, caged, and pregnant so they can churn out litter after litter for retail sale. Kohl saw shit, piss, and insects. She collected comments from breeders such as, “Animals don’t have feelings.” Little did Kohl — granddaughter of the founder of the Kohl’s department stores — suspect then that she’d become a leading critic of the mills. (Kohl has a cat, too, a stay-at-home named Kitty Pie, and she considers cat-breeders — catteries — just as vile.)
Kohl doesn’t hold back: “There is an incestuous relationship between animal-based business owners and the inspectors at the USDA. It’s sickening.” She blasts the American Kennel Club. “They talk out of both sides of their mouth. They pretend to the public that they’re champions of dogs; on the other hand, there’s overwhelming concrete evidence they support the puppy-mill industry. They’re really our biggest obstacle to legislative reform.”
Stores that sell pets? “The Humane Society, the ASPCA, has never found one instance of a pet store that [hasn’t used] a puppy mill,” Kohl says. “I didn’t [initially] know about pet stores, but once somebody shows you the truth, if you still choose to do the wrong thing, then I have a problem with it. Given the over-population problem and all the dogs we’re euthanizing every year — four to five million — I don’t think it’s ethical for anyone to be breeding.”