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Baby lends paws for the cause

June 07, 2008|Carla Hall | Times Staff Writer

The sign on the door of the Barnes & Noble at The Grove proclaims: "NO PETS ALLOWED." But Baby, a 14-year-old snow-white poodle, entered anyway, wrapped in Jana Kohl's arms, trailed by an entourage and greeted by an eager store official.

That's because Baby, a puppy mill survivor, was on her way to an autograph-signing for Kohl's new book, "A Rare Breed of Love," which has made a cover girl out of the little canine -- who is attractively shaggy and sans that overly manicured poodle cut.

The fact that Baby has only three legs hobbles her walk but not her presence. Despite Kohl's fretting over how many people pet her as she takes her on tour, Baby seems relaxed and calm.

Four years ago, Kohl was set to buy a toy poodle puppy from a breeder when a friend warned her that virtually all puppies for sale on the Internet or at stores come from puppy mills. Kohl, long interested in animal welfare issues but clueless about puppy mills, went to a mill in Texas out of curiosity.

"It was literally a house of horrors," she told a group of about 30 at the signing. "I knew my life wouldn't be the same after that day."

For starters, Kohl decided to adopt a dog. On she found Baby, one of the females that puppy mills constantly breed to produce salable puppies.

According to Kohl, Baby's vocal cords had been cut so that the puppy mill workers wouldn't have to listen to her barks and cries. Later, one of her legs was amputated after she shattered it in a fall. Kohl attributes the deterioration of her bones to overbreeding.

Kohl then took Baby on a quest to publicize the ills of puppy mills. For the last three years, Baby has posed with sympathizers including celebs (Lindsay Lohan), sports stars (Martina Navratilova) and a host of politicians -- including Barack Obama.

Kohl, a longtime Chicago resident who moved recently to California, scored a meeting for herself and Baby with Obama when he was running for U.S. Senate. (The book includes a full-page picture of Obama holding Baby in front of the Lincoln Memorial.)

Kohl has a doctorate in clinical psychology but devotes all of her time to animal welfare causes.

Along with most animal welfare organizations, including the Humane Society of the U.S., she likens puppy mills to "breeding factories" where dogs often spend their lives in cages and are bred too often.

"My life is about stopping puppy mills," Kohl said. "And the best way to do that is to change consumer buying habits. We have to dispel myths about rescue and shelter dogs. You can find a pedigreed dog at shelters and rescue facilities."

The author's net proceeds will go to the Humane Society of the United States.


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