Freedom of Choice in America – Unless You Want To Buy A Dog: Part I
Americans believe in freedom of choice. We’re born free and equal under the law. Most of us believe if you work hard enough you can succeed. But something insidious has been happening in this country in the last 15-20 years. An effort to help unwanted dogs find homes – a worthy cause – has turned into a crusade against legitimate breeders who raise and sell dogs.
Now, instead of giving people a choice about getting a dog from a shelter or buying a dog from a breeder, animal rights extremists are waging war against breeders, importing stray dogs from other countries, and in some cases even stealing dogs to resell or “flip” them.
Kathy Mehalko, Animal Rights Activist
In many ways Kathy Mehalko is typical of the kind of person trying to take away your freedom to choose what kind of pet you will own. Grass roots activists may or may not have any formal ties to leading animal rights groups such as HSUS or ASPCA. They are “true believers” in what they are doing. They often devote an enormous amount of their time and personal resources to their goals. Unfortunately, their goals often include shutting down legal businesses such as dog breeders and pet stores.
Mehalko caught our attention because she has a history of lawsuits – both suits against her and those she has filed against others. In one case she was sued by a pet store for defamation over a Facebook posting. Mehalko is described in this story as an “animal rights activist.”
According to court records, Furry Babies in Rockford, Illinois says Mehalko posted a picture of a kennel and then wrote a post accusing the store of getting its puppies from dogs in puppy mills. Furry Babies says it has never bought a puppy from the kennel pictured in her post. The store is asking for at least $50,000 in damages.
Mehalko subsequently filed a defamation suit against Furry Babies. She also filed a suit asking the judge to order Facebook to disclose the names of people involved with the Facebook pages “Opposing Voices of Kathy Mehalko Puppymill Agenda” and “Pet Owners Beware.” The judge ruled in her favor and Facebook disclosed the names to the attorneys. Mehalko claimed that these defendants had defamed her with their comments and pictures and sued them for $150,000 each.
The case against the people Mehalko felt made defamatory comments on Facebook pages was dismissed. Other cases are still pending. Mehalko has been using a GoFundMe page to try to raise money to pay her legal expenses. She continues to organize protests at the Cherry Vale Mall in Rockford, Illinois, where Furry Babies is located.
Mehalko gets vicious
Mehalko has aggressively pursued local pet breeders in Illinois by administersing numerous Facebook groups and operates under various fake names at times. Along with some of her followers, she has protested breeders, started petitions, had animal rights followers engage in harassing phone calls; resorted to cyber sabotage and stalking; left negative comments and reviews for businesses she dislikes; and even publicly posted the name, phone number, address, and maps of someone’s property.
Activists like Mehalko take pride in having beautiful kennels placed on the HSUS “Horrible Hundred” list. But what value is this list anyway? Who gave HSUS the authority to make such determinations? HSUS is opposed to ALL dog breeding. Sooner or later they will find a way to put anyone who breeds a dog on their “worst” list. All licensed businesses, no matter what kind of business or where they operate, have to follow guidelines. From time to time any business can have a violation. But HSUS and their followers, such as Kathy Mehalko, believe that any violation, no matter how insignificant or technical in nature, should put someone out of business. A technical violation does NOT equate to animal cruelty.
As you might expect, Mehalko also tries to stop new kennels from opening, even with the best facilities. Kennels often require special use permits from zoning boards. One such committee approved a permit in 2016 but after Mehalko and her followers started harassing and attempting to intimidate the committee members, the decision was reversed. She is currently trying to fight a kennel seeking to move to another county in Illinois with these same tactics that would be considered social media terrorism.
With activists like Kathy Mehalko trying to shut down pet stores and breeders in order to force Americans to “adopt” dogs, what happens to our freedom of choice? If you want to buy a purebred dog because your child has an allergy or you plan to hunt with your dog, too bad. If you have a disability and need a dog that has been specially bred, who will breed that dog? People like Kathy Mehalko seem to think all dogs are the same, as long as they are cuddly and cute. But many people have other requirements when they want a dog. We need ways to obtain dogs other than “adoption.” We need dedicated breeders who can do their work without being harassed.
In Part 2 of this series we’ll look at more of Kathy Mehalko’s story, including exploring her potential connection to rescues and importing dogs from Mexico.