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The boys who cried woof

Young activists push to shut down state's puppy mills

From Animal Sheltering magazine May/June 2014

When the DePasquale family decided to adopt a sweet puppy mill refugee named Franklin, they had no idea he would take them all the way to the state capitol.

By the time brothers Joey (age 13) and Anthony (age 12) DePasquale of York County met the little bichon mix, they already knew about Pennsylvania’s status as one of the most notorious puppy mill states in the East. “Our mom started showing us what was going on, and we just immediately realized that it was wrong and we wanted to help,” Joey recalls.

The family had been volunteering with Castaway Critters in Harrisburg, and it was there they first encountered Franklin, a rescue from one of the state’s many puppy mills. The person who had agreed to foster Franklin never showed up, so the shelter asked if the DePasquales would give it a shot.

Back home, Franklin “would just hide in the corner,” Anthony recalls. “It was really upsetting to see. When we held Franklin the first time, he was shaking like crazy.” As time went by, the tenacious pup made slow but steady progress. As Franklin’s spirit grew, so did the family’s attachment to him. “We kind of fell in love with him. We couldn’t give him up,” Anthony says.

The DePasquales eventually opened their doors even wider, fostering Ella the poodle and Barkley the shih tzu. And then there was Tilly. “Tilly was really bad,” remembers mom, Kate. “[She] had a broken jaw, [her] eyes went in two different directions. I mean, my vet actually cried when she saw her.” It was evident that Tilly, a poodle, had been hit or kicked, and her wounds—including her broken jaw—had never been treated.

Joey and Anthony wanted to help more dogs, maybe even put an end to Pennsylvania’s puppy mills altogether.

Using Tilly as their “poster dog,” the brothers drafted a plea to end puppy mills in Pennsylvania, then posted their petition online, emailing friends, family, and schoolmates for support. They attended meetings of rescue groups. They posted on Facebook. Kate reached out to several local and national organizations, including The HSUS, which publicized the petition twice on its Puppy Mills Campaign page. “When [The HSUS] shared it, overnight we got like 1,500 signatures. It was crazy,” says Kate.

In no time, the boys rocketed past their initial goal of 3,000 signatures. At last count, the total was more than 13,000 and growing, with signatures coming in from around the world. “It felt great just to see how many people were supporting us,” Joey remembers.

In December, the boys finally got to see their efforts come to fruition, presenting the signatures to Gov. Tom Corbett. Though Anthony said he was nervous to meet with the official, Joey felt confident and prepared. Joined by Franklin, the beloved canine at the heart of it all, they presented the petition, talked about puppy mills, and urged the governor to do more to enforce Pennsylvania’s dog laws.

Don’t expect the brothers to slow down any time soon. The dynamic duo started a school club called WOOF (Welfare of Our Friends) to spread the word about animal welfare issues. They’re looking forward to the summer, when they’ll have more time to volunteer. The family is even investigating getting trained to join The HSUS’s state animal response team, and already helped to transport puppy mill dogs as part of a Castaway Critters-led rescue.

HSUS Pennsylvania state director Sarah Speed, who recently gave a talk at the boys’ school, praised their efforts. “It’s really awesome that they’re not just doing it—they’re getting everyone involved.”

Anthony and Joey were recently interviewed for a documentary on puppy mills, and plan to write a book about their buddy, Franklin. Both say they are in it for the long haul. “I want to do this for my whole life—help these dogs,” Anthony says.

About the Author

Kelly Huegel is a former staff writer for the Humane Society of the United States.