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November 10, 2010

Amazing Gracie: An Interview with Author Carol Bradley

In her book "Saving Gracie," journalist Carol Bradley tracks a rescued puppy mill dog, exposing a cruel industry along the way

All Animals magazine, November/December 2010

by Jim Baker

How do you put a face on the immense suffering caused by puppy mills for people who’ve never heard of these cruel mass breeding operations?

In Saving Gracie: How One Dog Escaped the Shadowy World of American Puppy Mills, Carol Bradley delved beyond the overwhelming statistics by telling the story of a Cavalier King Charles spaniel who’d languished in a cage for years before becoming a cherished pet.

Initially known only as “No. 132,” the animal who would later be called Gracie was one of 337 puppies and breeding dogs rescued in a 2006 raid of Mike-Mar Kennel in Lower Oxford, Pa., by the Chester County SPCA and local lawenforcement. Bradley recounts the raid, the ensuing legal wrangling as the kennel was shut down and its operators were charged with cruelty, and the happy ending for Gracie.

This is the first book for Bradley, a reporter who became aware of dog welfare issues when she covered a major case in Montana in 2002. She went on to study animal law as a Nieman Fellow at Harvard University.

In this edited interview with HSUS writer Jim Baker, Bradley talks about the genesis of her book and what she hopes readers will learn from it.

Q :  Why was it important to reconstruct the raid in great detail?

BRADLEY:  I wanted the book to read almost like an episode of Law & Order, where you start with the beginning of the case and go all the way through. I wanted to show people that puppy mills and puppy mill busts don’t just affect the dogs; they land on an entire community. Whole towns are sometimes stuck with 300 dogs. I’ve always admired animal control officers, the people who really have to get in there and do the hard work. I wanted to show how difficult it was for them because I think we sometimes forget. I was just looking for any possible way to tell the story in a way that would not make people want to throw the book across the room.

Q:  What would make them want to do that?

BRADLEY:  Too much graphic detail. I waited until the second half of the book to get into other instances of puppy mills. I hope by the end of the book, people have a real sense of how awful these places are, and how prolific they are. But I didn’t want to hit them over the head with that too early on because I didn’t want to lose readers, to be honest.

Q:  So tell me how you found Linda and Gracie.

BRADLEY:  I wound up finding Linda because I just stumbled upon a letter she had written to the Lebanon, Pa., newspaper. She said, “I adopted one of the Chester dogs,” and she’s expressing her fury at puppy mills, but this is all very new for her. And then I thought, “How much more interesting would it be to have a book about not just a dog that gets changed, but a person who gets changed because of the dog?”

Q:  What do you hope readers come away with?

BRADLEY:  The best thing someone can say to me when they read the book is that they finished it; they read it. And they will often say, “I had no idea.” I want them to be astonished and galvanized. To say, “I’m never going to get a dog at a pet store again. I’m going to tell everyone I know never to do that.” I often tell people, “Write your state legislators, and tell them they need to pass a law.” I wanted to get to people who like a good story and like one where there’s a happy ending.

Q:  Gracie’s story certainly ends on an optimistic note. Are you equally optimistic about the progress being made to regulate these cruel operations?

BRADLEY:  I’m glad to see that people are starting to get galvanized. These things never happen quickly enough, and there’s a difference between passing a bill and enforcing it, and putting the money behind it. Ideally, in this country we wouldn’t have such a patchwork approach. I guess I wouldn’t really be satisfied until the federal government passed a law and funded it and took the whole issue of commercial dog breeding out from under the Department of Agriculture, which always has a bias toward producers.

» Learn how you can help an adopted puppy mill dog adjust to a new life 

» Read more from the current issue of All Animals

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