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March 3, 2011

No More Business As Usual: Pam Sordyl Hits Puppy Mills Where It Hurts

"Adopt, Don't Shop" campaign wants pet stores to stop selling puppies

All Animals magazine, March/April 2011

  • Pat Portelli

by Arna Cohen

In a city famous for heavy hitters like Henry Ford, Joe Louis, and the Detroit Tigers, the name Pam Sordyl may not get instant recognition. But among animal advocates, she’s known for delivering knockouts to a formidable opponent: puppy mills.

WHY WE LOVE HER: The indefatigable Michigan native has singlehandedly built a volunteer corps that hits the abusive industry where it hurts most—its wallet. Come rain, snow, or shine, the group spends Saturdays conducting “Adopt, Don’t Shop” demonstrations outside pet stores that do business with puppy mills, which subject animals to desperate lives of confinement and neglect. Sordyl is racking up the wins: Since 2008, five of the puppy-selling pet stores she’s targeted have closed.

THE BACK STORY: Laid off from her job as a General Motors financial analyst, Sordyl makes full use of her business savvy. Inspired after attending The HSUS’s Taking Action for Animals conference in 2007, she founded the Southeast Michigan Puppy Mill Awareness Meetup to protest a boutique pet store in Northville.

POLICE PRESENCE: Concerned that sign-carrying protesters might alienate residents of the upscale community, Sordyl decided to hold a parade instead, even staging a rehearsal to gauge reactions. The store owner called the police, who told Sordyl to leave. She complied but was surprised when the officer, after talking with the owner, followed her and apologized. “[He] said ‘I actually saw this on TV.… [My wife and I] know about puppy mills, and I don’t think [the owner] is on the up-and-up.’ He told us to come back.” About 60 people turned out for the parade, accompanied by rescued dogs wearing “Priceless” price tags. So, too, did the police, who declined to intervene. Now in frequent contact with law enforcement, Sordyl even receives thank-you e-mails from a sergeant in one town where she’s been protesting.

"DUE DILIGENCE”: “I love this phrase,” says Sordyl. “This was one thing I learned on the job.” She pores over shipping records and USDA inspection reports and even travels out of state to document conditions at breeding facilities. One store owner insisted the dogs at his breeder had grass and shade trees. “But I know different,” says Sordyl. She has the horrible inspection report and photographs of feces-laden wire cages to prove it.

HURRICANE WITH A HEART: With the area’s economy hit hard, Sordyl doesn’t want to put people out of business. “I grew up in Flint, and definitely boycotting is the last resort,” she says. A negotiator, she writes letters, meets with store owners, and offers to help replace puppy sales with in-store adoption events. But she doesn’t hesitate to take action when necessary. Following a fruitless meeting with one store owner, Sordyl informed mall managers of her intent to protest. Ten days after she issued an action alert, the store liquidated.

EYES ON THE PRIZE: Working from a database of licensed dog breeders, Sordyl has compiled a list of Michigan puppy mills, a handy tool when she and HSUS Michigan state director Jill Fritz conduct lobbying workshops. Her group supports legislation to tackle the problem, while her persuasiveness is helping The HSUS reach a new milestone: As of January, with the help of advocates like her, more than 1,000 stores nationwide had signed its puppy-friendly pet store pledge.

Learn more about The HSUS’s Taking Action for Animals conference in July.

Read highlights from the current issue of All Animals »

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