In honor of National Animal Advocacy Day on April 30, we’re running a special series on the blog this week to honor those individuals who dedicate their energies to standing up for animals. Meet our first profiled citizen lobbyist, Susan Brady Barnes of Southbury, Connecticut.
Although she has loved animals all her life and has three rescued dogs of her own, until five months ago, Susan Brady Barnes had never heard the term “puppy mill.”
“On Facebook, I saw a photo of a woman holding a dog,” she remembers. “It looked like a lump of stuffing out of an old couch. I thought, ‘What am I looking at?’ Then I read the story, and it changed my life.”
Today, Susan volunteers for the ASPCA as a citizen lobbyist, supporting legislation like S.B. 445, known as the Puppy Mill Bill, which aims to restrict the sale of puppy mill dogs in Connecticut pet stores.
“There’s no excuse [for puppy mills],” says the feisty 55-year-old. “They’re appalling. I educate everyone I know.” At the top of her list are legislators and other elected officials. She once cornered a senator in a parking lot, who spoke to her for 20 minutes in freezing temperatures. “He knows me now!” she says.
Susan, a native of London who moved to the U.S. from Australia nearly nine years ago, says it’s her accent that people remember. After moving to Connecticut (she and her husband brought with them their five dogs and a cat), an unwitting Susan purchased two dogs from pet stores.
Archie, a Lhasa Apso, came from a shop in Milford. “He is a complete bag of nerves,” she says. “Now, all the stuff that’s wrong with him makes sense. My Chow Chow, Pumba, I bought from a pet store. That’s how naïve I was.”
Since then, she’s turned to adopting animals like Cooper, a skinny Shih Tzu rescued from a hoarder in Tennessee before ending up in a shelter. Last week, Susan drove to LaGuardia airport to pick up a six-year-old puppy mill survivor from South Dakota. She named her Matilda, meaning strength in battle.
“Matilda has no ears,” Susan says incredulously, as she describes the miniature Schnauzer. “They were frozen off because she was left outside in a cage for six years during the South Dakota winters.”
Susan admits there are days when she wonders if her efforts will pay off. “I think, ‘this will never happen in my lifetime.’ But then I tell myself, if there are enough of us doing it, we have to make a difference. It’s such a huge, corrupt industry. I can’t believe I didn’t always know about this horrendous business.”
To that end, Susan hopes to use Matilda to educate school children about the cruelty and neglect that puppy mill dogs suffer.
“There’s a few years left in the old girl yet,” says the mother of two grown sons who has embraced full-time advocacy work. “I have to do something with the rest of my life. And this is so close to my heart.”
Then she looks down at Matilda, with her missing ears, lying in her arms like a newborn and gazing into her eyes. “She knows I’m her mum,” Susan says, softly. “This is my reward.”
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