2015-08-06 / Community

Filmmaker goes undercover to expose puppy mills

By Stephanie Bertholdo


TAKING A STAND—Filmmaker Kim Sill of Thousand Oaks exposes the truth behind puppy mills in her documentary“Saved in America,” which will run Aug. 14 through 20 at Regency Agoura Hills Stadium 8. Sill also runs the Shelter Hope Pet Shop in Janss Marketplace where she rescues dogs from kill shelters andfinds them homes. TAKING A STAND—Filmmaker Kim Sill of Thousand Oaks exposes the truth behind puppy mills in her documentary“Saved in America,” which will run Aug. 14 through 20 at Regency Agoura Hills Stadium 8. Sill also runs the Shelter Hope Pet Shop in Janss Marketplace where she rescues dogs from kill shelters andfinds them homes. How much is that cute doggie in the window?

When the price is $1,000 or more, buyers ought to consider asking more important questions, such as where and how the puppies were bred, say animal rights advocates.

The effort to stop the proliferation of puppy mills, large-scale commercial dog breeding businesses where profit is more important than the well-being of the animals, is a battle being fought across the nation.

Filmmaker Kim Sill of Thousand Oaks went undercover to expose the truth behind puppy mills and produced the documentary “Saved in America,” which will run for a week, from Aug. 14 through 20, at Regency Agoura Hills Stadium 8.

After each show, a questionand answer session featuring various rescue groups will be conducted. Ticket sales will support each of the rescue groups featured after the show.

After the screening on Sat., Aug. 15 the Q&A will feature actress Katherine Heigl, who runs an animal rescue that also fights animal abuse called the Jason Debus Heigl Foundation.

“Anyone who loves or has loved a pet should see this film,” said Heigl and her mother, Nancy, in a statement. “It exposes the pet industry, the animal welfare system and will open your eyes about how all of us must come together to make a change.”

For five years, Sill conducted undercover investigations of puppy mills, animal abusers and people who hoard animals that end up neglected before compiling footage for her documentary, which also showcases people who have devoted their time and resources to save animals from death row.

In an interview with The Acorn, Sill said that after the death of her sister, she decided to sink her teeth into a meaningful project to help her cope with the loss.

“I had to do something,” she said. “I got involved with an animal rights organization. That’s when I found out what was happening with puppy mills—the brutality.”

Sill went undercover to expose how legitimate pet shops, some housed in shopping centers like The Oaks mall, were selling dogs that were being bred in puppy mills.

Why is breeding a female dog considered cruel?

“The fact that they can take an animal and just breed it and breed it and breed it for 10 cycles,” Sill said.

She said the “breeders,” as the dogs are called, generally don’t have enough recovery time between litters. When they are no longer able to reproduce, the dogs are often abandoned, starved to death or shot.

Puppies are also treated poorly in mill settings, say opponents of puppy mills. The animals are housed in overcrowded and unsanitary conditions, which cause a number of them to get sick and die. Pups born with physical problems are often left to die. Healthy puppies are housed in stacked wire cages, which contributes to injury.

Sill said people are often misled by pet shops, which advertise that they are USDA-regulated. A pet shop can be USDA approved, she said, but the government agency does not prohibit the sale of dogs bred in puppy mills.

She hopes that Ventura County will follow the lead of Los Angeles County, which passed a law that prohibits selling massproduced dogs.

Only rescued dogs can be sold at pet shops in L.A.

Sill said that, besides cruelty, profit-minded breeders produce too many dogs.

“It’s about supply and demand, and the demand for shelter dogs is less than for pet shops.”

Since there is a surplus of dogs that end up in kill shelters, Sill wants pet shops across the U.S. to only sell rescued dogs.

Trends are changing in favor of rescuing dogs, she said, but laws are lagging in most areas, including Ventura County, which still allows pet shops to import dogs from Midwest puppy mills.

Sill opened a Shelter Hope Pet Shop in Janss Marketplace four years ago. The shop rescues dogs from kill shelters and finds them homes, but first the dogs are vaccinated, altered, microchipped with identifying information and rehabilitated if they have any medical issues.

Sill said that NewMark Merrill Companies, which owns the mall, has donated the space for her shop since it opened in 2011.

“We’ve saved 1,500 dogs from death row,” she said. “We couldn’t have done it without them.”

Six pet shops were closed when Sill proved that dogs they sold were coming from puppy mills. She also reorganized four pet shops to sell rescue dogs.

She said people shy away from going to animal shelters because they don’t want to see animals that they know will ultimately die. Plus, many people want specialty breeds and can’t find them quickly at kill facilities.

“There are plenty of rescue centers with specialty dogs,” Sill said, adding that people can search for dogs by breed on www.adoptapet.com.

‘Saved in America’

The documentary will screen at noon Aug. 14 through 20. Besides Heigl, animal rights activists will appear after the film each day to answer questions.

Sill will speak at the opening on Aug. 14, as will economist Charles Cicchetti.

On Aug. 15, in addition to Heigl speaking about animal abuse, an award will be presented to Jennifer Brent, executive director of the Jason Debus Heigl Foundation.

Dog adoptions will be available at the theater on Aug. 16. The Brittany Foundation will be featured and founder Nancy Anderson will field questions after the show.

Alison Eastwood of the Eastwood Ranch Foundation will be the featured guest on Aug. 17, and Hope For Paws representatives Eldad Hagar and Shannon von Roemer will be the special guests on Aug. 18.

Bound Angels will present an award to Robert Cabral on Aug. 19, and on the final day of the film, spcaLA’s representative Madeline Bernstein will talk to the audience.

Regency Agoura Hills is at 29045 Agoura Road. Tickets cost $9.50.

For more information about the movie, visit www.savedinamericathefilm.com.

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