Allison's Book Bag

Interview with Jana Kohl

Posted on: September 3, 2014

Baby

Baby, Photo from Dr. Jana Kohl’s website

Earlier in August I posted a review of A Rare Breed of Love, the story of Baby who came from a puppy mill. As a follow-up to that review, I interviewed author Jana Kohl to find out how she came to be involved in the fight against puppy mills and what ones can do to help permanently shut down puppy mills.

As part of that interview, I also learned that Kohl lost Baby a couple of years ago. My belated condolences to Kohl. Baby changed not only the life of Kohl, but of the many individuals who met during Kohl’s campaign against puppy mills.

After you read about Kohl’s experiences, please take time to think about you too can be involved in the fight against puppy mills. As a tribute to Baby. And for the sake of all dogs like her who still suffer in puppy mills.

AUTHOR BACKGROUND

ALLISON: For those who are not familiar with your book, A Rare Breed of Love, would you share your childhood experiences with pets?

JANA: We briefly had a cat named Tickles but, after discovering my sister was allergic to him, he mysteriously disappeared. To this day my mother claims she doesn’t remember what happened to him, which makes my vivid imagination conjure up even more horrible scenarios than may have actually happened. In mom’s defense, the sound of my sister gasping for air, in the throes of an asthma attack, was terrifying to us all. That being said, I shudder to think of what happened to poor Tickles. I’m guessing my parents either banished him from our house to fend for himself on the streets, or brought him to the local pound where he met his maker in a gas chamber. My parents weren’t animal people so it doesn’t shock me that his fate was probably of zero concern to them. From my perspective today, as an animal advocate, it breaks my heart to think of our abandoning him, but I was only a kid and not in a position to call the shots. I was still wearing bunny slippers and mittens attached to the end of my coat sleeves with metal clips so I wielded little or no influence on anything.

ALLISON: Looking back, many people either love or hate their teens. How do you feel about yours?

JANA: My teen years were rough and lonely, in part because I was dealing with unresolved grief from my father’s sudden death when I was 8 years old. My sisters and I were discouraged from expressing our grief. It felt as if even the mention of his name was taboo, that’s how painful the loss was to us all. While that was an effective survival strategy for my mom, to avoid sinking into a paralyzing depression that would prevent her from taking caring of 3 little girls as a young widow, for a child to not express the pain of such a loss was devastating. If the grown ups had understood that it would have saved them from having to deal with a depressed teenager in later years, I’m sure they would have encouraged me to grieve openly back when it happened but the grown ups were doing the best they could at the time, without benefit of therapists or advisers.

Add to that the typical angst that many teens feel and I’d say it was more bumpy than smooth sailing–and a lot of those bumps were on my face! Nothing worse than dealing with the crap of being a teenager PLUS acne. Good times! Did I read your question correctly, that some people loved their teen years? God, I’m struck by a serious pang of envy. I can’t even imagine what that would be like. One of those old Gidget movies with Sally Fields.

But at 15 I did have a taste of happiness when I embarked on a great adventure that was a terrific boost to my spirit and self esteem. I had always been a whiz at Spanish, having won a Spanish-speaking competition among all the schools in our city. I must have mastered rolling r’s better than anyone else. Just shows you how lonely I was, sitting in my bedroom for hours on end saying perro (dog) about 12 million times. After my junior year of high school I won a 3 month trip to Spain, where I’d live with a family who didn’t speak a word of English, attend classes at a school in Madrid, and tour the country with other Spanish-speaking nerds from the midwest. It turned out to be a great adventure for me in many ways. When I arrived and for the first few weeks I was too shy and embarrassed to speak to my host family, but when I finally mustered up the courage they couldn’t shut me up. When I started to dream in Spanish I knew I was almost fluent, which felt like a great accomplishment, as did embarking on my own at age 15 to a foreign land.

I recall that I returned to the States slim, pretty and feeling happy. That isn’t to say I was totally past the adolescent angst. I still felt like no one understood me, but the worst seemed to be over by then.

ALLISON: On your website, you indicated that you’ve been an artist since a young girl. What is your favorite medium? What is your favorite subjects to portray?

JANA: I was always expressing myself with art–painting, photography, embellishing clothes with embroidery. I worked in just about every medium you can think of, including unconventional materials that caught my eye or inspired me, like objects in nature. I loved looking at things with fresh eyes and seeing how to use them in an art piece. The theme that often prevailed was nature. I was blown away by the incredible beauty of it all–trees, water, sunsets, flowers, the way certain rocks were flecked with sparkles. I examined everything and was energized, happy and at home when making art. I live in a big city now but my true calling is to live in the country, surrounded by trees, water and the sound of birds. I haven’t made art in a long time. I sometimes worry I won’t ever again because so many other things fill my time and are a priority.

JanaKohl

Dr. Jana Kohl, Photo from Dr. Jana Kohl’s website

ALLISON: Your career choice was that of a psychologist. What drew you to this field?

JANA: When I was a girl I told myself that I’d grow up to be a writer and/or a psychologist. I never told anyone about these aspirations and psychologist is a somewhat precocious choice for a kid, but I was a complex person who came from a complex family and so I suppose it made sense.

It’s interesting that I didn’t dream of being an artist but maybe that’s because I was actually making art on a regular basis as a kid, so I guess it didn’t occur to me as a career. Making art seemed more like a hobby than a profession when I was a child. I did go to art school during my undergrad years and did work as a freelance artist as an adult–painting murals, designing and making jewelry, even some interior design work. Anything that allowed me to be creative. I had one client who gave me free reign to do whatever I wanted to his home but I realized he would be the rare exception and decided it wasn’t a field that suited me for the long term.

I’m a mix of intellectual interests and artsy ones so it was hard to figure out a career that combined both. As for wanting to be a writer, I was a voracious reader as a child and loved books so much they were like sacred objects to me. If I finished a book I particularly loved, out of reverence for the writer and the work itself, sometimes I’d gently place a kiss upon the cover and put it under my pillow that night. I thought it would be amazing to be able to do what that author had done–tell a story in such a way that captivated and transfixed the reader.

ALLISON: You wear many hats. Prior to your fight against puppy mills, had you gotten involved in any activism? If so, what started you in this direction? If not, how difficult was it to know how to be an activist?

JANA: It feels like I was born with a yearning for justice. From a young age I couldn’t tolerate cruelty or injustice of any kind. I read the autobiography Malcome X, Sammy Davis Jr.’s biography, Yes I Can, Richard Wright’s books Black Boy and Native Son, and they sensitized me to the horrific history and ongoing plight of people whose skin wasn’t white. I wept for them after reading these books and vowed I’d help fight discrimination wherever I found it.

It made sense that I’d also be drawn to work for a Holocaust education organization, right out of college. I had read The Diary of Anne Frank but didn’t know the horrific details of the Holocaust until I went to work for that organization. There are no words to describe how I felt after seeing all the films, hearing all the survivors first person testimonies, seeing the numbers tattooed on their arms. It was surreal. It remains the most haunting and painful thing I’ve ever dealt with –that is until I saw all the footage of how animals are literally tortured by every industry that uses them for profit.

Kohl_Activist

Activism, Photo from Dr. Jana Kohl’s website

It makes perfect sense that I segued from a Holocaust organization to animal activism. Both are surreal in terms of how the victims are abused in such a horrific and nightmarish way. Both left me feeling utterly and totally in despair. Helpless. Hopeless. In shock. Enraged. Determined to do something. Animals are the lowest on the totem pole and have no voice. When I found out what is done to them in the pet breeding industry I adopted instead of buying a pet.

When I found out what is done to them in the food industry, I stopped eating and wearing them. I love animals and can’t bear the thought of them being hurt, scared, terrorized, abused and people should know that EVERY industry that uses them for profit does abuse and terrorize them. Without question. I feel relieved that I don’t partake in any of that anymore. I don’t even wear leather or sit on it in my car. It was a gradual enlightenment for me. For others it happens overnight. Today there are so many realistic substitutes for leather or suede. And food. Thanks to genius vegan chefs who make mouth-watering things, I’m not deprived of anything.

QUICK QUESTIONS

Favorite book? The Yearling was a favorite but of course A Rare Breed of Love has my heart because Baby and I did it together and it’s the legacy she left behind as well as a testimony to what she endured. It was an amazing ride (literally, across country) and one that allowed people to meet her in person. It was so moving to arrive in a town and have people waiting to give her a hug or kiss. It brought me–and many of them–to tears. She had that effect on people.

Favorite movie? A tie between “Forks Over Knives” and “Earthlings”

Favorite song? ‘Happy’ by Pharrell Williams

Favorite snack? Vegan Cheddar Potato Chips by Earth Balance. I tell the people I live with to hide the bag from me if they hope to get any.

Favorite place? Anywhere I’m surrounded by nature

BOOK BACKGROUND

Kohl_PuppyMills

Puppy Mills, Photo from Dr. Jana Kohl’s website

ALLISON: For those who are not familiar with your book, A Rare Breed of Love, would you explain how you got involved with trying to close down puppy mills?

JANA: Not knowing what a puppy mill was, or that buying a dog online means you’re buying from a mill, I stupidly sent a deposit to a man in Texas after seeing a picture of an adorable puppy on his website. I mentioned it to a friend and she was quick to scold me. “How could you do that? That puppy is from a mill! You can’t buy a dog online! They all come from puppy mills!”

I wanted to see for myself what a puppy mill was so I flew to Dallas with a friend and we drove to a small town about an hour away where the breeder lived. It was a rural setting and the moment we got out of the car we heard the most awful sound I’ve ever heard. Inside windowless barns we could hear what sounded like hundreds of dogs going insane–barking, yelping, crying in such a desperate and horrific way that I wanted to flee. Instantly I knew what my friend was talking about.

Not having the courage to go into one of the barns myself, I asked my friend, Bryan, to go. When he came out his face was so grim that I nearly burst into tears. What he described was a concentration camp for dogs. We were in shock and beyond enraged at the man. When we asked him how on earth he could mistreat animals this way, he said “Animals don’t have feelings.”

Bryan and I drove back to the airport in silence, filled with despair, but determined to do something BIG to bring awareness to the public. The first thing I did was to adopt–rather than buy–a dog. That’s how I found Baby on Petfinder.com. She was 3-legged and voiceless from having her vocal cords cut by the mill owner. Adopting a puppy mill survivor after the Texas incident was meant to be. She would change my life and I hers. The moment I held her in my arms I knew our mission had begun.

JanaAndBaby

Jana and Baby, Photo from Dr. Jana Kohl’s website

ALLISON: Baby changed your life. What is your favorite moment with her?

JANA: I was with her almost 24/7 from the time I adopted her. This Dec. 26 it’ll be 2 years since she died and I still cry if I think about how much I miss her. She would lay on my chest and stare at me so intently. Her big brown eyes were filled with such love and longing, as if asking, “Where were you all those years when I was at the puppy mill? I didn’t know humans could be like this. I love you so much, Ma. Please don’t ever leave me.” When she died, blind and deaf by that time, part of me died with her. I don’t know if others out there have loved a pet like this but if they have they understand what I’m saying. Almost two years later I still grieve the loss. Until we meet again, God willing in Heaven, I’ll mourn the loss of the most sweetest, purest, most extraordinary creature I’ve ever known–human or otherwise. She was an angel who inspired and uplifted everyone who met her. I can only pray we’ll be reunited one day.

ALLISON: You shared in A Rare Breed of Love about how the horrors of puppy mills negatively effected you. How do you keep your faith in mankind, especially when you meet those who don’t agree with your protest? In God?

JANA: Having faith in the face of horrific cruelty and abuse is definitely tough for me, yet I try my best to keep faith alive. Even the most devout people admit to lapses in their faith so I realize it’s a common problem. I know many people who don’t believe in God simply because of the unspeakable suffering that humans and non-humans endure every moment of every day. I totally understand where they’re coming from and I’ve sometimes leaned in that direction myself. But somehow, I still believe. Maybe it’s because I want to believe I’ll be reunited with Baby again. Maybe it’s because I’ve had things happen to me that only seemed possible through Divine intervention.

ALLISON: How can my readers support the cause of shutting down puppy mills?

JANA: Where I live laws have been passed to ban pet stores that sell animals because pet store animals come from mills. So the best way for people to help is to never buy an animal from a store or a private breeder, but instead to adopt an animal who is in a kill shelter, about to die. Many shelters only give them a few days to be adopted until they’re put on the kill list. Their last hours on earth are no different from a convicted serial killer awaiting execution on death row. Only in their case they’ve committed no crime.

To use living beings in a factory as if they were plastic objects is one of the cruelest acts humans have perpetuated against our fellow creatures. It has to stop. If each person refused to buy animal products, it would in fact stop. It’s that easy to fix. Yet not enough people are willing to do it.

ALLISON: How would you explain puppy mills to young people?

JANA: Puppy mills are like factories that make a product, but instead of making dolls or bicycles, puppy mills use living creatures (dogs) to make puppies that the factory owner sells for money. The problem is that the puppy mill owner doesn’t care that the animal he’s breeding has feelings like we do and suffer terribly in a factory. The puppies and their mothers and fathers beg to be let out but no one cares. Sometimes they don’t feed them for days or give them water. Often they don’t clean their cages and dogs are forced to sit or lay in their own poop and urine. When they’re sick they don’t get to see a vet. They suffer and people make money off them. Like us, animals feel pain. They cry, are afraid, feel lonely, sad, and angry.

ALLISON: You have been involved in animal welfare groups. What has been one high? One low?

JANA: My wish is that all the animal groups would pool their members, their money and their power to make REAL change for the animals. Unfortunately we haven’t made as much progress for the animals, and in some cases have even taken two steps back because we have dozens of animal groups competing for scarce donations–each trying to make a name for themselves. If all the groups could come together and say, “Between us all, we have millions of members. If we pool our resources, we’d have HUGE power and as much influence in D.C. as the bad guys. Whaddaya say? Are we in this together? Yay! Let’s do this!”

ALLISON: What’s next?

JANA: I’m considering writing an online advice column or blog (as a psychologist) and another book. People have approached me with ideas for reality TV shows and if one seems like a good fit, I’ll do it. I’m a single mom raising newborn twins so that in itself is a career. I never thought I’d be lucky enough to have kids so I feel very blessed, and raising them vegan is going to be awesome.

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4 Responses to "Interview with Jana Kohl"

nice article, thanks

You’re welcome! I’m glad you liked it.

Will do! Thanks for reading the interview.

In the meantime, I’ve added the two documentaries Jana Kohl mentions in the interview to my rental list: Forks Over Knives and Earthlings. The first is about healthier diets, while the second is about we use animals for our consumer needs. I’ve told Jana Kohl that I’ll let her know what I think of them. 🙂

An interesting and enlightening interview! Please post the web address for Dr. Kohl’s online advice column or blog if she starts one.

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