Rory Kress is a journalist who has covered stories around the world.
A two-time Emmy Award winner, she holds a BA in creative writing from Princeton University and graduated at the top of her class from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.
She lives in Denver.
The following is an interview with Kress.
Each week, The Colorado Sun and Colorado Humanities & Center For The Book feature an excerpt from a Colorado book and an interview with the author. Explore the SunLit archives at coloradosun.com/sunlit
What inspired you to write this book?
As a journalist, when questions fail to lead to answers and only create more questions, I know I’m onto a story. When it came to my dog, Izzie, the more I questioned where she came from, the more I came up needing more information. So many dog owners today refer to their pets as their “fur babies”– but we’re not their parents. I wanted to know where my dog was really born and what happened after.
So she was born in Missouri? How did she get to a New York pet shop where I found her? So she was born in a USDA-licensed facility, what does that mean? Is that a puppy mill or not? Why is the Department of Agriculture overseeing the way that companion animals are bred? It didn’t seem logical. After all, Izzie isn’t livestock or an agricultural commodity. She’s a pet. From there, I was off and running for answers.
Who are your favorite authors and/or characters?
I think some of the best journalism is happening right now in radio, in particular. A few podcasts I recommend: “Reply All,” “Rough Translation” and “This American Life” are some of my all-time favorites and they inspire me to dig deeper in my writing.
Why did you choose this excerpt to feature in SunLit?
This excerpt features the characters that we don’t often hear from in the puppy mill discussion: the breeders themselves. I think it’s important to know that there are people behind these operations. They are, in many cases, small family farmers who have been sold out by Big Ag and left to fend for themselves. Unfortunately, many of them have gone into an inhumane line of work. And while I can’t sympathize with harming a creature big or small, I wanted to show readers who some of them are so they can better contend with the challenges of why this issue has yet to be fully solved.
I also wanted to feature something that surprised me in my reporting, which was the sight of breeders — many of which we would call puppy millers — weeping to give their dogs away to a rescue. This shocked me. I wanted readers to see this too because, for me, good reporting should surprise and should not merely confirm the author’s pre-existing hypothesis.
What was the most fun or rewarding part of working on this book?
I most enjoyed the opportunities to interact with the people who dedicate their lives to animals. I found myself particularly moved when meeting, in one case, a long-haul trucker who rescues dogs along his routes and brings them out of bad situations. In general, I found people who, time and again, devote their limited personal resources to rescue. It was incredibly touching to see how selflessly they work to give a voice to the voiceless.
What was the most difficult section to write in this book? Why?
I witnessed a lot of things on this journey that were hard for someone who loves dogs–and animals–to see. However, the hardest moment came when I was at a dog livestock auction, where breeders sell off their dogs to the highest bidder. Some dogs go for upwards of ten thousand dollars because they have a unique coloring that may be valuable. Others, the old and the sick, fetch a few dollars if anything as a breeder just tries to liquidate his stock.
At that auction, as I walked around staring through cages at the dogs — or lots as they’re called in this strange world — I stooped down to see a tiny Yorkie and was shocked to see it recoil in abject terror. I’ve never had a dog see me as a threat. But here was a creature whose trust of humans had been so broken that even a person cooing and trying to comfort it was a mortal enemy. It horrified me to think of the life journey that led the dog to that conclusion and I stepped away quickly to not further its distress.
What was one interesting fact you learned while researching this book?
That our nation’s laws do not know how to treat dogs. This is a relationship, a bond, that predates even the language we have to describe a dog. However, our laws can’t get it right. For example, a recent court ruling decided that two dogs living on the same property may not be offered the same protection under the law. Say one dog is used for breeding. Then that dog is considered livestock and, in many cases, mistreatment of that animal is a misdemeanor.
However, another dog on the same property, with the same owners that is kept as a pet is considered a companion animal in the eyes of the law. Mistreatment of that animal can be a felony. Two dogs. Neither one knows they are different in the eyes of the law. Both have the same capacity for love and pain. That fact utterly upended how I understood our legal relationship with these beloved creatures.
What project are you working on next?