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What Would a Responsible Conference Organizer (or Friend) Do?

I really didn’t want to write this post. I hate pet world politics and I like to keep things positive. And I both admire and like the organizers of the BlogPaws conference personally and professionally; I’ve been extremely grateful in the past for the support I’ve gotten from them for my blog and my book, on the BlogPaws site and at the conference.

But I’d like to respond to what I thought was an unfair attack on a fellow blogger by providing some context. This is the original post by Mel Freer, of No Dog About It, claiming that Michael Ayalon, one of the speakers at this year’s BlogPaws conference, designed websites for puppy millers. And this is the response that the BlogPaws team gave, contending that Mel was the epitome of the unprofessional blogger, someone who gave blogger journalists a bad name.

Do Conference Organizers Want to Be Taken Seriously?

The first BlogPaws conference was held in Columbus, Ohio. Ohio is the only state to single out the pit bulls in its vicious dog laws, to wit:

The state law [955.11 (A)(4)(a) (iii)] includes “a breed commonly known as a pit bull dog” in the definition of “vicious dog.” Therefore, all of the restrictions placed on dogs that have killed or caused serious injury to a person or killed another dog are automatically placed on pit bulls.

The second BlogPaws conference was held in Denver, Colorado. The rest of Colorado opposes breed specific language and, in fact, sued Denver for its pit bull ban.

I blogged about my regret at having gone to a conference in Denver here; I respectfully contacted the conference organizers in advance to say that I was making that regret public. BlogPaws co-founder Yvonne DiVita wrote in the comments section: “BlogPaws was mortified to discover the BSL issue.”

The Denver conference was held at a hotel that did not accept pets as a matter of policy.

I was unfamiliar with the whole notion of BSL until after the second conference myself, but I sure knew what a pet friendly hotel was and one that only makes an exception to accept pets for a lucrative conference does not fall into that category.

Conference organizers should be aware of these issues. They are making a statement with choice of location and venue.

Hotel chains — for example Loews, Kimpton and Red Roof Inn — that accept pets of every size as a matter of general policy should be rewarded with pet conference business. So should pet friendly cities and states.

You can forgive me if, after three examples of less-than-stellar vetting — the kindest interpretation I can put on those choices — I would be willing to accept what Mel said about a conference speaker, given that I was familiar with the original discussion about that speaker.

The Facts (As I’ve Been Able to Ascertain)

This is what the Blogpaws post says in defense of one of Michael Ayalon’s sites:

Facts: The first site, PuppyPetite.com, does offer puppies for sale and contains lots of pictures of cute, healthy looking puppies. But there is nothing on any of those pages that indicates a “puppy mill” operation, as far as we can see. PuppyPetite.com specifically states that they will not ship their puppies and you must pick them up in person.

Here’s another fact: Pet stores require you to pick up the puppies in person too. That doesn’t mean that those puppies don’t come from puppy mills. These sites have become extremely savvy about knowing the language of the anti-puppymillers. Do you know any  reputable breeder who would sell puppies on a site that looks like PuppyPetite.com. I sure don’t.

One more thing. Here is the current link to Michael Ayalon’s business page. It doesn’t have a single link to a site that he has designed. If I stood behind my work — as I do — I would link to a few examples of it.  Michael Ayalon’s web design site.  As Mel points out, the domain names available for sale on the site include “puppybuying.com, sellapuppy.com, sellpups.com” etc. — and ad nauseum.

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27 Comments

  1. Posted September 16, 2011 at 12:36 pm | Permalink

    I guess I’ve been living under a rock because this is the first I’ve heard of this! Honestly, I have no idea how anyone familiar with Mel or her blog could suggest she’s unprofessional. Mel’s been involved in animal rescue for a long time, and having adopted a dog that was taken from a puppy mill, she’s well versed on the subject. Any site that sells puppies without having met the potential purchaser is suspect as far as I’m concerned – whether you have to pick the puppy up or not. Thanks for bringing this to my attention.

  2. Posted September 16, 2011 at 1:31 pm | Permalink

    Thanks Edie.
    I’ll be responding soon with screen shots to make my point, but I’ll just add that if you look at the domain names he has to sell they tell me a lot. I only ask why these names?
    BuyPups.com
    SellPups.com
    SellAPuppy.com
    PuppyBuying.com
    InternetPuppy.com

    As I said in my post, I was disappointed in BlogPaws for having him as a speaker. My intent was not to attack, but to simply ask the questions. Obviously there are a lot of misrepresentations of what I said in their response. That saddens me. I would have preferred they had said they didn’t know than to take this stance.

    I appreciate your response and support. I just wish that it had not come to this.

  3. Posted September 16, 2011 at 2:06 pm | Permalink

    A while ago, I tried to give Mel a hand to see if we could expose some of these internet sites (not the ones mentioned in Mel’s blog) as puppy mill fronts with hard evidence. We got quite far, and even found our way to some breeders they were allegedly using and talked with them. But as you mention, these sites are so savvy in creating a maze of spin and falsified paperwork that we always came up empty handed, you would need a camera on the spot to reveal them.

    Just an example of that if somebody goes all the way and does her research as a professional blogger, it is Mel Freer. I am glad you wrote this in her defense.

  4. Posted September 16, 2011 at 2:51 pm | Permalink

    Wow – I had commented on Mel’s post when it first came out – had no idea she would get a slap-down of the highest order by BlogPaws. I understand people can get mad if they feel they are being unfairly attacked and have a knee-jerk reaction, but I know no one who knows or has read Mel would believe she would come from a place of ill intent towards BlogPaws.

    Mel made it clear that she was disappointed, even a bit depressed about BlogPaws choosing to promote Ayalon. Did she do this before the conference? No. During? No. Only now, weeks after it ended does she voice her confusion and disappointment. I’d call that incredible restraint.

    This was not a vituperative post by Mel Freer and I don’t think she or her blog deserves the charge of being “unprofessional”. OMG…I’ll have to write a post on this so I’m not taking up your commenting section…I am more than a little stunned.

  5. Posted September 16, 2011 at 4:33 pm | Permalink

    So, Edie, your idea of defending Mel’s professionalism is to change the subject?

    Your post completely ignores the main concern we raised with Mel’s post, which was her complete failure to reach out to us for an explanation of how Michael Ayalon came to be a speaker at BlogPaws 2011.

    You then launch into your own attack on BlogPaws for holding conferences in Columbus and Denver. But your attack, frankly, hurts more and is even less professional than Mel’s.

    In my view, Mel relied on “evidence” that is nothing more than taking her blanket assumptions about how many, or perhaps even most, puppy mills operate and then applying those assumptions to an individual, without any real evidence that the individual is operating that way. Even if the assumptions about a class are true in most cases, that does not justify applying them to individuals without evidence.

    Oh dear, that’s exactly what the idiot politicians in Denver do with pit bulls, isn’t it?

    You on the other hand, have communicated directly with me and Yvonne and know the whole story about how we stumbled into both of those mistakes. We never knew about the Ohio law until after the fact. Nor did you, when you attended the first conference as a speaker, compensated with a full conference pass.

    And we only found out about the one in Denver after the hotel had been booked. Then we did our best to join with Maggie Marton and others to protest the Denver ban and punctuated how we feel with a donation to Mariah’s Promise, a shelter that focuses on pit bulls.

    You know all that, yet you chose to portray us as if we intentionally ignored the BSL issue! I practiced law in New York for many years and the only way a pet could be taken from its family there, was if that individual pet displayed a pattern of vicious behavior. Until the Denver ban was called to our attention, we did not even know it was an issue to take into consideration.

    Does that mean we were not “professional” pet-related event hosts in 2010?

    Guilty!

    We’d certainly never done anything like a BlogPaws conference before (nobody had). And doing two of them in the same year, with about four months to plan and execute each one, left us little chance for on the job training to sink in.

    Should anyone doubt that you knew all this, I’ll be happy to post the entire email sequence among you, Yvonne, and me from Jan. 31, 2011.

    Regarding the behavior of the Denver Grand Hyatt (let’s name names), we’re as disappointed as you are. We were led to believe that our conference was being used to announce an official change in their policies and the manager let me announce that from the stage, as you may recall. We felt we were helping to make a positive difference. We apparently were wrong.

    I’m curious, though, how you would suggest we tell ahead of time who’s telling us the truth in these situations?

    To the hotel chains you mention, are you aware of any of their properties that are both (a) large enough to hold an educational conference, exhibitor space, and guest rooms for 400-500 people (and still growing); (b) adequate outdoor space for walking and other pet needs; and (c) located in a place with no state, county, or municipal BSL or other objectionable laws?

    We’d love to hear about them, if you do. If you think it’s easy finding a location that satisfies our growing list of criteria, I’m pretty sure Rebecca would hire you in a blink.

    Edie, as I noted in my comment back to you on our post, I was hopeful that we could find a way to elevate this discussion away from who did what wrong, back toward how to be better bloggers. I’m less hopeful after reading your post.

    Do you see a way back?

    Tom

    • Edie Jarolim
      Posted September 16, 2011 at 4:48 pm | Permalink

      I was not changing the subject; I was providing context. I was making the point that you did not do sufficient research — as a conference organizer you are responsible for being aware of issues that others may not be aware of.

      It happens once… okay. It happens twice… um, a little suspect. Bringing Michael Ayalot in and trusting his word against the evidence of his sites is part of that pattern. (Finding a pet friendly hotel is a separate issue; perhaps it muddies the waters.)

      Puppy Petite is apparently notorious as a puppy mill purveyor. Here’s a comment on my Facebook page:

      Shaking my head as I am fully aware of PuppyPetite.com previously know as PuppyBoutique in NYC and Yorkies. There are to many warning signs on that website alone to have a PetBlog endorse them. I am sure given time you could document where the dogs came from either BYB (backyard breeders) or a puppymill but at the very least these are breeders who do not care what happens to their dogs..they just sell them for a profit. There have been many complaints about poorly bred Yorkies from this store.

      http://www.boardreader.com/thread/petite_puppy_boutique_in_brooklyn_pntwX4qox.html
      Thread petite puppy boutique in brooklyn | YorkieTalk.com Forums – Yorkshire Terrier Community…
      boardreader.com
      petite puppy boutique in brooklyn Hello everyone I’m new to this site and hoping… I can find some information I bought my “teacup” yorkie here 2 weeks ago without doing further research about this

      So your defense of Michael Ayalot as the creator of the site — without any proof — shows, again, a lack of basic research.

      Can we come back? I don’t think so. This is the second attack you’ve made against what seem to me as very measured comments that simply provided a context for my assertion that you attacked Mel unfairly.

  6. Posted September 16, 2011 at 4:48 pm | Permalink

    Heck, I’m less hopeful, too. You’re still being defensive, Tom, and unreasonably so. The kickstarter of this today was Mel’s post, and your reaction to it. You feel she attacked you. All she did was state that she was disappointed, as one who has fought the puppymill issue for any length of time would be, that Ayalon’s questionable past and reputation would be chosen out of an untold number of great speakers. The field is full of them. You intentionally chose this one after knowing the issues regarding him, whether perceived or real. You have shown no respect for Mel. You now expect Edie to simply “defend” you in your argument, simply because she knows you. I can’t see anything resolving from this. Hopeless. You have abused your authority in the community, in my opinion.

  7. Posted September 16, 2011 at 5:01 pm | Permalink

    I’m doing my best to piece this whole unfolding situation together in my head (and my heart). I tend to gauge such online tussles by how they make me feel viscerally, and the only post that made my stomach hurt was the BlogPaws post about Mel’s post … and responses to comments, including to yours Edie.

    I’m writing here to say that I completely get where you are coming from, Edie. And, I hope that you and Frankie have a good weekend.

    • Edie Jarolim
      Posted September 16, 2011 at 5:29 pm | Permalink

      Thank you. I’m going to judge an apple pie contest tomorrow and will revel in carbs and sugar. Now I really *am* changing the subject!

  8. Posted September 16, 2011 at 6:42 pm | Permalink

    Edie, Roxanne, and Mel –

    Had Mel simply meant to ask us questions about Michael Ayalon, or about our “vetting” process (really?), we’re not hard to contact.

    Instead, she called us out in a public blog post, associating us with the vilest of animal abusers. No matter how you pretend to characterize, it was an attack. It was unprovoked. It was unsupported by anything that anyone who cares about truth would call “evidence.” And it came without any attempt to contact us in advance for comment.

    I care deeply about animals, as do Caroline and Yvonne. I’m sorry if we upset you, but we’ve adopted all three of our dogs and our cat. And Olive came from a real puppy mill, after spending almost five years as a breeding mother, lost an eye from infection, and still freaks out during storms, quivering uncontrollably while we hold her close (making us envision her in a horrible, unprotected outdoor cage).

    So yes, I’m sensitive to the accusations you throw around so freely. And no, you don’t get to preach to me on the subject.

    But I also care deeply about the concept that individual people (and pit bulls) are innocent until proven guilty. Not by surmise. Not by “seems like” assumptions. Not by generalizations and stereotyping.

    Proof. A concept you folks also play fast and loose with.

    You may now return to beating up on Caroline, Yvonne, and Tom. I won’t bother you further with my personal beliefs about fairness.

    • Posted September 17, 2011 at 2:57 am | Permalink

      Since you can’t delete comments here, I’d *really* love to know why you deleted my comment on your recent post? That’s such *super* professional blogger behavior! Did I hurt your feelings because I said I was deleting my Blog Paws account? Enquiring minds want to know. If you come over to my blog I *promise* that I will not delete your comment.

      • Posted September 17, 2011 at 7:01 am | Permalink

        Hi Karen,
        We don’t even moderate comments and I did not see, or delete, one from you. So unless it contained language that the built-in TypePad spam filter caught and deleted (we don’t even see those), I don’t know what you’re referring to.
        Tom

        • Posted September 17, 2011 at 1:25 pm | Permalink

          Well I saw my comment publish right after Jen G’s at 12.39PM and it did not contain any spammy or offensive language. Hmmmm

  9. Posted September 17, 2011 at 12:39 am | Permalink

    WOW… I just left my long and ranty comment on the Blog Paws site. Tom’s article makes him come off like a little whiny baby. Just deleted my Blog Paws account, too. Thank-you for sticking up for Mel, I’m off to write my own post.

    Enjoy your pie 😀

  10. Edie Jarolim
    Posted September 17, 2011 at 6:28 am | Permalink

    Just for the record. I never questioned BlogPaws commitment to animal welfare; I never suggested that Tom et al supported puppy mills. Of course they don’t. I simply questioned the vetting process that would allow a questionable web designer to get through as a speaker and therefore as a tacit representative of the organization.

    And I did — and do — question the professionalism of someone who would put the full weight and force of a professional organization, BlogPaws, against a solo blogger and impugn her reputation which, as far as I’m concerned, is impeccable. Unlike the choice of a speaker, that was done deliberately and, as the post says, with deliberation. That is the impetus for this post. I call it bullying when a large group pulls its weight like that. And I will always fight against bullies with the limited powers I have.

    I’m sorry it has come to this. I have been friends with all the members of the BlogPaws team and I would never, ever suggest they support puppy millers. But they would try to ruin the reputation of someone who has devoted a good deal of her time and energies to fighting puppy mills. And that will not stand.

  11. Posted September 17, 2011 at 7:13 am | Permalink

    I agree, and thank you for sharing your thoughts on this. It’s too bad what I considered a very friendly, thoughtful, and fun community full of positive energy, has turned into a very hostile environment. As I said in a comment on the BlogPaws post, they have proven themselves to be nothing more than bullies. We all suffer as a result of this very sad reaction.

  12. Posted September 17, 2011 at 10:42 am | Permalink

    OK…I cannot keep quiet any longer!

    So if I sell dog toys to a puppy mill am I endorsing puppy mills? Roxanne, if you sell an article that ends up on a puppy mill site, are you endorsing puppy mills?

    Come on people…Michael Ayalot is selling websites…not endorsing puppy mills. For full disclosure, I have no idea who this guy is and have not looked at any of his work.

    For the record, I abhor puppy mills. Betsy came from a county shelter and Norman was a street dog that found his forever home with us.

    I have taken many moral stands. I will not sell Premier Pet Products because they are a division of SafeMade the shock collar people. I even did a press release revealing their relationship when they tried to keep it quiet. I will not sell Everlasting Treat Balls because their parent company teaches trainers how to use pinch collars.

    Just because I sell something to someone does NOT mean I endorse them.

    Let’s stop the name calling and all agree — let’s stop puppy mills.

    • Edie Jarolim
      Posted September 17, 2011 at 10:50 am | Permalink

      If you are enabling a puppy mill to do its business by designing a site that IS its prime way of doing business, hell yes you are endorsing puppy mills. That’s different than providing toys or food for puppy mills, or inadvertently ending up on sites that are endorsing puppy mills.

      I’m about to head out — yup, to judge that apple pie contest! — so any further comments today will appear this evening.

      • Posted September 18, 2011 at 5:09 pm | Permalink

        Hey, Candy ~

        I appreciate the analogy. In my case, I guess the most parallel one would be *if* I specifically wrote articles FOR a puppy mill site for $$$ to help them seem legitimate or to help them sell more puppies, then yes … that would be endorsing them.

        If they somehow posted an article of mine some other way (likely breaching copyrights to do so), then no that would not be an endorsement because it was done without my knowledge or permission.

  13. Posted September 18, 2011 at 3:02 pm | Permalink

    Edie,

    We’re sorry you didn’t feel included in our apology to Mel and the whole community. We do apologize to you, and I do in particular for the harshness of my rebuttal in commenting on your post. Our surprise and disappointment in your public comments about BlogPaws should have been expressed privately, given our relationship and past discussions. As I mentioned before, we have always respected and supported you and I hope you accept our sincerest apology.

    As Mel suggested, we’d like to enlist your help in making positives come out of this painful episode. Are you able to join us as a member of the BlogPaws speaker advisory group we’re forming?

    Happy to discuss this further offline, of course.

    Tom

    • Edie Jarolim
      Posted September 18, 2011 at 6:48 pm | Permalink

      I’ve already outed myself on the BlogPaws site as watching the Emmy awards while going through my emails and blog comments and using Charlie Sheen, who wished Two and a Half Men well and was well received, for context of this whole hubbub. Communities can heal, no matter what its members do in haste and in public.

      It feels very good not to be angry anymore — the wine I’ve been relaxing with helps too! I promise to think about the advisory group offer when I’m capable of deep thought — and when the Emmies are over. Someone just thanked his dog sitter during an awards speech. I have to focus 😉

  14. Posted September 19, 2011 at 11:46 am | Permalink

    I only recently joined the Blog Paws community, and am new to pet blogging. The puppy mill issue is a hot button–rightfully so. I’m glad to see everyone worked out their differences!

    Full disclosure: I got my dog at a petstore…which is now out of business (thank goodness). I wasn’t planning on buying a dog, I wanted to adopt. But I saw him, we met, and we clicked. Love at first sight. While I am extremely remorseful that in my youth I stupidly fed into the puppy mill cycle by purchasing a dog rather than adopting, I don’t regret the past 8 years with Stanley. With all his health woes, I have no doubt another owner might have given up on him, and he may have ended up a “less adoptable” pet in a shelter.

    That said, I learned from my mistake and became more informed about puppy mills, and how indirect actions end up facilitating and supporting them. I hope Mr. Ayalon learns from this as well and uses his powers for more good than evil, so to speak! We all make mistakes, it’s whether we learn from them!

    • Edie Jarolim
      Posted September 19, 2011 at 12:28 pm | Permalink

      Well, that’s what it’s all about — learning from mistakes; I’m glad you’ve been taking such good care of sweet Stanley! I’m afraid Mr. Ayalon is not making mistakes — he knows precisely what he’s doing, and he’s making a lot of money from it. That’s why it was a mistake to legitimize him.

  15. Posted October 1, 2011 at 10:19 am | Permalink

    Whoa. This is a disheartening series of events in so many respects. I won’t bother to reiterate things that have already been said. My question is: Where does Blog Paws go from here? My simple, perhaps naive, suggestions are these:

    1) In concert with the Blog Paws community, BP could establish criteria for where Blog Paws conferences will/will not be held, for example: not in cities or states which have BSL; only at hotels that are exemplars of pet friendliness ALL the time, not just during BP conferences; not in cities or states that support or have a history of turning a blind eye to puppy mills; not in cites or states that are known for their puppy mill industries—and so on;
    2) All speakers, vendors, presenters, etc., will be fully vetted by a special Blog Paws committee, the members of which are drawn from the blog paws community, in order to determine that they are not in anyway supporting businesses or non-profit organizations, or anything else, that impairs the welfare of animals. Ideally, people on such a committee should include those, if they so choose to be included, that have raised a red-flag about the situations cited in this blog post and others.
    3) Blog Paws in collaboration with the Blog Paws community could create a mission and vision that supports the above 2 points, and goes far beyond them, so that any city, state, hotel, etc., that hosts a Blog Paws conference can be proud to wear the BP seal of approval as can the vendors and presenters who participate.

    Just a thought.

    Needless to say, this implications of my modest proposal are complex. There’s a lot here to haggle over. I get that. But, it might be place from which to begin anew.

    • Edie Jarolim
      Posted October 1, 2011 at 10:26 am | Permalink

      Thanks for your input, Deborah. For the record, the BlogPaws folks are creating a committee, one that Mel and I have been asked to be on. But I think your idea of working with the community is an excellent one because who knows the local issues better than the locals? Maybe it’d be something for you to propose on the BlogPaws site?

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  1. […] inspired me to write my opinion pieces on this situation and caught a lot of shit for defending Mel with her own post. Edie was a reluctant participant in this battle, she saw something that she did NOT like and […]

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