Activism is in Deborah Howard’s blood. By age 8, her mother deputized her to work on Robert F. Kennedy’s presidential campaign. She later volunteered with the United Farm Workers.
At New College, professor Bob Benedetti challenged her to keep making a difference in society. She graduated in 1980, got a law degree, worked briefly in public relations, and then devoted herself to animal rights. Howard is founder and president of Cohasset, a Massachusetts-based Companion Animal Protection Society (CAPS), a national nonprofit that fights cruelty in puppy mills and pet shops.
It began in the early 1990s when she recruited undercover investigators and worked with ABC’s “20/20,” People and Life magazines to expose pet shop and puppy mill cruelty. The media coverage and nationwide protests organized by Howard resulted in the 1993 bankruptcy of the largest pet shop chain. CAPS also worked closely with NBC’s “Dateline” to produce an award-winning report and did a CNN segment. Howard was a People.com Hero Among Us in May 2013.
In recent years, CAPS has helped write and promote legislation banning the retail sale of dogs, cats and rabbits in Los Angeles, San Diego and elsewhere. CAPS is now using innovative thinking – stemming from Howard’s New College experience – to keep the issue in the public’s eye.
For example, CAPS uses Google’s Street View to find pet shops with nearby billboards to place its message in full sight of customers. Because Howard believes the public is numbed to the image of abused animals, CAPS’ recent campaign featured models – who volunteered their time – and rescue dogs, including CAPS Spokesmodel Beatrice, a puppy mill Basset Hound rescued by CAPS investigators. Born with deformed elbows, Beatrice suffers from several health conditions, including glaucoma.
Two decades into her work, Howard is as passionate as ever but admits “it can be emotionally challenging. I’ve seen atrocities over the years and must keep a certain emotional distance to be effective.”