Uninvited visitors were already waiting when the carload of dog lovers pulled into the parking lot. They'd driven to the Northtown Mall in Blaine last Saturday morning to rendezvous with other canine softies. The plan was to caravan to a farm two hours northwest of the Twin Cities that's home to one of the state's largest commercial dog-breeding operations, a.k.a. puppy mill, to stage a protest.
An unidentified man held a video camera recording their every move. He would later say he was a friend of Paul and Sheila Haag, owners of Valley View Kennel. USDA inspection reports show that the Haags' facility houses as many as 900 dogs at any one time.
While waiting for more protesters to arrive, the group was approached by a woman. She identified herself as a relative of one of the Haags' kennel veterinarians.
According to protest organizer Lindsay Holiday, the woman said she was "really concerned about your safety and the safety of everybody there. People in Eden Valley are straight up crazy and they're not afraid to take their guns out and shoot you."
Holiday and about 40 others girdled Highway 55 near Paynesville in the afternoon sunshine. They set up shop just down the road from the Haags' Amaze'n Farmyard family entertainment complex, which serves as window dressing for their massive dog-breeding operation.
For two hours, protesters held up signs and talked to anyone who would listen about what they perceive to be a factory farm-like enterprise that's in the business of peddling companion animals to families.
Not all who drove by were receptive. Holiday and other protesters had car exhaust blasted at them. Expletives were hurled. The bird was flipped more than once.
Nearby was another throng. Their numbers were about the same. They too held up signs. They were on hand to support the Haags. They'd been summoned by The Cavalry Group, a Missouri company that had been hired by the Haags. It's run by Mindy Patterson, who told City Pages last week the likes of Holiday are dangerous. According to Patterson, animal rights activists want to squash all animal-related businesses.
The afternoon proved uneventful, despite one pro-puppy mill protester who got in the face of Holiday and others.
A St. Cloud Times reporter who covered the demonstration asked to tour the Haags' kennel, but was denied access due to "biosecurity risks to the animals."
Since City Pages wrote about the planned protest last week, the pro-puppy mill camp has instituted a strategy of attacking the messenger. The Cavalry Group posted a photo of Holiday on Facebook. Another group, Pet Owners Beware, is organizing a protest at Holiday's mother's house, saying she raised a "selfish and self-involved daughter" and intimating Lindsay's advocacy is really "mental illness" left unchecked.
One supporter of the Haags even went so far as to offer a piece of online advice to those wanting to close down the dog breeder.
"You all might as well pull your fucking heads out of your ASS," wrote Matt Utsch, "and drop it cause it ain't gonna happen you stupid bastards."
Holiday understands how both sides can get fired up when the issues involved are a family's livelihood and animals.
She's a little shell-shocked by the blitzkrieg of attacking the protesters, whose only crime would appear to be that they disagree with how the Haags raise and breed dogs.
"These people aren't willing to even talk about our disagreements," says Holiday. "What I've learned over the past week is that if you come out publicly and call them out about what they're doing, they turn mean, and fast."