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About Empty Cages Press

About Empty Cages Press

Animals have always held a special place in my life. Since I was little, my family’s companion animals were my besties, my comfort, and my joy. In my world,  animals were treated like family because they were. 
Then, in 2009, my worldview changed drastically after adopting a tiny white Maltese named Cagney. Friends referred us to the Northcentral Maltese Rescue in Racine, WI.  Mary Palmer's amazing group rescued and fostered hundreds of puppy mill dogs into loving homes.

So, what's a puppy mill? The pictures I found told the saddest story. Dogs were locked in cages like chickens at factory farms. Mama dogs, filthy and matted, stared out with empty eyes from wire-floor cages. Research revealed these dogs suffer emotional trauma for years after being rescued. If they were that lucky.

Our Cagney was locked in a cage until he was seven months old. He had antisocial behavior which worsened over time. His separation anxiety also increased. Thankfully, he allowed my husband and me into his heart. 
Fast forward. Life with Cagney became my topic during writing workshop sessions. My students had many questions about Cagney’s behaviors, puppy mills, and how to help dogs in these facilities.  Would a full-blown story about a dog rescued from a puppy mill help a younger audience understand the problem of pet store puppies?

Eventually, Lily Unleashed was written.  And merged with the idea of Empty Cages Press. Now young people can know what Lily, the main character, comes to know about puppy mills. They will learn that they have the power to speak for the puppy mill dogs by never buying puppies sold at pet stores or online.  And that telling others about pet store puppies will help, as well. 

... Until Every Puppy Mill is Closed


Lily Unleashed Book Cover

I was inspired by Cagney, my puppy mill survivor, to write Lily Unleashed. This middle-grade novel is a story of hope and understanding, of friendship and forgiveness. Of speaking up for the underdog. Through Lily’s journey, and this website, readers learn how to make a difference for the dogs awaiting release from their cages. 


Jo Anna Volunteeering for Bailing Out Benji

As an advocate and volunteer, I help provide the boots on the ground as a representative for the Human Society of the United States advocate team and a volunteer for the Bailing Out Benji informational table at my local farmer's market. 

Dog Mom

Cagney and Santa

In 2008, we adopted Cagney, a puppy mill survivor. In 2020,  we adopted Kiwi, a rescue from Piedmont Animal Rescue of Charlotte, North Carolina. Both dogs had been traumatized and were left with emotional scars. I worked with both to overcome these challenges by providing love, patience, and a nurturing home. 

Meet Her Fur Babies


Cagney, a Maltese, was rescued in 2008 from an Amish puppy mill.  He was seven months old and probably a breeder male that didn’t produce puppies. Otherwise, he would have been shipped to a pet store months earlier. Cagney was surrendered to Mary Palmer, president of Northcentral Maltese Rescue, Inc. of Racine, WI at the Thorpe dog auction. Her wonderful group got him vet-checked, bathed, groomed, then placed in a loving foster home with Kathy and Lee Perkins until our friends, Tom & Laurie Smith, sent us his photo.

Northcentral Maltese Rescue Inc. Logo

Though Cagney had some "small-dog" traits, they became magnified due to lack of socialization in his puppy mill cage. He had low confidence and feared people. Being left alone caused him the most discomfort. He suffered separation anxiety whenever we needed to leave him at home alone – which we tried hard not to do. He was shy of new situations and refused to let visitors into our home or near our front yard without barking furiously. Eventually, he started nipping visitors' pants legs. Nipping is unusual behavior for puppy mill dogs research says. 

Though clinginess is a Maltese trait, Cagney became an ultra Velcro dog. Just like in Lily Unleashed. He showered me with a love that’s hard to compare. Luckily, I was blessed with a husband who understood the special bond Cagney and I shared and wasn’t jealous.


Despite his trauma from living in a puppy mill, Cagney showered us with the biggest love. He became my heart dog. And my special boy. And if you’ve ever been as lucky as me, then you will understand why I wrote the following:


Did you ever have a dog love you so much he acts as if he’s having a seizure when you arrive home because he’s so happy? Did you ever have a dog that couldn’t bear to have a door, especially a bathroom one, closed between the two of you without scratching and whining till he’s let in? Did you ever have a dog that was glued to your side every moment like your shadow on a sunny day? Did you ever have a dog YOU loved so much it hurt to imagine life without him? Well, I have. You see, this amazing little dog, Cagney the Maltese, who was smaller than a bread box, had the biggest love imaginable. And he changed my life forever. 


Cagney crossed the rainbow bridge on December 16, 2019. He lives in my heart and Patrick’s forever.


Kiwi, our Papillion, was rescued in June 2020 by Piedmont Animal Rescue of Charlotte, North Carolina. She was among 30 small breeding dogs found in a backyard breeder and hoarder’s home. Kiwi was underweight, pregnant, and around three years old. From lack of human contact, she was unsocialized and timid of many things. In her loving foster home, she gave birth to a litter of three pups, all of which were adopted into forever homes.

Since joining my family in September 2020, Kiwi is learning to trust people and other dogs as she navigates appropriate socialization activities. She has a sweet personality and warms up quickly if you play fetch. Initially, she didn’t bark or make any sounds in our home. She now makes all kinds of vocalizations depending on her mood: purring, grumbling, growling and barking. Papillon means butterfly in French. Her ears resemble the open wings of a butterfly. We have learned to tell her mood by how she holds her big butterfly ears. She loves to snuggle on laps when she isn’t chasing balls. We hope Kiwi can obtain certification as a therapy dog for nursing homes and hospitals.

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