I have a dear friend I’ll call Molly. Our friendship goes back about two decades, in which we’ve seen each other through a lot of good times and bad. Just a few weeks ago, Molly lost her beloved Maltese mix to the ravages of age and illness. She was devastated. She lives in another state, but we had a long talk on the phone after his passing, talking about her little heart-dog and all he had meant to her.
Molly still had her other dog, a mid-size female mixed breed, but she felt a huge void in her life, and almost immediately she was ready to bring home a new canine companion. Of course, she knows I’m involved with dog rescue via my group, Southpaws Express. She asked if I’d keep an eye open for a dog for her to adopt.
I was so thrilled and honored that I was practically breathless! I knew whichever dog was lucky enough to land up with Molly would be getting the kind of home doggie dreams are made of. I started scouring the shelters for candidates.
Molly wanted a young small-breed female dog with a longer coat. She had certain breeds on her short list. I sifted through the listings on Pet Harbor in several shelters near her (I could arrange transport if we found the right dog).
I saw quite a few dogs that met her specs, but I sent her the listing for one puppy who really resonated with me who I felt would be a great match. The photo showed a little Yorkie mix, about 6 months old, with a friendly, bright-eyed expression. She was jumping up inquisitively toward the picture-taker.
Days passed and I didn’t hear from Molly. I didn’t want to pressure her, but I wished she’d give me some feedback.
Then I spoke on the phone to a mutual connection who broke the news that Molly had gone to a local pet store and purchased a “designer” mixed-breed puppy.
My heart plummeted straight into the bottom of my stomach and sloshed into a sick feeling that has remained there ever since.
Animal welfare is one of my passions, and I’ve dedicated much of my life to it, so Molly’s decision hurt on a very personal level. I’m an advocate for shelter dogs in particular, and a proponent of dog rescue. I try to live by example, having happily surrounded myself with my own pack of well-adjusted rescued dogs. I’ve volunteered and worked in the field. And I even started up a rescue group to help more shelter dogs.
But when I call myself an advocate, mostly I mean that I talk about these issues — a lot. I talk on Dogster and social media. I talk to people at adoption events. I talk to their kids too. I talk to co-workers and acquaintances and people I meet on airplanes when I go on vacation.
So this was a disheartening moment. What have I been talking about all these years and why did I bother? If one of my own closest friends does not listen to me, how would I possibly expect to have made a difference to strangers on the Internet, or any of those other circumstances? I felt like such a failure.
It was disheartening beyond the personal level, too, though. Rather, as just one example of a typical person making this choice. Molly is a mature, intelligent woman. I am quite sure that she’s aware puppies sold at retail stores are the products of puppy mills, even if the shop employees are trained to say otherwise or give oblique answers to the question. I think she understands that no decent breeder who cares about the welfare of his puppies would ever turn them over to a broker or a retailer, to be sold to anyone with a credit card. And I’m sure Molly recognizes that her dollars went to support and perpetuate the abusive system of puppy mills.
Instead, she could have saved that adorable Yorkie puppy, or one of the others wishfully awaiting a good home. Indeed, that would have been two lives saved; the Yorkie, and the next dog dropped off at that shelter — because there would be a kennel space available for that dog. This was a high-volume shelter in Alabama that has to euthanize dogs due to overcrowding, so that kennel space makes the difference between life and death.
So, why did Molly buy the pet-store puppy? I know the “reasons” — I’ve heard them all. There are so many excuses and rationalizations. I think in her case, it has to do with a combination of raw grief, overdrive emotion, impulse, and the desire for instant gratification.
Be that as it may, Molly has her puppy now, and I have no doubt she will give him a great life and the best of care. And she’ll never say she regrets getting him; no one with a heart would say that about her pet.
The lesson for me, perhaps, is a reminder to stay focused upon the big picture. It is true that while Molly’s purchase contributed to the puppy mill industry, it does not make or break it. And her “non-adopt” may have contributed to the death of one or more shelter dogs, but it doesn’t create the entire shelter crisis. If she had adopted, it wouldn’t have solved the whole crisis, either.
With that said, those of us who have an eye for the big picture should perhaps do well to keep our efforts on that level, rather than in our own personal relationships. Recently, I have read and applauded that the City of Los Angeles has banned all retail puppy stores, and Connecticut lawmakers have drafted similar statewide legislation.
I realize that ridding ourselves of the scourge of retail puppy stores does not solve all problems (there would still be, for example, the internet puppy mill sites); however, it would be a huge step in the right direction. And so, the meaning of advocacy, for me, today edges closer to political activism.
And I’ll keep trying.
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