Eyes of a Friend

Life with companion animals

Don’t buy from puppy mills, even ones that pretend not to be puppy mills

I bought a puppy, once, decades ago. Well, not exactly a puppy since she was born in late October and I chose her in mid-February which makes her 4 months old. I hadn’t planned on getting a puppy (this is a common occurrence, and often leads to an unhappy ending for the puppy and the owner) since I lived in an apartment complex that didn’t allow pets (what the heck was I doing there?!). It was the weekend and I was making my annual visit to the Scottsdale Arabian Horse Show to drool over the most fabulous conformation entries and enjoy the park/western classes as well as the Arabian costume class. I arrived in the morning before the main events, and was watching from next to the pole fence as gorgeous horses trotted past, throwing dirt up nearby. I looked over to my right and saw a lady also watching the same horses. I also saw she was astride a bike and was holding a young dog on a leash – I didn’t know the breed, but it had gray and black fur, a tail curled up over its back, and a beautiful face with upright foxy ears. I have always loved dogs as well as horses, and my attention strayed to the puppy and back to the horses thumping past. All of a sudden, my attention totally was diverted to the puppy as I heard the lady tell a bystander “we brought the puppy to the show so that we could sell her”.

Ohhh, no, not that! I came to watch the beautiful horses that I loved and wished I could own but had long since convinced myself were unattainable, and live in a pet-restricted apartment complex that I am satisfied with, and now hear that this beautiful puppy is AVAILABLE. I moved away from the pen and started looking at other events, hoping to pry my thoughts away from the AVAILABLE puppy. I didn’t struggle very long, and I moved back towards the pen where I had seen the lady and the dog. They were gone. Okay, I didn’t come to get a dog. I have only lived by myself for a couple of years, and am not yet ready for a dog. Our family dog had died while I was in college, and now I’ve graduated, started my career, and will get a dog when I get a home. These thoughts all went through my mind, but then I saw the tire tracks. Bicycle tire tracks, with puppy prints occasionally showing up next to them. I followed those tracks ( I was a former Girl Scout, after all) until I found a stall with a bike leaning against it – and the lady and the dog. We talked, and they told me some things about her – grew up on their horse ranch, her age, her breed – Norwegian Elkhound, and maybe some other things that I don’t remember 35 years later. I leaned over and petted her and she kissed me and showed normal puppy appreciation for the attention. They told me the price, and I paid it. They gave me some papers to fill out to send in to the AKC to get her registration papers, and they gave me her leash. My new puppy, who soon became “Misty”, and I spent the rest of the day at the horse show. Frequently I would be approached by kids who wanted to pet her, and Misty wriggled and kissed and reveled in the attention. The next day I took Misty back to the horse show, and I spent less time watching the horses and more time watching people approach us so they could “pet the pretty puppy”.

Misty, my brother, and me

Then the weekend was over, and I had to leave my new puppy in a new place where she was not legally supposed to be, and go back to work. I truly do not remember if she made messes while I was gone, whether she used the newspaper that I would have laid down for her (no puppy pads back then), or what I did at work that day or the next or the next. I know that I would have worried about her being lonesome, about being caught with an illegal pet, and I know that I started looking for a new apartment right away. I found that the only apartments that rented to pets were unfurnished (I lived in a furnished apartment and only owned a small tv), and that I would have to buy a sofa, some tables, a bed, a dresser if I was going to rent a different apartment. I think I lived in my pet-less apartment for 2 weeks before I was able and ready to make the move; two weeks of walking Misty after dark and very early in the morning, two weeks of dealing with her bathroom needs while I was a work, and two weeks of worry about breaking the rules. Two weeks of being with a dog who turned out to be every bit as wonderful as I had imagined when I followed those bicycle tracks to find her owner and make the deal to buy her.

When I sat down to write this post, I intended to react to an ASPCA email telling the story of puppies dying of heat-related complications while being flown to new owners from puppy mills in Oklahoma. Puppies who were bought, sight unseen, from internet websites disguised to look like private breeders. The ASPCA report warns us that “…As animal lovers become more aware that purchasing a dog from a pet store supports the inhumane practices of puppy mills, commercial breeders are using online sources to get their dogs directly into homes across the country…” and …”“The bottom line is the only way to be sure your new puppy isn’t a product of cruel and inhumane conditions is to see for yourself where he lives—visit the breeder’s facilities and meet the puppy’s parents,” Menkin states. “Or better yet, adopt from your local shelter.” Cori Menkin, ASPCA Senior Director of Legislative Initiatives states “A sure way to spot a scam is that they often offer to ship the dogs to the buyer without ever meeting in person. No reputable breeder would ever ship a puppy to a buyer sight unseen.”

I was angry when I heard about the puppies dying – mad at the heat, at the airlines, at the breeders, at the buyers. I have never caused a dog to be transported via airline, especially during the summer, and plan never to be guilty of that during the rest of my life. I have only adopted homeless dogs since the early 90’s, and currently have a dog, Honey, who had been in a kill shelter twice before I adopted her. I believe that everyone should adopt dogs and cats from shelters and rescues until there are none left locked up in any of them, and yet, I too once or twice (actually 3 times) bought a dog instead of adopting one. Misty’s owners met me, but they didn’t know anything about the type of home I could offer her (heck, I had to sneak her into the apartment that first night to keep us both from being kicked out and becoming “temporarily homeless”! I didn’t know anything about the people, Misty’s parents, her environment, her socialization, her health history. I knew she was adorable to look at and showed no obvious signs of illness or neglect (eyes, coat, nose, ears, nails, skin). I knew she acted friendly to me and to other people who walked by, and I’d always known mostly friendly dogs, and she was adorable. Misty WAS adorable, and sweet-natured with kids (one little girl at our new apartment complex loved to pull her tail straight out from its rolled up position and watch it snap back into the roll – she laughed each time she did it, and Misty enjoyed the attention. Some dogs might have objected to this, and I had no way of knowing when I got her that she would be that safe around kids.), sweet-natured with other dogs and little furry things (while walking her one night, I felt a tug – Misty had stopped and was nosing a pet bunny that a man let run around his front yard (with little supervision). Misty was THRILLED to touch the bunny and was very gentle, only wagging her tail. My current dog, Honey, has shown herself to be reactive to all but small dogs and will chase a rabbit in the desert. The county shelter from whom I adopted Honey had no information on her behavior, her parents, her health history, her socialization or lack of it.

I’m still angry and unhappy about the puppies dying on the airplane, and believe it could have, and should have been avoided. I’m angry that “commercial breeders” – puppy mills pretend to be reputable breeders online and that people aren’t more careful about how they choose a new dog for their family, but as I look back over my life and my experiences with dogs, I can hope that more people learn to adopt from shelters, and that more of us figure out ways to help our new dogs learn to deal with their old problems, if they have any. Lots of dogs will be just like Misty – happy, loving, healthy and a joy to be around. Some will be like Honey, friendly with some – aloof or reactive with others, but still a joy to be around – although that joy is mixed with a lot of re-training, hard work, and apprehension while learning about her reactions to each new activity in her life.

Puppy mills? Never!!! Pet stores? Never!!! (They always sell dogs from puppy mills – reputable breeders will not sell their dog to a pet store.) Pet rescues and shelters? YES!!! But, do as much as you can to learn about the dog before you choose it, and expect to spend time with trainers to deal with any problem issues. Apartments with No Pets Allowed? Phooey!! Misty motivated me to save for my first home, and we moved into it just 15 months after I sneaked her home into my apartment. Then, I had to buy her a puppy to keep her company when I went to work, and since it was my house, I didn’t have to ask anybody’s permission!

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