Saturday, January 29, 2011

Don't Buy a Puppy from a Pet Store, and other future classics

It's my theme, at least for today. Somebody should write it as a pop song, or maybe Grant Peeples could write it as a moody leftneck ballad with a solid hook. It's catchy. It could have a repeat: Don't buy a, don't buy a, don't buy a puppy from a pet store...and it's just as true for cats, so there could be an alternate version: Don't buy a, don't buy a, don't buy a kitten from a pettttt stooooore...I can pretty much hear it in my head. If I recorded it, I'd dedicate the recording to Calvin, pictured here in his smiley, smart-alecky glory, and to Zeke, who was rescued too late, and to April, who was rescued in time to find her way into the heart of an adoring family, and to Jayda, who was pulled from the Nassau County shelter this morning, and to all the others helped by BARC (Boxer Aid and Rescue Coalition) and countless other ordinary people, making this small but important difference. For simplicity and to avoid writing the Great American Blog Post on the topic of rescued Boxers, let me just talk about Calvin and Jayda. There are so many rescues, of so many breeds and mixes, of cats and dogs, all deserving of applause. But I'll try to stay focused.

So: Mister Calvin. You can see his big smile in that top photo, the face of a dog who surely had every reason to mistrust and maybe even dislike people forever, but somehow managed to retain balance. Ever watch Cesar Millan? He has a dog named Daddy who serves as a kind of canine barometer, a behavioral translator able to relay information from the unspoken but unmistakable animal vocabulary resulting in behavioral predictors to Cesar, who understands that language. BARC's book on Calvin was that he'd been rescued from a dog-fighting situation in which he was likely used as a bait dog. I've also posted the photo of Mister Calvin and April, because if you look closely at Calvin's shoulder, you can see one of the scars.
It was almost the size of the palm of my hand, and his fur never grew back. Calvin developed certain strong preferences (he would rather be told to move than man-handled into actually moving, for instance) but I was always amazed that he seemed more than content to live as a member of our pack. He never acted on what might, in human terms, have been deep and justified resentment. He was adopted into an excellent family, by a woman who was in vet school and was able to give him every veterinary benefit. But vet school...yikes. It sounds not unlike med school, with the on-call hours, the grueling internship...she knew she couldn't give Calvin the attention he deserved, so she surrendered him back to BARC. This is one of the terms to which BARC adopters agree, and one of the things I love most about the organization: if you can't continue to care for a dog you adopt from us, you give it back, and we will always ensure that it's cared for. Calvin's adoptive mom knew she was giving him to a certainty of a good home. We met him as a prospective foster family, fell in love, and never looked back. As most of you know, he died in December, but not before he changed our family.

We adopted Bandit recently, a former foster we'd had and loved, whose life took a turn that happened to give us the chance to have him back. Because we were all adjusting to the loss of Calvin and the addition of Bandit, we decided to take a break from fostering for a bit. It's a tough call, and not just because of our ties to BARC. On a national and regional level, as well as a local one, pet rescue organizations are realizing that foster homes are far more cost effective and feasible than shelters, and foster homes are far better for the animals. A fostered cat or dog lives in a regular house, with people who do ordinary things and are able to offer affection and consistency. Animals kept in shelters experience the stresses of confinement, the surreal atmosphere of fear and uncertainty amplified by presence of other confined animals, and in most cases are likely to face euthanasia if for no other reason than demand exceeding supply. No-kill shelters are the exception; most have no alternative but to euthanize, because their resources are so limited. Our beloved vet, Dr. Searcy of Antigua Veterinary Clinic in St. Augustine, is a vocal proponent of foster homes as an alternative to shelters; he talks about the overhead costs incurred by a shelter environment, many of which are minimized or completely eliminated by utilization of foster homes.

This is what motivates many volunteers to serve as foster homes. In our case, it motivated us to temp-foster this week even though we know we need a break. Another volunteer can take Jayda in a week or so, but her time on death row had pretty much run out.
Though it's a bit dark and fuzzy, you can see Jayda in the middle of this photo. This morning she was in a shelter, this afternoon she walked on the beach for perhaps the first time in her life, and after a bath and a good meal, this evening she's figuring out her place in a comfortable, balanced pack. She'll get good care, attention for her medical needs, and above all, the comfort of a relatively calm, predictable environment.

Take a look at her face, as well as you can see it in this predictably poor photo from my phone. People are paying hundreds of dollars for every imaginable breed of dog and cat in pet stores. Jayda has clearly had more than one litter of puppies. Now she's more than 5 years old, she has a worrying growth in one ear, she is heartworm-positive and she was surrendered by her owners to the shelter because they "couldn't afford to keep her anymore". This may be true. This family may be a casualty of the current economy or victims of any number of difficult circumstances. There are many legitimate dog breeders whose credentials are impeccable and who do much to preserve the unique characteristics of various breeds of dogs and cats; I have no quarrel with them. But we know people breed dogs and sell the puppies for money. Puppy mills are a horrible reality and I imagine there's a parallel hell for cats. In the case of dogs, some may even be sold to people like Michael Vick. (Good Lord: don't get me started.) And when they're older, no longer useful for breeding, and develop the inevitable health issues of aging, they're taken to shelters and dropped off. Or just dropped off. Jayda is lucky.

Finish the melody and the air guitar part in your mind, and enjoy the head-banging and the big drum solo. Just don't lose the message: when you need a pet, adopt one. Find that perfectly sweet kitten or delightfully spotted and striped adult cat. Look until you see that particular expression on the face of a fat-bellied puppy or even better, a mature dog, already house-broken and readymade for best friendship. But don't, don't, don't...Don't buy a puppy from a pet store.

Credits: Dylan C., Editor and Proofreader


  1. Nice thoughts, and I agree. There are so many wonderful animals waiting to be loved at shelters.

  2. Wow, I wish this could be printed somewhere that a lot of animal-loving people could read it. It's quite inspirational. I think people tend to buy pets because they don't know or don't think about this viable option.

    I remember gently nudging Calvin a few times to share the sofa with him. I didn't know he would rather be asked to move. But he seemed pretty content to let me sit there as long as I petted him!

  3. Dear Lulu, as always your kind comments are balm to the spirit. Also: Calvin loved you, and tolerated your sweet nudges with good nature. He would not have liked it had you bullied him, but I know that, like me, he wouldn't have been able to imagine such a thing.
    Love you, dear.

  4. I just love your Blog, Ang...and what a great tribute to Mr. Calvin...a dog among dogs.


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