When I was a kid, I used to badger my parents to take me to pet stores so I could see the puppies. Even the local mall had a storefront where kids would press their faces against the glass to wave at the tiny breed of the day. We loved it, and the puppies enjoyed the attention.
But as I grew older, I began to ponder the plight of the pet store puppy. I was an adolescent investigator, making mental notes on their environment. Sometimes, I would find healthy, responsive dogs in clean cages. Usually not.
Eventually, I just couldn’t look any more. Many puppy purchases over the years have probably been spurred by the desire to rescue the selected animal from its predicament. But the negatives apparently have outweighed the positives as pet stores currently focus more on supplies, grooming and training. The critters on sale these days tend to be those who do not break your heart if confined to small spaces – fish, birds, reptiles, rodents.
I’m a dog guy. The last few to join our family have been from shelters or breeders. As the imagery of the pet store puppy’s lot in life grew more troubling to me, so did the common advice that those were not the healthiest pups to buy anyway. As a result, the animals I wanted to imagine flying off the shelves were probably sentenced to additional time as the marketplace turned away from those points of purchase.
Today, we may be reaching the end of the era of walking out of a store with a new puppy or kitten. For years, we have heard the horror stories of “puppy mills,” hellish places that funnel as much animal poundage as possible into retail outlets without much regard for health or well being. Unscrupulous pet stores are drawn to the lower costs and limitless supply of the puppy mills, a relationship that can be hard to police.
This leads us to the current campaign against Petland, a franchise that has attracted picketers who believe the company buys from mills. Pressure is mounting nationwide in the form of bans on retail sales of dogs and cats. One such proposed measure in Austin prodded the city’s lone Petland to close.
But are the protesters right? Is Petland a big buyer from unprincipled mass suppliers? The company says it buys only from USDA-approved breeders. If true, that’s a worthy defense, presuming the USDA oversight of such operations is sufficient. But in an America unable to properly monitor incoming international cargo for terrorist bombs, one wonders if there is sufficient staffing for checking up on dog breeders.
San Francisco is weighing an even broader constraint, limiting living pet store purchases to fish. I would expect this from the land where “companion animal” is encouraged over the presumably oppressive “pet,” but this seems like typical overreach. I’ve never gotten a longing “get-me-out-of-here” gaze from a pet store parakeet or hamster.
But if I am ready for an end to the stalag experience of the pet store puppies and kittens, I have to wonder: Are they much better off on the private property of breeders who will enjoy a resulting bump in business? Whether in stores or a trailer in the country, we need conscientious licensing and regulation of anyone selling animals.
And with countless dogs and cats available in pounds everywhere, I would not mind if even the most virtuous breeders lost a little business as more people took the best step possible for adding a pet to the family – a life-saving trip to a local animal shelter.
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