Santa Fe Scoop

Off-leash blog: The painful pace of awareness

From the moment I selected Krista, my black Labrador retriever, sight-unseen from a kennel in Sarah Palin’s neck of the woods of Southcentral Alaska, I knew my life would change for the better. But like her arrival to that village above the Arctic Circle in which I was living at the time, it was a bumpy ride.

Somehow, the 8-week-old purebred missed the connecting flight in Anchorage and the black bundle of joy didn’t make it to Kotzebue until the next day. I was upset, but the airlines assured me they had pampered the pup as best they could.

Cranky and independent from the start, she immediately began to consume all my free time. Countless walks as a puppy, miles of running as she grew older, hours of fetch and Frisbee could not curb her boundless energy. Despite the amount of research I devoted to selecting the breed, I have to admit I was unprepared for the reality.
It was the obsession to whatever job I gave her that eventually drove me crazy. Somehow I didn’t connect “retriever” with retrieve. It was a steep learning curve.

I also had some vague notion that I would have her spayed, but not until she experienced motherhood. I thought that was important, for some reason — until she actually went into heat. And then I quickly changed my mind.
I had no idea that Krista was pregnant when I scheduled the surgery. I didn’t even learn about it until the veterinarian’s office called to say I could pick her up. “By the way,” I remember the woman telling me, “she was very pregnant.”

“What’s that mean,” I asked. “Very pregnant?”

“Ten puppies,” the woman replied, not a bit of sarcasm in her voice. “Click.”

My co-workers called me a murderer and irresponsible. I was dumbfounded. I never let her out of my sight — except that one time when she took off on our morning walk … .

Five years later, Krista slowed down a bit and we began to have the relationship I imagined when I first got her — leisurely hikes, long walks, picnics without her mistaking the paper plate for a Frisbee, a chance to watch TV without constantly throwing a ball. A companion animal, like the ones I had grown up with.

Krista was my first purebred dog, but that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t choose another purebred pup, or not seriously consider the breed of dog before I jumped into another adoption. The most successful adoptions are those where the animal best suits a person’s lifestyle, and there’s no better criteria in determining suitable than considering the breed.

That’s why a heated discussion about breeders and pet overpopulation has me a bit in a quandary. A woman’s purebred dog recently had puppies. I don’t know if she’s a breeder, she won’t return calls or e-mails, but there is no doubt the puppies are cute — and for sale. This has several Scoop members upset about the consequences of breeding when there are so many dogs available at the shelter.

“I hope you will not breed your dog any more,” one woman wrote, “and spend some time volunteering at a shelter on euthanasia day, like all of us, who are so appalled by breeding, have. … May you wake up to smell, not the roses, but the smell of a thousand unwanted, homeless, euthanized animals.”

There is no doubt that pet overpopulation is a problem. The Humane Society of the United States estimates that each year between 6 million and 8 million dogs and cats enter shelters in the U.S. and that between 3 million and 4 million of these animals are euthanized.

And there’s no doubt that puppy mills are a problem — dogs bred in horrid conditions where quantity, not quality, is the rule. Those cute dogs often come with health or behavioral issues that force frustrated owners to abandon them.
Many states have little oversight over these operations or lack the resources to root out the good from the bad. And there are plenty of good breeders who care about their animals and provide a service.

It’s a dilemma I think all animal lovers encounter. Another Scoop member said she agrees that “careless breeding of animals for breeding’s sake is heartless” and lacks compassion. But working dogs, for example, are generally available only from specialized breeders. “There needs to be a balance of opinions,” she wrote.

There are, of course, plenty of purebred rescue groups. And it’s not just mixed-breed dogs that get dropped off shelters.

The problem with the pet overpopulation, as the Humane Society asserts, is that it transforms shelters into warehouses and tacitly accepts cruelty to animals as a way of life. When living creatures become throwaway products that are cuddled when cute and discarded when inconvenient, we suffer as a society.

I don’t believe we’ll find the answer in mandatory spay-and-neuter laws. It’s about awareness and education. I certainly needed it 20 years ago when I adopted

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Comment by Donna Leshne on August 6, 2009 at 1:37pm
...never to be the one to put the kibosh on even-handed discussion.....I must share that, even though many busted their butts to get dogs out of gas kill shelters between the time the Gov. signed the bill and the time it actually went into the first five weeks. from the time needle euthanasia became mandatory, one former gas-kill facility had already needled over 80-dogs. When dogs are so rare that people will travel miles to adopt a dog from a sanctuary and pay big-bucks to do so, then we can go back to having the conversation about breeding.....right now, we are up to our armpits in death with no end in sight. Spay. Neuter. Shots. Period.
Comment by Ben Swan on February 1, 2009 at 10:21pm
Thanks Geri, for your observations. I appreciate your thoughts.
Comment by Geri Aron on February 1, 2009 at 2:55pm
As an early and then active member of the Sangre de Cristo Animal Protection (now the statewide Animal Protection of New Mexico, Inc.), I have long advocated the need to spay and neuter dogs & cats (and I am beginning to think horses should be included!) Believe me, it was much worse here in the Santa Fe area 40 years ago so, education IS working - much too slow for most of us. I agree with Cindy that if people were made to assist - or at least watch the euthanization of healthy dogs & cats, they might think twice about allowing more to come into the world.
I have found that adopting a mixed breed dog is both interesting and sometimes never know what personlity traits they will develop - or have already but only show up after they have settled comfortably in your home and taken it (and you) over. I sometimes wonder how anyone can live with out a furry creature in their life.
Comment by Ben Swan on February 1, 2009 at 9:34am
Thanks Claudia. It's good to hear confessions. It's all about awareness, right? We're off for a hike. Happy Sunday.
Comment by CindyR on February 1, 2009 at 8:37am
Thanks for getting this conversation going again Ben! I truly DO wish we could hear the "breeders" side, as I'm still waiting for the justification for bringing more dogs into the world. Personally, I pride myself on listening to both sides of any story, knowing there are always multiple aspects to any issue. But, funny, the puppy seller in question never responded to any of our requests. Is it possible she thought it was none of our business?
Well, this morning there are FIVE PAGES of adoptable dogs on the SFAS&HS website, THIRTY-NINE dogs for adoption on the EVHS website, and God only knows how many looking for homes with all the area rescue groups. So, I see this as VERY MUCH our business. I will continue to believe that if people were made to assist euthanizing healthy, lovable dogs and puppies before they brought more into the world, it would be a real eye-opener. To me, as someone that worked in a shelter and helped euthanize healthy, lovable dogs, this issue is so black and white. Please, please, please -- no more puppies until our shelters are empty!
As for the "working dogs" argument, I wholeheartedly disagree. Any job a purebred dog can do, a mutt can do just as well. Give a shelter dog a job and a home, and you'll enrich your own life.
Comment by Claudia Inoue on February 1, 2009 at 8:33am
VERY candid article, Ben!!!! You're the best!

Confession time? Some 35 years ago now, I had a cat that I purposely allowed to get pregnant. She had four kittens. Two of them I kept, two I gave away... I cannot even remember my mindset, what allowed me to let her have kittens! Youth, ignorance…It horrifies me now! But, as you said, it is all a learning curve/process.

I have since been a huge advocate of Spay and Neuter, and where other people want houses and cars, nice clothes and fancy vacations, if I were rich, I'd build a FREE spay and neuter clinic.

What frustrates me is that even with so many organizations offering more and more very low cost spay and neutering, so many people STILL DON'T GET IT....

Have you heard of "neuticles"??? Testicular prosthetic implants for neutered pets. The first time I heard about this, I wanted to SCREAM. They are for ignorant pet owners who decide to have their dogs neutered but still want them to look manly...... Here is a quote from one of the manufacturer’s web site: "Neuticles allows your pet to retain his natural look, self esteem and aids in the trauma associated with neutering." Self esteem for who? THE OWNER?

One of my best friends, who is a vet in an affluent suburb of Houston, TX tells me she implants a lot of these!!

I can't even tell you what goes through my mind when I hear this! GET A LIFE!

I totally agree with you, it is about awareness and education.

Okay, I’ll jump off my soap box now. I hope you are enjoying your Sunday!

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