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