Purchasing a puppy from a pet store appears, on its face, to be an entirely benign act—perhaps even a compassionate act, given the pleading eyes of these beautiful pups. But reproduced tens of thousands of times, this act is the economic engine that allows more than 5,000 puppy mills to operate in this country, mainly in the Midwest, but scattered throughout the nation and causing misery for hundreds of thousands of dogs.
At a time when 3 to 4 million dogs and cats are euthanized at animal control agencies and local humane societies, our nation has an entire industry built upon the principle of mass production of puppies—treating the breeding females like machines and churning out puppies for the pet trade. We’d be naive to think that the two phenomena—high-volume euthanasia and quasi-agricultural puppy production businesses—are unrelated.
So that’s why The HSUS took the unusual step of commenting yesterday on the behavior of the hyper-scrutinized Britney Spears—specifically, her apparent impulse buy for $3,000 of a Yorkshire Terrier. Generally, we are for leaving this young woman alone. We’d much prefer the nation’s attention focused on social issues like animal protection, rather than on the social outings of Britney, Lindsay, Paris and others celebs.
But it’s been celebrity purchases of small pooches—by Paris Hilton and other high-profile celebs—that have driven the popularity of pocket puppies, such as Chihuahuas, Yorkies, Maltese and many others. There’s no denying the cultural influence of these celebrities. Britney’s purchase was sure to register with millions of Americans. If it had gone without comment, most people would not have thought twice about the ethical consequences of her acquiring a puppy from a pet store.
These days, you rarely find a person who thinks it’s acceptable to support puppy mills. But the puppy mills are thriving because people do not make the connections between their purchases at pet stores and the deplorable treatment of breeding females and puppies at the mills. Our role, in part, is to have people connect the dots. (Remember, if you haven’t already, please sign our pledge to stop puppy mills, and urge your friends and family to do the same.)
I look forward to the day when more celebrities adopt their dogs from local animal shelters, using their cultural influence with millions of Americans to help drive shelter adoptions and reduce the killing of millions of unwanted animals. But until then, we need to speak out.
So, we are sorry to criticize you, Britney. But if your casual doling out of three big ones for a Yorkie spurs a surge of activity for pet stores, we know that there will be consequences for animals. And we are the watchdog of the dogs of this world. Our message is simple: don’t prop up puppy mills by buying a dog at a pet store.