You’ve been saving for months.
Every extra penny, every found dollar, money earmarked for splurging, it all went in an account, and all because you saw a little furry face in a picture online. You’ve always been a “dog person” and this one was instant love. Now read “The Dog Merchants” by Kim Kavin, and be careful where you get him.
You used to see lots of those ads in the newspaper. People used to put signs up on their lawns: free puppies. Take one, make a friend. Take two, twice the fun.
Nowadays, though, getting a dog is a matter of taking out your wallet, says Kim Kavin. Whether you pay a breeder, a pet store, or a fee at a shelter, dogs are now an $11 billion commodity, complete with a marketplace and big corporations that succeed on four-footed cuteness overload. But what does that do to dogs?
To find out, Kavin — who says she’s “on the side of the dogs” — started with a dog auction in Missouri. There, hundreds of breeding-age purebreds went to new facilities in order to supply pet stores, brokers, consumers, and “the biggest market for purebred dogs in the history of the world.” A few dogs went to rescue groups, purchased to keep them out of breeders’ hands.
Kavin also examines so-called “puppy mills.” There’s a difference, she says, between them, “hobby breeders,” and responsible large-scale breeders. Indeed, the definition of “puppy mill” depends on who’s doing the defining.
Surely, national clubs and the dog show circuit are to blame for the way purebreds are created, Kavin says. There’s a lot of pressure to “conform,” which can cause physically-unhealthy traits to be highly sought-after, and which can change breeds in ways that aren’t readily seen. Fans of some breeds are fighting back in “Dog Wars” to prevent their beloved dogs from being held to “standards.”
Then there are the rescue organizations who take in former dogs-du-jour, who try to expose problems with improper breeding, who advocate for street-dogs, and who rescue the throwaways. And, of course, dog lovers can thank Legal Beagles, who are helping to see dogs as more than just chattel, but as family.
“The Dog Merchants” is a hard book for a dog-lover to read.
There is a balance to what author Kim Kavin reports in this book, meaning you have to take the bad to find the good. Those negatives aren’t sensational but they’re very cringe-worthy, and they ultimately serve to underscore the tales of individuals who do their part to make things better for dogs and prospective owners, which should come as a relief for sensitive readers. What also helps is the chapter of questions to ask to ensure that the puppy you’ve fallen for is the right puppy for you.
For sure, this is an important book for anyone who loves or works with dogs, but beware of its controversy and its bluntness in story. Save up to own “The Dog Merchants,” though, and you may just save a dog, too.