Polka was purchased at a pet store, a King Charles Cavalier spaniel. (Carmen Ulloa)
Days after moving to the United States I got a dog. My parents always had cocker spaniels so I know the breed well. However, a cocker was a little too big for my way-too-small apartment, so I decided to buy the smaller spaniel, Cavalier King Charles.
That’s how Polka, a tiny bundle of joy came into my life.
I started taking her on walks, to dog parks and to beaches. People couldn’t help petting the new adorable puppy. As they showed Polka their love, they asked me where I had gotten her. My naive and honest reply, “At a pet shop.”
The sudden change on their faces, smiles turning into pursed lips, raised eyebrows teaming eyes of indignation, communicated a lot more than their silence. I realized I had done something wrong.
I started researching and the more I read articles on the horrors of kennels, puppy mills, mass breeders, and pet stores, the more fear and guilt invaded me. I didn’t know what conditions my puppy was born in, and worse, her parents and siblings were probably suffering still.
I felt horrible for buying her at a pet shop. Now I knew it was wrong and it felt wrong. I thought of a charming, not-so-white lie to tell people every time they asked me the now-so-feared question; but I always ended up telling the truth.
Yes, I am ashamed for having contributed to a business that benefits from abuse. A business that needs a lot more regulations and supervision than it has. Puppy mills are responsible for the birth and future of thousands of defenseless creatures. Pet stores are aware of these conditions. So I find myself guilty as charged.
However, I do not believe that having adopted a dog from a shelter was a better choice. What background do I want my puppy to come from? From a place ran by people who profit from exploiting animals or from a place where people choose to abandon them? Which behavior do I want to reinforce? None.
From the animal rights perspective, they are both highly abusive situations. Pet shops sell animals that receive little or no medical attention, love or food. Shelter “give away” victims of human negligence. These are pets whose owners were cruel enough to abandon them. Is the first really much worse than the latter?
My only option would have been getting the dog from a private breeder.
If I were to do it again, this is how I would do it. My intention is not to lessen the value of the admirable work of shelters, that do their best in rescuing these pets; but to point out the reality that makes a shelter and a pet shop have something in common: people who abuse animals and lack of law enforcement to protect them.