On March 5th, 2020, days before the world exploded into a deadly pandemic, I woke up and decided I had to get a dog. I thought about getting a dog for years, actively searching animal shelters and national rescue websites for months. Last year, I decided my waiting a long time meant I was somehow prepared or deserving. I was not deserving of or ready for the responsibility of a dog. No one is entitled to anything beyond fundamental human rights, not even things that could make us incredibly happy.
I was emotionally vulnerable at the time, living alone and lonely. Maybe having something to love and look after would keep me from the toxic situation I had just escaped. And by nature of that dog being a dog, she would love me in return.
On this random winter morning, I remembered a shopping mall from my childhood with a puppy-selling pet store. As a kid, any time we got to that mall, my siblings and I made it our mission to visit the puppy store. Even if we had to wait in line, it didn’t matter because we would be able to see, smell, and hear living breathing puppies with just a glass wall of separation between us. Our mother would not let us get a dog because she is allergic. She rarely entertained signing up for a “meet the puppy” session other families would get to do, sitting in a cubicle with their hopeful “forever friend.” I personally doubt my mother is allergic to every dog breed out there. Still, she was probably doing the intelligent single-parent-of-four-kids thing where you limit additional stress and responsibilities. That can’t be judged. And had I taken her wariness of raising a new life into consideration that March, I could have saved myself and a 5-pound puppy from unnecessary pain.
The pet store workers were happy to greet me. They were delighted to hear I had been looking for a puppy “forever.” Confident they could help, the pet store workers sat me in one of the meet-the-dog stalls I coveted in my childhood. They were pleased to bring out a dog who seemed healthy, affectionate, and playful and who they claimed: “did not come from a puppy mill.” The store manager assured me they only work with good breeders. They were happy to charge my credit card for an adorable chocolate brown Havanese puppy I named Moose.
Our first day together was bliss. Moose had a sweet pinched face surrounded by a halo of fluffy fur that even a cold-hearted killer would fall in love with. I stopped by every pet supply store in my neighborhood collecting last-minute items and finally introduced her to her new home. My friend and brother came over to meet the fluffy ball of love, and Moose hopped around, gave kisses, and seemed all-around content. Aside from the regular bedtime crate whines, Moose and I shared a magical day.
As the night dragged on, I couldn’t sleep. Kept checking my phone for nothing in particular. Opened the Youtube app, watched some dog care videos. Thinking I was just irritated by Moose’s crying, I moved her crate against my bed and drooped a finger inside so she’d know I was close. Her squeaky voice came to a hush. Still antsy, I opened Instagram and messaged a friend, Krissy, who I consider a dog-guru. Krissy has taught me much of what I know now about finding and caring for a dog. That day in March, I shared my joy with Krissy of having gone through an “easy” process of getting a purebred, healthy dog. Then she shattered my fantasy.
While we talked about how to care for Moose and additional supplies needed, my friend had gone on her trusted social media groups for dog lovers. And the well-informed believers of ethical purpose breeding chimed in. With several people researching the breeder who was listed on Moose’s paperwork, we discovered several lies.
There was no authentic record of Moose. As one group member phrased it: “Last Havanese litter registered with AKC under this kennel name was born in September 2015. No dogs with [kennel name] are posted to OFA regardless of breed. Appears to sell and ship puppies under 8 weeks of age, which is illegal in many states.” Even if selling underage puppies was legal, it would still be wrong. Separating dogs from mothers/ littermates too young increases the risk of illness and emotional and behavioral issues.
When I got her, the store associates told me Moose had arrived maybe a week before. That means she was definitely separated from her family too young.
The second piece of evidence: There is no official record of the breeder they provided actually working with Moose’s breed. Even worse, the breeder of that name was cited for several violations.
Additionally, a second breeder of the same last name and same town in the same state was cited for another violation: shooting a dog instead of providing veterinary care.
There are several possibilities as to why Moose’s info was not adding up. To avoid detection for overbreeding or poor breeding practices, large family networks of puppy mill breeders will list altered breeder or kennel names. Regardless of the mystery behind the lie, I knew the pet store fabricated or tweaked the truth behind Moose’s origins. The following day, I packed Moose’s things to take her back.
My brother asked me as I cried to him on the phone why I should bother returning Moose. “Despite where she came from, she’s your dog now.” And that’s true. I could have closed the internet tabs, looked away, and lived out the upcoming pandemic with an adorable puppy. But, I’d have to live with it. I would have to tuck Moose into her crate every night, knowing that the money I handed over for her fed the criminals who were probably hurting her mom. And whether or not that shame should have been my burden to bear, I decided not to keep it.
A 2017 Rolling Stone article called “The Dog Factory: Inside the Sickening World of Puppy Mills” highlights the devastation to which purchasing a puppy from a store contributes. To be clear: most, if not all, puppies bought from internet brokers, websites, and pet stores come from puppy mills or bad breeders. No good breeder who loves the dogs they bring into the world would want that dog to be shipped across the country in isolation and sold to anyone with some cash. In another article I wrote on how to get an ethically bred dog, I explain the process a buyer and good breeder would typically undertake.
Naturally, the store manager tried to lie when I called to ask that they take Moose back and give me a refund. The owner of the chain claimed he would call me personally to “clear up the concern.” Never got that call. Finally, I asked, “If you are certain the breeder in question has done nothing wrong, call them so I can ask about their breeding practices. Or, rather, I can fly out to visit and see the place for myself. Surely, they’ll be happy to know how Moose is doing.” Of course, the pet store couldn’t have that.
Moose shook violently the moment we entered the pet store, and I could only guess at what memories her body held of that place. The store manager saw the water brimming over my eyes and tried once more to play on my emotions. “If your friend is pressuring you to return Moose, you shouldn’t listen,” she said. “She’s yours now. So, if you love her, love her.”
Some might read this and say I’m stupid. I might say I’m stupid. But more concerning than my stupidity is that such businesses operate almost entirely unregulated and regularly manipulate people’s ignorance or emotional weakness in a desire for love. And hopefully, by sharing where I went wrong, I can educate someone else who might have otherwise made my stupid mistake.