Oh, the Places You'll (Never) Go!

Animals played starring roles in most of Dr. Seuss' works, so it's a treat for many people to see another book featuring animals, What Pet Should I Get?, published decades after his death. The publishers honored the kind author by including a PETA-requested addendum urging families who are considering welcoming animals into their homes and hearts to adopt, not shop, for them. But there is more to be said.

Every dog or cat bred by a breeder or sold at a pet store means that another animal waiting in a shelter is doomed. As one of the demo signs outside a pet breeders' conference read, "If you buy, a pound puppy will die." Millions of healthy, social dogs and cats are euthanized every year simply because they have nowhere to go. By going to a shelter to adopt, you're saving a life.

When Theodor Seuss Geisel (Dr. Seuss was his pen name) wrote in the 1950s, it was impossible to foresee the enormous animal overpopulation and homelessness crisis to come. Back then, not very many people knew of the problems inherent in caging birds, selling small animals prone to salmonella and supporting severely crowded puppy mills that mass-produce short-lived, inbred dogs -- dogs who break children's hearts when they become ill from "shipping fever" and genetic defects and die. Today we know that caging birds makes them so frustrated that many spend a lot of time screaming -- for a mate, for flight, for anything natural -- and pulling out their own feathers from stress. Even those sometimes "hard to relate to" animals, fish - -clever little beings who we now know are able to use tools and cultivate friendships -- languish when forced to swim in endless circles through a few ounces of waste-filled water in a tiny bowl.

Shelters across the country are overflowing not only with cats and dogs, but also with birds, reptiles, chinchillas, sugar gliders, hedgehogs, and other casually acquired and dispassionately discarded animals. They rarely have the resources and expertise needed to care for and find homes for animals with specialized needs.

Pet stores, including chains like PetSmart and PETCO, get their "inventory" from massive suppliers who churn out animals like widgets. PETA investigations have revealed that some major pet-store suppliers keep animals in atrocious conditions. At U.S. Global Exotics, Inc., thousands of animals were crowded into shipping crates, pillow cases, litter pans and even 2-liter soda bottles. Many went without food and water for days or weeks and were finally just tossed into the garbage to die. At Sun Pet Ltd., hamsters deemed "unsalable" were killed by being put into a plastic bag and bashed against a table. At Wild Creations, a company that imprisons frogs in plastic cubes and sells them as "EcoAquariums," PETA's investigator documented filthy conditions and deadly neglect. In some cases, frogs were so hungry that that they chewed each other's legs off.

Deciding to share your life with a dog, cat, bird, fish or other animal is a serious commitment--a decision not best made while strolling through the mall. Humane societies that work to stem the tide of animal homelessness have animals' interests at heart. Those who sell animals view them simply as merchandise. If you're ready to open your heart and home to an animal, head down to your local humane society to find your new best friend. Dr. Seuss said it best: "You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself in any direction you choose."