Who doesn't love a pile of puppies? With all the soft fur and puppy breath, the never-ending cuteness is irresistible. So imagine being offered a chance to have a pile of puppies delivered to your door for a low price to help pump up the fun at your kid's birthday party. You can understand how a consumer might run to the phone to place an order.
NBC's long-running morning show, Today, recently featured a couple of companies that are cashing in on this new craze. (They picked up the story after a piece ran in the Wall Street Journal.) Even though some of these companies have been offering puppy parties for many years, they've apparently hit the mainstream and say they're flooded with requests. For a nominal fee, you can "rent" a handful of puppies for your event. Of course, as described in the Today piece, the kids love it. Who wouldn't? Who knows, you might even wind up buying a couple of doggies for the family.
OK, so puppies and kids playing on the lawn. Who would want to throw the wet Grinch blanket over that happy scene?
Well, me, actually. I don't think there's anything inherently bad about the idea of "renting" puppies for a party. At Best Friends, most of our animals are available for sleepovers with visitors and volunteers to the Sanctuary. They get time in a home environment, we learn more about their in-home personalities from follow-up questions, and the real world socialization is great for the dogs.
The unfortunate thing about commercial puppy parties is where these puppies may be coming from and the resulting promotion of purebred animals from breeders as a preferred choice. For instance, PuppyParty.com, one of the companies featured on Today, is connected to Puppy Paradise, a dog and cat retailer in Brooklyn, New York.
So why would otherwise intelligent people, who likely regard the term "puppy mill" as an expletive, support this back-door connection to exploitive breeders? A couple of obvious reasons come to mind.
First, businesses peddle the line that they only buy from breeders approved by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), but they fail to inform the public that the USDA allows a breeder to confine a dog the size of a beagle in a cage the size of your dishwasher for his entire life without ever setting a paw on the ground. The USDA, which also approves of factory farms and all their associated horrors, considers the animals inside mills to be livestock, not pets. But most people are unaware of this.
The other reason otherwise thoughtful parents might fall into the puppy mill web is because this sales channel is being featured on the happy-talk portion of a national morning TV show.
To say that I am disappointed to see the promotion of puppy mills on such a prominent stage would be a bit of an understatement. For many years, advocates have been fighting to help educate the public about the problems associated with this massive crisis of commercial breeding.
Some of media's biggest names, including Oprah, have spoken out in favor of adopting animals from rescue groups and shelters. So as you can imagine, the story on Today has many advocates very upset. As of this writing, the thread on the show's Facebook page has more than 1,200 comments, and counting. If you feel compelled, please add your voice to the page and let's tell Today how we feel about this segment.
If we step back and look at this issue from 30,000 feet, what we see is that we are, in fact, winning this war. More than 80 communities across North America have banned the sale of dogs and cats from mills. Instead, pet stores in these communities are encouraged to offer rescued animals for adoption, animals who otherwise likely would be killed in shelters. In fact, we're hoping to be able to announce another big win next week, so stay tuned.
Still, it's hard to watch a story like that on national television. You realize that even with all the progress in the last decade, we still have a long way to go.
Please, always consider adoption as your first option. Together, we can Save Them All.