Suggested New Year’s resolution: If you want a pet, adopt don’t buy.

BY January 5, 2012

How can you say no to that face?

A few years ago, a friend of mine found two abandoned kittens in a parking lot on our college campus. She couldn’t keep them, and as a busy college student, I wasn’t in the position to take on any animals either. I offered to take them to the local animal shelter, figuring two adorable kittens would surely be adopted. Good deed done, I made the mistake of “just looking” at the puppies.

Fast forward a couple hours, and I was leaving with a black lab puppy in my back seat. Still not sure how that happened, except that in his three short months of life, he had perfected that trademark, sad-eyed look (which he would continue to use selectively to get himself out of bad situations, like the time he snacked on a bottle of dark red nail polish over my cream-colored carpet).

Despite a few, uh, slip ups on his part, that puppy—named Riley—was wonderful. Over the years, I’ve had several cats, too, who came from shelters. There was nothing different about them than any other pet—except, of course, that they had once fallen upon some tough times. I don’t think that’s a bad thing. I swear it makes them even more grateful.

Which is why it makes me sad to see “purebred” puppies lined up like merchandise in local pet stores, and it makes me even sadder to see people dishing out thousands of dollars to support an industry that, on the back end, is far from the cutesy display they see in front of them. In the last few months of 2011, the ASPCA raided two “mills” in the southeastern U.S. and rescued hundreds of very sick dogs and puppies. The breeding dogs, they found, suffered from various eye diseases, dental disease, skin diseases, fleas, mites and heartworm. They weren’t getting veterinary care. They didn’t go on daily walks. They didn’t get to play fetch with their owners or snooze on Tempur-Pedic beds. Their sole purpose was to produce as many puppies as possible to stock the shelves of pet stores. Of course, pet stores won’t tell you that. They also won’t tell you that puppies whose mothers are unhealthy are likely to produce unhealthy offspring, which, eventually, could leave you and/or your wallet weeping when little Fluffy takes up residence at the vet’s office.

I was thrilled to get an email from The Humane Society Naples last week: It was another record-breaking year for adoptions, and 2,125 orphaned pets had found their forever homes in 2011. It’s even better news because this particular shelter is no-kill, which means that for every pet that goes out the door to a new home, another one gets to live. And there are plenty of other animal rescues in Southwest Florida with the same mission. An increase in pet adoptions helps these shelters save more animals, provide better care and, ultimately, decrease euthanization. For those who prefer a certain breed, there are even breed-specific rescue organizations.

So, let’s weigh the options. To buy a puppy from a pet store, you’ll spend in excess of $1,000. You’ll also have to pay for its vaccinations for it to be spayed or neutered. To adopt one, you’ll pay $125 or less, which includes current vaccinations, sterilization surgery, ID microchip and 30 days of pet health insurance coverage. The purchase of a pet-store puppy will fuel an industry driven by cruelty and greed. The shelter puppy will save a life and support an organization that is dedicated to helping those who can’t help themselves.

Think about why you have a pet. For companionship? Because you love animals? Because they’re cute and snuggly? If the answers to those are yes, does having a purebred really matter?

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