I’ve been thinking a lot about the popular “Christmas puppy” phenomenon lately. Because like many of us, at one point, I was guilty of asking for one. What better gift could one receive on Christmas morning than a gorgeous, yummy, adorable baby dog? But I know now that there’s a truly ugly side to what seems like such a sweet notion and the demand for shiny new purebred pups it creates.
Recently, the LA Times published this article chronicling a similar travesty in the canine industry that they quite astutely referred to as the “Paris Hilton Syndrome.” To date, “A third of the dogs held at San Francisco’s city shelter are all or part Chihuahua. New ones have come in every day for the last year. If the trend continues, officials said, the shelter would become 50% Chihuahua within months.” One Humane Society administrator commented that at the shelter where he works, “the number of Chihuahuas has eclipsed pit bulls as the most common breed.” As someone who has been a pit bull advocate for many years, this statistic makes me nauseous.
Here’s what over-bred dogs and Christmas puppies have in common.Where I grew up, in a battered neighborhood in Dallas, Texas, pit bulls were the cool dog for not only us lower middle class folks but also all the gang members who lived there. All the tough guys wanted a pit. They’re intimidating dogs due to their muscular physiques and the fact that their jaws are extremely powerful and have the ability to lock. They also have the unfortunate (for them) characteristic of being extremely loyal and eager to please. They’re lovers, basically, but they’re intelligent enough to train, and those qualities are tragically manifest in the fact that most of them are ready, willing and able to carry out whatever mandates an owner sees fit to teach.
The fact that they were sought after for years from owners who desired their traits for less than noble causes meant that often they ended up in shelters. And between all those nasty training practices and being bred for such traits, many of them were left unadoptable. Shelters are still overrun with pits. To make matters worse, the odds are stacked against them for being taken into responsible, loving homes because many cities and counties have specific laws preventing their adoption. For example, when I tried to adopt a gorgeous 3-year-old pit named Ruby in Providence, Rhode Island, I needed homeowner’s insurance in addition to my landlord’s approval. Because I did not own my home, Ruby remained at the shelter.
In the end, I got lucky enough to end up with a Boston Terrier mix (who is clearly half pit bull like the majority of shelter dogs right now), and she’s the love of my life. But I still think of Ruby often, and hope she eventually found a great home. Sadly, the fact that she was a 3-year-old pit bull in a Rhode Island shelter makes that unlikely.
Now, because of our nation’s infatuation with Chihuahuas, the victims of a trend that started with the Taco Bell dog, Gidget, and progressed through Elle Woods’ “Legally Blonde” accessory, Bruiser, Paris Hilton’s Tinkerbell (whom she famously bought at a pet store), and the fascination that continued through the decade with the release of the 2008 Disney comedy “Beverly Hills Chihuahua,” they’ve now joined the ranks of dogs who suffer at the hands of fashion and fad. As the Style Editor at The Frisky I love a trend, but not when it involves the exploitation of living creatures.
If you missed the recent BBC special “Pedigree Dogs Exposed,” the basic premise being, “we are breeding dogs to death,” then check it out, if only to gain some understanding into how disturbing these “trends” can be not only for the dogs but for the families that adopt dogs with the best of intentions, only to find that their beloved family pet is saddled with horrific health problems. If you’re not concerned for the animals, think of the people involved. The classic argument that anti-breeding advocates hear over and over again is: “It’s our right to breed dogs and adopt the kind of animal we prefer!” (Isn’t this akin to preferring a cashmere scarf over a silk one?) But in some ways, that’s kind of like saying it’s your God-given right to exploit anyone or anything.
What does all this have to do with Christmas puppies? This time of year, they’re as badly in trouble as pits and Chihuahuas. While thousands of people will buy into the “Christmas puppy” dream this season, by summer, when the dogs have grown a bit and aren’t as cute and their owners make plans to get away for summer vacation, many end up at the pound (just like yesterday’s trendy breed). I’ve seen the lines outside of the shelters in May and June. It’s terrifying for dogs who have the intelligence levels of toddlers. They depend on our protection and good judgment.
So this year, if you or someone you love wants a puppy, please make sure it isn’t on a whim. If you truly can’t see past a specific breed, use Google to find a rescue that specializes in that breed. There are tons of options. Don’t support pet stores or breeders who contribute to the overpopulation problem. And if you’re a true dog lover but deep in your heart know you or someone you’re going to purchase a puppy for can’t make a 15-year commitment to vet bills and food and walks and unconditional love and attention, make a donation to the Humane Society, the ASPCA, or a smaller, local grassroots group (which I’ve found often make big differences). Or volunteer to temporarily foster a shelter dog and help find them a good home. That’s the best Christmas present a puppy can get.