Last week, the Humane Society of the United States settled a lawsuit against Furry Babies pet stores intended to curb their habit of selling dogs from puppy mills.
While the five Furry Babies locations are on the fringes of the Chicago area — Aurora, Bloomingdale, Janesville, Joliet and Rockford — the news had an unexpected effect closer to home: my heart.
See, our dog Kitty….
Better start at the beginning.
Cue the maudlin music.
See, growing up, I never had a dog. My father was born in the Bronx, where his having a dog would have been as unimaginable as my raising a bear cub. We had pet rats — seriously, black and white rats.
So when my boys first started lobbying for a dog, I was adamant. “You’re not asking for a dog,” I’d tell them, “you’re asking me to pick up dog crap twice a day and I’m not going to do it!” The older one, ever resourceful, started a dog-walking business the summer he was 8, to show he could handle the responsibility. But he quickly abandoned both the business and lobbying for dogs. I felt vindicated.
The younger was more resourceful, however, tying the dog to his bar mitzvah. Gulling a child to perform this arcane religious rite softened me — I would have gotten him an ox had he asked.
Of course we started at a shelter. All our cats came from shelters, though the Chicago Anti-Cruelty Society did everything but shine a bright light in our faces and shout, “Tell the truth! You’re going to eat these cats as soon as you get them home!!!”
But the humane society dog my kid found online, well, no sooner did I sit, cross-legged before it, then this black Pomeranian pup raced over and planted its needle-like teeth into my thigh. I walked out, the boys trailing after. Deathly silence in the car driving home, the empty carrier in the back.
“I was afraid of that dog,” one finally whispered.
“He bit me too,” the other piped up. “I didn’t want to say.”
So when we went to see a second dog, at a home in Evanston. Kitty — the boys named her after a character in “Anna Karinina” — 3 pounds of concentrated cute, came bounding across the sun-washed hardwood floor.
“Give the lady a check,” I said to my wife.
I did not, as we should have, ask where the dog came from. Never crossed my mind.
So I welcomed the chance to expiate my sin by talking to the Humane Society.
“There are plenty of ways you can get purebred dogs, and it can be a completely excellent way to get a dog,” said John Goodwin, senior director of the Stop Puppy Mills Campaign. “You can have a purebred doghuma from a humane society or a responsible breeder.”
Avoid pet stores.
“If you go to a pet store, there’s a very good chance that puppy who looks so good in the window has a mother living in a cage in a puppy mill,” he said.
Filthy conditions, lack of medical care, no chance to run or play, wire flooring, stacked cages.
“The puppy’s going to look good,” said Goodwin. “But it left the puppy mill after seven or eight weeks. No one ever sees the breeding dogs, ever sees their rotting mouths and matted fur.”
A red flag: when you buy the dog in a parking lot. Or a house in Evanston.
“It’s a way of keeping people from seeing the facilities they come from,” said Goodwin.
That’s why this settlement is important.
“The provisions of the agreement require Furry Babies to disclose the origins of the puppies they’re selling,” said Kimberly Ockene, senior attorney at HSUS. “It enables consumers to make a more informed choice. We believe when people learn more about breeding conditions in facilities where puppies come from, they’ll think a little bit harder about the purchases they’re making.”
I know I will.