People Who Purchase Pets: The New Pariah?

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There is a largely silent population of pet lovers out there. One that has a deep, dark secret locked in their attics.

But that secret creeks the floorboards, caves the ceiling and rattles the chandelier just when company sits down to dinner. Jerry, the Jack Russell, hears it, too, and dives into his little bed. No one can deny the presence of the phantom guest and, soon, the hosts confess to audible gasps:

“We bought Jerry from a breeder.”

Not everyone in the room is aghast. Paul, proud papa of his Shar-Pei, pontificates, “A responsible breeder is the only way to go. Rescue animals are just plain trouble.”

“Yeah?” Cynthia pipes in, “Well what about that purebred Labrador, Marley. You know, the one they made the book and movie about. His first trainer kicked him out of obedience class and he made his owner’s house a shambles!”

Round and round the table we go, each person tossing his ante into the how-to-get-a-pet opinion pot. What Jerry’s parents did not have a chance to say is that they love him dearly, no matter where he came from. They have also educated themselves about rescued animals and are now considering adopting a companion for Jerry. Should this couple be shamed for buying a dog in the first place?

Last year, my wife, Susan, met a couple at a local outdoor dining promenade. A Boston terrier, much like our Lilly, sat attentively at their feet. Of course, Susan could not resist greeting the couple and asking about their dog.

“We’re ashamed to say,” the wife said sheepishly, “that we got her at a pet store.” Evidently, the purchase was made just weeks before pet stores were banned in Los Angeles County.

“That’s okay,” Susan said reassuringly, “She looks like she’s very much loved. I’m sure you’re giving her a wonderful home.”

As heartening as it is to witness the long reach of animal rescue, some pet owners are experiencing a hail of discrimination. We are beginning to hate dog owners by drawing assumptions based on how their dogs look.

Alyssa Mumford writes in thoughtcatalog.com about the scorn leveled upon her by a rescue dog activist she crossed paths with while walking her Goldendoodle:

“As we approached each other, the person spoke to me angrily, saying ‘Would you like us to let you pass?’ as if I was royalty, and with a strong sting of mockery. I carefully replied, ‘I’m sorry, I didn’t think we were in your way.’ And moved to the opposite side of the sidewalk in an effort to share the space.

The woman with the mixed breed [dog] continued to scowl and replied, ‘I wouldn’t want to get in the way of your designer dog.’ ”

Ironically, what the righteous rescue advocate never learned was that Mumford’s Goldendoodle was, indeed, a rescue.

Rescue legacy will always advocate for rescue and adoption as the ultimate, loving option. We diplomatically dissuade people from purchasing pets - be it from puppy mills or so-called “responsible” breeders - by addressing the apprehension and  concerns that many people have about parenting a rescued or special-needs pet.

However, we will never endorse “reverse elitism.” The last thing we need to do is shun caring individuals and families who “bought that doggie in the window” by denying them the compassionate support and information they need to raise a healthy and happy companion animal. By doing so, we may be unwittingly turning many of the loved pets of today into the surrendered pets of tomorrow.

Self-righteousness does not persuade, it alienates. The venom and bile belched by some in the rescue community toward those who’ve purchased pets drives a wedge between people who may be considering adoption the second time around and the very pets who need adopting.

One who wields a sledgehammer to make a point will win the fear and loathing of all - and the hearts of none.

The rescue community makes a compelling point that each time a pet is purchased an unadopted pet inches closer to death. So let the point also be made that for each pet owner scorned for not adopting the first time around, one less life may be saved the second time around.

There’s no valor in being dead right.