To that end, I do a lot of reading and research. I am not a subject-matter expert at all. I like to think of myself as a bridge between the animal loving public and those people who are subject matter experts. I have a library of my go-to materials on a variety of topics; there are some books I consider compulsory reading for the well-informed advocate. My copies of Redemption: The Myth of Pet Overpopulation and the No Kill Revolution in America, The Pit Bull Placebo: The Media, Myth and Politics of Canine Aggression and The Lost Dogs are highlighted, tabbed and worn, much like the school books they are to me. The research I did to write my paper advocating adoption of pit bull-type dogs, Forsaken No More, is 6 inches thick.
I recently had occasion to learn of a new book which I have since added to my must-read list: The Dog Merchants: Inside the Big Business of Breeders, Pet Stores and Rescuers, by Kim Kavin. The book was released in May of this year, but I didn't hear about it until I had some recent conflict with rescuers based on my earlier blog in which I touched on the controversial topic of rescuers who spend thousands for dogs at auction (essentially taking out the middlemen and doing the very thing we tell the public not to do: buy a mill dog). I had some mixed input on the book before I started reading and told myself I would do my best to remain neutral. I'm glad I did and I'm glad I read the book. I do not agree with everything in the book, but that is if little consequence. I think that anyone who considers themselves an advocate for dogs and who seeks to either bring an end to puppy mills or an end to the commercial dog breeding industry as we know it should read this book. Much like Winograd's "Redemption" is both a historic book and a book about a philosophical mindset, The Dog Merchants provides us with similar historic context combined with a view of present day.
And near and dear to me as a no kill advocate, we are again reminded that dogs die in our animal shelters not because we have too many of them, but because we have created a self-perpetuating stereotype that dogs in shelters are a substandard products which are not worthy of our love or attention because we have been duped into equating cost with value or worth. We also learn about some of the trends taking place in our country related to the concept of animals as "living property" as opposed to mere property and we learn about how something as simple as a commercial or a Disney film feeds into demand for dogs with little regard for our commitment to care for them or whether or not they suit our lifestyles.
There is a lot of disagreement among advocates regarding how we rein in the big money industry which is dog production, marketing and sales. Some would say that change has to come from the top, through legislation on federal, state and local levels. Others would say that change comes from the consumers themselves; the very people who make the industry profitable. I see the value of both angles to resolve what I consider one of the most unrecognized and yet darkest shames of our society. We like to think of ourselves as dog lovers while we breed dogs by the millions. And then destroy them by the millions.
I hope you will consider taking the time to read "The Dog Merchants." You may not like everything you read. Some of it may upset you, some of it may anger you and some of it may seem so outrageous as to be unbelievable. But all of it is worth considering if we are to end this industry once and for all through our collective behavior. And on that note, I will end with one of the passages from the book I found particularly compelling.
"Making sure dogs are treated the way they should be treated is like trying to organize a giant puzzle of irreparably mismatched pieces. It involves uprooting a global industry built on history, tradition, religion, culture, politics, gender, societal obligations, and personal responsibility - all the stuff of humanity's greatest world wars. Almost every individual interviewed for this book said he or she was a person who loves dogs, and almost everyone meant it in a different way. People who grew up believing dogs are outside animals who need only dry kibble every day are never going to understand people who let dogs sleep in their beds and eat homemade organic treats. People who believe a dog's life is incomplete without a daily walk in the park are never going to understand people who believe it's okay for a dog to live her entire life in a pen. People who have spent their lifetimes believing they can improve a certain style of dogs more than nature itself are never going to understand people who feel they've gotten an awesome deal when buying a mutt for a thousand dollars.
Trying to fit the mismatched puzzle pieces together is about as likely to work as uniting conservatives with liberals, Christians with atheists, men and women. Instead, we dog lovers must use or collective power to speak the only language everyone in the dog industry understands: the language of money. More of us goodhearted people are out there in the world than bad guys trying to make cash by treating dogs badly. We dog lovers need to embrace our potentially game-changing role in the marketplace, because we are the only ones who can ultimately put the worst players our of business." (emphasis added.)