I bought my first two pets.
There I said it. The secret is out and it gets worse. My first dog came from a flea market and my second came from a breeder.
“That’s ok, Leslie. You didn’t know any better and you have more than made up for it with all your work in animal welfare,” you say. Yet, when a person in line at the grocery store tells you they just bought a puppy your eyes turn flaming red and smoke begins to seep from your ears and nose. “Idiot,” you think. “Why would they BUY a puppy when so many die every day?”
I grew up with a dachshund that never had a heat cycle and was never spayed. PJ was simply sterile and lived a long life. I have some memories of her but not too many because I was young. I also remember having 2 Dobermans growing up. I do not know if they were neutered but I doubt it. Both lived outside exclusively. Dobie died in his dog house for causes unknown but a spider bite was suspected. Bandit was given to a friend when we moved because he needed room to run. I remember being happy for Bandit as my Dad told he loved the kids so much he chased the school bus halfway down the street. Hmmm, that seems dangerous in my adult mind.
I don’t know where any of the 3 dogs came from but I distinctly remember Noah. Noah was a beautiful white Maltese purchased by my neighbors and having been without a dog for a while, my mom decided our enthusiasm for Noah was a good indicator that we were ready for a new dog ourselves. We went to a pet store, the same pet store our neighbor had purchased Noah from. Thankfully, there are no pet stores that sell pets in my community anymore but I don’t remember having any feelings at all about the glass windows and panels of puppies lined along the wall. I was just so excited to get a dog.
We picked out a schnauzer/poodle mix (yes, we paid money for a mut) and were thrilled because these breeds don’t shed and are perfect as indoor companions. We named our new family member Buttons because he was cute as a button and he was neutered because he was going to live inside and we didn’t want him peeing on things. Buttons lived a life of ease for 21 years.
I moved out and to Dallas when I was 18. Most months I had to decide between groceries or the phone bill but while at a giant flea market, I made the impulsive decision to get a dog: a little 6 week old pure bred black schnauzer that cost me $200. Yes, I paid $200 I didn’t have and took that dog home. It was weeks before I could afford vaccines and I learned that he had worms so that was extra. I only got him one set of shots and I didn’t neuter him. I also didn’t have him on heart worm protection or flea/tick prevention. Sometimes, I bought him a flea collar but Oscar was my child. He accompanied me everywhere, slept with me, and was literally the best friend I had. Coming home to my tiny apartment filled with 5th hand furniture I got at a garage sale was never so sweet because he would be anxiously awaiting my return.
Oscar is remembered by many for his big, black, shiny balls. They were the butt of many jokes and honestly, the most prominent thing about him. They were REALY shiny, absurdly shiny. Oscar had a habit of escaping from any yard, any fence. We jokingly called him Houdini and after many escapades and multiple close calls with death including drowning in a pool, I resorted to tethering Oscar outside if the weather was pretty and I had to work long hours. Yep, I had a flea market pup with big shiny balls tethered in back yard that had only been to the vet once.
When Oscar was 3 or 4 years old and I was living back in Wichita Falls, I took him to a local vet on a whim. The vet talked to me about vaccines, heartworm protection and neutering. I agreed to all of it and felt horrible that I hadn’t taken better care of him. I thought I was doing everything right. Shortly after, it was decided Oscar needed a playmate so I picked up the local newspaper and searched the classifieds. A woman out of Archer City was selling pure bred miniature schnauzer pups and they were salt & pepper color, just like I was hoping. Roscoe was the biggest in the litter and I loved him immediately. He was vaccinated properly, neutered and kept on proper prevention as I had learned from Oscar’s vet. The two were fast friends and our lives were full. Both were groomed regularly, slept in bed with me, accompanied me anywhere they could go. Life was good.
Oscar lived to be 18 years old. In fact, I just euthanized him a few years ago after he failed to recover from a series of strokes. Saying goodbye to the dog that had been part of every second of my adult life was indescribably painful. Roscoe was dealt a different hand. He had a thyroid issue, then diabetes, followed by corneal ulcers. He required special food, daily meds and expensive surgeries. All of which I provided. At 8 years of age he began having seizures and one day the seizure wouldn’t stop. The vet tried sedation but ultimately decided Roscoe probably had a tumor in his brain and I had to say goodbye.
I don’t share this to make you sad. Both of my dogs had great lives and never wanted for anything. Oscar was an impulse but when it came time to expand my family, I looked in the paper for Roscoe because I didn’t know any better. The only experience I had with dogs were of my neighbor and my family purchasing one. I knew shelters existed but I must have thought they were only for people to turn dogs into or strays to be taken. I certainly didn’t think I would find a pure bred puppy at the shelter so I bought one.
We are so quick to judge how and why people get their pets. Like anything, these decisions are based on our personal history, our social norms. I think about all the things I do just because my mom showed me that way. From cooking to folding towels, we just pick up habits and how to’s as we go. I had two pure bred dogs that I paid money for. One was healthy. One was not. One was vaccinated properly and neutered early. One was not.
Within our echo chambers, we are surrounded by people that think like we do. We get so used to hearing our own views and values, we forget what others might be hearing. Please remember that most pet owners are doing the best they know and the best they can. I meet hundreds of pet owners each month. It’s very rare to meet a pet owner that deliberately neglects their pet. They are just doing what they have been taught, what they have always seen.
Had I ran into my adult self or many of my Animal Welfare associates as a young adult with my unneutered, flea market schnauzer, I cringe to think about the judgment and the looks I would have gotten. There is a huge possibility any interaction between us would have resulted in me NEVER agreeing to neuter, never adopting and some fiery language. The only reason I took to heart what Oscar’s vet suggested is because they just talked to me. There was no judgement, just a conversation about what they recommended and why. Because of my experience with Oscar, Roscoe got everything he needed.