Two years ago my life completely changed for the better. As performers getting off of long touring contracts filled with cities and faces we didn't know, my boyfriend and I decided that it was time to lay down some roots. For us, that meant that we were ready for a "real" couch and - most importantly - the long-awaited addition of a puppy to most likely destroy said couch. Up until that point, we'd gotten by pretty well as dogless dog people in New York City. There's always a friend's pup to watch for a weekend, a dog park to peer into longingly, and kind strangers who don't mind their pooches getting some extra love. But we had the means and the schedule to finally add to our pack.
We daydreamed and researched about breeds that would fit our differing ideas of the "perfect" dog. You know, something that amounted to an apartment-sized Rhodesian Ridgeback with the cheerful disposition of a Corgi, but not Corgi-sized legs so they could go running with us, but would still be a snuggly lap dog, and if they could have all the best qualities of our childhood dogs, well, that would be just great. Needless to say, we tabled the search for a bit.
[caption id="attachment_16324" align="aligncenter" width="600"] Audrey: The Fuzziest of Nuggets[/caption]
But, the mysterious paw of fate had other plans, and those plans were for us to meet our little fuzz nugget during an impromptu visit to a posh NYC pet store in the Village. We had heard of Australian Shepherds of the standard and Miniature variety, but never this perfectly apartment-friendly, loving, intelligent combination lap dog-athlete known as a Toy Australian Shepherd, a.k.a. our dream pup. We were uninformed and in love; they had a practiced, reassuring answer for everything. "We are highly selective with our breeders. Would you like to see her paperwork?"
Having grown up with a collective combination of family dogs from pet stores or breeders, we simply thought this was a legitimate way to bring a furry member into your family and a "breeder with a USDA license" did certainly seem legitimate. But, more importantly, she was perfect, our teensy Audrey (Yes, like Hepburn. Yes, I won that battle.). Except that she seemed awfully sleepy over the next few days. And that she didn't seem to want her food. And that she developed a weird cough.
[caption id="attachment_16326" align="aligncenter" width="600"] Audrey gets to know this "dad" character.[/caption]
I couldn't sleep because Audrey couldn't sleep, so we stayed up together obsessively researching her symptoms and a vet clinic I could call to make an appointment the minute it opened. I don't know why I didn't think to research the breeders on her papers before, but something told me to do it in my bleary-eyed state. Cue internet wormhole of puppy mill research.
I was so angry. Not just because I had been so thoroughly lied to by the pet store, or because I felt like an idiot for not knowing about puppy mills, or because I felt for the abysmal, diseased conditions the mothers are subjected to, but also because I worried that this tiny being that I somehow loved so quickly, so completely might be sickly her entire life because of her background. I could barely keep it together to explain the situation to my extremely patient, extremely pre-coffee boyfriend when he woke up.
[caption id="attachment_16327" align="aligncenter" width="600"] All grown up and workin' hard as a news hound at The BarkPost![/caption]
Thankfully, it turned out that Audrey had a very treatable case of kennel cough, and she hasn't had any more health issues than the average curious New York City pup, but my symptoms didn't go away. I was quietly angry and terribly ashamed. After several tongue-lashings from complete strangers who asked about her background during our walks, I found myself lying about where she came from or redirecting the conversation as quickly as I could.
But eventually, something changed. Too much time and research about puppy mills and the staggering statistics that befall perfectly adoptable
dogs kept my embarrassment from winning over when presented with the dreaded "Where did you get her?" question. I could stay ashamed over a decision made by my uninformed past-self, or I could spread awareness and, hopefully, get more adoptable dogs into homes. So now, I tell the truth with authority rather than remorse when I'm asked where I got my darling pup.
[caption id="attachment_16328" align="aligncenter" width="600"] Audrey and Mom[/caption]
I can't go back in time and adopt a different dog instead of buying Audrey from a pet store, and, truthfully, I wouldn't trade her for the world. All dogs deserve love - no matter where they came from - and I know that many things in my life would be different if our story had not unfolded the way it did. But, going forward, I will do things differently if we decide to add another furry member to our family, and I want to use Audrey's story to help spread awareness to would-be pup parents about the cruel cycle of puppy mill practices. To find out more information and how you can help, check out the ASPCA's No Pet Store Puppies Campaign
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