Book review By Chris Janelli, Executive Director
If you plan to read books over the summer, The Dog Merchants is a MUST read. I read it and it’s a real eye popper . . . . . unless you’re deeply embedded somewhere in the business of canine branding, marketing, breeding, selling or rescue and know what goes on across the spectrum.
Author Kim Kavin takes a fairly dispassionate investigative journalistic approach to exploring, presenting and exposing what goes on behind the pet shop window, at the commercial dog auctions and how mostly pure breed dogs flow through the canine supply chain to meet America’s annual demand for about 8 million puppies. It would be an understatement to say there is more than enough information to anger everyone along the way. Selling dogs is an $11 billion dollar annual business that thrives on one thing—insatiable human demand. Read more . . . .
While Millennials have wholeheartedly taken up the cause of adopting America’s shelter dogs and rescues from as far away as Puerto Rico, South Korea, Turkey and numerous other countries, The Dog Merchants raises the question, “Do you really know where your dog came from?” Whether produced by a reputable breeder or by an unethical one driven purely the desire to make money at any cost to the product, behind every dog there is history that can affect their future.
Like many people, I have lived and worked under the presumption that there are far too many rescues and shelter dogs needing adoption with many facing euthanasia. I still want to believe that, but both The Dog Merchants and a study by two researchers at Mississippi State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine now make me wonder. The MSU study surveyed 413 brick & mortar animal shelters across the country with “results extrapolated to create a nationwide picture of the movement of dogs into and out of shelters.
”The study found that shelters take in 5.5 million dogs every year, 2.6 million dogs are adopted from shelters, 969,000 are returned to an owner and 778,000 are transferred; hopefully from regions with high shelter dog counts to regions where rescues have a better chance of being adopted. But even with this flow of dogs around the U.S. to meet demand, the researchers indicated 776,000 are still euthanized while the market demands another 8 million mostly pure breed puppies. Tragically, many of these pure breed dogs will end up relinquished to shelters often because branding and marketing trumped buyer expectations and lifestyle reality. The human-canine matches initially made in heaven too often result in hell on earth for dogs.
How 8 million dogs are produced to meet U.S. demand is just part of The Dog Merchants story. The more interesting and controversial issue Kavin presents are the dog auctions that are attended not just by dog brokers, middlemen and retail buyers but rescues. Yes, rescues. As Kavin shares in the 2018 article Dog Fight published by the Washington Post, “An effort that animal rescuers began more than a decade ago to buy dogs for $5 or $10 apiece from commercial breeders has become a nationwide shadow market that today sees some rescuers, fueled by Internet fundraising, paying breeders $5,000 or more for a single dog . . . . The result is a river of rescue donations flowing from avowed dog saviors to the breeders, two groups that have long disparaged each other.” Many of these dogs are then rebranded and adopted out as a “puppy mill rescue.” While justified as rescuing a dog from a life of breeding, and there is some truth in that possibility, the rescues buying from auctions has spawned the unfamiliar term (at least to me) “retail rescue.”
There is so much more to this story with so many participants and organizations dedicated to dogs that anyone who loves a dog must read this book. It will likely raise far more questions than it answers and leave the reader probably a little more unsettled about America’s insatiable demand for dogs. It may also have you questioning humans.
Article Links:The Dog Merchants: https://www.amazon.com/Dog-Merchants-Business-Breeders-Rescuers/dp/1681774046/ref=cm_cr_arp_d_product_top?ie=UTF8Kim Kavin: http://www.kimkavin.com/Dog Fight: https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/2018/investigations/dog-auction-rescue-groups-donations/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.c3ac3c1bcf61