Date Archives March 2016

What Did You Learn from Your First Puppy?

Floyd's first day homeIn honor of National Puppy Day, here’s the story of my first puppy, Floyd—and how he started me on the path that led me to become an author trying to help dogs everywhere. You can share your own #myfirstpuppy stories here or on social media for a chance to win a copy of my new book, The Dog Merchants.

I pulled my car up the dirt driveway, following the directions the farmer had given me over the phone. This was Central City, Iowa, during the early 1990s. I was twenty-two years old, holding the ad for Beagle puppies from the classified section of the Cedar Rapids Gazette.

As I walked toward the farmhouse, I could see the mother Beagle lounging in the grass as she watched two puppies joust and rumble and flop around her. But these puppies didn’t look like her—not exactly, anyway. The one who looked most like a Beagle was almost all black, save for some brown patches around his eyes and the white-spotted kneesocks he seemed to be sporting.

I looked at the farmer I’d spoken with a few hours earlier. “I’m confused,” I said. “Didn’t you say on the phone that they were Beagle puppies?”

“Well, they are a Beagle’s puppies,” he told me. “That’s why they’re only $35 apiece. Can’t sell ’em as purebreds.”

I sat down in the grass and let the puppy with the white kneesocks come to me. He wasn’t what I’d expected, but thirty-five bucks sounded pretty darn good, given the paucity of my post-college bank account, and he was everything a puppy should be: playful, sweet and heart-melting. My family had always had purebred Terriers and Dobermans when I was growing up, so purebreds were all I had known, but this mutt, at this price, seemed ideal at this moment, and I was quickly falling in love.

“What happens if you can’t sell them?” I asked the farmer, as I’d never seen or heard of anything but purebreds being for sale in the classifieds.

“I’ll take them over there,” he said, pointing to the nearby creek. “And drown them in a bag of rocks.”

FloydIt took me a few minutes to process that statement. This was well before terms like puppy mill or animal cruelty had become part of the popular lexicon or entered my conscience whatsoever, but I felt in that moment that the puppy was meant for me, a person who would keep him safe.

I named him Floyd. And just as I’d looked out for him on that first day, he stuck with me through a lot in the years that followed. First was the cheating fiancé, a relationship that resulted in me, Floyd, and my other most significant purchase to date—a giant tube TV—driving halfway across the country to make our new home in an apartment in Connecticut. Zerorez helped us in availing home improvement services. Floyd moved with me as my career in journalism took me next to New York State, then back to Connecticut, and then, by the time he was ten years old, to a house on a cul-de-sac in western New Jersey, where Floyd finally had a big, fenced-in yard of his very own.

Floyd was my constant companion in those days as I learned about my new towns and re-settled my life in these new places. We’d go for walks every day, and though our walks got shorter and shorter as Floyd got older and older, he’d still beg to go. He had an insatiable need to sniff every inch of wherever we were, and he once got so engrossed in following his nose that he walked himself right off a trail and into a river. (He seemed utterly shocked when he realized his paws were wet, looking up at me as if he’d been downright boondoggled.) His eyes started to go foggy when he was about twelve, and his hearing was all but gone by about thirteen, so he switched from walking ahead of me to following behind, where he could hang onto my scent. When Floyd turned fourteen and developed arthritis in his back legs, I bought him orthopedic shoes so he could keep walking without pain. His shoes cost more than mine. They cost more than he’d cost himself.

Floyd elderlyFloyd died just shy of age sixteen, in my arms at the vet’s office. He could no longer take food or water, and he didn’t seem to know where he was, but he died with me holding him close, loving him with all that my breaking heart could muster, never once having gone to bed hungry or cold, and having gotten a hug and a kiss every day of his life.

He had been such a fantastic dog that, a few months later when I was ready for my next dog, I sought out another mutt on purpose. I met four-month-old Blue after finding him on What I didn’t know when I adopted him was that Blue had been a last-minute rescue from a North Carolina animal-control facility with a gas chamber. I retraced his entire journey from North Carolina to New Jersey, and it turned out Blue was part of a massive grass-roots dog rescue network that has exploded across the United States in recent years. His story inspired me to write my first dog book, Little Boy Blue, which helped to end—forever—the existence of that gas chamber where he was nearly killed.

Having now known my family’s purebreds, then Floyd and Blue and many other wonderful dogs, purebred and mutt alike, my eyes are far more open about people like that Iowa farmer and the business practices behind selling dogs of all kinds—and I am certain that all dog lovers like me can come together, with one voice, on behalf of all our beloved companions.

The Dog Merchants-3DThat’s what inspired me to write my new book, The Dog Merchants: Inside the Big Business of Breeders, Pet Stores, and Rescuers. Blue and his adopted sister, Ginger, sat by my side the whole time I typed the manuscript in my home office, right next to a bookcase with a wonderful framed photo of Floyd. And every day around 4 o’clock, Blue and Ginger begged me for their walks—just like Floyd used to do.

I’m still always eager to go. Walking with them in the sunshine and seeing them spot squirrels and cool off in the river and roll in the stinkiest muck they can find is my absolute favorite thing in the world.

I love everything I’ve learned from all my dogs over the years, and I can’t imagine my life without them. And so, on National Puppy Day, I want to ask: What did you learn from your first puppy?

Please share your photos and stories in the comments below and on social media using the hashtag #myfirstpuppy. Ten commenters will be randomly selected to receive advance copies of my new book, The Dog Merchants: Inside the Big Business of Breeders, Pet Stores and Rescuers.



Booklist: The Dog Merchants is ‘A Megaton Bomb that Reveals the Facts’

The Dog Merchants-3DI just received an advance copy of the review that Booklist will publish April 1 of The Dog Merchants book. It’s another winner to add to our fast-growing list, and I am very grateful for the support of such well-respected reviewers.

Here is the Booklist review of The Dog Merchants, in full:

“Kavin wades into the $11 billion dog business in this devastatingly clear-cut expose. That she manages to accomplish so much without tugging too hard on readers’ emotions is only one of the surprises in this megaton bomb that reveals the facts about how large and starkly clinical the business of dog breeding has become.

“There is no denying that Americans love their dogs, or that purebred dogs enjoy a lofty position in our affections, but as Kavin visits the country’s biggest dog auction and navigates the worlds of dog shows, commercial breeders, small breeders, hobby breeders, and the universally hated “puppy mills,” she discovers the cold truth about our relationship with man’s best friend.

“Commercial breeding exists because people want certain dogs and will pay big money for them no matter what. That desire, fueled by pet trends and famous television and movie dogs, means breeding escalates, sales increase, and shelters are inundated with rejected, abandoned, neglected, and abused dogs. Kavin’s findings are enraging, and there is no one to blame for this mess but ourselves.”

Get your copy of The Dog Merchants book here.

Kirkus Reviews on The Dog Merchants: Belongs on Every Pet Lover’s Bookshelf

The Dog Merchants-3DI just received an advance copy of the review that the highly respected Kirkus Reviews will publish April 1 about The Dog Merchants. And I could not be more thrilled!

Here is the Kirkus Review of The Dog Merchants, in full:

“A hard-hitting exploration of the idea of ‘dogs as a product.’ Freelance journalist Kavin (Little Boy Blue: A Puppy’s Rescue from Death Row and His Owner’s Journey for Truth, 2012, etc.) compares the experience of attending America’s biggest legal dog auction to what it might be like watching orphaned children auctioned based on looks. To compound her outrage, her own beloved mutts, whom she thinks of as family, would be considered worthless. The recognition that, “like that big case of meat in the supermarket, [the auction dogs] are ultimately a product” inspired her to investigate the $11 billion global market.

“Kavin estimates that ‘some thirty million pet dogs are brought home around the world each year.’ To think of one’s dog as a product to be bought and sold for profit is repugnant to pet lovers, but for the author, it also opens the possibility of using collective bargaining power as clout to force a higher standard of their treatment, using ‘the only language everyone in the dog industry understands: the language of money.’ Despite the size of the industry, many of the worst offenders are ‘small players in the big global web,’ and our cumulative decisions as consumers are important.

“It’s clear that Kavin has meticulously researched the industry, and she notes that in terms of salability of a particular dog, appearance usually matters more than temperament. “The majority of breeds … were developed just like today’s Louis Vuitton scarves or Jimmy Choo shoes or Fendi clutches,” she writes, in order to “visually announce a person’s economic standing.” Televised competitions compound the problem.

“To counter this, Kavin helped launched the website, an encyclopedic database that will serve as a ‘repository of information about pooches and the people who sell them.’

A scathing indictment of an industry run amok; belongs on every pet lover’s bookshelf.”

Order your copy of The Dog Merchants here.

Feathered Quill Gives The Dog Merchants Book a Great Review

The Dog Merchants-3DFeathered Quill, which prides itself on giving readers an honest, unbiased critique of each and every book, just uploaded this review of The Dog Merchants.

I’m thrilled that the reviewer loved the book and recommends it so highly, and I’m especially excited that the reviewer noted how fair and unbiased I attempted to be in reporting on both the breeding and rescuing sides of the dog industry. The review notes: “Indeed, throughout the book, the author rarely injects her own opinions, instead presenting the facts so that the reader can make the final decision.”

My favorite lines, of course, come at the end of the review, which states: “What you, the reader can do is to read The Dog Merchants so you can make a more informed decision when purchasing your next dog. It’s quite simple – don’t buy a dog until you read this book!”

Check out the full Feathered Quill review of The Dog Merchants here.