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Adopt, don't shop for pets

Jethrow at Town of Hempstead's animal shelter.

Jethrow at Town of Hempstead's animal shelter.  Credit: Howard Schnapp

Q I read your recent article about research showing people are not more likely to return pets acquired during the winter holidays. I work for a rescue group, and our concern has always been with potential stress for a newly adopted animal caused by large family gatherings, travel, visitors, unusual schedules and foods during this season, just when they are trying to adjust to a new home. I don't believe you mentioned that in the article. That said, I was more concerned with your reference to getting pets from pet stores, which was casually mentioned several times in the article. I went further to see who you are and found you are very much an advocate for rescues and animal welfare in general. Why in the world would you normalize the selling of pets at retail stores, knowing a large number of those animals are acquired from puppy mills? This in a time when we're finally making some progress across the country banning the sale of dogs at pet stores! I am more than perplexed and very disappointed to think that anyone reading the article might get the message that it's OK to buy a pet from a retail outlet.

— Pamela Belknap, St. Paul, Minnesota

A Thanks for taking the time to look up my background. Having spent decades working in animal welfare, I would never advocate buying a dog or cat from a pet store — ever. But I do see how my response muddied the waters.

When I referenced pet stores, I was thinking about the many pet stores in the U.S., like Petco and Petsmart, that refuse to sell dogs and cats — although I didn't make that clear. These pet stores support animal shelters and rescue groups by giving them retail space inside their stores to showcase dogs and cats available for adoption. (There also may be local pet stores in your communities that operate under this same philosophy.) These stores have repudiated puppy mills and kitten mills by refusing to sell puppies and kittens in their stores. But you can visit these pet stores to select a dog, cat, puppy or kitten from the local animal shelter or rescue group. So, going to these "pet stores" to adopt a dog or cat or buy a gift certificate for pet supplies shows that you appreciate their support for homeless pets.

Second, some people may want fish, small birds, guinea pigs or turtles as pets. There are not a lot of rescue groups for these small pets, but there are some, so check to see if there is a rescue group in your area first. However, if want a small pet like this and there are no rescue groups, only patronize pet stores that refuse to sell dogs and cats from puppy and kitten mills.

I am an advocate for pet adoption. I believe animal shelters and rescue groups are the best places to find your next best friend. The message is always, "Adopt, Don't Shop," for your pet.

Q The lady who wrote in saying that she found collars and leashes to be "cruel" and preferred to train her rescue dogs without leads is asking for trouble. I don't let my dogs off lead, even in areas where it is permitted. Why? Because owners may claim their dogs are friendly, but I have no way of knowing that. I control my dogs, Honey and Elsa, on leads because they too could react to people and animals in a way that could be a problem for others. My dogs are always walked on a leash. When on my mobility scooter, they are in dog slings on either side of my body. When they are walking, they have their halters, which are attached to my scooter. If I'm walking, they are on a dual-lead. I use halters on them because I have quick control of them without any harm to the dogs.

— Margaret, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

A Thanks for sharing all the many ways you keep your dogs under your control. Some people are afraid of loose dogs, and as pet owners, it's important we understand that and do whatever we can to keep our pets under our control at all times. I highly recommend the Gentle Leader and Haltie head collars for dogs that don't walk well on a collar and leash or who are constant pullers. Unless in an area like a dog park, where dogs are free to roam, dogs should always be on a lead.

(Cathy M. Rosenthal is a longtime animal advocate, author, columnist and pet expert who has more than 25 years in the animal welfare field. Send your pet questions, stories and tips to Please include your name, city, and state. You can follow her @cathymrosenthal.)

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