I, unofficially, started fostering before I could ride a bicycle. Any animal we found in an alley, or abandoned by its mother, or left in a box on the Venice Beach boardwalk, automatically came home with us with little to no persuasion needed from me. It’s literally built into my DNA at this point. I remember our first dog Shadow, a black pit puppy we found with wire wrapped around her throat in an alley, and Natalie, the poodle mix pup we found at a gas station. Both Shadow and Natalie started out as dogs that I would “take care of and find homes for,” but they both ended up as permanent members of our family. I believe that’s called a “foster failure.” Although there is much truth behind it, we joke that part of the reason that I built a guest house for my mom six years ago was so that she could help me foster even more homeless pets.
I love fostering. I am a huge advocate for adopting, but that doesn’t mean I don’t know the other side of things. Here’s the deal guys: I’ve been an animal lover my entire life. As someone who loves every furry creature I come across, I too have fallen victim to the cute puppy purchase. I get it. The bond of love you form with an animal can sometimes outweigh any guilt you might have when buying one from a pet store. When I was younger, I did just that. I have had dogs that I’ve adopted, and dogs that I’ve paid for; whether they came from the Beverly Center Mall, the South Central Animal Shelter, or a guy slinging puppies on the side of the road for $150. I loved them all and I wanted to take them all home. But here’s the sad reality of the situation, one that opened my eyes to a whole world out there I didn’t even know existed: the world of puppy mills. My sweet dog Bella, who I found at a mall pet store when I was 15 years old, ended up blind by two years old as a result of inbreeding, poor conditions, and the unfortunate fate of being born at a puppy mill. I had no idea. All I knew was that I fell in love with that dog and although I had rescue dogs from the shelter at home, I knew this little girl had to be a part of the family too. After going through this experience, I knew I would never, ever spend money on an animal from a pet store again. Why? Because even though it isn’t the animal’s fault, and many justify purchasing those puppies by saying they’re saving them because they’re already at the pet store waiting for a home (I know I did), we have to stop supporting the puppy mill industry.
Of course, I am not referring to spending money on any type of service animal. And, I am also aware of the difference between responsible dog breeders and puppy mills. This is not a judgment. If you want to go and buy a purebred golden doodle because you’ve researched a responsible breeder and your child is allergic to animal hair, I understand your concerns. But, I would also encourage you to check your local rescues first as 30% of all shelter dogs are actually purebreds. Regardless, I respect your decision if you’ve done your research. If you need a service animal to protect you or guide you, then by all means go through the proper channels. The money and time involved in the training of these animals is extensive and well worth the result of having a dog who was bred to perform a specific job or task. I am simply asking you to do your homework before buying any living creature from a pet store. Please understand the financial motives behind the puppy mill industry, and find compassion in your hearts for the dogs who are kept in disgusting conditions and bred continually with only the bare minimum to protect them, all in the name of profit. More often than not, these dogs wind up sick, or with temperament problems, long term health issues, and most of them enter into this world in an environment that I hope no living being should ever be subjected. The ugly truth behind what happens at puppy mills is covered up by the cute fluffy puff balls napping behind the glass cages lining the walls.
Luckily, after witnessing how difficult it is to encourage shelter adoptions because many people find it too upsetting, many stores have begun rescuing animals and creating “humane pet shops”. In fact, I was introduced to the first humane pet shop in Los Angeles called Bark n' Bitches by my 15 year old little brother who volunteered as a dog walker and I am now a proud foster parent for them.
So here’s my point. We can all do something. If you want to add a new member to the family, consider adoption. If you love animals but can’t have one, consider fostering. If you don’t have time to foster or your parents or landlord won’t allow it, volunteer as a dog walker. I have devoted a significant amount of my life to animal rescue, and in the last 5 years I have fostered, rescued and re-homed more animals than I can count. We can all do something, and no good deed is ever too small. -Nikki