More puppies with all those in rescue and pounds waiting to die?

It would be a lie to say that this comment directed at me from my beloved Uncle Rick was not hurtful. One of the many reasons I love him so deeply is his passion. It’s a Smith family trait. Fiery, driven, passionate, opinionated, dramatic and frankly a tad bit devious. We have all made choices in how to direct that inherited drama. For most of the Smith girls this means directing it at each other. Uncle Rick was brilliant in redirecting his drama into his work, his life is about enjoying the fruits of his labor. He enjoys travel, warm climates, and life’s greatest comforts…but he does so in a bubble. A bubble he created to keep him safe from the misdirection of his many sisters. Who can blame him!

I inherited my drama from my mother. I like to think that in sharing my genes with my levelheaded, fun loving father I was able to dilute that trait. I have been proved wrong time and time again. The reason for this could be that my father came from solid backgrounds of Russian and Irish. His calm, passive side was most likely a learned trait!

In following my passion for animals I was dedicated to our small town vet clinic. Dr. Martin was passionate about rescuing and helping low income owners be responsible. We worked closely with Lakes Animal Friendship and Turtle Gardens Rescue to be a force in our town to stop overpopulation and abuse. Year after year we worked together to host free spay/neuter clinics, cost discounts for shelter dogs, and the capture and release of wild community cats. We had guest surgeons come in and teach us how to sterilize animals with high efficiency. It was an exciting time for me, I felt alive and safe in our tight knit rescue circle. I became one of those clinic staff that openly judged breeders because I saw them as the problem. If I made them feel bad maybe they would reconsider their actions. I actually thought I had a position that gave me the power to use guilt to save animals that had no voice. Another Smith family trait, I’m afraid…guilt as a weapon! My pedestal in my own mind was so far in the clouds I started right fighting with the people closest to me. If I couldn’t guilt the puppy mills into changing, maybe I could educate the people I love to not support them. The fall from that pedestal was hard, I think I broke every bone bouncing off the sharp canyon ridges on the way to the rocky ground.

My frustration in not being heard by the people I was trying to guilt or educate enclosed around me. Meanwhile the defeat felt by the rescue groups was just as palpable for me. The free clinics being used by wealthy families instead of low income, intact community cats being “claimed” by hoarders, Turtle Gardens organisation ripping apart from the inside, the thriving of puppy mills and abuse, finding & keeping volunteers, political & legal hoops, financial instability…the list is extensive.

Turtle Gardens operators started out as selfless people who gave up everything they had to take in and re-home unwanted pets. Dave would travel miles to break into an abandoned house and rescue an emaciated mother with 6 newborn puppies. The gas money came from supporters who saw the pretty picture Yvette painted with her blogs and social media. The truth was dirty, poor, disease ridden and painful. Dave’s idea of rehabilitation was to let the pack teach the new arrivals how to behave. A theory, at it’s basics, that is very traditional. It was easy for me to support Dave & Yvette in their passion. I could overlook the poop stained jeans of the scruffy man who carried 4 puppies in his arms to see the vet as vomit dripped down his shirt. He knew each and every dog by heart alone. They were all named Fred, but their hearts defined them. The stories he brought in with him of the neglect, abuse and cruelty surrounding these rescues was disturbing. I felt proud to be part of the solution as I scrubbed my hands free of shelter stench. Turtle Gardens failed when Dave and Yvette could not physically do the job anymore. Their son took over creating chaos and running the shelter with an extreme notion of “rehabilitation” and a deliberate breeding philosophy of “mutts/rescues=money”.

Believe it or not this was not the breaking point of my soaring pedestal. It was only one of the cracks that started started quietly and slowly.

Uncle Rick sitting under his Texas palm trees, smoking his cigar with a crystal goblet of Brandy has probably never heard of Karin & Catherine Adams. In 2014 the SPCA seized 53 animals from Houston, in 2018 from Calgary another 16 dogs, and 8 more just weeks after that from a hotel room. Social media has been a formidable ally to follow these women and warn the community to keep a close eye on their pets. Our dogs happily jump into their van only to find themselves shoved into a tiny crate, deprived of food and water until they are rescued or sold. These cunning women love the game. They weave their tales of the perfect puppy while gathering multiple deposits and fees from waiting families. I first met Karin in my role as an assistant at the vet clinic. She was requesting our services to use as a defense against the SPCA. We knew who she was. We knew what she was doing. We knew her alias’, her cooperating family members, and the SPCA investigation. We headed out to her property to find anything we could to help the SPCA case. She knew we were coming. The property was spotless. The animals were healthy, pens dry, clean dishes full of food and water, clean shavings…not a spot of dirt! There was one emaciated horse with a documented medical record. We tried and failed to prove what we knew. The people who purchased animals from these women said they had no choice but to “rescue” the animal they paid for. Karin Adams started her empire here and has since spread out across BC and Alberta and even creeping farther East as their games go public. The more public her name and her game is, the higher the high she gets, as she sells another puppy to another family who simply wants what they want.

In 2017 the SPCA seized over 2 dozen animals at another local puppy mill. The operator was widely known in the horse community as having an ideal of “natural care”. Letting his herd of horses fend for themselves as wild horses do. The horse community clearly ignoring the reasons that wild horses became extinct on this continent over 10,000 years ago. The property owner came into the clinic one cold winter day and told me about the litter of puppies he just had. He was thankful that most of them died outside as he could only sell 2 or 3 of them. The SPCA investigation was aided by the passionate people of our “rescue family”, dedicated to bringing down this well established operation. The evidence pictures showed old dog houses falling into holes that had begun as dirt circles pounded into the ground by the feet of the mother dogs. Dogs tied by short chains to spend their days running round and round the piece of wood that was their home. There was no water for these dogs, no food. The horses that couldn’t survive on their own got eaten by the dogs who had nothing else. A “natural” circle of life.

The same story, the same investigation, the same consumers. Different abusers, different excuses, different animals. Here is where another crack in my failing foundation crumbles along the edges threatening a clearly unstable “me” at the top.

My work at the vet clinic was inspiring, dedicated, humbling and self-righteous. My co-workers were like family to me. I loved them, looked up to them, followed them and took on their beliefs. I also made excuses for them. A co-workers puppy was bought from that exact same “natural care” puppy mill. My excuse for her was that she simply didn’t know. She called her dog a “rescue” loud and clear to all who would listen. After the investigation, the evidence, the shut down…she bought another puppy from him. She said no money changed hands so she was not actually supporting him. She traded her new “rescue” puppy for farm equipment. This was my breaking point. She looked down on me from the god like position I put her in and with a single, slow moving, deliberate middle finger pushed me off the edge to lay broken on the rocks below. As hard as we all worked towards a common goal, at the end of the work day we went home to our purchased puppies because like everyone else “we want what we want”.

As I lay in pieces on the rocks that used to be my pedestal, looking up at the blue sky I concentrated on the single cloud over my head that rained hopelessness, frustration and a complete dissolution of my identity. Clearly the issue of overpopulation and abuse is NOT solved by rescue groups, or the SPCA. The issue is US. The issue is the human condition. The issue is our gawd given right to dominate the earth regardless of the consequences. We don’t even care enough about our own children living in a garbage filled toxic environment enough to recycle. We can’t physically see what’s on the other side of the door so we selfishly ignore it. “We want what we want.” It’s easy for puppy mills to take advantage of this because we let them. The solution is not to track Karin Adams, or trade farm equipment for a puppy. The solution is not to leave it to the SPCA or the rescue/shelter groups. The solution is not to shame, guilt or educate other people. The solution is US. We need to take off the blinders, look inward to our own choices, care about what is on the other side of the door, trust our instincts, and welcome the consequences. We need to stop making excuses, pop our bubbles, stop idolizing “rescuers”, and stop lying to ourselves.

My Uncle Rick is passionate…in his bubble. His bubble keeps him safe and I will not be the person who pokes a big fat pin in it when his back is turned…but… The truth is that his bubble lives in Texas. Google pure-bred rescue in Texas and there are pages of rescue groups! Let alone mixed breed rescue/shelters! If you live in Texas you are physically able to rescue any type of dog you could ever want. You can have what you want! In rural, northern BC it is not this easy. As passionately out spoken as he is about rescuing dogs he is equally as passionate about Boxers. It’s easy to see why, Boxers are spirited, fun loving, goofs that match Uncle Rick’s personality seamlessly. Uncle Rick once lived in BC where he wanted what he wanted and purchased purebred Boxers. I better put that pin back in my pocket!! The ugly truth is that those Boxer breeders are the very reason why there are Boxer shelters and we are the reason why that Boxer breeder breeds. Without education and support from those breeders, dogs pay the price. When we chose to support breeding operations, do we know what those operators stand for? Will they, without question or judgment support their puppies? Will they ask about you and the environment their puppy will live in to set you up for success? Will they turn you away when you must give up your dog? If we all walked away from the answers that don’t support our new puppies, NO dog would ever be in a shelter. We need to hit the issue at the source, the breeders. We can get hung up on the definition of puppy mill vs back yard, buying vs rescuing or we can simply choose as a collective to support each other in making the RIGHT choice. Supporting breeders who support their puppies will shut down puppy mills. Supporting breeders who support their puppies will keep dogs out of shelters. We are the issue. We are the solution. Consumers have the ultimate power.

I am confident that I can see the consequences of my choices. I know how my actions affect abuse and neglect. I know what I stand for. I know who I am. I know that I am finally part of a real solution. I had to see the issue from every side, I had to accept my role in the issue, I had to be brave enough to stand up for what I believe is the solution. My passion makes me a Smith at heart. This 2300 word blog is my response to a single sentence from my Uncle Rick. Fiery. Driven. Passionate. Opinionated. Dramatic. Proud. I am proud to be 1/2 Smith, 1/2 Russian-Irish!

It’s getting harder and harder to choose the right breeder. My advice is to ask your breeder for references. References from people who the breeder did not sell to, and people who returned their puppies, people with puppies and adult dogs. Ask those references about the breeders support and education. Talk to your breeders. Are they open and honest? Do they have a website, facebook site? Do they always have puppies available? Do they have a contract? Purchasing a puppy is not the issue, purchasing from the wrong breeder is. Breeders of pure-bred perfect Boxers can be the wrong breeder. The proof of that is physically seen in Boxer rescues. We can all choose to be part of the solution, we just have to want it.