Anguished About Buying a Puppy

Six-year-old Brooks, Sasha, and Niamh

I got an enthusiastic message from Jenny, whose young daughter Brooks “is obsessed with dogs & would love to go to Dog Film Festival. Is it playing in our area? We live in Beacon NY & have family we visit in the Berkshires.” I wrote Jenny back to say she was in luck — that the NY Dog Film Festival would be playing May 5th at Images theater in Williamstown — and I would even be there as it’s my own local art house — and dogs would be welcome. When she wrote back and said they were waiting for a puppy for Brooks’ birthday in April, I did something I don’t usually do: make a personal comment where one is not expected. However, recently I’d heard of people buying puppies because they didn’t know shelters often have puppies too. So I wrote back, “It’s none of my ‘beeswax’ but I hope you aren’t buying a puppy, but adopting one from a shelter or rescue. I’m not hard-line against puppy purchasing (I’ve done both myself) but for your young, dog-passionate daughter, the rescue option would have great meaning and influence her going forward If I can be of any assistance in finding that puppy, I’d be happy to!”

Unbeknownst to me, this was a topic of pure anguish for Jenny, who replied:

Oh Tracie this is a point of major conflict & heartache for me right now, it makes me want to cry as I feel like such a hypocrite. My husband wants to buy a puppy for nostalgic reasons, but I want to honor shelter dogs. Back when we lived in California, Brooks and I volunteered once a week at a shelter for two years. We even used to foster dogs under the radar, as we lived in a rental that wouldn’t let us get a dog. In fostering, Brooks & I learned how to love & let go, even with the heartbreak. Since we moved to New York in July, we’ve been looking into getting a rescue dog but it has been rather daunting & painful. We have run into one obstacle after another: ringworm, parvo, suspicious practices etc.

Then my husband’s mom passed away unexpectedly in the New Year, so now he is determined to get a purebred black Lab. He says “If I am honest with myself, that’s the dog I want. It was what I grew up with & want now, to honor Mom’s memory.” He has reached out to the breeder of his mom’s Lab & they have a puppy available. I am morally heartsick because I believe in rescuing. It’s one of those difficult marriage moments & am thinking we need to go to therapy to get on the same page & deal with my grief about this decision.

My daughter is in love with rescues and volunteering and we have had the discussion of the importance of shelters many times — but it is also a dream of hers is to get a black Lab puppy like her Gammie’s dog. I am trying to find peace in getting a dog that will make both of them happy & then get a rescue dog that comes to us when it is meant to be. I know I will love whatever dog we get but am feeling very stuck about doing what will make my husband happy & what sits right with my moral compass.

Now I felt terrible that I had suggested anything about where to get a puppy, except maybe fate had brought me into their lives to get them off any guilt hook. I wrote back:

“Dear Jenny — This is not worth one more minute of grief and suffering for you emotionally, and definitely not worth another micro-second of marital strife. Your husband’s emotional needs trump any dogs’ needs. Anybody who wants to add a dog to their life deserves to do it in a way that works for them… otherwise it starts off all wrong. Buying a dog from a known breeder is fine, it’s what we ALL did years ago before dog ownership became politicized — and shelters became more approachable. You and your daughter already volunteer at shelters, which counts for a lot. It isn’t about adopting just one dog and leaving — you are supporting and cheering the staff as well as touching the lives of the many dogs whose days you have made brighter.

“There doesn’t need to be a contest or political correctness about adding a dog to your family. I know lots of people who wanted to buy puppies (some inappropriately call it ‘adopt,’ which I don’t love!) and even helped some of them find a responsible breeder. I didn’t allow it to affect our friendships, but did suggest they make a donation in the puppy’s name to their local shelter.

“Get that puppy and enjoy every second (including all the chewing, peeing, etc., etc., ha ha). Don’t judge your husband for his desire — and don’t come down hard on yourself for being willing to consider his feelings. When my late husband was well into cancer treatment (4 years ago) I bought a Weimaraner puppy for him from a breeder in Vermont where I live. At the time we had my fourth and fifth rescued Weimaraners I had brought into the marriage, but he’d never had a puppy in his life. I said she would be a “cancer cure’ (his cancer was incurable) and she really did give huge joy. I never felt the need to apologize nor should your husband. Enjoy a long and happy life with the puppy — and when you’re ready to give him a companion dog, you’ll feel great about going to the shelter with him and Brooks to choose a good fit.”

Jenny wrote me back:

I remember back in the days when I was a kid & your neighbors dog had puppies & you walked up on the porch & picked up whatever little mutt ya wanted. My scrappy small town country dog was named Panda. I look forward to giving you a big hug of gratitude in Williamstown for sharing your story & your wisdom. I really needed the forgiveness after being so deeply involved with the rescue world. Now everyone wants to know “Did Brooks get a dog yet?” & I dread the question “where did you get it?” I know I will be judged by many I hold dear & it is hurtful to me that I have been put in that position. I know this puppy is going to bring us a lot of joy (and hard work & headache) & I will trust that one day I will receive the rescue redemption. You may have saved me a therapy session, I owe ya a drink.

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