When I was last in L.A. four years ago there was one particular disturbing sight that’s always stayed with me since – a depressed sixteen week old Weimaraner puppy for sale: all alone, squeezed into a glass tank on a shelf, surrounded by yet more glass tanks containing even more pups, and all within one cramped pet-shop in a giant shopping centre, or ‘mall’ as they’re called over there.
As well as fashionable larger breeds like Weimaraners, another very popular breed back then was the teacup Chihuahua – a direct result of Paris Hilton being papped out-and-about cuddling her beloved Tinkerbell – and leading to a dog-breeding situation so chaotic that Chihuahua pups commercially mass-produced purely for profit were not only being bred in the “Puppy farm capital of the States” of the Mid-west such as Missouri.
They were also being bred in their native country of Mexico and driven up across the U.S Border by the boot-load to satisfy this new insatiable demand – the few surviving ones then having to deal with the countless medical and behavioural problems associated with being both undersized and overbred.
This time I’m back in the City of Angels as a guest of Petplan USA, and excited about attending my first Humane Society of United States’s Genesis Awards – a unique star-studded Hollywood red carpet extravaganza that rewards animal welfare issues positively portrayed in the global entertainment industry.
In a city so heavily influenced by celebrity and media alike, I was determined to find out if all this raising awareness had actually caused any positive change for L.A.’s canine companions, so my first stop was of course that upsetting pet shop from four years ago…
But it was gone.
I checked on every floor of the mall but there was definitely no sign of any puppies in glass tanks?
So I embarked on a personal walking tour of West Hollywood to find out if in fact Tinseltown, usually accustomed to human dreams coming true, has allowed a few doggy dreams to be granted as well, resulting in the unthinkable – pet shops not selling puppies anymore.
My first stop was the extremely camp-looking doggy stylist and bakery D.O.G Pet Boutique, boasting ‘Where fashion takes the lead’ to their passers-by.
Prepared to be confronted by a wall of cute handbag-sized fluffy puppies for sale, I took a deep breath and went inside only to be pleasantly surprised to find nothing of the sort.
Sure, here you can buy pet perfume, squeaky ‘mobile bone’ toys, artificial grass pet toilets and all kinds of coconut-flavoured doggy treats, but I was glad to see that ‘fashion’ here doesn’t extend to selling any pups.
In fact what really made me smile was a pile of leaflets on the counter produced by the Humane Society of United States stating ‘WE LIKE PUPPIES SO WE DON‘T SELL THEM’ alongside a list of the benefits of adoption and guide to healthy puppy buying.
But this was just one shop in a city of four million inhabitants; surely they couldn’t all have changed their attitudes to buying a dog that quickly?
Wandering the empty pavements of West Hollywood (no-one walks there) I popped into every doggy daycare and groomers, each time to be pleasantly informed that West Hollywood’s pet stores very rarely sell puppies anymore.
It seems enough awareness has been raised in the last few years to sufficiently change attitudes and help stop the demand for unhealthy pups mass-produced on puppy farms (called ‘puppy mills’ in the US), with a rescue dog adoption culture easing snugly into its place.
Unsurprisingly a few pet shops have gone out of business but those remaining ‘humane’ stores now thrive after learning to adapt like any business under pressure – now offering a range of exciting and different services to their canine clients – and all whilst promoting rescue pets at the same time.
For example, as well as the traditional dog training and grooming services available in most dog-friendly cities around the world, The Urban Pet and impressive Chateau Marmutt both offer non-anaesthetic teeth cleaning and brushing, and the fantastically named Barkingham Palace runs a daycare exclusively for small dogs under 4kg (9lb) called ‘Tiny Town’ offering specialist treatments including aromatherapy and massage.
Dogs of all shapes and sizes are big business in L.A. with owners now commonly referring to their four-legged friends as their ‘sons’ or ‘daughters’ (it used to be just ‘baby’), so making sure that they’re all happy and healthy has never been more of a necessity.
Like at the Zoom Room – an incredible state-of-the-art indoor agility centre and ‘canine social club’ where I would happily challenge any dog to ever get bored.
Amongst their extensive list of doggy activities are popular scent discrimination classes where birchwood is used to help train dogs find their owners’ car keys, mobile phones and T.V. remotes!
As well as fully embracing positive reinforcement dog training techniques and understanding the importance of socialization, Zoom Room also invites your dog to celebrate its birthday in style (pictured) with a special ‘Doggy Disco Night’ – complete with glitterball and laser light shows on the floor for your dog and his/her guests to chase.
Zoom Room also proudly run their incredible Ruff Reading therapy dog program which aims to teach your dog to help your children learn to read; and if all that’s not enough for you and your pooch then why not take your pick from the organic treats, recycled toys and eco-friendly collars and leads available in store too.
With so much open space in and around L.A. most places offer or recommend professional dog walking and pet sitting services: called ‘Park Socials’ and ‘Playgroups’ here, and with optional pick-up and drop off services to make life even easier.
I also popped into the Hollywood Dog & Cat Hospital, who, in a city where cosmetic surgery can sometimes be the norm, refuse to crop dog’s ears (a common painful surgical procedure where the ears of certain breeds are repositioned such as the Dobermann, Great Dane and Boxer) or declaw cats.
It all seems pretty good for the pets of L.A.
And so finally to the pièce de résistance. What trip to L.A. would be complete without a taste of the extreme high-end of doggy daycare?
I’m talking about the D Pet Hotel Hollywood which really must be seen to be believed. As well as its spotless daycare playrooms, chauffeur service and luxury doggy spa; for only £70 per night your dog can stay in a human-sized über-suite (pictured), complete with flatscreen TV, double bed, and beautiful bespoke décor, to really give your precious pooch that A-list experience.
All these money-making alternatives to selling pups in pet shops seem to be working well out here, and coupled with regular pet adoption events and high profile celebrities like Pink helping to raise awareness of puppy mills, attitudes are definitely changing for the better, and animal welfare standards are rapidly improving as a result.
So it seems it can be done.
By all working together for dogs, just like in L.A. we can also make buying puppies from shops (and online) socially frowned-upon so demand for cruelly farmed pups stops.
We can also try harder to promote a similar rescue culture that results in happy rehoming rather than endless suffering and insist that any pup that is bought is responsibly bred and must be seen interacting with its mother.
The bottom line is that dogs are living creatures that, like us, feel pain and enjoy love. They deserve to experience playtime, grass, outdoors and fresh air.
Remember puppy farms are legal so by continuing to educate the public about rescue pet adoption and responsible breeding wherever you are in the world – once demand stops the supply will have no choice but to stop too.
Please join me in continuing to raise awareness about puppy farms at PUP AID fun celebrity-judged dog show and music festival in Brighton on 18th September 2011; for more details visit www.pupaid.org