How a society treats dogs and cats is one reflection of that society’s state of grace. In the pursuit of creating a more humane society, the American way of life is shifting. This means that business owners in Los Angeles who sell pets need to step up and reconsider how they make a living.

The issue currently provokes hissing, whining, scratching, spitting, snapping, puffed-up tails, growls, bared teeth and claws from these local business owners in the form of a proposed city of L.A. ban on the retail sale of pet dogs and cats.

The draft states in part, “It shall be unlawful for any person to sell any live dog, cat or rabbit in any pet store, retail business or commercial establishment located in the city of Los Angeles, unless the dog, cat or rabbit was obtained from an animal shelter or humane society located in the city of Los Angeles, or a non-profit rescue and humane organization registered with the Department of Animal Services.”

In the pages of the Business Journal and elsewhere, breeders, pet shop owners and others who sell animals, often pricey purebreds, whimper that if passed, this ban will make them change their policies and adopt a more humane business model. Awwwwww. Three words for all of you: Boo. Frikkin’. Hoo.

A case in point is Andrew Mazor, who owns Puppy and Me in Sherman Oaks and was interviewed in the July 30 issue of the Business Journal (“Pet Peeved”). According to the article, Mazor primarily sells small, purse-size dogs at his shop, such as Chihuahuas, dachshunds and Shih Tzus, with prices often ranging from about $900 to $5,000, depending on the rarity of the breed.

This agenda reveals a really twisted and craven reason for having a pet. A $5,000 dog, bred specifically to peep adorably out of a Prada bag, is a fashion commodity, an accessory, a toy. This is relevant in the context of people who describe themselves as animal lovers when animal shelters in Los Angeles are brimming with animals about to be put down.

Euthanasia rates are up. One reason is that people in Los Angeles are downsizing their homes and ditching their pets as they move to smaller places that may not permit animals.

Effects of this trend and related issues were discussed by Zev Yaroslavsky, a Los Angeles County supervisor, in his Feb. 8 blog post. There, he quoted David Dijkstra, county Department of Animal Care & Control chief deputy director, as stating that shelters have become more crowded because owners have had difficulty caring for their pets in this economy.

Elsewhere in this post, incidentally, Yaroslavsky identified the department’s budget at $33 million – your tax dollars at work, as they say. It’s another persuasive reason to adopt a pet from the thousands of oft-doomed animals in those facilities instead of paying a private party.

Why have a pet at all? The best answer is that a companion animal, whether a plastic bubble of sea monkeys or a rescued mustang, commands us to become more accountable, less selfish. Caring for even the scruffiest beast can awaken the angelic in our nature – even if the pet isn’t blue-ribbon material from a genetic standpoint.

Kids and critters

This is why parents often give pets to their growing children. The truth of the matter is it is often inconvenient to have an animal in your life. Travel becomes complicated. Your black clothes will forevermore be linty and fuzzy. Your rugs might acquire aromas. There is dirty work. And there is sacrifice. For example, many dog lovers I know race out of the office every evening, missing all of the after-hours high jinks, because little Phideaux has been locked up in the apartment all day and needs to be walked. BAD.

And, it can get really expensive, although spay-and-neuter services and many basic vaccinations are now available virtually free if you are willing to search them out, plan and schedule in advance.

Because here at the top of the food chain, we must challenge ourselves to be better than our baser instincts permit. For instance, the methods used to raise beef cattle, dairy cows, sheep and lambs, turkeys, ducks, pigs and chickens for the food industry are under a growing level of scrutiny and restriction that would have made any rancher or farmer laugh out loud a generation ago – these critters are made for eating, after all, would have been the reasoning.

But selling pricey designer animals for the aspirational amusement of bourgeoisie consumers seems even more barbaric than breeding meat for the table, especially when L.A. shelters euthanize many thousands of domesticated animals every year. According to Brenda Barnette, Los Angeles city Animal Services general manager, quoted in a March article on USC’s NeonTommy, city shelters alone take in between 56,000 to 60,000 animals a year; more than 20,000 of them are euthanized.

You simply want a high-status, covetworthy object, oblivious to any ethical ramifications? Then buy yourself a floor-length lynx coat or a big blood diamond and show it off at a bullfight. If you want a sentient companion animal to feel the love, rescue a pet from your nearest animal shelter. Or in my case, I just open the kitchen door: My last three cats have been neighborhood strays that adopted me.

Victoria Thomas is a freelance writer and animal lover who lives in Pasadena.

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