Rescue Dogs: Where They Come From, Why They Act the Way They Do, and How to Love Them Well, is Pete Paxton’s new book written with Gene Stone. Pete Paxton (a pseudonym) is one of America's leading animal welfare undercover investigators who’s dedicated his life to shedding light on why the “adopt, don’t shop” mentality is so important. As followers of Austin Pets Alive!, we know that there’s no shortage of amazing dogs that are waiting to find their forever homes right there in your community.
This book helps the reader understand how buying from puppy mills helps support the harmful commercially bred dog industry in the United States and what we, as dog lovers, can do to change the narrative on what rescuing a dog from a shelter looks like so that more lives are saved, not lost. We’re honored that Pete Paxton referenced Austin Pets Alive! as a model shelter in Rescue Dogs, so we took the time to ask him a few questions about his book, and what we can do as Austinites to help save these vulnerable lives all throughout the United States.
In your eyes, what makes Austin Pets Alive! a model shelter? How did you hear about us?
I chose Austin Pets Alive! as an example of a model shelter for three reasons. First, APA! chooses dogs that are the least likely to be adopted by the city shelter, creating a relationship with the city to ensure more lives are saved as effectively as possible. The mentality that grows from such a relationship is what helps Austinites be more open to adoption. Second, APA! has had a live release of over 90 percent since 2011. In a major city, that’s an enormous task and an example that should shine. Third, APA! has a model program for fostering and training dogs, coupled with a policy of making sure dogs fit well with adopters to help make adoptions last.
I heard about you because it’s impossible to be in the rescue movement and not know about APA!. You’re kind of a big deal.
With Austin having the No-Kill status it does, why do you think so many people in our community still buy from breeders?
One reason is that puppy millers are clever. They sell puppies online and make themselves seem like small kennels with dogs playing in yards and cuddling on couches. As I explain in the chapter of Rescue Dogs called Emma, even small kennels that invite you to their property can have serious problems hidden below the surface. Most people have no idea the puppy they are buying online comes from a commercial puppy mill in the Midwest, where most puppy mills are located. Other people think that they are more likely to have a healthy and well-behaved dog if they buy a puppy from a breeder instead of adopting a dog from a shelter, but the opposite is true.
Can you elaborate on how adopting a dog from APA! more likely ensures a healthier dog with a better-known personality than buying a two-month-old puppy from a breeder?
I’m excited about this question! It’s what helps debunk a deadly myth! People often think that getting a puppy from a breeder means you can mold the puppy’s personality into whatever you want, like nurture guaranteeing control over nature. But that’s not how it works. No matter how great of a dog trainer someone is or what breed of dog they have, a dog’s personality can’t be guaranteed. Dogs are unique, and they will have preferences and quirks all their own. Young puppies’ personalities can’t be known or foreseen. A grown dog, who has been fostered, observed, and trained at APA!, has a personality that is far more understood. APA! will likely know if that dog likes other dogs, cats, kids, chasing balls, or lounging on the couch. With a puppy, it’s simply unknown.
Most breeders pull puppies from their mothers at five to six weeks old. That can cause separation anxiety and doesn’t allow whelping mothers to teach their puppies to not play bite. The stress of being taken from their mothers, moved to separate litter cages, and then shipped off to a customer takes a toll on puppies’ underdeveloped immune systems. Dogs from APA! have more developed immune systems. Even the puppies at APA! are going to have more thorough veterinary care than puppies from commercial kennels. In Rescue Dogs, I describe several of the largest kennels in the country where I’ve personally seen vets give cursory glances to dozens or hundreds of puppies at a time that were being shipped out to customers all over the country. This is why customers who have bought puppies from breeders often complain about their puppies becoming sick shortly after purchase.
I should mention, of course, that just because a dog is sick or has a terminal illness doesn’t mean she shouldn’t be adopted. People who have the time and finances are gifts beyond measure to older dogs with medical issues.
Can you discuss the specific point in the purchasing vs adopting process that people in Austin have the chance to save a life by adopting a dog from APA!?
Let’s break it down by numbers. There’s about 670,000 dogs killed a year in U.S. shelters. With about two million puppies bought from breeders a year, it may seem on the surface like people could still buy over 1.3 million puppies a year and not be losing lives. However, about 860,000 cats are killed in shelters a year. Taking that into account, that leaves us with about 470,000 puppies produced by breeders that it seems people could still buy while letting all dogs and cats from U.S. shelters get adopted out. But that doesn’t take into account the homeless dogs in Puerto Rico and the Caribbean that need homes after hurricanes have devastated their islands. It also doesn’t take into account the large amount of homeless dogs in Mexico, who need spay/neuter and rescue work to step up for an effort that has to be bigger than borders.
Shelters that adopt out enough dogs can make space for dogs that are going to be euthanized outside of the shelter’s city or even state. So, in Austin, if someone buys a puppy from a breeder, it means a dog in need of adoption is killed somewhere. Either a puppy mill makes a profit, or APA! has more space to save another life, pure and simple.
What can we as a community do to educate our society on the harmful effects of buying from a breeder without criminalizing those who have? It's often a very hot topic.
Puppy millers go out of their way to misrepresent themselves and lie about the conditions their dogs are kept in so they can sell puppies, so we shouldn’t harass people who have bought puppies from breeders. It’s easy to get fooled into thinking a puppy mill is a “responsible breeder,” and to not understand why the dog breeding industry is responsible for so many dogs being killed in shelters.
As a community, we can only educate each other if we allow each other to feel listened to and open-minded. Culturally, we move forward with laws that ban the sale of puppies from breeders in pet stores and create better conditions for breeding kennels. These kinds of laws legitimize animal welfare concerns to the public, making animal rights discussions less taboo. The effects these laws have had in fighting puppy mills are explained in Rescue Dogs, because it was surprising to me how much of an impact a law cracking down on pet stores in a city on the coast could affect puppy mills in the Midwest.
On a personal level, we have to make sure we listen as much as we talk. Adoption events and fundraisers are a great way to get the public to be more open to adoption issues. Offering information in a way that comes across as informative and not judgmental is critical in personal communication, and that is the entire point of Rescue Dogs. It’s designed to be read by people who might not otherwise be open to learning about the truth behind puppy mills or why adoption is the right choice for a pet.
What drove you to write Rescue Dogs in the first place?
When it came to issues of animal abuse, everyone kept asking me “Why?” People would ask me why cops won’t just arrest dog abusers, why cruelty to dogs is so common at puppy mills, why the USDA doesn’t enforce their own standards, why pet stores lie to people, and why it isn’t okay to buy a puppy from a “small family kennel.” I’ve been to well over 700 puppy mills, worked undercover at commercial kennels, and made an entire career out of uncovering cruelty to animals.
Along the way, I’ve rescued dogs from all kinds of abusive and neglectful situations. Despite all of my investigative experiences being online in the form of videos, pictures, and reports, people still ask me why dogs suffer and what they can do about it. Rescue Dogs is the answer. It uses personal experience that you can verify online by looking at my actual undercover footage and reading my reports. It doesn’t hypothesize about what data from a third source means, or try to extrapolate a lesson from a single case to apply it to unknown cases. Rescue Dogs pulls from my hundreds of cases and uses several as examples to explain to the reader exactly what the problems with puppy mills are, and why adopting dogs is part of the solution against them.
What do you hope the message of your book will lead to?
I hope the book will spread a message that saves more lives, pure and simple. In detail, I hope that the book will make more voters pass laws banning pet stores from selling puppies from breeders. I hope that readers who already agree with adoption will be better educated on why cruelty to dogs at puppy mills is predictable criminal activity, so they can explain it clearly to other people. I hope that people who don’t understand why adoption is important will agree with saving a life instead of supporting dog breeding.
Any final thoughts you'd like to share with the community of Austin?
Austinites, you don’t have to take my word for anything. If you’re doubting my claims in Rescue Dogs about puppy mills and pet stores, look online at the website for the Companion Animal Protection Society (CAPS) at caps-web.org to see the undercover footage for yourself. CAPS has the biggest database of undercover footage of puppy mills that exists. You can also visit the website of the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) at humanesociety.org to learn about their recent undercover investigations of Petland pet stores that have uncovered store employees selling sick puppies to customers.
If you’re on the fence about adopting, or you know someone who is, remember it’s okay to doubt what you’re told. In fact, as an investigator, I encourage it. But doubt is useless without verification, so don’t just buy a puppy from a breeder because you feel comfortable with it. Verify my claims and I’m confident you’ll adopt your next dog from APA!.