Opinion

Erin Auerbach may be the most criticized dog owner in America

Erin Auerbach's article, 'Why I'd never adopt a shelter dog again,' has sparked outrage among animal activists

No good deed goes unpunished, they say.

And you can say that in spades about Erin Auerbach, a Los Angeles writer who devoted 13 years of her life to providing loving care and, ultimately, extremely expensive medical treatments for three dogs she had adopted from animal shelters. The last months of all three dogs' lives were miserable for the animals and extraordinarily costly for their owner. Yogi required nearly three years’ worth of chemotherapy for his lymphoma. Clarence was afflicted with both epilepsy and pancreatitis. Mookie’s last two years were marked by seizures and constant trips to the veterinarian.

So after Mookie died last November Auerbach decided not to undergo for a fourth time the anguish of adopting a shelter dog with an unknown history and unknown medical problems, but to buy her next dog from a breeder instead. She bought a 2-year-old French bulldog named Pony who needed “re-homing” because she was the wrong colors for showing.

From the reactions that Auerbach got from other people, you would think that she had strangled her grandmother to come up with Pony’s purchase price. As she recently wrote about an encounter with one of her neighbors for the Washington Post:

“In this day and age, admitting you adopted (or, more correctly, purchased) a pedigree dog with a known history, rather than a shelter dog in need, is akin to denying climate change, smoking or publicly declaring that you miss having plastic grocery bags in Los Angeles.”

Auerbach’s neighbor’s puzzled reaction was nothing compared to the vituperation that poured forth in the 1,560-plus (so far) online comments that her article engendered.

“I am appalled that this was published and cringe at the damage it will cause at the shelter/rescue level,” wrote one commenter who identified herself as a veterinarian. “[P]eople like you should not own a pet,” wrote another. Even a Washington Post columnist, Gene Weingarten, weighed in to excoriate Auerbach: “Ma'am. I hope you are very young. Because if you have some years on you and are still this ignorant and naive, you are headed for a deeply vapid, empty life."

Several commenters pointed out, as an example of Auerbach’s presumed heartlessness, that she had written an article in 2012 for Salon titled “I Hope My Dogs Die Soon.” The article detailed the final struggles of Mookie and Clarence: the trips to the vet, the endless medical bills that Auerbach had to pay out of pocket, and above all, the agonies that both she and the dogs suffered as the dogs lost the ability to move, control their elimination, and even sleep peacefully and without pain or convulsions.

As Auerbach wrote for the Washington Post:

“Rescue and shelter dogs are a crapshoot. Although it’s hard to track down reliable statistics, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals estimates that about 3.9 million dogs go to shelters each year and 1.2 million are euthanized. Generally, these groups know only how an animal came into their possession. Behavior issues, illnesses or a high maintenance cost usually only rear their heads after adoption.”

The problem is that many advocates of adopting pets from animal shelters, in contrast to buying them from breeders or pet stores, have taken a perfectly good cause -- giving a home to an otherwise unwanted dog or cat -- and turned it into fanaticism.

In this they resemble Mothers Against Drunk Driving and the La Leche League. Getting intoxicated motorists off the road and encouraging women to breast-feed their babies are good things -- but banning a glass of wine before driving, period, has become an obsession of the former, and bullying mothers who bottle-feed has become an obsession of the latter.

Similarly, such groups as People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and, at least in the recent past, the Humane Society of the U.S., have turned the laudable promotion of shelter-animal adoptions into a wholesale campaign against pet shops and animal-breeding in general. Certainly there are abuses: this story of ghastly conditions at a puppy mill in Georgia, for example. But there are also plenty of responsible breeders who treat their animals with care and respect. Indeed, the Humane Society has changed its stance and now supports responsible breeding and an ethical market for purebred pets.

It seems, though, that a lot of people who claim to love dogs and cats haven’t caught up with the Humane Society. They’d rather heap coals upon the head of a woman who has already put in substantial time and money taking the best care she could of three dogs that no one else wanted.

Charlotte Allen writes frequently about feminism, politics and religion. Follow her on Twitter @MeanCharlotte.

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