The new Dr. Seuss book "What Pet Should I Get?" is about two children who go to a pet store to buy a pet.
That was a commonplace event back in the 1950s or early 1960s, when Dr. Seuss is believed to have written the long-lost book, but it's discouraged today. Which is why the new book comes with a remarkable addendum: A publisher's note urging children to walk on by the pet store and adopt from an animal shelter.
But animal rights activist Ingrid Newkirk, the founder of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, said it's not enough and expressed concerns that it could set back the movement to encourage shelters over pet shops. As it is, up to 4 million shelter animals are euthanized each year.
Newkirk said she can envision parents and children settling down to enjoy the new book together -- followed by the inevitable "Mommy, let's go to the pet store and get a pet!"
"The Seuss books are beloved, and rightly beloved, but I'm concerned that this will do much more harm than good unless parents and teachers and adults are careful to use it as a learning exercise and a teaching exercise" against buying pets, she said. "But not everyone will hear it."
She said that after the children's classic "101 Dalmatians" was published in 1956, kids everywhere wanted a speckled pup of their own. And then there was a flood of unwanted Dalmatians after the novelty had worn off.
Although Newkirk appreciates the publisher's note at the end of the book, she says she wishes it had more prominent positioning at the front.
Another disappointment is that it does not admonish against purchasing of exotics -- monkeys, and birds -- which are seen frolicking front-and-center in the pet store at the center of the book.
She said animal rights activists have toiled for decades to discourage the keeping of such creatures as pets, but that the popularity of the new book could upend that progress. The book also includes images -- intended to be funny -- of fanciful birds crammed into cages far too small for their bodies.
"I do think they could have done more," she said of the publisher's note. "There should have been a disclaimer that said wild birds do not make good pets, they do not belong in cages. If you want to adopt, choose a rabbit or a puppy at a shelter and leave exotics and leave wildlife alone."
Random House did not respond to a request for comment. If that changes, we will update this post.