Creating Monsters

A luxury mag promotes mongrels for millionaires, for millions

Miami-Dade Animal Services faces an insurmountable task of education and control amid an unstaunchable flow of ignorance — the drama embodied by the 32,000-plus unwanted pets turned in to its shelter intake areas each year. (And those are just the dogs and cats that make it to the shelter; many more are simply abandoned on the street.) On any given day, according to Animal Services' recently hired director, Dr. Sara Pizano, "There are no fewer than 70 purebred dogs and more than 250 other canine combinations of hounds, terriers, spaniels, Labradors, and poodles available for adoption," each for about $60.

Most AKC-registered breeds have an affiliated rescue group, and rather than the kooky, rarefied neurotics depicted satirically in the film Best in Show, most purebred loyalists are deeply concerned about animal welfare issues and, like the public shelters, simply overwhelmed by the number of rejected pets. In Florida alone, the rescue group for Italian greyhounds (a group The Bitch, as a member, knows a great deal about) says more than 100 of the tiny hounds are stashed in various households, awaiting a permanent adoptive home. "We got two turned over just this morning," said Christa Whitaker, the group's regional coordinator. "They are eleven and twelve years old. After a lifetime of companionship to their humans, this is their fate. Old dogs are very hard to [find a] home [for], but we will make sure they are comfortable in their late years."

Whitaker herself has ten foster dogs waiting for a forever home. And these are blueblood, pedigree, AKC-registered animals.

Compare the dire situation outlined above to the story titled "Mix and Match" in the November/December issue of Florida InsideOut magazine, the decorating-driven subsidiary of the Ocean Drive et al. family of "lifestyle bibles." The article, written by local author Joann Biondi, encourages readers to purchase "designer dogs" — specious mixed breeds such as "Labradingers" and "puggles" — and proclaims, "They turn heads, are the latest must-have accessory, and cost a bundle." Yep, you tell 'em, Joann — that's the perfect way to characterize a sentient creature who might live to twelve, fifteen, even twenty years with all the attendant behavioral, housing, and health problems those lifespans entail — as an accessory along the lines of a pink Razr cell phone or a Bulga bag.

The Bitch tracked down Biondi to ask her about the three-page story — which contains glossy portraits of adorable puppies — and its assertions that the pricey mutts (some out-of-state breeders, i.e. puppy mills, charge up to $4000 per dog) are somehow superior, in terms of health and behavior, to their long-lineaged cousins. What, exactly, are the scientific citations for such a statement? Biondi, after some hemming and hawing, finally responded, "I believe what you are looking for is info on a concept called hybrid vigor.... Two articles that might help include one by the Humane Society and one by Discover magazine."

The Bitch checked out the pieces. The Discover story was about naturally occurring crossbreeding of the type that allows wolves, coyotes, and domesticated dogs to share DNA. The other, from a newsletter published by the Peninsula Humane Society of San Mateo, California, is in effect a heartbreaking plea. "Our shelters are filled with primarily mixed-breed dogs in need of good homes," the short bulletin says. "With the tragedy of pet overpopulation still far from being solved, I can't see perpetuating a market for yet more dogs."

Not exactly satisfied, The Bitch began a week-long attempt to contact Linda Lee, InsideOut's editor. Lee came to the mag after seventeen years at the New York Times as an editor of the "House & Home" section. Like everyone who comes to our quaint village from New York City, Lee is widely regarded with awe, amazement, and gratitude for the fact that she deigns to walk among us. The Bitch observed Lee recently at a Media Bistro get-together at Duo Restaurant on Brickell, where the redhead held court as if she were the Katharine Graham or Helen Gurley Brown of South Florida media. Unsurprisingly Lee wouldn't return The Bitch's phone calls or e-mails, even when the intrepid hound agitated through Ocean Drive's powerful but straightforward public relations manager, Lana Bernstein.

In fact, despite Lee's imperiousness, InsideOut has been a little less than the glossy juggernaut she apparently intends it to be. Although a good portion of the mag's content — including the laid-back tone of Tali Jaffe's living space profiles and the amazingly productive Arielle Castillo on this and that (Castillo also writes about music for New Times) — is easy enough to consume, it's not exactly Metropolitan Home or even Elle Decor. The covered geography rarely reaches beyond the Miami Beach-Design District-supersuburbs zip codes, and that terrain is safely repetitive. The issue with the designer dogs story also contains a piece about the endlessly boring saga of TransEat creator Montse Guillén (she still eats bugs — who freakin' cares?).

Still, people look to the ODmagazines as affirmation of the lifestyle of acquisitiveness, and the glossies don't purport to be The Economist, so normally a publication like InsideOut is more or less harmless. Pimping puppies with junk science, though — Biondi's "Mix and Match" piece contains a prominently placed reverse-style box listing eleven sources for obtaining $1000 mutts and not one resource for adopting a mongrel from a shelter — in a publication whose main function is to drive people to purchase, consume, and discard, is simply an obscenity.

Biondi finally advised The Bitch to seek advice from "an animal-breeding specialist who is not associated with the AKC." Why would the dog do that? The organization will reach out to millions of viewers during February's nationally televised Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show with its oft-repeated message to research breeds before adoption, recognition of the commitment that dog ownership confers, and references to shelters and rescue groups. It's InsideOut's editors who need to become better acquainted with the realities of pet overpopulation, and the American Kennel Club wouldn't be a bad place to begin.

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