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Culture
Pet Trafficking in Las Vegas

16 May 2014
The meet took place at dusk, on the far west side north of Summerlin. Our only communications had been by text message, where I found out more about what I was getting, how much it would cost me, and where to get it. I plugged the street address into Android Maps and left Boulder City for a 100-mile round trip to a vice I never knew existed.

Arriving at the address, I was dismayed to discover it was a convenience store set on a pad in a large shopping center. Now I wondered whether I would leave unsatisfied. After a couple of quick text messages confirmed our cars' descriptions, soon she pulled up next to me in her car.

My relief gave way to a nervous concern about what else could go wrong. I scanned the parking area to make sure she did not have a confederate nearby, possibly with ill intentions, because the hookup had turned unexpectedly clandestine.

Then she got out of the car and handed me one of the cutest little puppies I have ever seen, a little brown thing with Yorkie hair and highlights but a Chihuahua's long body, about two pounds and seven weeks old. The pup started licking my face and though nervous, was a happy little girl. I handed over $200 to the owner, who handed over a starter bag of food with some quick instructions about feeding and getting shots. Soon little Kuno and I were in the car and headed back to Boulder City.

I had found Kuno on Craigslist, which is a far more reliable place to get a dog, apparently, than it is to get a date. When I spent a couple of months making a decision whether to get a dog, I thought that was the biggest decision I would have to make. As it turned out the really tough decision was how to buy a dog for less than my first car ($600), or for that matter my last bicycle ($400).

My son bought a mini-schnauzer from a breeder near Houston last year for $350, so I was optimistic until I saw the same (breed of) dog at Petland, for a heart-stopping $2,499. At that point I got real: I did not need a thoroughbred, I needed a companion. So I hit Craigslist and found ads for all sorts of dogs. Had I not found Kuno so quickly I might have discovered the seamy underside of Las Vegas pet trafficking before she disappeared from my yard, and saved us both a lot of sorrow.

Two weeks ago Kuno and I started playing a game in my gated yard. The game was this: I would put Kuno in yard and close the patio door, in an effort to train her not to defecate in the house, and Kuno would get out through the gate  often to be returned by a neighborhood teenager that would see her wiggling around the front yard like a cross between a gopher and an earthworm. I sealed the gate with chicken wire; she went under the gate. I put rocks under the gate; she went around the chicken wire. I tied a block of wood in the gap; she pushed it aside. I finally tied it firmly enough to keep her in the yard, so last Saturday I had the mistaken confidence to leave her in the yard while I went to the Jamboree in the park.

When I returned she was gone. I found no sign that she escaped, no sign of a little body trapped in the bushes, no word from neighbors. She did not appear at animal control or the hospital. I was, and remain, heartbroken.

Knowing it would be hard to find an animal that touched me as little Kuno did, I have not been as quick to reach out. In the week I spent online, looking for a replacement, I learned she was most likely stolen for resale, a breedable female. As I read more and more ads I discovered quite a few warnings about the depths to which people will stoop to in order to breed dogs to death and make good money off their litters, as long as they live.

A lot of the problem is a classic supply-demand dilemma caused by regulations written to favor the high-end suppliers by trying to reduce demand. Like so many urban areas, we have a distressing overabundance of homeless dogs and cats. To cope with the problem, Clark County requires that all dogs and cats be neutered within six months unless they are raised by licensed breeders. Such breeders must pay fees and some must pass requirements intended to make sure that animals are protected in breeding situations.

The requirements are well intentioned and do some good, but by creating these stringent regulations, county officials have given amateurs incentive to breed at home, under the radar. When animals are bred in the black market, the babies in the litter are typically cared for, but the mothers are treated as chattel to be used and disposed of. I heard of one mother dog who was breeded for five litters a year: 25 mixed-breed puppies that together probably brought in $5,000 or more.

The situation provides an ethical dilemma: is it better to avoid the black market breeders and thus (hopefully) discourage their practice, or is it better to buy their pups to make sure they get good homes? The answer to ethical dilemmas is usually obvious, but not always.

I solved the dilemma by buying a rescue dog from the Las Vegas SPCA, which seems to have the most and best choices of any local pounds. Stogie is a happy one-year-old Australian silkie terrier who was abandoned but not abused. He has the energy of youth and the friendliness of a pup who appreciates a loving home. I'm tempted to get him a companion, but if I do I will not turn to the black market: my daughter, who volunteers at nursing homes and hospices, has discovered permanent residents who need new home for their dogs. I have a feeling Stogie will have a new buddy soon.


You may also like this related article: Dale's Doggies Die (186)
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