Here’s a pop quiz: Who is responsible for the deaths of more dogs—Paris Hilton or Michael Vick, who recently pleaded guilty to federal dogfighting charges? It may seem like a no-brainer, but the air-headed heiress may actually edge out the err-apparent quarterback if the scope of their influence is taken into consideration. Sure, Vick has admitted to helping kill six to eight pit bulls by hanging, drowning and other cruel methods, but Hilton is responsible for the deaths of at least 12 shelter dogs—one for each of the teacup-size pups she has purchased at chichi pet boutiques in Bel Air and other haunts of the rich and vacuous.
That’s right—every time Hilton purchases a dog from a breeder or pet shop, as she did again earlier this summer, she takes away a home from a dog patiently waiting on death row at an animal shelter. Even worse, she sets a bad example for her legions of fans, who get the message that it is “cute” and “trendy” to pick up a pint-size pooch as carelessly as you would drop another bottle of nail polish into your Prada bag.
Memo to Hilton: Dogs aren’t fashion accessories. They are living, feeling beings who require a decade or more of feeding, walking, playtime, veterinary care, and, last but not least, love. Not only do dogs bought on a passing whim—à la Hilton and her fellow impulse pooch-purchaser, Britney Spears—take away homes from shelter dogs, they also add to their numbers when the buyer realizes that—oops!—puppies piddle on carpets when they are left home alone for 12 hours and—oops!—puppies like to chew up $600 pairs of Jimmy Choos.
Unlike snapping up a Harry Winston necklace or strapping on a new pair of Stella McCartney stilettos, buying a dog is a life-or-death decision. Six to 8 million animals are abandoned at shelters every year—and roughly half are euthanized because someone with a good home to offer paid a puppy pimp instead of “pardoning” a dead dog walking.
If the puppy was purchased at a pet store, the odds are better than your chances of catching Al Gore driving a hybrid that the dog came from a puppy mill, where breeding dogs are warehoused in cramped, filthy cages—a far cry from Hilton’s Malibu beach house. Even buying dogs from so-called “responsible” breeders essentially rewards them for adding yet another litter to the animal overpopulation crisis—and encourages them to do it again.
According to a survey conducted last year by the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association, just 16 percent of dogs in homes were adopted from shelters. It is estimated that if that number increased by just a few percentage points—and if all of those dogs were spayed and neutered—the dog overpopulation crisis would essentially disappear.
I have a modest proposal for thoughtless celebs caught “buying under the influence”: Instead of doing a stint in rehab, maybe they should be forced to do a stint at a local animal shelter. There, they could get a glimpse at how the other half lives—and dies.
Alisa Mullins is a senior writer for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA); 501 Front St., Norfolk, VA 23510; www.HelpingAnimals.com.