Allison's Book Bag

A Pet is Not a Throw Pillow, Guest Post by Andy Frederick

Posted on: May 19, 2014

Toni Tuso Faber’s passion is her poodles. She loves training them and interacting with them, as well as aiding in the rescue of dogs that are less fortunate. Later in the week, I’ll post my interview with Faber along with my review of her first picture book in the Poodle Tale series. Most of my readers are also aware that my husband and I have a toy poodle. In conjunction with Faber’s book, I asked my husband to write a guest post and will myself write an Inspired By…. piece. Save the dates: May 20-22!

A Pet is Not a Throw Pillow
By Andy Frederick

A pet is not a throw pillow. A throw pillow has no functional purpose. It has no needs. It either looks good on your couch or it doesn’t. Unfortunately, we humans often tend to view everything as a throw pillow. If it looks cool, we buy it. If our neighbors have it, we buy it. If we see it in a movie, we buy it. We don’t stop to consider whether we need it, whether it fits into our lifestyle, whether it does the things we want it to—or doesn’t do the things we don’t want it to. This is okay if the thing is a toaster or a lamp. It’s not okay when the thing is a living creature.

Allison asked me to read The Poodle Tales: Poodlemania (which she will soon review), and write a related article for her blog, because I’ve been around poodles for most of my life. So why am I telling you that pets are not pillows? You may have heard that when a movie features an especially adorable dog of a particular breed, sales of that breed will rise. But, not coincidentally, soon thereafter appearances of that breed in shelters will also rise. This does not mean there’s anything wrong with movies about dogs. And there’s certainly nothing wrong with a children’s book about poodles. In fact, the poodles in Toni Tuso Faber’s book, as illustrated by Benton Rudd, are adorable. But that’s just it. There are thirteen books (with more planned) in Faber’s Poodle Tales series, the poodles are adorable, and—I know how people are.

There are two reasons why people will impulsively buy the dog they just saw in a movie: 1) many people don’t realize that the movie dog is a highly trained performer, and that numerous takes and careful editing were required to portray just the right level of near-sentience and adorability; and 2) many people don’t realize that dogs are not one-size-fits-all, that different breeds have different temperaments, and that one must research a number of breeds—and, ideally, consult with an expert—to find the right breed for them.

The Poodle Tales books are about poodles, and my experience is with poodles—so let’s talk poodles. First, a caveat: Faber’s books likely depict standard poodles (that’s what Faber owns), whereas my experience lies with the toy breed. I can’t tell you how they are different other than size, but I will tell you a few things about toys because that’s what I know. If you research their temperament, you will find toy poodles described as: smart, loyal, lively, highly trainable, good with dogs, good with people, good with other pets, apartment-friendly, and low-shedding. Sound good? You will also learn that without proper training and exercise they can be: barky, timid, high-strung, and snappy. Hmm.

What is important to understand when researching dogs is that there are no guarantees. As a result of selective breeding over many generations, purebred dogs are fairly predictable. You know what they will look like and how big they will be. You have an idea of their likely personality, their strengths and weaknesses, their possible ailments. But dogs are not made with a cookie cutter. Each dog is an individual, with both innate and acquired traits. Between my parents and me, we have owned four poodles, and they’ve all had different personalities: from Suzy, who was sedate and happy to curl up on my mom’s lap, to Barnaby, who is never happier than when he is racing through, around, and over agility obstacles. So do your research, but be prepared for surprises. And know that the breed’s temperament is predicated on proper training; whether your dog turns out to be as smart, friendly, and well-mannered as the one you saw in that movie or read about in that book depends a lot on you.

I’ve been writing about poodles, and about purebreds in general, but of course you are not restricted to the established breeds. However, I don’t feel qualified to speak about mixed breeds and “designer breeds.” What I think I know is this: mixed breeds tend to be healthier, but both mixed breeds and designer breeds (puggles, yorkipoos, and such) are less predictable because you don’t know which traits a puppy will inherit from which parent.

Last but not least, PLEASE consider buying your next dog from a shelter. Whatever breed you want, shelters have it. Whatever age you want, shelters have it. There’s no better way to find the right dog for you than to hand-pick that dog from among dozens or even hundreds. That amazing dog from that movie, TV show, commercial, or book? There will be lots of them at the shelters—eventually.

A dog is not a throw pillow. But dogs do love to sleep on pillows. Do your research, then get both. That’s what I call a win-win.

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2 Responses to "A Pet is Not a Throw Pillow, Guest Post by Andy Frederick"

A well-written article with a good message, Andy.

“Last but not least, PLEASE consider buying your next dog from a shelter.” Although I’ve never bought a dog from a shelter, I have done something close to it, accepted dogs who needed a home. Years and years ago, when Allison was still living here, she and I (a longtime Samoyed owner) cared for a Lhasa Apsa for friends while when they were away. The experience was satisfying enough that when neighbours who’d taken on the care of an old Lhasa Apsa decided that they couldn’t continue to do so, Allison and I agreed to. We fell in love with him and when he died a couple years later we bought a Lhasa Apsa (and a Papillon, but that’s another story). As you know, my family and I don’t have a Lhasa Apsa (nor a Samoyed or a Papillon) now. We have two Cavalier King Charles Spaniels whose owner needed a home for them. But we’re as happy with them as we’d been with any of our previous dogs. Thus, I fully endorse your appeal.

Agreed. A dog in need of a home is a dog in need of a home. One doesn’t have to wait until a dog has been brought to a shelter. Your family has done a great job of taking in dogs that needed a home.

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Fall 2017: Focus on Cats!

All things cats ahead! I will post roundups of cat training books, cat Trap-Neuter-Release books, cat coloring books, and cat cozies. For all other animal lovers, I will also post roundups of dog cozies and zoo books.

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