Photo by Elizabeth Goolian

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Irresponsible Parenthood, Adam Gopnik Edition

Adam Gopnik is a New Yorker writer who has created a cottage industry writing about his adorable family. So much more adorable than yours! The sophisticated Gopniks used to live in Paris. Now they live in New York City. Where is it that you live again? In what sad little town? The Gopniks are so much more sophisticated than your family.

But as it turns out, when it comes to being a responsible parent, you are so much more responsible than Adam Gopnik. Whose adorable 10-year-old daughter wanted a dog. And not just any dog--a pedigreed Havanese. Adam Gopnik and his sophisticated wife didn't like dogs. In his latest interminable Personal History piece in The New Yorker, a piece titled "Dog Story," he uses words like "disgust" and "phobia" to describe their attitudes toward canines. So they kept putting her off.

Until one day, the adorable daughter announced that "she could live with a Manhattan pet-store 'puppy mill' dog." Love the quotation marks around "puppy mill." You can practically see Adam Gopnik making air quotes with his fingers as he tells this story. It's pretty amazing that a 10-year-old knows that any puppy she buys in a Manhattan pet store will have been bred in a puppy mill. Not so amazing that this kid--just dying for a dog--would decide that she could live with that.

What a wonderful opportunity for Adam Gopnik to teach his adorable child a big lesson about life. To teach her about making responsible decisions and not contributing to a cruel and vicious industry just because she wants something. Can you see Adam Gopnik escorting his daughter to the family computer? Can you see him helping her search for Havanese rescue groups and letting her know that adopting a homeless dog is more rewarding than funding the evils of the puppy mill industry? That's a lesson a 10-year-old--filled, as kids that age are, with empathy and love for little creatures--would pick up on in a flash. You're not as adorable or sophisticated as Adam Gopnik, but you can see that, can't you?

Well, that isn't what Adam Gopnik did. Instead, he bought his daughter a Havanese puppy from a Manhattan pet store--and by extension from a "puppy mill." Because that's how you teach children to make responsible decisions: You let them make uninformed choices and you give them exactly what they want when they want it.

And does he, anywhere in the seven pages of densely packed text that follows, express remorse over his decision? He does not. Instead, he talks about the evolution of dogs and about the feelings dogs have--feelings of "pain, fear, worry, need." Which just makes it worse. He knows that dogs feel pain and fear and worry and he buys a puppy mill dog anyway? Adam Gopnik is so much more dissociated than you!

I sent Adam Gopnik an e-mail, encouraging him to watch a program that will be broadcast on HBO2 at 8 PM (Eastern) on Wednesday, August 24--"Madonna of the Mills." It's about a New York woman who has saved some 2,000 puppy mill breeder dogs from the fates that await them when their breeding usefulness is over: Being buried alive. Being beaten to death with shovels. Being dumped on the side of a road or in a dense woods. I suggested that perhaps the breeder dog that had produced his Havenese puppy was one of the ones this woman had saved. Or perhaps not. I suggested he have his daughter watch the program too.

One of the dogs I adopted during my 14 years as a rescue volunteer was turned over to our rescue group at the age of 13 because, her family said, "She's not fun any more." The parents wanted to get rid of her and go buy a new puppy for their kids. I never thought of these people as very sophisticated, and certainly not adorable. But now that I think about it, they have a lot in common with Adam Gopnik. Isn't that adorable?


  1. I can’t use words like Adam Gopnik can. Adam Gopnik can’t understand reverence for life the way I can. I’d rather be me.

    For a child, loving animals may begin with petting fuzzy kittens; for an adult it may begin with companionship. Eventually that most fortunate recipient of animal devotion understands the deeper link born of that simple union. How I hesitate to use the words I really intend; words like love, spirituality, and soulful.

    At some point the responsibility of caring for an animal becomes clearer. Somewhere it transforms into guardianship that keeps them free from pain in a world fraught with evil. Mr Gopnik’s city kills 200 beautiful dogs and even more healthy cats every single month. Here is my own vision of NYC:

    Eventually a normal, feeling human being understands that pain isn’t defined by the being who suffers and that we have no right to inflict pain on another. If an animal is worthy of our friendship, how can we justify harming them? How can we teach a child about humanity through de-valuing another’s life?

    Adam Gopnik justifies buying a puppy mill dog from a pet store for his daughter. He supports a business that tortures mother dogs imprisoning them in tiny, wire cages exposed to weather throughout their lifetime. Dogs never touch real grass or ground. They are impregnated every single cycle of their lives. Some of them are cruelly de-barked. Socialization is neglected, so, they never hear a kind word or feel a kind touch. Their water source comes from fighting for space at a bottle which they suck for a little dribble of liquid. They live a hopeless and forlorn existence. And

    How different is Mr Gopnik from that other famous athlete speaking out in the media about his daughter’s wish for a dog. The man, although famous, isn’t normal in any sense of the word. He filed down their teeth, cut their ears and tails, starved them, drugged them with steroids, exercised them on treadmills and forced them to fight while bound. He killed the poor performers - including his own family dog – in gruesome ways. He put their heads in buckets of bleach, he drowned them in electrified pool water, and he slowly hung them while their legs skimmed the ground. He blames culture in the way that we might look back at our own American witch hunts or ancient fights in the Acropolis. One of the men who harbored the Vick dogs during his federal trial has written a short piece about his own vision of forgiveness and second chances:

    Culture is certainly an imperative source of inspiration. I could end with a gazillion different quotes, but, I’m going to choose writer, George Bernard Shaw for his writer’s intellect and for his recognition of profound simplicity. Shaw said: “Custom will reconcile people to any atrocity.” Maybe someday, Adam Gopnik will look back at his original words with shame.

  2. It's sad to me that people who are intelligent and informed can be so blind. It just goes to show: A lot of smart people are really stupid!

  3. Sometimes a picture says it best. These are photos from a Havanese rescue site of “mill survivors” before and after: before they were rescued and after they had been rehabilitated. You can see the neglect in their nervous faces and in their mangy coats. These are the ones that probably outlived their usefulness to the breeder. “The damage done during the months or years in the mill usually can be overcome,” the site reads, “but it takes time and dedication.”