Never mind that Mike Mannarino of Uptown once adopted a dog from a downtown shelter and volunteered his time at a rescue foundation. When he decided he wanted another puppy, Mannarino went to Pocket Puppies, a Lincoln Park store that sells only small dogs from breeders, and paid nearly $1,000 for his Chihuahua, Moxie.
Despite some criticism for getting a "designer dog,"
Mannarino said the process of getting a breeder puppy
was smoother than when he adopted a Belgian Malinois
from the Anti-Cruelty Society in 2000 because that dog
required training for separation anxiety and
"Adopting a dog is usually a lot more work than going
through a reputable breeder," said Mannarino, 29,
adding: "A thousand dollars out of my pocket is a lot of
money, but $1,000 over time—I think it was worth it."
People who bought their pets from a breeder said they
got what they were looking for—but at a hefty price.
Like Mannarino, these pet owners say they have
experienced some backlash for getting a haute dog
instead of one from a shelter.
"When he was a little bit smaller, if my girlfriend was
walking him or holding him, sometimes she would get the
whole stereotype that she got the dog for an accessory,
which totally isn't true," Mannarino said.
While these custom canines fetch top dollar, shelter
adoptions also are on the rise, according to
Chicago-area shelter officials, who credit the attention
from the large-scale pet rescue operation after
Hurricane Katrina. Pet adoption recently commanded the
spotlight when Ellen DeGeneres tearfully recounted on
her talk show how a rescue group reclaimed the dog she
adopted because DeGeneres gave the dog to her
Chicago dog and cat owners who adopt their pets from
shelters say they are helping save animals' lives,
though some of these owners told RedEye that the luck of
the draw netted them an animal with undiscovered health
or behavioral problems.
When she wanted a cat last year, Nikkie Hartmann of
Albany Park went to the Tree House Animal Foundation, a
non-profit cat shelter that charges a $75 adoption fee.
Hartmann said adopting her domestic shorthair Bennie was
"overall a good experience," though the cat experienced
some health problems after she brought it home.
Bennie had six teeth pulled because of chronic
periodontal disease, Hartmann said. The medical bills
cost about $1,000, she said.
"You really never know what you're going to get,"
Hartmann, 29, said. "I would definitely ask more
questions next time."
Tree House executive director David DeFuniak
acknowledged that "part of [Bennie's] exam wasn't as
thorough as it could be. We responded to it as soon as
we heard about this and hopefully satisfied this
DeFuniak said the shelter, which has locations in
Bucktown and Uptown, has since hired an operations
manager and a director of veterinary services to give
more thorough treatment to the 500 cats it places in
homes each year.
"We really pride ourselves in being efficient and
thorough with the exams so cats are healthy when they
are adopted," DeFuniak said. He hopes prospective pet
owners will adopt from shelters instead of go to
breeders because "there's not a need to breed more"
Animal shelter officials and store owners that deal only
with bred dogs say they target different types of
prospective pet owners. Stores that carry dogs from
breeders tend to lure prospective owners interested in
specialty breeds. These animals can cost hundreds of
dollars, and stores that received their animals from
registered breeders should be able to provide paperwork
showing the animal's lineage and medical history.
When Yen Shi Chin visited a dog breeder five years ago,
she forked over $500 to bring home an all-white American
Huskie, which she named Hugo. To her dismay, Hugo did
not play well with her other two dogs, so Chin said she
gave Hugo away to a friend.
Since that incident, Chin said she has avoided buying a
pet from a breeder because it "seems to be exorbitant
and it's hard to tell if [the dog is from] a puppy
mill," a large-scale dog-breeding facility that operates
in substandard conditions. When she was interested in
getting another animal, Chin said she went to the
Anti-Cruelty Society in River North and adopted two
cats, Rasheed and Fatty.
"You kind of feel like you're helping the animals out
because otherwise they wouldn't have a home," said Chin,
29, of Wicker Park.
Prospective owners who go to shelters tend to be
flexible in their needs, said shelter officials, who
emphasize a vigorous screening process that attempts to
match pets—usually strays and owner giveaways—with the
"I think shelters tend to have a good sense of what the
animal's personality is, what its needs are, who it's
going to get along with," said Marcia Coburn, president
of Red Door Animal Shelter in West Rogers Park. "We're
doing it for the love of animals. We're not doing it to
The Red Door houses cats, dogs and rabbits, most of
which come from other shelters, Chicago Animal Care and
Control and owners giving up their pets. The shelter
charges a $200 adoption fee, which covers spaying and
neutering, a veterinary exam, a microchip for locating
the pet, up-to-date vaccinations and treatment for
fleas, heartworm and parasites, Coburn said.
"I do think more people are aware of how many great
animals there are in animal shelters," Coburn said.
Nevertheless, Pocket Puppies owner Lane Boron said he
never has problems placing puppies into homes, but he
recommends prospective pet owners check out shelters
first to see if they carry small breeds. Boron said he's
heard a few stories of people finding these dogs in
"If you can find a teacup puppy at a shelter, certainly
go and do it. I don't believe we compete with shelters,"
Boron said. At Pocket Puppies, which gets all of its
dogs from breeders, toy breed dogs start at $950 while
teacup dogs start at $1,450, Boron said.
Boron said he personally visits all of the breeders and
keeps a list of breeders he won't use if they work with
puppy mills. He said he provides his customers with
information about the dog's breed.
Mannarino said Moxie, his Pocket Puppies dog, has fit in
well with his other dog. Mannarino said if he gets
another dog, he will seek out a bred dog, despite
criticism he may endure.
"It's a lot of money, but I looked at as how long the
dog would bring happiness and joy into [my] life," he
Buy or adopt?
Where you get your pet is an important decision—and a big controversy
Published November 19 2007