What inspired you to write The Dog Merchants?
Kim Kavin: The core of the idea came to me in 2012, when I met lots of dog lovers while promoting my first dog book, Little Boy Blue. It’s the story of my sweet dog Blue and how an army of people rescued him as a puppy from an animal-control facility with a gas chamber. Blue and I would go to speaking events, and he was absolutely adorable, barely 2 years old and doing a full-body wiggle with excitement because he was so happy to meet the fans.
The people would pet Blue and say, “I’m sorry, I can’t read your book. I’ve read these kinds of books before, and the dog always dies at the end. I just can’t bear it.”
I’d look at them, incredulous, and say, “This is Blue. Very much alive and well! Would you like to pet him and give him a treat?”
They’d look at Blue, look at the book, look back at me and say, “I’m sorry, I just hate these books where the dog dies at the end. Good luck to you.”
I experienced this so many times that I stopped counting, and I realized that all of us dog lovers need a new way to frame the conversation about dogs–so that we’re not afraid every book is going to make us cry.
How did you come up with the theme of money and business?
Kim Kavin: I was inspired by one of my favorite books, The Omnivore’s Dilemma. That book changed the way countless people, including me, shop for food. It wasn’t yet another book that pits vegans versus meat eaters. It didn’t take sides or have a finger-pointing message, telling readers, “If you don’t become a vegan, right now, at this very moment, then you’re the devil.”
Instead, author Michael Pollan explained food as a business. His message was more along the lines of, “Look, you’re an omnivore. You may want to eat some eggs. Just please think about buying them from the farmer who lets the chickens spread their wings in decent living quarters and see sunshine once in a while. Vote with your money to give the chickens a better life on the farms. Pay an extra 50 cents for the dozen eggs because it’s the right thing to do for the animals who produce them.”
When I started thinking about the dog world and considering new ways to break through the current noise on all sides, I could see a lot of parallels with Pollan’s message about the farms. We have dog-breeding enthusiasts and dog-rescue advocates pointing fingers at each other just like the vegans and carnivores do. There is a lot of name-calling going on–coming from both sides–often with a lack of realization that the dogs caught in the middle are all part of the same huge, global business that we dog lovers are shaping with every dollar we pay to bring a pup home.
So I tried to change the conversation about dogs by taking the same approach that Michael Pollan took in his book. I focused on the money and the business of dogs instead of demonizing one side or the other. I tried to write The Dog Merchants in a way that lets dog lovers have an open-minded discussion instead of covering their eyes and turning away from the problems that so many dogs continue to face.
How did you get inside the dog auction and the Hunte Corporation?
Kim Kavin: This is the question I am most often asked, especially by rescue advocates who have always imagined those places to be dark, scary and filled with animal cruelty. And my answer is a huge letdown to people who think I’m some kind of ninja with a notebook.
The truth is that I simply acted the way a professional journalist is supposed to act. I contacted the people in charge of both businesses, and I respectfully requested an interview to listen with a fair ear to their thoughts and opinions. When they said yes, I hopped on a plane and met them for a tour and a talk. They could not have been nicer, and their businesses as I experienced them were clean, well-lighted, full of smiling employees and run professionally in accordance with all local, state and federal laws.
That’s not to say that I personally agree with their business models, but my job as a journalist is to try my level best to document the truth. I hope that anyone who reads The Dog Merchants will agree that all the sources in the book were treated with fairness and accuracy. That’s what a good journalist is supposed to do: present an honest picture of reality that lets the reader decide where the truth really lies.