How much is that doggie in the window?

When I was a kid, my grandparents bought a dog from the House of Puppies. I never thought twice about it because Angus, as they named him, was a cute, fun puppy. Looking back, I have a few questions. Sadly, I know the answers.

Pet store puppies

Most puppies from pet stores come from puppy mills (the exception being pet supply stores that showcase adoptable dogs from local rescue groups). Puppy mills are large-scale, commercial dog breeding facilities that breed dogs repeatedly. While the puppies are sold to families, their parents suffer in dirty cages for years, often with little to no veterinary care. These places are like factory farms for dogs. A pedigree doesn’t mean a thing–dogs from puppy mills can have pedigrees and be AKC registered. Never buy a dog from a pet store, not even to “save the puppy.” You’ll just be putting money into the wrong hands and increasing demand for more dogs.

Puppy mill

Online dog sales

Buying a puppy online is a recipe for disaster. The dogs likely come from puppy mills too. A “responsible breeder” won’t sell to an unknown person and ship dogs (I put quotes around responsible breeder for reasons I’ll address below). An online purchase is opening the door to scam artists who might take your money and not deliver the “goods.” Puppies might be sick, or “not as advertised.” Many puppies die during transport. Even if  puppies make it to their destination and are healthy, online sales support a shady business that puts money before the dogs’ well-being. Don’t do it!

Backyard breeders

Smaller, non-commercial operations also abound. Maybe it’s because someone wants a litter to show the kids “the miracle of life,” or they have an idea for a “boutique dog” (cockapoo, puggle anyone?). Backyard breeders know nothing about their dogs’ genetics or how to avoid congenital issues with the puppies. Sometimes the litter was a complete accident. They often sell unlicensed puppies online, at flea markets or on Craigslist. Don’t support this irresponsibility.

Responsible breeders

This is the preferred term for people who specialize in specific breeds, selectively breed a limited amount of dogs, and are careful with regard to genetics, screens prospective owners. Responsible breeders will take back their dogs at any time for any reason (thereby keeping dogs out of shelters) and often are involved with breed-specific rescue. Of these four categories, this is the best one. Judging by the number of purebred dogs in shelters, it’s also the rarest.

Adopt don’t shop

Despite some people being relatively responsible with their dog businesses, I can’t endorse buying a dog. Why? Because 2.7 million adoptable cats and dogs are euthanized in the US every year. Almost half the households in the country have at least one dog but only 20% of the dogs were acquired through adoption. Of the 83 million dogs in homes today, 20 million were rescued. That’s great, but it also means if we don’t buy from breeders, we could clear out the shelters overnight! And not until shelters are empty would I even consider endorsing breeders.

Contrary to what a lot of people think, you can get puppies and purebreds (and purebred puppies) at shelters–25% of the dogs in shelters are purebred. And the dogs aren’t bad. They often end up in shelters because they were lost, their owners were moving, had too many other animals, had a baby, developed allergies, or couldn’t afford caring for the dog.

Which dog dies?

When someone adopts a shelter dog, they make room in the shelter for another needy dog. Conversely, when someone buys from a pet store, online, or from a breeder, they essentially let a shelter dog die. For every dog purchased, one isn’t adopted. Yeah, yeah, dogs in shelters “aren’t my problem.” but it sure is nice to help out an animal in need.

dogs at a shelter - photo by Estambar

Ready-made family member

I prefer shelter dogs because I get to meet them, assess their personalities, and adopt one that fits with my life and the other animals I live with. I’ve only adopted adult dogs, which meant I didn’t have to housetrain them, they didn’t destroy my house with chewing like puppies can, and they were already fixed and vaccinated.

When you’re considering a new addition to your family, walk past that window and straight into your local animal shelter.

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When you’re the only vegan

Whether you’re the only vegan you know, or you’re a vegan with a ton of vegan friends, there’s a good chance you’re the only vegan the non-vegans in your life know.

one vegan in a crowd

I didn’t sign up to be the spokesperson for veganism, and I don’t profess to know all the details about all the issues, but I do know that I am often the “real life vegan” example for many of the people I meet and know.

I don’t take this lightly. People are curious. They watch (and sometimes judge), but mostly, they just want to learn more.

Seeds of compassion

I’ve had people express surprise that I’m vegan because I don’t fit their stereotype of what a vegan is. I’m not a hippy (not that there’s anything wrong with that). I like fashion. I’m not angry.

When people tell me they appreciate that I’m not judgmental (not a “vegan Nazi” in some people’s words), I sometimes wonder if that means I should turn it up a notch. I don’t want people to be comfortable eating meat. But I also know when people are judged, they get defensive, put up walls, and stop listening.

So I live my life, true to myself and my values and drop gentle reminders about how animals are treated and how we can help them.

Super vegan

I’m not a super vegan, don’t get me wrong. But I have to remind myself that my life is different from most people’s in subtle ways. What is abhorrent to me (wearing animal skin, eating animal flesh, testing on animals, being entertained by incarcerated animals) is either normal or a non-issue to most. It’s hard to remember that I was once like that. But it’s important to empathize with people who are lulled into believing all this is normal–it’s certainly culturally acceptable.

I have to remember that people find it strange that I think of all animals (including people) equally. That I wouldn’t eat a pig because I wouldn’t eat my dog. That a pigeon in a city park is as valuable as a soaring eagle. That dolphins shouldn’t be hunted, but neither should tuna.

The big picture

There’s a balance between compromising one’s values and coming across as relatable. When I’m out with non-vegan friends, I focus on the big picture. It’s true, that I don’t eat foods dyed with carmine (from crushed up beetles), but when dining with friends, I focus on the big issues–where the most harm is done–and how to alleviate that. I probably won’t ask the waiter if the spatula used to flip my veggie burger is the same one used for the meat patties.

Of course I don’t want that tainted spatula to touch my food, but I also don’t want to make it seem like veganism is unattainable. Everyone is different. Your concerns and responses won’t be the same as mine. But do think of the impression others get. What’s the balance?

Signs of change

When people I know tell me they are eating less meat, going vegetarian, and going vegan, I want to do back flips! Every bit helps. Every person makes a difference. I  didn’t sign up to be a vegan role model, but like it or not, I am. And you know, I like of like it!

How have you influenced the people in your life? I’d love to hear what works for you.

My evening with John Salley

I spent last night with John Salley.

No, wait. That doesn’t sound right! Last night, I attended “An Evening with John Salley,” a special event at Plum Bistro. The event was a fundraiser for Pasado’s Safe Haven and was also an opportunity for John Salley to share wines from The Vegan Vine with the crowd.

Salley collage

John Salley, as any self-respecting sports fan will know, is an NBA superstar. With four Championships under his belt, he’s played with the Detroit Pistons, Miami Heat, Toronto Raptors, Chicago Bulls, and LA Lakers–that’s quite a resumé!

What you might not know, though, is that Salley is a long-time vegan, wellness expert, and animal advocate. I thoroughly enjoyed hearing his story, learning about how he connected with Makini Howell, owner of Plum Bistro, and also how became the owner of a winery. And not just any wine: Vegan wine.

vegan vine wine

Many people don’t think about animal products when they drink wine, but many wines are fined (or finished) with clarifying product that include gelatin (from cows or pigs), casein (a milk protein), albumin (from egg whites), or isinglass (from fish bladders). Now I’m a fan of voting with my dollar. So why support a company that uses animal products (even if they’re not in the final product)? There’s no need.

John Salley is such a genuine guy. You can feel his love for animals and people and being vegan when you’re in the room with him. He also happens to be really funny! I felt like I’d known him for a long time and even though I was a bit star struck, talking with him was fun and comfortable.

jean, john, steph and amy

Plum didn’t disappoint either! We nibbled on decadent vegan hor d’oeuvres and drank plenty of The Vegan Vine wine. All proceeds went to Pasado’s, a farmed animal refuge right here in Washington. Pasado’s fights against animal cruelty, helps pass animal laws (and enforce them) and is a sanctuary for abused and neglected who would have ended up on the dinner table.

I knew a number of people at the event and it was a great way to catch up with friends. Best of all, I didn’t know a lot of people. I love meeting vegans and that’s what I did. It was a great night all around–right to the very end when I won an auction item: an autographed (by Mr. Salley) bottle for Vegan Vine wine.

The event sold out in days, but you can ask for The Vegan Vine wine at your local Whole Foods. And if you ever have a chance to meet John Salley or hear him speak, don’t miss it! You won’t be disappointed.

Champs Diner in Brooklyn

My parents and I were recently in NYC again so we retraced our steps from last year on a quest to eat at Food Swings again. Sadly, the storefront was boarded up and Food Swings was nowhere to be found. I did what anyone else in my position would have done. I went to Vaute Couture, the vegan clothing shop down the street, for ideas. The sales associate gave us a hot lead: “Go to champs,” she said. “And order the mozzarella sticks.”

So we did (but not before cuddling with Pepper, aka Concerned Dog, and buying a tank top (hey, I’m easily distracted).

Champs Diner is an all-vegan restaurant not too far from Vaute Couture in the Williamsburg neighborhood. My parents and I didn’t have to wait long before a booth opened up. As instructed, we got the mozzarella sticks.

champs mozzerella sticks

They were  fantastic! breaded, fried, and ooey, gooey. I also had a no-tuna melt. Again, fantastic fare. Filling, delicious, and vegan. My criteria!

champs tuna melt

My parents shared French toast. We didn’t even care how Champs worked their magic–just bring it on!

champs french toast

Not shown: The mint chocolate ice cream. We ate it too fast to capture on film.

I love travelling, meeting other vegans, and discovering new places to eat. Brooklyn is a fantastic, vegan-friendly place and Champs exceeded our expectations. If you’re ever in the area, you’ve gotta go!

My vegan tattoo

All my tattoos are vegan–in the sense that I checked with my tattoo artist to make sure the inks didn’t contain animal ingredients. But my latest tattoo is my real vegan tattoo because it’s an homage to three of the most abused animals on the planet: pigs, cows, and chickens.

tattoo detail

I had this done by Suzy Todd at Two Birds Tattoo. Suzy did my bee tattoo and my skull one. She’s a great artist and when I saw in her portfolio, a wonderful, painterly tattoo that spelled “vegan” I knew she’d bring my idea to life.

tattoo and dog

Is a tattoo a form of activism? Before I got this one, I might have said no. But at least once a week I have someone admire this tattoo. Yes, I got it for me, but every time someone asks me about it I have another chance to tell someone a bit of the story behind it.

Sometimes I say, “It’s my vegan tattoo.” Other times I say, “I’m vegan and these are some of the animals I don’t eat,” or “this is milk, meat and eggs in their happy state–the way they should be.” Just a little seed that I plant.

As is often the case with people who have tattoos, I have more ideas in mind and they’ll probably have animal or vegan themes too.

The Seed NYC

Today my parents and I visited The Seed NYC, a plant-based event featuring vegan food and wares, speakers, cooking demos, and more! Even before I arrived, I knew I was almost there. Mercer Street turned into Vegan Street.

vegan cars

The Cinnamon Snail was out front–what a great place to grab a bite. I’d heard excellent things about this award-winning food truck and never had the chance to try their dishes (until today).

Cinnamon Snail

I made a grand entrance:

the seed

Then, I looked at fantastic companies–from artichoke water (very refreshing) to chocolate truffles (deliciously decadent). I saw Upton’s Naturals–makers of my favorite vegan bacon–and Taft Foodmasters, a new-to-me company that makes great seitan for gyros.

Seed food collage

The Regal Vegan, a company that makes great dips and spreads, had a booth too. Their Faux Gras is fantastic!

regaln vegan

I jumped on the chance to buy a Gunas handbag for a fraction of the original price. I liked all their bags, especially this little cross-body bag. My mom liked a neat white purse with a combo-lock closure. I ended up with the yellow and cream number on the rack.

gunas

I said hi to Lois Eastlund, a fantastic NYC-based designer (and of course I bought one of her dresses–that makes four!). I saw Miakoda clothing too (I’ve been following them on Instagram for a while now). Michelle Leon Vegan had fantastic vegan belts made of recycled plastifc bottles. They were soft as suede and included a cool buckle. She carries a line of vegan jewelry too. Gorgeous!

seed clothing collage

There was message gear too, from a number of organizations. Animal advocacy groups I know well were there too: Sea Sheppard, Mercy for Animals, Evolve for Animals, Farm Sanctuary, Catskill Animal Sanctuary, Woodstock Animal Sanctuary. Others, like Darwin Animal Doctors, I didn’t know before today, and I was glad to learn about the great work they do.

Darwin Animal Doctors

I got to hear Jenny Brown, cofounder of Woodstock Animal Sanctuary, speak about farmed animals and why veganism is the compassionate answer to the cruelty in our food system. Earlier this year, I reviewed her book, The Lucky Ones, on this blog, and it was an honor to meet her.

jenny brown

I even got to meet Tha Vegan Dread, who happened to be visiting NYC for his birthday. He said I was cute <blush>. Of course, I asked for a photo with him and his vegan bodybuilder friend.

Tha Vegan Dread

I always love meeting other vegans and learning about new products, sanctuaries, and organizations. If you’re in NYC this time next year, check out The Seed. For more about the experience, check out my mom’s account on her blog.

Kite Hill Cheese

Another nail in the coffin of dairy.

Kite Hill vegan brie

I recently tried a vegan brie–yes, brie–by California-based company, Kite Hill. Kite Hill specializes in hand-crafted, artisanal, nut-based cheeses.

When you read that description, you might think “pricy,” but you can’t put a price on compassion. The wheel of brie was about $12 at Whole Foods–and worth every penny. Cruelty-free, rich and smooth. Just like “real” cheese. Because it is real! It’s made with macadamia nuts.

And, with such a rich product, a little goes a long way. I served the brie with crackers and apples. I went through about a third of it so I saved the rest for two other occasions. Wine and cheese nights are always fun to have and with this brie, everyone is happy.

I hope you get to try Kite Hill cheese. So many people tell me that their love of cheese is what prevents them from going vegan. With Kite Hill, you’ll know that no cows were harmed. No calves were denied a mother.

You can have your cheese and be vegan too!