By Dustin Garrett Rhodes

Coinciding with Fashion Week, The 135th Annual Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show opened on Monday at Madison Square Garden. The popular two day event culminates in crowning an unsuspecting pooch “Best in Show.”

The New York Times was first on the scene-featuring an ode to the Xoloitzcuintli (Xolos, for short), a Mexican hairless dog. This breed is newly recognized by the American Kennel Club; in all, there are now 170 “official” breeds. Does that mean it’s only a matter of time before celebrities are parading around Xolos as if they are the latest Coach bag?

(The answer is a resounding yes.)

Beyond the preening, the tricks and the eccentric canine coifs, lies a dark(er) side to whole event that, largely, goes completely ignored-and spells disaster for dogs; whatever breed happens to win the contest inevitably becomes the hot commodity; that’s not to mention the dogs who become the crowd favorites-who then become consumer favorites. One thing is certain: whatever breed becomes the latest obsession ends up filling shelters and pounds across the United States and beyond.

Did you know that it’s estimated there are 60,000 abandoned Chihuahuas living in California’s shelter system? That’s an astonishing number-and that’s only one breed of dog. Paris Hilton, Britney Spears, the Beverly Hills Chihuahua franchise, and most certainly The American Kennel Club have all contributed to the problem. All over the United States, rescue organizations have rallied to focus on specific breeds of dogs-with the mission of finding homes that will provide shelter, care and love-for a lifetime. Pure breeds come in and out of vogue; and their lives are at the mercy of fickle humans who apparently grow bored with the responsibility and expense that comes with pet ownership. That’s the part that many people don’t seem to understand: having a pet is a serious, long-term commitment. While the Westminster Dog Show glamorizes and trivializes pet ownership, the reality is quite different. Having a pet is expensive and requires a lot of work.

Friends of Animals continues to sell low-cost spay and neuter certificates to help eliminate pet overpopulation. This year alone 4 million animals will be put to death in our nation’s shelters. We also encourage everyone to adopt animals from shelters and rescue groups-even breed specific rescue groups. Please don’t ever buy a dog or cat from a pet store or breeder; when you do, you are contributing to a terrible problem that causes untold suffering for dogs and cats (and other animals popular as pets). Support any legislative effort to shut down the puppy mill trade in your state. Ask your legislators to support a bill to prohibit the selling of puppies and kittens in pet shops. Educate the public by writing letters to local newspapers, distributing copies of this fact sheet outside pet stores in your area, and contacting local TV and radio shows about the issue.

And if you have the time, money and inclination, please adopt an animal in need of a home.

Be sure to read, That Bulldog in the Window by Jane Seymour.