Archive for December, 2011

Chris Christensen in Inc magazine December 2011

December 28, 2011

I have mixed feelings about dog shows.  On the one hand, I  enjoy  seeing dogs do obedience and agility, and I like watching the handlers groom.  I also enjoy watching conformation competition in some breeds.  However,  dog shows are frantic arrairs.  People are always looking for a place to park, their (competition) rings, places to set up and groom, water,  decent food, and the vendors.  It’s gotten very expensive to show dogs, and  it’s out rageously expensive to  observe  some of the shows.

I  went to the International Kennel Club dog show a few years back. I  might have even paid over $8 to get in, & possibly for parking more than that for parking. No joke.  I wanted to get a few grooming items  and watch judging of several breeds.  Yeah, very expensive, for the opportunity to step in dog shit.

The nice thing about buying stuff at the dog show is you save shipping.   I went into a pet supply booth that obviously carried Chris Christensen products, and asked for “Ice on Ice.”

“We sold out,” the vendor told me.   I still remember how bummed out I was.

I have stated before that I am as micro an entrepreneur as you can get, but  my understanding of the economics of microbusinesses got me an assistantship to grad school in the early late 1980’s.  The  microbusinesses I got my experience with were dog groomers.  I paid my way through undergraduate school (anthropology/environmental studies) by grooming dogs part time.
Were it not for the microentrepreneur Charlie Prager, the noted Bedlington Terrier breeder who developed and marketed the first portable dog grooming tables and low velocity stand dryers  (“Groom Rite”), there would be no grooming industry.  He made  the needed equipment inexpensive enough so the  service of dog grooming could be provided  cheaply enough to middle class Americans.
You might be too young to remember a time when  a week’s pay would  be enough for your housing, utilities, and maybe other expenses (there was no cable TV or cell phones,  there was the Viet Nam was and the Civil Rights movement made us suddenly aware that the playing field wasn’t level).    Gas was under 30c—way under! The fact was, people had expendable income to have a pet get it’s haircut and go to a salon.  Amusing, no?
So now, I am one of those old time groomers, and I tried and use Chris Christensen Products.   I became hooked.  They are top of the line.

There is an article on Chris in the Dec.2011 Inc. magazine.

The writer, Josh Dean, points out what a skill dog grooming is, comparing it to moving topiary .  He points out how Chris listened to the fancy and created a market niche for  his company.  Chris and his wife are looking to expand the line at a lower cost to pet owners.  They have a problem, however.

The middle class can no longer afford those high maintenance breeds.  I see more Pit Bulls, Labrador Retrievers, Boxers, Puggles (no joke—designer mixes…& LabraDoodles) than dogs requiring haircuts.
Ethical hobby breeders do not breed for the market, and  don’t breed their dogs unless they can keep them indefinitely.  They know that people don’t have money to take care of a dog these days.
I wish Lisa (Chris’s wife) all the best in attempting to triple the business in three years.  I can no longer afford the gas to get to a dog show, let alone campaign a dog.  And the Big Box store I work for doesn’t appreciate quality or integrity.  That’s sort of funny, too:  the big box stores are  always advertising for groomers, but make it impossible to earn a living wage and  keep their skills up.  “Were the economy better…”  CCS would flatten all the competition. Their products are that good.

Why you shouldn’t buy a dog or cat from a pet shop: buy directly from the breeder!

December 21, 2011

Something I learned, over 40 years ago, when I was researching how to find a dog of the breed I wanted, was buy from a breeder.  I was just a child, there was no internet, but  you could find  some  books and magazines that stressed how dealing directly with the breeder was  fundamental.  All the TFH  booklets (“How to Raise and Train an Afghan Hound,” was one of  a template series) did not mention how important it was to buy a puppy directly from a breeder, see at least 1 parent, & get care instructions.

Now,  after years of getting the message through to potential pet buyers, we are slipping back.  “Due to the economy…” there are fewer ethical hobby breeders, more backyard breeders, and more sophisticated puppy mills doing better marketing.

What’s the reason you  don’t want to buy a dog from a broker or any middleman?  You want to  find out that the breeder  is breeding good, healthy dogs, and cares about what s/he is breeding.   Any breeder who loves dogs will want to meet you, talk to you, and make sure  the dogs he breeds are the right breed for you.  He will give you written instructions on  feeding, grooming, housebreaking, and other training. He may give you a bibliography.  He will tell you that if, for any reason, you can’t keep the dog, he wants to know about it, and in most cases he will want the dog back.  The ethical hobby breeder doesn’t trust a reseller,  a person selling dogs in a commercial fashion, to do this for him.  He is breeding for the betterment of the breed…not just to make money.

In the past several years, the American Kennel Club has been working with commercial breeders—the USDA (or not) licensed puppy mills, to  help them  sell healthier puppies—claiming that the ethical hobby breeders are not meeting the demand.  I am not making this up. As a result, some of the breed parent clubs now keep their own stud books because they no longer trust the integrity of the AKC.

Some of the newer (in terms of popularity) breeds  have a very stringent code of ethics for their members.  For example, you can Google the Portuguese Water Dog Club of America and  see that if you want a  Portie for breeding, a bunch of people will be interested in  your plans for the puppies.

Then, on the opposite end of the spectrum, you have the German Shepherd Dog, Beagle, American Spaniel, and the Cane Corso parent clubs. As a result—we see more and more backyard breeders  over breeding for the market.    That means that there are too many dogs available, not enough good homes, they sell to people who aren’t prepared for a dog, or who can’t legally keep a dog, and the dogs end up in shelters.   Or worse—more  backyard breeders get more breedable dogs, can’t sell them , lie about them…& THEY end up  either in shelters or sold to dog fighters.   The classic example of nobody having an ounce of integrity are the many Pit Bull breeders  (this is NOT AN AKC BREED) who started flooding the  market in the early 1980s.  You still have a minority of idiots with too much money who will pay over $500 for a proven fighting dog  from fighting lines, but  for the most part, the breeders can’t give them away, as the dog rescues and animal shelters  always have them & include shots & neutering in their fees—making them way cheaper than what a breeder can sell them for.

Recently, I’ve heard people complaining about how expensive purebreds—even those in rescue—are. Yes, I am shocked as well.   The fact of the matter is—it costs a lot of money to raise healthy dogs. Are these people  also complaining about the price of gas?  Housing?  Health insurance?  College?  “But it’s just a dog!” Right—& you can get ‘just a dog’ from an animal shelter.

I would love to own a Scottish Deerhound.  I can’t afford to buy one, they never go into rescue, & they don’t live very long. I would also love to live in Malibu on the Pacific Ocean,  travel overseas whenever I want, and  never have to work.

What is ultimately going to happen, as  enough of the population will probably not be able to afford to buy housing for at least another few years, is that some breeds may just go extinct.    There won’t be enough wealthy people who will want to breed & house the more rare breeds that there isn’t a commercial market for—to see  them through a rough economy.  There won’t be enough of a gene pool to have them not have genetic problems. That’s a fact.

Also. what will ultimately happen is that more backyard breeders , who are slick about marketing on the internet, will breed their generically unsound  ( luxated patellas, juvenile cataracts, liver shunts, etc) dogs, and veterinarians will be making more money  repairing patellas or removing cataracts, or more crippled dogs will die young.  & that will make the genetically sound dogs even more expensive.   That’s capitalism.

The bogus non-profits (Better World Books, some animal rescues, United Way…etc)

December 14, 2011

I have decided to clarify this post because I got clarification from  Better Wold Books. Please bear with me.

Someone recently posted on Craigslist( in Chicago) that he noticed a  few pet rescues seem to charge an awful lot for the pets they offer for adoption, and  their members drive around in fancy cares.  He thought they were selling dogs, and making a profit.

I replied to the guy that  I didn’t think they were making a profit.  Most likely their expenses were high, and, most likely, they were  the type of RESCUE  that is private, and picks and chooses what they rescue…and has no problem getting a high adoption fee for the dogs they adopt out.  And—the people who could afford to support these endeavors had to be upper income—the types to drive fancy cars.

Shocking, but the fact of the matter is—-it costs a lot to own some breeds of dogs, and if you can’t afford the adoption fee (which goes towards the expenses of other dogs ), you most likely can’t afford to own that type of dog.  And—that  type of dog would most likely be a toy breed, a dog requiring professional grooming, or a brarcheocephalic  like a Bulldog, Boston Terrier, or Frenchie.

It got me thinking, however, about the really bogus nonprofits.  There are many.  The deal is that they are set up to not show a profit.  Or, if they do have a surplus , to show how it will be  reinvested in the mission.  They are (allegedly) open to public scrutiny (as opposed to being a closely held company answerable to nobody) but if you look closely, they are not not making a profit.

I think the colleges and universities are the biggest scams.  Don’t get me started on  special programs thought up, athletics, and  endowments. Meanwhile, people are paying higher tuitions to get an education.

One business just the other side of Kosher is Better World Wools.   As you will see from the comment, below, they are   social enterprice.  That means that, as a business, they hold themselves to  their own ethical standards.  They buy & sell used books, & what they don’t sell, they donate. Actually, many bookstores do this….but BWB is set up to take donations of books, and if you donate books to them (a  donation in kind), while you can’t take the tax write-off, you can feel good. Actually, most independet bookstores also take book donations, and spread them around. They have given books to me, to ship to community based projects in Malawi and Zambian, and  I also  take books to a project that gives books to women in prisons.    My 2 issues with BWB are:  1). Due to their huge marketing budget, they  make it impossible for small booksellers to survive—and  soon , due to this kind of practice, all we will have is chain stores in out neighborhoods.   That may be how it  (capitalism)works, but I don’t think that the people who donate books to them understand the larger picture.   Also—think about this…how socially responsible  can this business be?  We don’t know if the principals of this company  make 20 times more in wages than hourly workers. It would be interesting to find out.  I am not saying what they are doing is wrong…I just think that people who want to do good in the world  and who want to buy books should think about all the implications.

Another  rather shady outfit is The Humane Society of the United States.  Their names says they are a humane society—but they fund no shelters or rescues. They are basically a policy development/lobbying group. Granted, they are lobbying for better treatment of animals…but come on!  By misleading people into thinking they are a group that actually takes care of animals, they are draining donations away from local animal shelters that actually are physically taking care of animals. How ethical is THAT?

I met a woman who founded an organization —a non profit…which allows her to take her very well trained dogs  to local elementary schools and talk to kids about taking care of pets.  She does not charge the schools, but she solicits donations.  She  is very open about what she does, and that she has no employees but herself.  She gets some monetary donations, but  she raises money in a variety of ways, and is subject to audit by the state of Illinois.  I think it was very smart of her to  structure her ‘business’ in this way.    Very few schools are in a position to pay her, and very few teachers would take the time to  teach kindness and animal care.

I, myself, am a member of the Chicago Area Peace Corps Association. We are mostly returned  Peace Corps Volunteers…&  we say, “You never stop being a volunteer.”  We get together for monthly dinner meetings & networking (we have a listserv), we volunteer  with other social service groups, and we repackage money:  we give to partnership projects in our countries of service, and try to support other good works. We  are hopelessly inefficient and have no organizational memory.  We are what we are.

Unless you know  the missions of nonprofits, and know what they do, you really can’t address whether they are bogus or not.  Many are just small businesses with a mission—the  sfformentioned social enterprise.  But I know of at least  1 dog rescue that claims to be a registered nonprofit. The  director runs a small pet and grooming shop. Because  she  doesn’t keep good business records, she has been shut down by both the state of Illinois and the IRS several times. She also used to buy puppy mill bred dogs to resell. Somewhere along the line, she got religion, so now is attempting to work with the no-kill animal saving groups and adopt out animals.  I don’t trust her at all, but, in the general scheme of things, her operation is very small, and she tells potential adopters about the dogs’ issues (health, not being housebroken, etc).

I think we Americans have to learn to pick our battles & choose what to get out panties in a bunch about.

“The one he stalked, right?”—more adventures with a foreign national

December 8, 2011

As I’ve posted before, my roommate is a great guy, but occasionally I get a glimpse of how he sees us—the American savages.

I insisted we go out to dinner because I had a Groupon for a sushi place.  KN is very pragmatic about this. He weighs all the pros & cons.  On the one hand, it was raining, and cold, and we had to drive—but I would be doing the driving. On the other hand, I had already paid for most of the bill, would do the driving, it was Japanese—& not my cooking.

The place had mixed reviews, but no matter.  So, we sit  down  at our table, and KN says, “It sucks to be me.”

“Why does it suck to be you?”  I asked.  “You had a great Thanksgiving, and..”
“It was the worst Thanksgiving ever!? he says.

“The food was great. Elaine made that French Silk Pie, and…”

“That guy!  Who cares who he was dating?”  KN went on. He was right. I had invited a friend whom I knew had nowhere else to go, and she asked to bring an acquaintance, and he was a bore.  He thought a fit topic of conversation among older, single women was worst dates. I guess he was just making conversation, and the problem was that a couple of  my other friends encouraged him.  What might have been funny to hear on This American Life, was  a bit obnoxious.  But, in the general scheme of things to me, a mere aggravation. The food was great.  We had other conversation.  However, to someone  for whom English is not a first language…it can sound like dogs barking.

KN had ordered an appetizer, some sort of shaved beef wrapped around asparagus.  It was fine, but …

“Eat more. Don’t you like it?”  KN asked.

“Well, you know my father was a meat packer, and I grew up eating beef  five nights a week.  It’s good, but  really, if I never tasted beef again, I would not miss it.  And hon, you  think my cooking is bad?  You should have tasted my mother’s!  She admitted that  she could barely cook and didn’t enjoy it,”  I explained.

“You mean the one he stalked.”  KN  answered.


“The  one your father stalked,”  KN repeated.

Riiiight…    My father is now married to my stepmother, whom he  did not stalk.  KN had heard the story of how my father met my mother.  He had seen her leaving a beauty salon in  their neighborhood, and he had gone in  to get her phone number, and they would only give my father her name. So he asked around, among his friends, and he learned she worked for Sear’s, downtown, and went to her job and started hanging around and asking her out (this started, with my father, a lifelong habit of  appearing where his children worked, and snooping…whether it was an office or a retail business).

From the perspective of a guy who has no idea how his parents met, and who never pursued a girlfriend, I guess this  would seem like stalking.     And he knows that my father did not stalk my stepmother, whom my father is married to now.  In any case,  we both got a laugh out of this.

And we went home, and I had the very amusing pleasure of watching KN eat potato chips with chopsticks (so he would not get his keyboard oily).  This is  my life…