Animal Values: Exploring Dr. Seuss ‘What Pet Should I Get?’

This entry is part 1 of 5 in the series Animal Values
Cover Dr Seuss What Pet Should I Get

Click the cover to visit the book’s Amazon page.


That’s the conversation-starter for millions of Americans this week—thanks to the release of Dr. Seuss’s “new” book What Pet Should I Get? It’s already a best seller and it won’t even be released until Tuesday! Over the weekend, Seuss sat at the summit of American literature—the No. 1 most popular book among the millions listed on Amazon. What Pet also was the full-color cover story in Sunday’s New York Times Book Review.

“Dr. Seuss crosses generational lines in many families. He was part of my childhood—and now, as a parent, I enjoy reading his books to my children,” says Reasa Currier, who works with the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS). “Our favorite now? We love The Lorax.

But, not everything is perfect in the Seuss universe when it comes to animals. This week, there are a few things you should know—and should share with family and friends.

First, remember: Theodor Geisel, aka Dr. Seuss, died in 1991 at age 87. His publishing house says the book was written half a century ago, drafted between 1958 and 1962 while he was publishing One Fish Two Fish and Green Eggs and Ham.

Back then, a little neighborhood pet store was a different kind of shop than most of us experience now that a dozen major chains dominate the $60-billion pet-supplies industry. Today, many of these stores sell only food and equipment for pets—and those that do sell live animals are well aware of the controversies surrounding the commercial handling of pets. That’s not to say these retailers all follow best practices—but some now do.

Today, if you care about animal welfare, you can check with  the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) before you look for a pet at a local retailer. For years, HSUS has encouraged retailers to establish pet adoption programs that cooperate with local adoption and rescue groups, that meet healthy standards and avoid the notorious system of pet “mills.” It’s easy now to find HSUS-recommended shops via this web page, which ends with two methods for checking on retailers in your area. The easiest method, if you have a smart phone: Simply text the word Puppy to 30644 and, when the OurValues team checked out that method, the response was almost instant. HSUS recommended 4 shops in our part of Michigan.

In fact, if you follow the recommendations of HSUS and other animal-welfare organizations—pet shops shouldn’t be your first choice when looking for an animal friend to adopt. Most animal lovers recommend looking for pets at animal shelters or rescue groups. There’s an online resource from HSUS for finding one near you.

Plus, HSUS has tips on:

What would Seuss say?

th New York Times Book Review on Dr Seuss What Pet Should I GetIn Sunday’s New York Times Book Review, the Times’ children’s books editor Maria Russo wrote about this new book’s history—and added an intriguing argument. Russo says that this book probably was not written over the four-year period (’58-’62) described by the publisher and then forgotten in the author’s files. Russo thinks What Pet was finished before One Fish Two Fish (1960) and then was shelved because Seuss himself was uncomfortable with the pet shop as a setting—and some scenes in the book in which animals (including a fanciful creature called a Yent) have to fit into small spaces in the children’s homes.

Maria Russo writes:

Reading What Pet and One Fish together, it seems to me What Pet was a kind of warm-up for the more freewheeling and imaginatively rich book. One Fish has no plot, just a collection of escalating riffs on a brother and sister’s life with a parade of hilarious, useful and entertaining imaginary creatures. It’s as if Geisel took the Yent and the “tall pet that fits into a space that is small” in What Pet and ran with them. He picked them up, grabbed the children, and ran right out of the depressingly mundane commercial world of the pet store …


th Pope-Francis-on-the-cover-of-National-Geographic-magazine-2015-1If you care about these issues, you may also want to read a column in ReadTheSpirit magazine about the importance of Pope Francis’s new message about the environment—a story that also links to earlier OurValues reports on American attitudes about climate change.

Also, you may want to meet an interfaith activist working for animal welfare. Pope Francis is not alone in calling people of faith to protect the species that call Earth our home. In this profile, meet Reasa Currier, who works for the Humane Society of the United States in connecting religious leaders whose traditions call them to care for animals.


There’s so much to think about, this week, as millions of Americans talk about pets! Come back Tuesday through Friday, this week, for four more OurValues columns on “Animal Values.” We’ll look at some famous animals and the values they embody for people around the world.

Share this series with friends on social media. You’re also free to repost or print these columns to spark discussion. What stories can you share about animals you’ve loved? Talk about the values those animals embody in your life.

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