Without question, we are experiencing an epidemic when it comes to unwanted pets in our world today. The ASPCA reports that roughly 6.5 million animals are deposited in shelters yearly. The vast majority, at 3.3 million in total, of these animals are cats who are statistically more difficult to adopt out. It is believed that this number is on the decline; however, it is still far too great. To add to the heartbreak, statistics cite that 1.5 million shelter animals are euthanized annually, mostly to make space for more intakes. Though this number is significantly less than in previous years, it, again, is sadly far too high. The change in euthanization rates is considered to be attributed to a return of stray pets to their families and an increase in the number of adopted pets per annum. The sad reality is many healthy animals are never given the opportunity to find adoptive homes as shelters are already overcrowded, and the surrender list seems to be never-ending. This sad reality means that many animals who could, and likely would, be adopted if given more time, face euthanization simply to accommodate the demand for space in shelters.
Who’s to Blame for The Mess We Are In?
Sadly, there seems to be no shortage of people looking to place blame, and one of the places that receives the highest criticism is breeders. The prevailing logic seems to be if there are so many unwanted pets in need of homes and dogs and cats are dying every day for lack of space, why do we need more? Heavy judgments are levied against breeders, claiming they only care about making money. But the war of words doesn’t stop there. Many so-called animal advocates launch their attacks against owners of well-bred purebred dog breeds, claiming their choice of a purebred dog is directly correlated to the death of a shelter dog.
The Flaws with “Adopt, Don’t Shop”
“Adopt, Don’t Shop” in theory seems like an excellent concept. But there are flaws with the statement that bear addressing. First of all, any purchase of a dog or a cat involves shopping. Almost no one goes to their local shelter and asks for a cat or a dog sight unseen. Most people want to see the animals available and make their selection based on any number of criteria, but most typically, are looking for a dog or cat that meets the needs of their particular lifestyle. The process of selecting a pet that is the right fit for a family involves careful consideration. Everyone suffers when a family chooses a pet based on appearance or because they have read a story that has so touched their heart that they feel compelled to adopt that particular pet. But the reality is an animal is a custom-fit. The animal should fit into its family’s lifestyle because, most often, families will not bend their lifestyle to fit the needs of the animal.
Gone are the days of dogs given away as free to a good home. Though this can be seen on occasion on online marketplaces, it happens very infrequently, largely due to a pushback from the animal loving community when it was discovered that many of these animals were claimed by people who then treated the animal with little regard or worse, abuse; sometimes even using them as bait for fighting rings. To adopt a dog from a shelter or rescue costs money. Many would argue that the fees involved in adopting a dog are minimal in comparison with the expense to purchase a dog from a reputable breeder. However, when a side by side evaluation is done on required expenses to house, feed, and provide proper veterinary care for a shelter dog or cat and the costs to breed, whelp, and raise a litter, the fees are proportionate to the costs involved for both parties. The fact is adoption is not free. If the shopping experience is defined as careful selection of the necessary goods accompanied by the purchase of them, then adoption, by definition, IS shopping. Merriam Webster’s dictionary defines shopping as “to examine goods or services with intent to buy or to hunt through a market in search of the best buy.” This certainly is as applicable to the purchasing of a pet through a shelter or rescue as it is to the sourcing of a dog through a reputable breeder. The terminology is inherently wrong. Both are shopping.
Just as not all people mesh well together, so too is it with dogs and cats. There is a reason there is such a wide diversity of breeds today. Most of these companion animals were originally developed for specific jobs. Though many are no longer employed as working animals, those characteristics that made them excel in their roles are still very much alive in them today. Some of these traits were extremely desirable in a working dog but are considered nuisance behaviors in a family pet. To help a dog or cat reach their greatest level of satisfaction, each owner must commit themselves to meeting their pet’s specific needs. As an example, Border Collies who are not given an outlet for their energy and intense drive to work are known to become neurotic, causing destruction to their home and even to themselves. Does this mean that there is something wrong with the Border Collie? Not at all. It simply means the Border Collie’s needs are different from that of a Pekingese or a Toy Poodle, and thus, should go to a family with the understanding of the breed and what is required of them to help the Border Collie thrive in his new home. We make the mistake of thinking that we can change an animal to fit the life we want to live when in reality that simply is not true. We cannot change hundreds of years of genetic predisposition because we find something annoying. Families who aren’t fans of noise won’t want to add a Jack Russell Terrier to their home as the breed was bred as a baying terrier to assist his owner on hunts by driving quarry from beneath the earth to resume the game. This, in turn, means that a trip to the park with a Jack Russell Terrier is sure to be a raucous one, particularly if there are lots of squirrels or birds out that day. This too often means the Jack Russell Terrier will bark at anything that moves which could include anything from a leaf blowing in the wind to the lawnmower and even to the neighbor’s cat. If a family prefers a quiet family pet or lives in an area with noise restrictions, they are better to source a dog breed bred specifically to exhibit this characteristic rather than adopt or purchase one with a penchant for another trait and trying to train it out of them. It is simply an exercise in futility and serves to do nothing more than frustrate both the dog and his owner.
Reputable dog breeders take the time to carefully interview prospective puppy owners to ensure suitability for the breed. Sometimes, excellent families are referred to a different breed; not because they would not provide a loving, responsible home, but because their lifestyle and interests would make them ill-suited to life with their original breed of choice. This is not intended as an insult. One of the most important roles of a good breeder is finding homes that are the right fit for each puppy they bring into this world. A vital part of that is ensuring that the prospective owner and the puppy in question are compatible. Even within a litter and with a family who has been approved to own a puppy of that particular breed, it can happen that the personality types of the available puppies will not mesh well with a family on the breeder’s waiting list. Since it is important that both the puppy and the family are happy, many breeders will often advise that the family should check back again at the time of her next litter as there may be a puppy available then that is their ideal fit. In some cases, breeders will refer to other breeders who do have what that family is looking for.
The reasons why a puppy might not be ideal for a particular family can vary. Sometimes it is simply they already own a dog of that breed, and the breed is known to get along better with the opposite gender, and the breeder doesn’t have any in that litter. Other times, it may be that the puppy is too high energy and is better suited to a younger family, or the family hopes to have the next agility star, and the only puppy the breeder has available is laidback and shy with little drive. Purchasing a puppy from a breeder provides puppy buyers with access to a wealth of knowledge backed by a lifetime guarantee of support, an important resource particularly if behavioral problems or health challenges arise. But purchasing a purebred from a reputable breeder also provides families with the opportunity to know what they are buying ahead of time. There are few surprises with purebred breeds since their personality, temperament, and appearance have been refined and established over hundreds and hundreds of years of selective breeding. Breeders committed to ethical preservation breeding health test their breeding stock to ensure their resulting offspring are free from genetic conditions that can be common to the breed. They also are committed to producing puppies that look and act like the breed they are intended to be by carefully breeding towards their breed standard, a list of attributes which outlines what the perfect specimen of that breed should be. All of this gives buyers a great assurance of predictability in health and in type, two very important qualities. Most breeders encourage families to visit their home to meet the parents of their future puppy as well as to see where and how their puppy will be raised. This helps buyers to understand what they can expect in the personality and appearance of their pup as well as to get a glimpse into the rearing practices which will shape the puppy’s formative developmental periods.
If dog breeding were suddenly declared illegal with only shelter and rescue animals available as companion animals, would this stop the problem of unwanted pets in America? Unfortunately, no, it wouldn’t. The reality is some people have an attraction to a particular breed. By denying them their right to own the purebred breed of their choice, it does not guarantee that they would then go and purchase a shelter dog instead. So, dog ownership declines, and the shelter dogs in need of a home are no further ahead.
Why is that?
The truth is if some people are not permitted to own the dog breed they feel is the right fit for their family, they would prefer to own no dog at all. There is no guarantee that limiting people’s choices would drive up adoption rates. In fact, there is a lot of evidence to support the exact opposite.
Though many shelter dogs end up in their situation through no fault of their own, the bottom line is some do require specialized training and care. Someone adopting a pet of unknown history has no idea what awaits them with regard to personality, temperament, and even possible health issues. Not everyone is equipped to deal with a dog that has unpredictable behavior, severe health conditions, or emotional problems. To try to force together an animal and a human family that are not suited to each other is a recipe for disaster for all involved. This approach, in turn, could increase the number of pets returned to a shelter when the incompatibility becomes too much for the family to live with. This is not better for the dog or for the people in question. In fact, it is worse. Every time a dog is returned to the shelter due to unsuitability, it becomes that much harder for him to become adopted and more difficult for him to trust again with the pattern established of joining a family then barely getting settled before being returned. Families who then visit the shelter looking for a new pet see the dog’s history of being returned from several homes and blame the dog when the fault may not be the dog’s at all. It becomes a self-perpetuating cycle that ends in tragedy.
The bottom line is the right dog for each family differs. The perfect dog for one family might be waiting at the local shelter while the other is still in its gestational period in its mother’s belly at the home of a reputable breeder. One is not better than the other. It is simply a matter of what is best for that particular family and that particular dog. There is no need to eliminate one for the good of the other. There is room to both adopt and to purchase a dog from a purebred breeder. The priority is responsible dog ownership not where the beloved family pet found his origins.
Eliminating preservation breeders is a path that ultimately leads to the extinction of the domesticated dog as a whole. For dog lovers, that is not a world worth even considering since their dogs are part of their families and make their lives complete. Once the final shelter or rescue pet was adopted and every remaining dog on planet Earth was spayed or neutered, dog ownership would cease to exist as one by one those adopted animals began to age then to die. A tragedy indeed.
Adopt, Don’t Shop is a concept that could work with one marginal change: Adopt AND Shop. Not every family could own an Elkhound or a German Wire Haired Pointer. By the same token, not every shelter pet is going to be a perfect fit for every family that has a desire to add a canine companion to their lives. The answer is simple: maintain freedom of choice and support both the right to adopt and to shop. Vilifying those who breed or purchase purebred dogs simply divides the dog community into factions and places them at war against one another. The truth is both love dogs, and both want to help. The public at large fails to realize that it was dog breeders who were first responsible for starting breed specific rescues. To this day, reputable breeders continue to be involved in rescue efforts, networking to help find transportation, fosters, and adoptive homes for dogs within their breed who come into shelters or rescue care. Many head fundraising initiatives to meet the needs of these dogs. Breeders are not the enemy of rescue nor are those who purchase purebred dogs from them. It is, in fact, quite the opposite. They are avid supporters.
It is also important to note that reputable breeders stand behind every puppy they produce. In most contracts, it is required that if a puppy cannot remain with its original family that the dog is to be returned to the breeder who will then place it with another suitable family or keep the dog to raise in their own home. It is not the dogs produced by reputable breeders that are contributing to the problem of unwanted pets that are languishing in shelters. Their screening requirements to own a puppy from them are often more rigorous than an application to be approved for a mortgage. Though on occasion, a puppy buyer will void their contract by acting on their own and taking a dog from a breeder to a shelter; this is the exception and not the rule. In these cases, the breeder does everything in their power to bring their puppy home.
Let’s not forget that in the battle for responsible dog ownership, breeders, owners of purebred dogs and purpose bred mixed breed dogs, and owners of rescues and shelter pets are on the same side. Standing together for freedom of choice is the best way forward for the future and health of companion animals today. It doesn’t have to be one or the other. Adopt AND shop to find the dog or cat that is the perfect fit for you!