I’ve always taken issue with the “Adopt Don’t Shop” marketing in animal rescue. Social media posts and comments from my fellow animal rescue enthusiasts aim to make me feel guilty for buying a dog from a breeder.
I will not be shamed for buying a dog. I bought a dog that is likely to fit well into my life, be able to do the activities I want to do, and has health clearances and a well-documented line of healthy dogs behind him to give me some confidence that he’ll have a long, healthy life.
After nearly a decade working with rescue dogs and purebred pets, I have learned some things about buying vs adopting a pet, and some pros and cons for each. Here’s why nobody should be shamed for buying a dog, and why everyone should help rescue dogs.
Why I Don’t Feel Bad Buying a Dog From a Breeder
Responsible breeding to better the breed has brought us the vast array of breeds we have today. It’s why most seeing eye dogs are Golden Retrievers or Labs and why most military dogs are Belgian Malinois or Shepherds.
Can other dogs do those jobs? Sure. But most of the time, it’s these breeds. Why? Good breeding sets a dog up for success in a role, it reduces health problems in the breed, and it may prevent heartache for dog lovers.
We’re buying a puppy because my partner and I believe that it is the best choice for our family. That is our decision, and only ours, to make. We are buying a health-tested, AKC registered puppy from health-tested lines because it is all of our responsibility to give each puppy that is born the best chance at a good life that we can.
Why Adoption Isn’t the Answer
I’ve had some of the most joyful moments of my life working with rescue dogs. I’ve worked with the least adoptable dogs and dogs on rescue plea who were at risk of euthanasia and seen them adopted by wonderful families.
I’ve also experienced tragedies there. I’ve cried over dogs that I knew well and loved who were euthanized. I mourn them still.
Mostly, I’ve tried to make a very small dent in the overwhelming suffering that fills the shelters. It doesn’t seem to matter how much love, comfort, and engagement I offer. There is always an endless gaping hole where there should be affection and belonging. There’s always another dog and the kennels go on, row after row.
I’ve seen desperation in the eyes of the shelter staff as they do everything they can to keep the shelter’s “no-kill” status and euthanize as few healthy, adoptable dogs as possible. I’ve watched volunteers become engaged, horrified, and disengaged as they realize the sheer breadth of the problem.
I’ll never stop working with shelter dogs. The fact is, I’ve tried to leave before. Once you know a few of the dogs that fill the endless kennels and fall in love with them, you always know they’re there, waiting for you. Waiting for you to take them out, play with them, pet them, give them just a drop of the love and purpose that a dog is meant for. I can’t deny them that.
I also can’t ignore the fact that they keep flooding the kennels no matter what I, the shelters, the other volunteers, the private rescues, the networking groups, and the community who adopts do. No matter what we all do, they keep coming.
So breeders are the problem, right?
Why Good Breeders Aren’t the Problem
There’s a quote in the movie Best in Show:
“What Shih Tzus need rescuing anyway? You don’t see Shih Tzus straggling around the streets in an old coat “help, alms for the poor”. Stefan Vanderhoof : Like the little match girl.”
There aren’t Shih Tzus wandering around the streets looking for homes. They aren’t sitting in the shelters either. Shih Tzus are rescued so quickly that there are practically brawls in the shelters over them.
They are shipped North to the communities that have fewer homeless dogs so that they can be adopted by people who want to “adopt not shop” but also want something small, cute, and preferably low-shed.
There are “highly-adoptable” dogs being brought in from overseas for adoption, sometimes bringing with them diseases like rabies.
There are all kinds of reasons why people choose to adopt the dogs they do. Many of the dogs brought in from overseas would otherwise have faced terrible deaths or lives. However, the point must be made that there are dogs experiencing rough, short lives who are desperate for adoption right here in the United States. They fill our shelters.
The root of the suffering of the homeless dogs in America does not come down to people like me buying purebred dogs from responsible AKC registered breeders who do health testing on all dogs, parents and puppies.
Show me an intake shelter filled with well-bred, healthy Poodles, Havanese, Spaniels, and Golden Retrievers, and you can talk to me about how responsible breeders are the problem.
The Dogs That Fill Our Shelters
Look up your municipal intake shelter and walk down the aisles. I’ll tell you what you’ll see:
Bully dogs with big heads, short coats, and muscular bodies.
Oh sure, every now and then you’ll see a German Shepherd or a Husky. Rottweilers aren’t extremely uncommon either. There are some Collie mixes, a number of those Heinz 57 brown dogs.
However, most of the time, non-bully dogs are adopted in weeks if not days. I see them come and go as I walk the aisles of the shelter, going to the longer-term dogs where I focus my volunteering. They stare at me with bright eyes and I know they’ll be adopted soon.
It’s the bully dogs, with their big heads, the flopped ear at the tip or cropped into a little nub, the soulful eyes. They’re the ones who fill the shelter day after day, week after week. Sometimes they wait as long as a year before finding a home. Sometimes they don’t make it out.
They don’t really seem to come from anywhere. They come in with ragged coats from flea and tick infestations, the bones showing clearly under the skin like they’ve never had a solid meal in their lives. Sometimes they are covered in scars from other dogs’ teeth, deeply embedded collars, or scars from wearing ropes or muzzles.
One in a million gets to live the blessed life of a pampered house pet. If you have a rescued bully breed dog lying by you now, sprawled on his back the way they like to, with his legs out and his head upside down and tongue out, know that he is one of a thousand dogs very much like him who never got to know the comfort of a human home or the love of human touch.
Adopt. Foster. Volunteer.
It has to go further. Responsible breeders and the people who buy from them aren’t the problem. It is time to stop fighting against them and start asking for their help. There’s no reason to alienate people like me who want a purebred dog from a breeder.
It doesn’t matter why my partner and I chose the dog we did. It’s up to us. Our dogs play a fundamental role in our lives and we get to choose them.
The homeless dog problem in America is everybody’s responsibility, and frankly, the dog that you bring home with you isn’t making a dent.
If you want to make a difference…
- Work with the shelter dogs near you. This site is all about helping you to do that. Whether you want to take dogs on outings, play with them in the yard, or offer enrichment while they’re kenneled, there are hundreds of dogs waiting for you right now.
- Donate to Fix Them All. This organization brings low-cost spay and neuter to the rural areas where dogs likely would have remained unfixed, continuing to contribute to the homeless dog problem.
- Pressure legislators to spend more money and make more laws regulating the breeding and care of dogs. Crackdown on dogfighting, which hugely contributes to the homeless dog problem due to reckless breeding as well as causing unmeasurable suffering.
- If you or your cousin or your neighbor has a good dog that you’d like to breed but they aren’t registered and you aren’t sure of their long-term health, please don’t breed or encourage breeding.
There are a lot of things that we all can and should do to reduce the homeless dog problem. Wherever you are in this country, there are dogs at your local shelter who are suffering and dying. They are your responsibilities as much as they are mine, whether you have a purchased dog, an adopted dog, or no dog. Dogs are our best friends, and they deserve better.
We must work together to solve this problem. Pointing fingers won’t help. Casting judgment won’t help. Attacking breeders won’t help.
What’s the Solution to the Homeless Dog Problem in America?
The answer to reducing homeless dogs and improving their lives is making low-cost spay and neuter available and creating laws and enforcing them to stop the reckless breeding and indifferent treatment of dogs. Be part of the solution, whether you adopt, buy, or breed.
I will continue working to promote and fund low-cost spay and neuter and I’ll keep working to save as many homeless dogs as I can. I’ll also keep working to support responsible breeding and breeders.
I hope you’ll join me in the fight to end the suffering of homeless, abused, and neglected dogs. They need our help.