I’ve always taken issue with the “Adopt Don’t Shop” marketing in animal rescue, but never has it hit home more than since my fiance and I decided to buy a purebred standard poodle.
Every other week or so, for the past several years, I’ve gone to my local municipal animal shelter to volunteer with the homeless dogs there.
I’ve had some of the most joyful moments of my life there. 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.
Adopt don’t shop.
Empty the shelters.
It just doesn’t work.
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?
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, scruffy, and preferably low shed.
There are even 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, and don’t breed until their dogs win shows.
Show me an intake shelter filled with poodles, Havanese, spaniels, and golden retrievers, and you can talk to me about how responsible breeders are the problem.
What dogs do fill 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, these 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 that I focus my volunteering on. 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.
I don’t know where exactly all of these dogs are coming from, but they’re not coming from my dogs’ breeder.
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.
I would be happy to go on about why I chose a standard poodle from the breeder that I did. I expect I’ll write much about our new poodle and why we picked him as I get to know him in the upcoming months.
Truthfully it doesn’t really 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.
I love dogs. That’s why I volunteer. That’s why I foster. And that’s why I choose to buy from a responsible breeder.
If you want to make a difference, work with the shelter dogs near you. 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 you have no papers, they haven’t placed in shows, and you aren’t sure of their long-term health, please don’t breed or encourage breeding.
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.
There are a lot of things that we can do to reduce the homeless dog problem. It is something that we are all responsible for. 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.
We must work together to solve this problem. Pointing fingers won’t help. Casting judgment won’t help. Attacking breeders won’t help. The answer 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.
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 champion lines because it is all of our responsibility to give each puppy the best chance at a good life that we can.
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.