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The One About "Adopt Don't Shop"

“Adopt, don’t shop” is a powerful message that we're sure you've heard. It encourages people to choose adoption when considering bringing a new pet into their lives, and for good reason. Every year almost one million adoptable shelter dogs and cats are euthanized in the U.S. due to overcrowding and limited resources in shelters. By adopting, you directly save a life and create space for another animal to be rescued. Adoption can be an incredible option for many individuals or families. But is it right for everyone? The short answer is no, but we don't do short answers around here so let's start by dissecting a few of the common claims made by those who support, "adoption only."

Claim: When you adopt, you choose compassion over convenience.

Reality: There isn't much that I would consider convenient about getting a puppy, regardless of the source. Bringing home a dog from a shelter certainly carries with it several potential hurdles, given that the dog likely already has a past that may be full of unpleasantries, to put it mildly. Dealing with the mental baggage and even already apparent medical issues is, I suppose they have implied, "inconvenient." Acquiring a puppy from an ethical breeder has its own set of difficulties. First and foremost, adjusting any puppy to living in your home is a challenge. Then, you should consider the financial aspect of paying the ethical breeder. In many ways, adopting and buying share many of the same, "inconveniences." However, the likelihood of a puppy from an ethical breeder having already experienced emotional trauma is exceedingly low. The same cannot be said for one that is adopted from a shelter. It takes the right person to take on everything that goes along with the emotional baggage of being a dog from a shelter, and it isn't a commitment to enter into lightly. If you can do it, and you want to do it, that's fantastic. If, however, you would like to put in the work of molding a dog into the good canine citizen you hope for it to be without the additional hurdles of overcoming negative learned behaviors due to mistreatment or neglect, that is okay too. It isn't a matter of convenience; it is a matter of compatibility.

Claim: Adopting is the best way to reduce pet overpopulation and discourage unethical breeding practices.

Reality: This is a difficult one for many canine lovers to accept, but adopting is not the key to discouraging unethical breeding. Addressing unethical breeding is far more complicated of a task. The answer is fourfold:

  1. Education

  2. NOT purchasing from unethical breeders

  3. Supporting ethical rescues

  4. Supporting ethical breeders

Education may be the most important aspect because it is the precursor to fully understanding the other three. Not only is educating the general public necessary (this is incredibly challenging) but educating breeders is also necessary. Many breeders get into breeding because they have two dogs and they love those dogs, so they want to make more of them. Most of those breeders don't realize what it takes to be an ethical breeder. Doing it the right way is complicated, financially burdensome, stressful, and time consuming. It takes a tremendous amount of effort to learn how to be an ethical breeder, and it takes being willing to make sacrifices (mostly monetarily, but also emotionally) to put that into practice.

When you are starting out breeding Golden Retrievers, for example, and you want to go about it the correct way you have to put a small fortune into health testing both the female and the male you hope to use. And that is considered the bare minimum. Ideally, you would also make the rounds showing your would-be parent dogs in conformation events to demonstrate that they meet the breed standard and are therefore good candidates for producing a future generation of Goldens. You would also ideally compete with them in sporting events to demonstrate that they are physically sound and capable of doing the things they are bred to do. None of this is cheap.

I'll offer you a personal example. One of my Afghan Hounds was health tested, shown in conformation, and competed in sporting events. She developed perfectly, in the physical sense. However, she never grew out of her shy disposition from puppyhood, and I didn't want to potentially pass down that withdrawn temperament to future puppies. The cost was upwards of $11,000, and the decision was ultimately made to not breed that female due to a shy temperament. Another example: I imported a gorgeous male Afghan Hound to show and eventually breed. I found a physical anomaly on one of his legs. Despite the $6,000 investment, I opted to neuter him and not show or breed. Both of these situations were astronomically difficult financially and emotionally but breeding them anyway would have been unethical. These types of sacrifices don't plague unethical breeders. They will breed unfit dogs together anyway. The reason they breed isn't to produce increasingly healthy and long-lived generations. The reason they breed is to sell and make a profit. Ethical breeding is a often a money pit, and you're lucky if you break even. Potential breeders need to know this going in and be taught the importance of these responsible practices in the hopes that if they proceed with breeding they will do so ethically.

NOT purchasing from unethical breeders can be much harder than it sounds, especially when it feels like rescuing. Often, buying a puppy from a bad breeder is an accident. The buyer doesn't know they're buying from a bad breeder. But sometimes the buyer does know. For example, purchasing a puppy from a breeder at the flea market because the puppy looks sick or injured is knowingly buying from a bad breeder. And while it certainly would be considered rescuing, because you would give the puppy a better home and medical care, it has the unintended consequence of giving that unethical breeder the financial incentive to continue breeding. While the alternative is bleak, supporting such breeders is obviously counterproductive to stopping unethical breeding.

Supporting ethical rescues is one that may seem redundant, but this really just means to be mindful of the rescue you support. Not all rescues are created equal, and many - despite being nonprofits in the legal sense - operate with a profit goal, and thanks to their nonprofits status their financial records are public record. When an administration member receives a $0 salary but takes home $200,000 in bonuses, there are shenanigans afoot. Often, sticking with small local rescues is best. Donations of not just money, but food and supplies, is often extremely appreciated! These types of rescues need all the support they can get.

Supporting ethical breeders is absolutely vital. This is a big reason why, "adopt don't shop," fails to hold water. Demonizing ethical breeders doesn't do anything whatsoever to unethical breeders. The ethical ones are the ones who care deeply about the puppies they produce. They sink fortunes into health testing to try to ensure the healthiest possible outcomes for their litters. They will fight tooth and nail to keep the puppies they produce out of shelters, typically even having a "no questions asked" return policy for the life of the puppy. They usually even work with local and national rescues to help support their fundraising goals, and to help find dogs homes. The ethical breeder isn't the bad guy. But they're often the scapegoat.

An example of a situation that could have been avoided if an ethical breeder was involved is that of the Standard Poodle, Archie. Archie was purchased from a backyard breeder in Aiken, South Carolina, for $900. Archie ended up being surrendered to a shelter at 8 months old due to him being too hyper and occasionally aggressive for the family who bought him. One year and three families later, he was euthanized. An ethical breeder would never have allowed this to happen. Not only would Archie have avoided time in a shelter, he also would not have been sold to an incompatible family. In fact, if there were any signs of the behavioral issues that he exhibited present in his parents, they would have never been bred and he wouldn't have been produced. Shelters are not full because of ethical breeders; they are full because of unethical breeders and irresponsible owners.

Claim: Shopping at pet stores or buying from breeders may inadvertently support practices that harm animals.

Reality: Shopping for puppies at pet stores should absolutely be avoided. They are supplied by puppy mills and backyard breeders. But "breeders" is too broad. Buying from ethical breeders is incredibly unlikely to support harm to any animals - and this is the case for any species. Whether you want a puppy, a bird, a reptile, or a fish, you will always be better off finding an ethical breeder to buy from as opposed to purchasing from a pet store.

Claim: Adopted animals are often trained and less likely to have health issues.

Reality: This is a new one for me. While it's true that many adult dogs in shelters may know to not urinate indoors, this doesn't mean they are "trained." Training consists of a broad spectrum of teaching and behavior modification that helps a dog live cohesively in your home, and it's quite involved. The odds of a surrendered dog having this complete skill set are low, given the fact that the person who had them would have had to put in considerable effort to train but didn't put in the minimal effort to keep them in the family.

Additionally, almost none of the dogs in a shelter come from someone who researched pedigrees, monitored breeding, and health tested their breeding dogs to ensure they were producing the healthiest puppies possible. Shelters are full of puppies that resulted from someone accidentally letting their sibling Maltese-mixes breed, or from a dog of unknown breed that was found walking down a dirt road. Zero health history. These pups need homes too. But it is important to understand that a dog from the shelter is a wild card, both in terms of behavior and health. Worth it to many people, and I encourage you to adopt if you are one of those, but it isn't a risk many people want to take and that is okay too. A dog from an ethical breeder can still be full of unknowns, but a lot less unknowns than one from a shelter. For example, if you were adamant about avoiding a dog that is likely to develop hip dysplasia due to your first dog struggling with it, you could get a dog from the shelter or you could get a dog from health tested lines that you can look up and see were free of hip dysplasia for the past nine generations. This is obviously something that isn't important to everyone, but it is an option, nonetheless.

With all of that said, however, old dogs CAN learn new tricks! Regardless of whether or not a shelter dog is trained, they usually can be. The amount a dog has learned so far shouldn't necessarily deter you from adoption. It would simply mean you have to do a little work to get them where they need to be.

Claim: They come with unique stories; some rescued from abusive situations or found living on the streets. Knowing their past can strengthen your bond with them.

Reality: This is an odd spin on the trauma faced by some of the animals that find themselves in shelters. Knowing a dog has been abused doesn't necessarily strengthen your bond, it amplifies your empathy and increases your drive to protect them going forward. That is wonderful, and it is of great benefit to the dog that you may adopt. But what is troubling is the part that is implied by the claim. That to purchase a puppy means there will be less of a bond. This simply isn't the case. Regardless of where our four-legged family members come from, we all experience that strong bond.

Claim: There is no reason to buy a puppy when there are so many dogs in shelters who need homes.

Reality: A parent is making the rounds at various local shelters searching for the right dog to bring home to her two young children. Her kids have been begging for a dog, but she's nervous about the ones she has seen available at the rescues because they have all been either large and intimidating, or frail and elderly. She doesn't want to bring a dog home that is near the end of its life because she is trying to add a long-term family member for her and her kids. And she doesn't want anything that she is afraid of. A friend tells her about someone they know who breeds Jack Russel Terriers and it turns out they have a litter! The breeder has health test the parents, and multiple prior generations have all been health tested with beautiful results. She's confident that this is a healthy litter, as confident as one can possibly be. And a JRT puppy is far more compatible to her family than what she has seen over the past few months in the shelters. Should she buy the puppy, or try one of the shelter dogs?

Every dog isn't for every home. There are many instances when buying is more appropriate than adopting, and vise versa.

Claim: Breeders are self-serving and don't care about you or the animals.

Reality: Ethical breeders, not shelters, are almost exclusively the suppliers of dogs for Service Animal Training. Breeders spend decades selecting for the perfect temperaments and best learners to facilitate this vital need. These puppies are typically donated to the organizations that then train them for people in need with either physical or mental limitations, and the breeder either makes no money or loses money in the process. This is far from self-serving.

There is no shortage of ways to dissect this topic, and no shortage of varying opinions. What seems clear to me, though, is that we get nowhere by attacking the opposite side. If our collective goal is to make good choices for canine populations that result in fewer and fewer surrenders to shelters, it will take working together and attempting to understand each other.



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