Why ‘Adopt, Don’t Shop’ Sets My Teeth on Edge

Don’t talk to me about rescue.  Don’t even try.  Want to know the dogs I have adopted from rescue since 2000?  Here’s the list:  Angus, Rudy, Good Guy, Irwin, Mikey, Banjo, Rowley, Charlie, Dee, Beau, Peekaboo, and Posey.  Which ones were senior ‘poor thing’ adoptions, dogs who had many years on them, nowhere to go, and serious health issues?  That’d be Angus, Rudy, Guy, Irwin, Mikey, Banjo, Charlie, Peeks, and Posey.

But aside from the seniors:  my competition agility dog (Rowley) is a rescue.

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My Animal Assisted Therapy dog (Dee) is a rescue.

cal dee

I DO rescue, people.  I donate, I transport, I screen applications for a local breed rescue, I adopt.  Rescues R Us, FFS.

I also do not-rescue.  My Finnish Lapphund is not a rescue, although my first Lapphund was – and such is the Lappy community in the US, thankfully, that my rescue Lappy remains one of the very, very few of his breed to be documented as a rescue.  (Never mind all the northern-breed mixes that their owners say ‘act like’ or ‘might be’ Lapphunds, let’s stick with what’s verifiable.  Heikki, later Mikey, was a Finnish Lapphund who landed in a shelter in 2009 and was bailed out by the then-head of the breed club, and I adopted him from her.)  I have owned Shelties that came from pet stores (Briar Rose, Sander, Pippi) and Shetland Sheepdogs who came from breeders (Lynnlea’s Sundance Kid, Shofar’s Summer Song).  I haven’t bought a dog from a pet store since 1997, and certainly I never will again, but yeah, I did it in my early years of dog ownership.

heikki takkinen

I traced the stories behind those pet-store dogs:  Briar was from a sweet, clueless little old lady on the south side of Chicago who wanted to breed her Sheltie bitch just once, and kept a puppy from the litter before turning the other pups over to Majestic Pets (“Love on a Leash”) in Evergreen Park.  That sweet little old lady was heartbroken when her bitch AND her bitch’s daughter died of dermatomyositis.  What Ida Holt didn’t know about diseases that lurk In the genes of dogs would have filled a lot of books.  My puppy from that breeding died of the same disease, at the age of 9.

Sander came from Park Pets and he was the best dog ever.  The best.  He was a singleton puppy from some backyard breeders in northern Minnesota.  He got cancer when he was 7, and not entirely because I didn’t know enough about over-vaccination and nutrition back then.  He had lumbar spondylosis, hip dysplasia, and all kinds of joint problems.  It’s safe to assume that no health tests were run on any of his parents, grandparents, and so on back up the line.  He was also an amazing dog with the heart of a champion, and he was born to be my dog.  He lived for seven years with cancer.  Know any other dogs who have managed that?  Nope, me either.

sander 043

Pippi came from the same pet store that Sander did, but she was mill-bred.  Her paper trail stopped at a ‘broker’ in Iowa, so let’s not look any further, because we know what’s there.  Pip had the most regrettable temperament of any of my intentionally-chosen dogs.  Dogs like Miss Pip gave rise to the notion that “Shelties are hyper.”  It was abundantly clear that the first months of her life had not been spent in anything like an ‘enriched’ environment.  Gah.  Poor girl!  She was also very smart, and later loved rally obedience classes.  And the genetic dice, when tossed, came up aces for her:  she never had any injuries or illnesses, never even required a veterinary dental, and was two months shy of her 17th birthday when she keeled over in the back yard, as her heart gave out.  Of course, Pip was such a pip that she keeled over *into the pond*, where I found her body a few minutes later, and I think my neighbors can hear my screams still.  Pip would not exit unobtrusively.

As is true of anyone who lives with dogs and most definitely true of anyone who does work or sports with dogs, I have requirements for what must be and not be present in a dog I own.  The seniors are one thing, they only have to be down on their luck and fairly appealing – and often not even that, eh, Charlie? – to make me say ‘Oh, he/she can come live with me!’  But when I set out to acquire a dog that will share an active lifestyle with me, I care mightily about the structure, the temperament, and the organic health of the dog and its forebears.  I care more now than I did in my early days of dog ownership, because I know more about those things now, and I know more about the strains that dog sports put on a dog’s body.  To anyone who thinks that structure doesn’t matter and that ‘any dog can do agility,’ unless you’re just puttering around a course, you’re setting your dog up for a wicked injury, and I’ve seen that happen more than once or twice.  To anyone who pooh-poohs veterinary chiropractic care for a sport dog, I think my chiro-adjusted dogs are going to have an easier time with the aging process, but whatever …

When I had to retire Shiri from agility in 2009, I knew I wouldn’t find a Sheltie in rescue that I could run in agility for the next ten years.  I’ve been involved in Sheltie rescue for enough years to know that most of what comes in is pet-store Shelties, and that means BYB or mill dogs.  Rarely, a well-built Sheltie from a good breeder finds itself in rescue, but the demand for this lovely breed is such that those dogs are rehomed faster than immediately.  I wanted a young dog or a puppy, and the very few Sheltie breeders in my area that had dogs I liked had nothing available.  So I went to a Border Collie rescue and came home with my first – and to date only – Border Collie:  Rowley, about 10 months at adoption.  At that age, his structure was not a matter of conjecture, and his temperament was evident.  I know nothing about his pedigree, but he’s been doing agility for nine years now, and the only thing to slow him down was a positive heartworm diagnosis this past spring.

The point is, there are all kinds of reasons why I got my dogs.  I got Rudy because I felt sorry for him and because Sander told me that Rudy needed us – and he did!

rudy before

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Yes, that is the same dog.

I got Rowley because I needed an agility dog, and that encompasses more than just agility training, it means a level of companionship that I don’t get from my ‘poor thing’ seniors.  But each and every one of my dogs, past and present, was acquired deliberately and through conscious choice.  Either I wanted a particular dog, or I wanted to help a particular dog, or I wanted to discover something new in dogs – as I did when I moved from Shelties to Lapphunds and Border Collies.

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(I’m happy to say I’ve never had to re-home a dog.  Even if they annoy the bejesus out of me — talking to you again, Charlie! — they are here for life.  It’s not difficult to manage that when you stick with the softer herding breeds; I don’t think my track record would be impeccable if I were a hound person, or a bully-breed person.  But I go for the yappers and herders, and I don’t mix in too many bitches, and we make it work.)

But because each one of my dogs was a purposeful choice, things like this (from a senior dog rescue group’s Facebook page) grate on me:

Friends, the pet overpopulation problem is real. And as much as we feel strongly about spay, neuter and adoption…we also don’t believe in specialty dog breeding and buying puppies today. Not in 2018. It’s about a dog’s heart, personality, and soul. ALL of which shelter dogs have. A breeder puppy is not better than a shelter dog. They’re not. And our culture’s desire and obsession and mindset towards owning certain breeds IS just as much of the problem as lack of spay and neuter. Because if more people saw the value in shelter pets then more of these dogs would have homes.

Oh boy.

Well, first of all, I’m the most pro-spay/neuter person you’ll ever meet.  I’ve never bred dogs and I never will.  I don’t know enough, I have no interest, and as a single and childless woman in her 60s who really bought into the ZPG movement, I think this planet is way too crowded already, with both humans and some species of animals, including dogs.  I own a t-shirt that says ‘My pet’s a member of the Nooters Club!’ with a design similar to the Hooters logo.  Unless a person is one of those rare people who have a purpose in breeding dogs, have the knowledge, time, and money to do it properly, and will stand behind every puppy they produce for the life of that dog, no pets should be bred.  And if someone can’t be relied on to make sure an intact dog they own isn’t bred, even by accident, then no pets should be intact.  The issue of when to spay/neuter is not one I’m going into here.  Just do it.

And second, I’m bothered by the post’s assumption that everyone who bought a puppy from a breeder last year would, if no puppies had been produced, have adopted a dog from a shelter.  Really?  REALLY?  — No.  Of course not.  That’s BS.

Consider:  who gets a puppy from a breeder?  Well, first we have to clarify a bit:  what’s a breeder?  Is it someone who allows dogs to mate, and who homes/sells the resultant puppies?  No, not any more than humans who indiscriminately produce babies and can’t support, educate, or care for them properly, are parents.  This is about more than biology.  A breeder produces dogs to continue and improve a given breed, using the best genetic material they can find, and carefully shapes their breeding programs over time as the outcome of that genetic material evidences itself.

As for the others, let’s call them what they are:  retailers of puppies.  And that includes every Doodle breeder everywhere.  (Sorry, pet peeve of mine.)

So yes, it would be GREAT if people would stop going to retailers of puppies and giving them money in exchange for puppies.  It would be wonderful.  It would make a dent in the pet overpopulation problem, I have no doubt.  And since we can include pet stores that sell puppies in this category, It might even be a death knell for puppymills!

But to the people who go to breeders, and acquire a puppy that has a pedigree behind it that displays generations of working ability, structural health, sound temperament, and conformation to the breed standard:  good for you!  I hope you are asking those breeders hard questions, and not accepting evasive answers; I know you are spending a lot of money to acquire that puppy, and I bet you will spend even more in time, energy, and emotional commitment, not just to your dog but to the breed and its well-being.  Hey, know what you should do now?  Adopt a senior rescue dog to keep your puppy company!

The problem isn’t demand, it’s supply.  Here’s a fact:  in the southern states in the US, there is a pathetically low rate of spay/neuter among pet owners.  I’ve heard estimates that as many as 70% of pet dogs in the South are intact.  This is where the war should be fought, folks:  we need mobile spay/neuter clinics deployed everywhere in the South, like now!  Already, many shelters in the North are doing great work bringing up dogs that would be routinely euthanized in shelters in the South, for lack of space, and vetting and adopting them in towns and cities where there is a demand for them.  This piece from the NYT in 2014 talks about such a program:

https://www.nytimes.com/2014/05/26/opinion/adopt-a-dog-with-a-southern-drawl.html

But I really think that the problem is dog overproduction in specific regions of the country.  That’s what needs to be addressed, and addressed aggressively.  Until that’s done, we are allowing one segment of pet-owning society to create a huge, ugly mess and we are expecting all the other segments of pet-owning society to clean up that mess.  To which I, for one, say ‘screw that.’  If I want a Border Collie puppy from a certain line of Border Collies, and I’ve waited several years for the breeding that produces that puppy, and I’m prepared to pay up for that puppy because I know the work the breeders and owners of the parent dogs have done – don’t you dare tell me I should forget about my BC puppy and go adopt a hound mix that is nothing like what I want and can work with.  Don’t you dare tell me I should clean up the shit-storm that uncaring, uninformed pet owners elsewhere in the country have created, at the cost of my own canine household.  About time they stopped making the mess, isn’t it?

And having said that, I also think that everyone should have at least one rescue dog, if you have the room.  Get a senior, they have so little chance of a good life!  My senior rescue dogs have brought enormous joy to my life (– yes, even you, Charlie) and it is a deeply satisfying feeling to know, as you watch a dog prepare to pass from this world, that you have made that dog’s last years absolutely wonderful, with good food, excellent veterinary care, comfortable lodgings, and the community of other dogs in your house.  It’s a relatively easy way to do good in this world, and that’s no small thing.

beau and banjo

For anyone who wants a pet dog and isn’t going to be doing work, or sports, with that dog:  a lovely alterative to spending years on the wait list of a breeder is to drop by some of the shelters in your area that are helping rehome dogs from the South, or peruse the websites of rescue groups that are engaged in that same task.  Last month I drove a small part of a transport for a Border Collie who came out of a shelter in Texas and will now find a home in Indiana or Illinois, and wowza, if I weren’t full up, Trapper would be living with me now!  Two years old, sharp as a tack, the crime that nearly cost him his life was chasing horses, and I could certainly offer him a horseless environment.  Look at this boy!

trapper transport

There are some wonderful ways to acquire a dog that don’t involve handing gobs of money to some heartless person who retails puppies.  Avoid those people, always.

Since I’ve gotten a bit wordy here, I’ll throw in a nice graphic that outlines the way I would like things to be:

If the person wanting a dog is: Then that person should:
Someone who wants a pet/companion dog of a specific breed, and is happy to miss out on mess and destruction of the puppy stage Find a breed rescue and submit an adoption application; once approved, watch the rescue’s intake and ask to meet dogs that might be The One; OR
Find the national breed club for that breed, contact breeders in your area and introduce yourself, then ask if they are placing any dogs soon and if you might be considered; OR
Check local shelters to see if any dogs of that breed are available.
Someone who wants a pet/companion dog of a specific breed and wants a puppy Find the national breed club for the breed, contact breeders in your area, ask about upcoming litters and get yourself on a waiting list; OR
Contact local shelters to see if they ever have young dogs or puppies of that breed, perhaps as part of their program to adopt out dogs imported from non-local shelters.
Someone who wants a pet/companion dog of no specific breed, or wants a mixed-breed, and has preferences but not requirements as to age You’ve got so many choices!  Start online, look at local rescues and shelters, go from there.  But don’t, please don’t, buy a dog online, either from a retailer of puppies, or a sales site like CraigsList.  If you feel sorry for the dog you see posted for sale on CL, contact a rescue and tell them about it.
Someone who wants a working or sport dog of a specific breed or skill-set Locate breeders who whose dogs are what you’d love to own; contact them, discuss their breeding program and plans.  Get on the waiting list for a puppy, or if you’ll take a young adult dog, ask if any are being ‘grown out’ and available to performance homes.  But you already know this, you’re not the person who’s buying from pet stores or from the local BYB who loves the fact that she can sell her Cocker’s puppies for $500 apiece.  You’ll also look at rescues, depending on the breed.
Someone who wants a hypoallergenic dog, or a Doodle of any variety Get real.  The only non-allergenic dog is a stuffed animal, and Doodles are mutts that retail for $2K, which makes you a prize chump.

You see?  Shelters, rescues, real breeders – those are all sources of wonderful dogs.  Nobody ever needs to do business with a retailer of puppies!

Of course, everyone should support rescues/shelters in some way.  Even if you can’t add a dog to your household, you can donate, transport, fundraise, perform administrative tasks, or in some other way help a group that is helping save canine lives.  (No, sharing posts on Facebook doesn’t count.  Get off your lazy ass and drive a transport, or swing by the local shelter with fifty pounds of food once a month.)

But don’t put the onus of halting the problem of pet overpopulation on the people who do their homework and acquire dogs from breeders who are helping to maintain and improve their breeds.  Even if no breeder had a litter on the ground for the next three years, would that really stem the tide of dogs that comes at a flood out of shelters in the South?  You know it wouldn’t.  FIX THAT PROBLEM, don’t point fingers away from it.

 

 

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