Buying from a breeder: the ultimate sin a “dog lover” can commit?

Note:  I’d like to define two terms I’ll be using in this post.
  • Purpose-bred dog – a dog bred carefully, from fully health tested and competition-titled parents, for very specific purposes such as to adhere carefully to a breed standard so as to be predictable in type, looks and temperament, and for specific purposes such as show, obedience, agility, service dog, etc.
  • Nonspecific companion dog – a dog (ideally from a shelter or rescue) whose purpose is to be a good companion and whose looks, breed and ability to compete/perform are not important.
 

I am planning on bringing a new puppy home.  What might be surprising to some who only know me in passing or on FB is the fact this puppy will be coming from a breeder. Why surprising? I wear my vegan-rescuer-dog advocate badge loud and proud and it is often the very first fact people know about me. There are some big things people expect from someone who uses the label “vegan” or “dog & rescue advocate” the main one being they “adopt don’t shop”.  So popping up with a new pup on FB and declaring he’s a purpose-bred dog from a fantastic breeder is going to lead to  some sideways glances and snarky comments.  It’s happened to me before.

Anyone who has worked with me in dog advocacy or actually knows me as more than a passing acquaintance knows that I’ve always been ok with breeders, even an advocate for ethical hobby breeders, and purchasing pups from breeders UNDER THE RIGHT CIRCUMSTANCES. (I’ll touch on those circumstances in my next post). What I mainly want to discuss in this blog is the aversion and outright hatred some people have for breeders and the blind promotion of adoption over breeders at all cost. I want to talk about market needs, and the supposed “over population” problem, as well.  And about going with your heart, your gut, your instincts, that lead you to a specific dog.

There are more potential homes than there are dogs in need, by the way, so you may have to get creative in your search for your “soul dog”. He may not be sitting in that local shelter, but rather in the yard of an ethical breeder across the country. And guess what! That’s ok!  Read on.

I read a really great book recently called The Dog Merchants by Kim Kavin. I bring this up because Kavin weaves together like no other author I’ve read the connecting factors that bring breeder/broker/rescue/shelter together under the umbrella heading of “dog merchants”. Stripped down to bare unemotional bones, whether you are a dog broker auctioning off your merchandise to the highest bidder or a rescue group who places dogs out of their own home, there is a transaction being made between someone looking to unload their “wares” and a consumer who is looking for a specific product. Kavin stresses there is no so-called over population problem because the number of dogs waiting for homes in shelters and rescues OVERALL is less than the number of people looking to purchase or adopt a dog. Shelter dogs may sit and languish and ultimately be destroyed not because a person like me buys a purpose-bred dog from a breeder, but because people looking for an everyday nonspecific companion haven’t been sold on a shelter dog over a dog from a breeder (or they might find themselves repeatedly hitting walls in their quest to adopt – that’ll also be addressed in the next post). This is about better, more extensive marketing, something shelters and rescues have really started to get the hang of lately, but need to continue improving.  This is about rescues cutting it out with the robotic “must have fenced in yard, etc” responses that cause really great people to be denied adoption.   There are other reasons a person wanting a nonspecific companion dog may end up with a dog from a source other than a shelter as well (I know several personally, and I’ll talk about it in my next post).

What you can’t do if you travel in dog rescue, animal advocacy, or vegan circles, EVER, is purchase a dog from a breeder. It doesn’t matter why you got that puppy, how vegan you are, how many dogs you’ve saved, how much charity work you’ve done, or how long you’ve worked to help keep dogs in their homes and out of shelters. If you bring home a dog from a breeder, you’re now on the Official Shit List of Shitty People who Buy from Shitty People Called Breeders. And you’re now considered someone who caused the death of a shelter dog because you chose purchase over adoption. Let’s get one thing straight:  shelter dogs are dogs that were left by people who decided that a dog was disposable.  There could be reasons ranging from, “I don’t feel like having a dog anymore” to “I’m going to be homeless if I don’t get rid of this dog because I can’t find housing that will allow me to keep him”.  But no matter what, the DOG was the one “thing” in the equation that was disposable.  *I* didn’t dump a dog.  No dog is in the shelter because of ME.  IF I get a dog from a breeder, does that mean a dog is sitting in a shelter because I didn’t choose to adopt? No, a dog is sitting in a shelter because someone ELSE decided he or she was disposable.  The end.  That is not my responsibility.  I advocate for dogs in shelters. I think for most people, a shelter or rescue dog is a great way to go because most people just want a nice dog, a “nonspecific companion”, to share their living space and day to day life with. There are dogs like that in shelters and rescues.

There are dogs in shelters and rescues that don’t belong in ANYone’s home, too.  And a lot of time/effort/money sometimes gets spent on these dogs at the detriment of the dog, other dogs in shelters and society in general.

There are tons of resources being spent on single dogs that ultimately end up destroyed because of some horrific tragedy that so obviously could have been avoided, when meanwhile really nice dogs could have been saved with those badly allocated funds.  So a rescue spends tons of money on a single dog that definitely should have been euthanized from the jump, and other dogs died because so much money was focused on one dog that should never have been “saved” in the first place (i.e. serious aggression or extreme health issues that cause a lifetime of pain/many expensive surgeries and lifetime aftercare).  These bad decisions are overlooked, but one person buying from one highly ethical breeder for a very specific reason is seen as “the bad guy” who supposedly caused the death of a shelter dog.

Let me tell you a little story:  a rescued shelter dog is placed in a home. The home decides they don’t want him anymore.  The original shelter doesn’t take the dog back. The dog gets dumped on a rescue.  The dog is in a kennel, getting anxious, developing behavior problems. The dog finally gets placed in another home. The dog doesn’t do well and begins aggressing towards the other dog in the home.  The dog goes back to the kennel and a merry go round of placement to return to placement to return begins. This is not a hypothetical situation.  This is a story I see play out in my line of work over and over again. I have another story:  a reputable breeder produces a litter of highly sought after purebreds.  They are very carefully bred for a specific task, and a specific puppy is placed in a well-screened home.  The dog settles in nicely and lives out her life in the home that the breeder hand picked for this specific dog.  If something had happened and the home couldn’t keep the dog, the breeder would have immediately scooped up the dog and taken her back.  This dog doesn’t make it anywhere NEAR a shelter.  This also is not a hypothetical situation. In one situation, there is a self perpetuating cycle – one shelter adopts out a dog, the dog doesn’t stay in the home, so the dog that was originally from the rescue goes back into ANOTHER rescue OR shelter.  A shelter dog ends up homeless again. Bad placement, no follow-up, lack of resources, whatever you want to blame it on, one dog is in a shelter because another rescue or shelter didn’t have any follow through to make sure that dog was ok.

So let’s state the obvious here: shelters and rescues de not breed dogs. They are not responsible for the creation of the dogs that end up in their care. The starting point was some random person who had a litter, either intentionally or due to negligence, and then didn’t take responsibility.  So someone else took on the responsibility – the shelter or rescue.  And now the dog is in the system – now it is up to that system to place that dog with care and not perpetuate the cycle of dogs getting thrown away and ending up back in the system. But that is exactly what happens often – a shelter dog ends up back in the system (as seen in my experience).  Take a moment to really let that idea sink in.  Just because you are getting a dog from a shelter does not mean you are supporting a system that is working to eliminate dogs from shelters. You could be supporting a system that actually perpetuates the need for shelters.

Many shelters and rescues are doing a great job carefully placing dogs and following through to make sure that dog they took responsibility for stays in the adopting home and doesn’t get dumped back into the system at some point.  But a lot of shelters and rescues don’t do that and dogs are thrown into homes without care or follow through in an effort to show good adoption numbers.  Thousands and thousands of dollars are being spent on dogs that ultimately shouldn’t even BE placed in homes, while really nice dogs that don’t have any dramatic backstory other than they are just nice dogs that ended up in crummy situations are sitting in shelters wasting away and many times being euthanized.  The recent highly publicized story of Blue the Pit Bull  who got placed in a home which under the BEST of circumstances would have been wrong for him, and ultimately killed his senior adopter is a case in point – the rescue had a history of bad placements and Blue had a bite history.  We are rushing to condemn ANYone, even the most researched, responsible, person with highly specific needs, who buys a dog from a breeder while there is chaos reigning in the shelter and rescue world.

As long as you adopt, you are supporting what’s right, but IF you buy from a breeder, you are evil incarnate?  Hmmmm.

There is good bad and ugly in rescue AND in breeding.  Let’s face it – people can be really irresponsible and ego-driven, and the dogs often get the shit end of the stick. So as mature adults striving to do the right thing, looking for the right dog for the right situation, we should do our best to follow our gut and go with the source that is the most correct for our needs. And  when we take on that dog, we are now responsible. And just because you are a “shelter” or “rescue” you are not exempt – you need to make sure what you are doing isn’t landing a dog back into the system, as well.

There is a rescue person mentioned in the first chapter of Kavin’s book who buys from a broker (that same broken who sells dogs that ultimately end up in pet shops). Let me pose a question:  is a person who “rescues” a dog from a shady situation by handing over money  (therefore financing the source of the problem) “doing the right thing”?  How is this any different from the guy who buys a puppy for $50 from his neighbor’s BYB litter, with good intentions to keep and care for that dog for life?  Well, assuming both parties hold up their implied end of the bargain and make sure each respective dog is cared for and in a stable home the rest of it’s life, and keeps each dog out of the system, can we really take a step back, look at the big picture and say who is better than whom? (This is just a question posed to make you think – I, for the record, do not condone buying from BYB’s nor buying to “save” a dog from a bad situation period.)

I want to reiterate this:  there is no “overpopulation problem”.   There are more than enough wanting-homes that are ready and able to welcome the right dog into their family.  Demand exceeds supply but not all dogs end up in the right homes, and some don’t end up in homes at all.  Some SHOULDN’T.  But a lot of them who should, don’t.  Is this a systemic thing, or is it the fault of people like me who buy from very carefully chosen purpose-bred litters? My dogs will never end up in a shelter.  But I know dogs adopted from rescues that most certainly end up back in the system.

Back to demand exceeding supply – the No Kill Advocacy Center calls it a “market share challenge” -,  some rescues are so desperate for in-demand dogs to place into new homes that they will haul dogs from way out of state back up to their home base state, adopt them out of the back of a van for $300, then go home for the day and do it all again next weekend. Where do all those dogs ultimately end up?  I’m here to tell you, because it’s my job and I’ve been in the dog world for so long, that a lot of those dogs end up getting dumped back into the system.  So it goes:  Shelter dog gets pulled by a “rescue in a van” – gets placed on the spot at a rescue event or in a parking lot – ends up dumped back into the system when the new home realizes the dog doesn’t work in their home.

Now let’s talk about the rescues that refuse to modify their robotic responses to applicants and spout off the generic “must have fenced in yard” requirements and are in the process turning away wonderful homes who actually go outside and walk their dogs, enjoying each other’s company in the sunlight and air, and do this 3 or 4 times a day, but somehow that mystical magical fenced in yard that makes it so easy to just toss the dog out and forget about him for the day is preferred.  There are a bunch of dumb rescue refusals I’ve heard from FRIENDS, people I know personally and know are great dog parents. And those people ended up going to breeders or Craigslist.   Some rescues are so busy turning people away that they have actually created a whole new category of people looking for dogs: those who wanted to adopt but got so fed up with lack of response or denial that they picked a dog from the nearest available source, a breeder or person  rehoming  a dog on Craigslist or (ugh) a pet store.

This blog is not meant to attack rescue and shelter work, work that is very near and dear to my heart.  Rescue people are some of the kindest, most loving, empathetic people you could ever hope to meet. I could certainly write a post tearing apart unethical, crappy breeders. I could write ten. This isn’t what I’m focusing on here.   The point I’m hoping to get across is that the label hovering over the head of the dog you bring home doesn’t necessarily mean anything about what’s going on at the back end/source.  What means something is what happens to the dog once it has been brought into this world and taken into the care of someone whose duty it is to care for, love and protect that dog.  A dog that carries the label “rescue dog” doesn’t mean he or she’s got owners who have supported the plight of homeless dogs and now there is one less dog in the system.  It doesn’t make the rescue who placed the dog a hero.   A dog that carries the label “dog from a breeder” doesn’t mean a shelter dog died because of that purchase.   Dogs ending up in the right, permanent homes, carefully placed with love and care is the desired final outcome.  There is no difference between a really well placed dog from an ethical breeder vs a dog placed from a really ethical rescue or shelter.  The problem is bad placement, irresponsible breeders and BYBs throwing dogs out to anyone for a buck. The problem is uneducated and unethical rescue and shelter practices that worry not about sending a dog home for good, but rather just about getting a dog out the door and that adoption fee in their pocket.

I’m going to post some reasons that I believe reasonable for someone to purchase a dog from a breeder in my next post, as well as talk about those people who try to adopt but get ignored or turned away.

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