Bored and yearning for companionship — or maybe because Busch has been offering free beer to anyone who takes in puppos during the coronavirus — quarantined Americans have been converging upon animal shelters, adopting an unprecedented number of good bois. Enough dogs have been homed to thoroughly empty some shelters of their adoptable animals, which is wonderful news for the shelters, the pups and the families. However, such heightened demand has generated a bit of a conundrum for anyone late to the game: With some shelters exhausted and others hosting only a small selection of animals, choosy adopters, not knowing where to adopt a dog, are struggling to encounter the right dogs for their homes, and some are left wondering if buying from a breeder might be a better alternative.
Now, adopting from a shelter versus shopping from a breeder has been a vehement, ongoing debate among the canine community for a long, long time, primarily because of an assortment of ethical dilemmas associated with the rearing and selling of a living, breathing creature. However, understanding the potential pitfalls of where you secure your new best friend from can be a bit confusing, especially now that shelters — the supposed most humane means of getting a dog — are emptying out. But with a little guidance, you can get a pupper and feel good about where it came from. So come along and get ready to meet your precious new fella.
First, uh, what are my options when getting a dog?
There are four main options: First, you can adopt a dog from a local animal shelter, or you can adopt one from a rescue group. Rescue groups tend to have a greater reach and selection than just any single shelter, and some of these groups are breed-specific, which is especially handy if you happen to be set on a certain breed of dog. Your other options are to purchase a dog from a breeder — which again, you might be inclined to do if you want a specific breed — or you can buy one from a pet store.
What are the pros and cons of each?
Adopting from an animal shelter or rescue organization is great for several reasons, the first of which is that, because they have a limited capacity and are taking in a non-stop flow of homeless puppos, when you adopt one, you literally save their life. Pet overpopulation is a major, major problem in the U.S., and when the number of incoming homeless dogs far outweighs the number of adopters, which is almost always the case, many shelters are forced to euthanize animals that have been up for adoption for a while — according to the 2017 numbers, around 1.5 million animals in shelters were euthanized that year, 670,000 of which were dogs.
“It’s a shame how many adoptable dogs lose their lives in a shelter,” says Tony Johnson, emergency and critical care veterinarian and Minister of Happiness for the Veterinary Information Network, who just adopted another dog during quarantine. “I’d like to see all adoptable dogs in a shelter go to good homes first and foremost.”
This is why many organizations suggest adopting over anything else. “If you’re looking to bring a new pet into your family, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) encourages you to consider one of the thousands of animals waiting to be adopted from shelters and rescue organizations across the country,” says Jennie Lintz, director of puppy mill initiatives for the ASPCA.
But adopting is good for other reasons, too. “A huge benefit of adopting animals from a shelter is that shelter staff know the animals well and can provide detailed information about an animal’s history, medical needs, behavior and temperament,” Lintz explains. “They also consider a potential adopter’s lifestyle, home environment and the animal’s potential compatibility with children and other animals in the home. All of this information ensures stronger matches.”
In other words, if you have a lethargic lifestyle, the shelter staff can help pair you with a dog that loves to lie on the couch. Or if you cherish hiking, they can help match you with an energetic dog.
Lastly, adopting a dog is almost always significantly cheaper than buying one from a breeder. A puppy from a breeder can be thousands of dollars, while a puppy or adult dog is normally less than $150 from a shelter or rescue.
What about buying from a breeder or pet store?
Usually, people purchase from a breeder because they want puppies, which go quick in shelters, or a purebred dog, one with a documented pedigree that looks a certain way (although, ironically, the Humane Society estimates that 25 percent of dogs in shelters are indeed purebred). Among the main reasons breeding has a bad reputation is simply because, as I mentioned earlier, there are already way too many dogs out there, most of which are homeless or on death row, and breeding is the primary reason for that. According to some estimates, 74 percent of dogs and cats in America come from breeders. Meanwhile, thousands of homeless animals are being euthanized in shelters every single day. In that sense, when you purchase a dog from a breeder, you essentially contribute to a system that results in the mass killing of a whole lot of animals.
The other problem with breeding is that it can easily be done irresponsibly, and a lot of breeders cut corners by relying on inbreeding, which can result in all sorts of painful and life-threatening genetic defects in their dogs, including hip dysplasia, blindness, deafness, heart defects, skin problems, epilepsy — and the list goes on. “There’s a phenomenon called hybrid vigor, which is, if you mix breeds, you tend to get the best of both of them, and if you keep breed lines too close together, you can compound problems,” Johnson explains. “The other problem is that a lot of breeds are bred for a particular look, not a particular level of health. Goldens are sort of the classic example, because they look a certain way and have a certain personality. Those are all phenotypic traits. But Goldens have a huge incidence of cancer, because those cancer genes have come along for the ride.”
Breeders that inbreed and have poor living conditions for their animal, like forcing breeding and keeping them in cages, are often referred to as puppy mills, which are usually where pet stores get their puppies. “Those cute puppies in the window are tempting, but pet stores aren’t the place to buy a puppy,” Lintz emphasizes. “Responsible breeders won’t sell to pet stores, leaving stores to source primarily from cruel breeders, who prioritize profit over animal welfare.”
Yikes. Is there even such a thing as an ethical breeder, then?
Well, if you focus on the overpopulation issue, not really. In an ideal world, every homeless animal would be homed before breeding would be necessary. And even then, the ethics of forcibly breeding animals is questionable at best.
Realistically, though, breeding is a thing, and some breeders are much, much better than others. “Just like barbers, grocers and TV repair men, there are good breeders, and there are horrible breeders,” Johnson says. “A good breeder does it for the love of the breed and works actively to improve the breed, meaning they bring in new stock and don’t just breed the son to the mother to the brother. They work on bringing some genetic variability.”
Lintz adds, “If you do decide to work with a breeder, it’s important to take your time and find a responsible breeder who gave your future pet the best start possible. There are plenty of responsible breeders out there, but imitators will try to fool you, so it’s important to learn how to spot the real deal.”
“No matter where you begin your search for a good breeder — either through a personal referral or a web search — it’s critical that you physically visit the breeder’s home,” Lintz continues. “You should expect to meet at least the mother dog and ideally other littermates and see where they were raised. Responsible breeders plan each litter and are devoted to the health and wellbeing of their dogs. Different breeds are predisposed to certain inherited disorders and diseases, and a good breeding program should aim to minimize these risks and improve the overall health of the breed. A good breeder should be transparent, inviting and asking questions, and they should be able to provide references and serve as a resource for you as your puppy grows.”
When visiting, Johnson suggests asking yourself this simple question to make the right decision about what kind of breeder you’re dealing with: “Does it seem like a factory, or does it seem like someone trying to improve the breed?”
If a breeder is hush-hush about their operation, chances are they’re doing something sketchy. “If a breeder is reluctant for you to visit, refuses to show you the puppies’ parents and where they live, won’t let you see the puppies up close and handle them, or wants to bring a pup to you at another location — even if that location is more convenient for you — move on,” Lintz says.
I want to be ethical, but I also want a specific breed. In fact, I need a hypoallergenic dog. How do I find out where to adopt a dog like that?
“Breed-specific rescue programs solve a lot of problems,” Johnson says. “There are people who have a specific desire for a specific kind of dog. Right or wrong, that does exist. The first stop those people should make are rescue organizations. There are breed-specific rescue organizations, so, if you’re like, ‘I grew up with pugs, and for me, it’s either no dog or a pug,’ there are pug rescues everywhere.”
Lintz agrees, adding, “If you’ve got your heart set on a particular breed of dog and haven’t been able to find one for adoption at a local animal shelter or rescue group, contact a breed-specific rescue. These volunteer-run networks are easy to find online and often have regional chapters.”
Best Friends Animal Society and Petfinder are great websites, where you can punch in breeds, ages, sizes, sexes, colors and temperaments, and boom: A bunch of adoptable dogs in your area will pop right up. If you’re not totally sure what you want, Petfinder even has a handy quiz to help match you with the perfect pup for your household and lifestyle. And while people have been adopting a lot right now, trust me, there are many, many more dogs out there that need a home.
Sounds like I have some internet searching to do.
Sweet! If you do end up finding the right dog for you, make sure to visit our “Basic Bitch” column if you run into any question (which you will), where you can learn things like what dogs dream about, whether you should let your pup lick your face, and most importantly during quarantine, whether you can safely smoke weed around them.