If you bought your dog, I’m not judging you

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This is a response to what I find to be a highly judgmental and harmful article on Dogster about buying a dog (or pet) from a dog breeder vs adoption. Not only is it judgmental, but it has a photo of an angry face with a wagging finger! The author even claims to “wish bodily harm on others” (although yes, it is one of the worst scenarios we hear of – and yes, I’ve been a volunteer who encountered this “relinquish a senior dog for a puppy”). Although that is a separate issue than the overall topic at hand. An article admonishing the general pet owning public does not help the pet adoption movement, and this kind of message only hurts us and can lead to a reduction in adoptions. So here is my response.

farmcat If you bought your dog, I m not judging youPet overpopulation is a myth. There are more than enough homes for every pet who is killed at shelters: 17 million pets are brought into homes each year, and 4 million die in shelters. While I choose to adopt, and hope others will too by striving to help advocate shelter pets, I do not hold purchasing a pet against you: it’s not directly causing a pet to die as there are more than enough homes for shelter animals and animals from breeders.

It is our job as advocates to get the great dogs and cats in front of your eyes, effectively, and if we do our job well the shelters will be empty. Shelters can be emptied, this has been demonstrated in over 30 communities in our country! But until we reverse the stereotypes and implement the No Kill Equation in our shelters, animals will continue to die. But it is not because a person bought a puppy from a breeder.

Puppy mills are evil, but breeders aren’t always bad

Don’t get me wrong, is true by definition (“milling”) that puppy mills are bad and harm animals physically and mentally – this is a separate issue. It is true that many of the dogs (not all) in a pet store are from those bad situations. This is a legal problem: mills need to be closed down, because they harm animals. Breeders come from all shapes and sizes: some are terrific, knowledgeable, caring, and responsible (even rescuing dogs of their own breed). Others less so. But well-bred dogs, ones bred entirely for temperament, will help out all kinds of dogs. Having many more excellent temperament dogs in the gene pool, who can “put up” with our hectic schedules or a somewhat neglectful home, means more dogs will stay in those homes and out of kill shelters. Nope, not an ideal situation and perhaps a better home would be nice – but busy dual-income households are reality. Sadly many dogs are relegated to the back yard or indoor life (and then the shelter when they have a barking problem). But if they don’t have a barking problem, they stay with the family. If they withstand a hectic child-filled household with a wagging tail, they stay with the family. They wait on the couch until you return from your workday, and don’t freak out if the walk is short, they don’t end up at the shelter. These stable dogs stay with their families, and they are OK with life as it is.

I know many of you might think “but that dog should never be with those families!” In some cases, perhaps not. But remember that family will decide to get a dog anyway, and the more stable that dog they find is (better temperament) means it is more likely to stay with that family and out of the shelter… and the dog is more accepting of whatever life hands their way. There are few “perfect” homes, most homes have imperfections and life (and dogs/people) are unpredictable – this is reality.

Sharing experience is good. Guilt-tripping lectures are bad.

Advocates want to get the word out that shelter dogs are some of the best canines around, and come in all shapes, sizes, temperaments, and ages. Guilt-tripping, shock-tactics, and wagging fingers is not the way to do it. Information about the great dogs and cats in shelters are. Showing how there are puppies, young dogs, pure-bred dogs, highly-trainable dogs, non-aggressive animals, and so on – not admonishing your co-workers for purchasing their dog.

Advocates: show, don’t judge and preach! Maybe print out a few adoptable animal listings and ask them to just take a look. Ask them if they’d like a hand. Do you train dogs? Offer some complimentary services. Don’t be pushy, just be helpful. If it doesn’t work, maybe it will next time. But being preachy or laying the guilt-trip on your acquaintance won’t help them find their way to a rescue or shelter (where they may feel they will encounter more of the same!) If they have questions or concerns, chat with them about your experiences instead of starting a lecture about what they “should” do. This leads to defensiveness, and won’t (easily) lead to an adoption.

I choose to adopt. I hope others will, too.

While I choose to adopt while animals continue to die, I respect that others may be confused or simply do not understand our movement or the kinds of animals who need homes. Remember, if you can, back to before you understood sheltering. Before you personally knew the shelter and rescue pets. Did you know much about shelters or the animals in them? Statistics? Maybe not, and that’s what your friend or co-worker is up against – statistics show many are undecided about where they will find their next pet. They have heard stories maybe, they have been swayed by myth perhaps. Maybe they just need to hear a bit about “the other side”. And it is how we approach this convincing that will make all the difference.

It is our job to spread the word, and how we do so will directly influence how successful we are in doing so. Carefully choose your words, tone, and evidence. This will lead to your friend considering that shelter animal (this time, or next). Wagging your finger at them with a frowny face or stepping onto the soap box will not.

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About Author

Jen deHaan is graphic designer, small business owner, and dog person living in Bay Area, California. She likes to support local and national efforts for animal welfare and advocacy. Jen enjoys learning about dog training and behavior, and has taken several courses and seminars since 2010. It all started with a great dog called Mikey (aka "dude"), loved and lost but remembered forever. Jen also runs a freelance business focusing on graphic, web, and UI design at FoundPixel, and a small business creating hand crafted dog products at Stylish Canine.

  • ICreatedAnAccountJustForThis

    THANK YOU. I have rescued for years. I have a 19 year old rescue in my home right now along with my two purchased dogs from reputable breeders. You are a fantastic example of what attitude rescue advocates SHOULD adopt. Shaming people into agreeing with you doesn’t work. I think we need to educate people and encourage responsible ownership AND help people realize that the Chihuahua breeder in the paper that has puppies that are ‘papered’ isn’t the same thing as a breeder who strives for breed preservation and betterment. Health testing isn’t the same as ‘a clean bill of health from the vet.’ I always tell people, there are two responsible places to get an animal from, a reputable breeder, or a shelter/rescue. I know people who have bought from BYBs or pet stores. They didn’t do so because they are “evil” they just need to be educated, gently, about why these places are bad to purchase from. 9/10 times, they walk away with a new outlook and will not repeat the mistake. Some people, are willfully ignorant about the whole situation, or fall on the slippery slope of “but these puppies need homes too” failing to realize (or care) that it’s parents who live in deplorable conditions will just be bred again and again to keep that cage full. The other thing I don’t think people realize, is that to buy from a reputable breeder is often the same price, or cheaper, than some of the BYBs and ALL of the petstores. Well bred purebreds are often only $500-$2000. My Cavalier was on the higher end of the scale due to the costs associated with testing and breeding healthy specimens. Rarer breeds like Ibizan or Pharaoh Hounds run $1000-$1500. Breeds like Labs, Goldens, Yorkies, and Chihuahuas….$500-$1000. Why? Because it ISN’T about the money. They also don’t charge more for the smallest pups giving them some made up name like “teacup” or “pocket.” Again, I’m not judging someone who bought one of these dogs, I’m not saying it is a bad dog, but it was bought from a BYB. No shame, just learn from it. Okay, now I’m getting ranty on my soapbox. Thank you for speaking out against that article that was so poorly written. I agree, people like the author of that article steer people away from adoption and rescue rather than to it.

    • jdehaan

      Thank you so much for your thoughtful comment. I love your statement about “no shame, just learn from it”. This is so true about life, and especially true about this topic! I have met so many people who either simply do not know about what we see (I sure didn’t until a few years ago!), or didn’t pause to think about what they are about to undertake or where the pet might have come from. I do all kinds of things without doing a ton of research, I feel we should offer the same graces to this part of life… and do what we can to, as you perfectly put it, gently broach the subject with them. Thanks again!

  • http://www.facebook.com/wagthedoguk Maggie Harrison

    Excellent article, and I agree with your points. I have always had rescue cats and dogs. However, Maggie was purchased as a puppy and I do not regret it. I know again in the future I will again have another rescue pet. I also think I try to do my part in helping animals in all situations.

    • jdehaan

      Thank you so much for your comment! Definitely agree.

  • RubyB

    “This is a response to what I find to be a highly judgmental and harmful article on Dogster”
    I agree that it was judgemental, but how was it Harmful?

    Thank you for your reply.

    • jdehaan

      Thanks for the comment! One of the thoughts behind “harmful” is that being judgmental and negative (guilt-trips) can cause potential adopters to avoid adopting and buy their pets instead. If a person encounters this enough, they may become sour to the cause and want to avoid the types of people altogether.

      More of my concern though is it might be harmful if other people read the post and hop on the bandwagon of spreading these kinds of words, in this way. If many adoption supporters take this tone, then more people will be sour to the cause (see above), and the entire movement becomes based on a negative tone. We can attract more bees with honey, so I feel it’s harmful to take the adoption movement in the direction of blame instead of positive messages.

      Hope that makes sense :)

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  • http://twitter.com/TheFurMom Kimberly Gauthier

    I believe that the best way to get someone to adopt instead of buy is through sharing and education. Not through attacks. I’ve been part of many discussions online where people have become abusive when it comes to dog breeders. I’ve been called nasty
    names just by suggesting that reputable breeders exist. What these passionate people fail to understand is that I stopped listening to their POV after the first name or threat was issues; now I’m seeing them as a bully and I’ve moved on. There are many times when I want to stop and lecture people selling puppies on the side of the road, but I don’t know their story and I do know that were someone were to confront me, I’d walk away convinced that they were nuts. I wouldn’t stick around to hear what they have to say.

  • http://www.facebook.com/garth.riley.5 Garth Riley

    Thank you for this excellent article. I couldn’t agree with you more. We support reputable breeders as well as rescues. Reputable breeders and people who purchase dogs from them are not “contributing to the problem”. Most – if not all – reputable breeders have contracts that require that their dogs be returned to them if for any reason the purchaser cannot keep the dog. If people would stop purchasing dogs from back yard breeders and puppy mills, they would shut down, so the key is educating people — and at the same time letting them know of all the pure breed dogs in rescues and all the amazing mixed breed dogs available. Well done!

  • Amy S

    hmmmm I have had both and more rescues than ‘purchased’ and loved all of them. I for one do a lot with my dogs….we dock dive, agility, herding, frisbee, travel, rally, and probably more that I cant remember right now. IMO if this is what you are into, the rescue can be a huge hit or a BIG nightmare. My rescue BC was a medium nightmare due to fear of men in general and her ‘protective’ nature over ‘her’ stuff which was extreme! For my next dog sport canine I know exactly the breeder I am getting it from and while I know nothing is guaranteed…I have studied this breeders offspring for a couple years and know they produce high quality, sound, fit, healthy dogs. This is what my lifestyle calls for…my next lap dog prob comes from the pound tho!

  • Lindsay Stordahl

    It’s so refreshing to hear you write about pet overpopulation being a myth. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. While I of course support adoption and will definitely adopt many more animals over the years, there’s also a good chance I may go to a breeder at some point. I think it’s so important that dog lovers support each other rather than blame each other.

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