I was inspired by this thread that happened on one of my Google+ communities. Started by a site called “Breeding Business”, it evolved into a conversation about dog breeding, business, and shelters. As comment sections are difficult spots to clearly communicate your feelings about a subject, I thought I’d write a post about the matter.

I have written on DOGthusiast in the past about my feelings about breeders and responsibility. I am not against responsible breeding, and I say this will full knowledge of shelter statistics and more. I have volunteered at a half-dozen shelters, including high kill ones. I am not an insensitive beast, I simply know why most pets end up there and it’s not because of responsible breeders. While I choose to adopt from a shelter or rescue and urge others to do the same, I also know that someone who bought their dog isn’t contributing directly to the death of another. A whole bunch of other factors and deficits are.

In fact, there are more than enough homes in our country for these pets and that is the primary reason I don’t oppose a responsible breeder. Shelter dogs simply don’t make it into these available homes for a variety of reasons, reasons we could solve. And again, it’s not from abolishing responsible breeders. It’s from abolishing puppy mills, backyard breeding, getting shelter dogs in front of the eyes of the general public, among other programs and policies.

In fact, responsible breeders have the opportunity to improve the overall health and temperaments of dogs in this country by selecting only the best dogs to breed from. And other countries have demonstrated that this can have a massive impact on the number of dogs who enter shelters in the first place. Responsible breeding – for health and temperament – could be a major contributor to emptying our shelters.

Responsible breeders: Can they be a business?

So I’m not against a responsible breeder. Why do I care whether or not they call themselves a business?

The word “business” is a loaded word that could mean many different things to different people, so please note that I’m acknowledging that this is my interpretation only. That said, the relevant definition from the Merriam-Webster dictionary is as follows:

a : a usually commercial or mercantile activity engaged in as a means of livelihood : trade, line (in the restaurant business)

b : a commercial or sometimes an industrial enterprise; also : such enterprises (the business district)

c : dealings or transactions especially of an economic nature : patronage (took their business elsewhere)

As such, I do not see the word “business” as defined going hand-in-hand with responsible breeding. That is because, to me, business typically means a few things relating to the above:

  • being commercial and profitable. Responsible breeders are generally not in it for any kind of profit.
  • a plan to grow, exceed, and monetize. Again, not what responsible breeders are known for.
  • as a means of livelihood: something you earn money from.
  • primarily about the economic transaction.

The elements of business that responsible breeders should be known for – follow-up, a no-questions return policy, good communication – are usually there for the reasons in bullets. To grow, profit, succeed, earn a living (things that are important in business) – things that a responsible breeder is generally not too concerned about. And a responsible breeder would be hard pressed to earn a steady living from the act.

A business has a responsibility to sell goods to a consumer (and if not, that consumer has the right to complain). A responsible breeder needs to make a judgement call about where the puppies go. These two things are impossible to put together.

One could argue that there are many forms of paperwork and infrastructure that a breeder would need in place for operations (taxes, insurance and so on) – but this does not always fall under the label of “business”. Many non-businesses (charities, sports organizations, schools, etc) and individuals need these things in place.

So to me, a responsible breeder is not truly a business and more an act of love (a passion or hobby or calling).

Why is it important to differentiate? I mean, who cares?

Mort at Merced County Animal Shelter

Mort at the shelter.

While a label or term is usually not too important, it’s more about what the action is, I believe the label is worth a discussion in this case. Actual dog breeding businesses (who have traditional businesses goals) are known as “puppy mills” to many. As we all know, they are not responsible breeders, and these operations have a devastating impact on shelters and the overall dog “stock” out there. They have inflicted a lot of suffering on the dogs they use and produce, they are creating temperament and health problems that affect the overall genetics of dogs in our country, among other things.

I also dislike how people mix up the labels of “adoption” – I “adopted” this (mill) puppy from the store. I “rescued” him from a terrible place. No, that puppy mill puppy was purchased and supported a terrible trade and profiteer. Yes, labels can be important. If no one buys puppy mill stock, the trade will cease to exist.

Simply stating that a business can be “responsible” is one thing, but the issue is more fundamental than that. Can you operate a responsible breeding program and profit? So often I’ve heard the answer is “no”. There is simply too much labor involved, and too few puppies, to ever truly be profitable as a business.

Therefore, I suggest that responsible breeders do so as a labor of love, or as a passion or hobby or breed enthusiast or life’s work, and never as a true business in the sense of the term that’s most familiar.

What do you think about the breeding business?

Is the label important? Does it matter? Have you met or are you a responsible breeder that considers yourself a “business”? Let me know in the comments!

About Author

Jen deHaan is graphic designer, small business owner, and dog person living in Bay Area, California. Jen enjoys learning about dog training and behavior, and has taken several courses and seminars since 2010. She also contributes articles to leading websites, such as Victoria Stilwell's Positively . 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.