For decades the United States had a pet over population problem.
Yes. You read that right. I just used the word “had”.
While there are still pockets of this country that struggle with over crowded shelters and feral/stray dogs, it is nothing like the epidemic we had a few decades ago. Through tireless efforts by shelter staff, volunteers, and rescue personnel, the number of dogs entering US shelters is at an all time low. In fact, there are many rescue groups that are now importing dogs from other parts of the country and even overseas to fill their shelters. And of those dogs that do enter shelters, fewer than five percent are purebred. Even the ASPCA has taken note of the dearth of new dogs up for adoption in the shelter system nationally.
This decrease in numbers is due in large part to the massive media campaign best characterized as the “adopt don’t shop” movement. We’ve all seen the commercial….a heartbroken celebrity holds a sad puppy and pleads for your donation whilst that song plays in the background – you know the song. When dogs were pouring into shelters, no doubt over worked, underpaid staff and volunteers looked at each other and asked “Where are all these dogs coming from?!”
Welp, it seemed obvious. For a dog to be born, some owner had to allow their dog to get bred. Whether the dog was intact and wandering loose or the owner just thought, “Sadie deserves to have at least one litter before we spay her” or they came from a high volume commercial breeder, these dogs used to be puppies, and puppies come from breeders. It seemed simple. Reduce the demand for puppies and you’ll reduce the amount of people producing them.
So the mantra was born. Adopt don’t shop. Anti-breeder sentiment grew. Go to your local dog park and ask people where they got their dogs. Depending on what part of the country you’re in, the majority will get a glint in their eye, puff their chest out in pride and boast, “I rescued my dog!”. If you head to that same dog park with a purebred dog, puff your chest out and boast, “I bought my dog from a breeder!”, you’ll probably lose friends pretty fast. You may even get an earful about how every puppy born to a breeder essentially kills a shelter dog. How do you even sleep at night, DOG KILLER?!
I for one, am thrilled that we no longer have the overpopulation problems from a few decades ago. I’m glad that the campaign worked. But to be honest, I think a lot of that energy was misplaced. The logic seems sound – Puppies come from breeders. Stop the market for puppies and there will be fewer dogs. Fewer dogs means fewer dogs in shelters.
The problem is, now we have fewer dogs, but irresponsible people are still producing them and they’re still ending up in shelters! I go to my local shelter at least twice a week and there are still plenty of dogs there. According to the APPA National Pet Owners Survey, eighty- three percent of dogs in the United States are spayed or neutered*. So again, where are these dogs coming from?
If you take a look at dog owners as a whole, minus the ones that adopted from a rescue, many of those people still got their dog from a breeder. What breeders? Where are these puppies coming from? Check out the AKC registration numbers from 1930 to 2008. These puppies are clearly not coming from AKC registered breeders. At it’s peak in 1992 the AKC registered over 1.5 MILLION dogs – in 2008 the number was less than half that.
Now, I’m not saying the AKC is the end all be all for responsibly bred dogs in the US – That’s a whole other blog post.
BUT, what these numbers tell me is that the dogs currently being bought from breeders are unlikely to be registered with an established kennel club. And what that tells me is that the dog is a) less likely to be purebred and b) if it is purebred it is less likely to be well bred. (Purebred vs. well bred is yet another post – get your reading glasses ready!)
So let’s see where we are so far. We have fewer dogs in general, fewer breeders registered with kennel clubs, and yet somehow, we still have dogs in shelters.
Where are these shelter dogs coming from? The two main reasons dogs enter shelters is as strays or as owner surrenders, and according to the ASPCA twice as many pets enter shelters as strays then as owner surrenders.
What kind of a person who, upon finding out that their dog is missing, doesn’t immediately do everything in their power to bring it home? Irresponsible dog owners. That’s who.
**One of my readers made an excellent point that in many places, it can be difficult to find a stray dog and some states only require shelters to hold them for a couple of days before they’re sent away to a rescue, adopted out, or euthanized. Not every stray is the result of irresponsible ownership, but many are.**
It’s easy to vilify irresponsible owners….. to imagine them wearing capes and twirling their mustaches as they boot poor little Molly out of the car and drive away, laughing maniacally.
But most of the time I really think it’s a matter of ignorance. Dogs are living, breathing, feeling creatures who can live over a decade. Adding one to your household should never be gone into lightly, yet across the nation we have people who decide they want a dog on a Tuesday and by Friday they have one.
And they try, they do. It’s not like they don’t feel attached to the dog. But when the kids don’t want to play with him because he knocks them over, and they can’t really afford more stains in the rug, they put the dog outside. And when he gets bored and gets loose, they may not try too hard to find him. Or they do find him, but they don’t have the money to pay the impound fees so they figure he’s better off getting put up for adoption. Or they acknowledge that the dog isn’t for them and try to find him a new home. When they can’t find one, they surrender the dog to a shelter. Either way, the cycle continues.
But these irresponsible owners have to get their dogs from somewhere. Where are they getting these dogs? Shouldn’t someone stop giving dogs to irresponsible owners?
We’ll get to that in PART TWO.
*Data from page 72 of the APPA National Pet Owners Survey