I’ve had some feedback from some in the rescue community who feel that my segment on Rescue and Shelters’ role in the Shelter Dog Problem was unnecessarily harsh towards rescues and shelters. My thoughts here are in no way meant to be anti-shelter or anti- rescue. I have nothing but respect for the hard working people who spend every day looking at the worst we humans have done for dogs. A large number of the dogs in shelters just need a loving home with humans who are ready to be responsible for a dog.
I do find it ironic, though that after years of vilifying dog breeders and stating that “every puppy born kills a shelter dog” one blog post pointing out how some well meaning, but misguided shelter/rescue staff are contributing to the problem is seen as overly critical.
Many responsible breeders have had to hide their hobby from their friends and family and say, “Not all breeders!” in response to accusations that they’re at fault for the shelter population. So if you’re involved in rescue, and after reading my post you felt the need to say, “Not all rescues!” I hope that it causes you to pause and reconsider laying the blame in one place.
All shelters and rescues are not to blame for the shelter population. All dog owners are not to blame. And all dog breeders are not to blame. But various shelters, rescues, owners and puppy producers play a role in this issue.
My main point with this segment was to discuss honestly how even the people who are working so hard to end the shelter population issue can inadvertently contribute to the problem. So again, I will say:
This is not a cycle created by breeders. This is a cycle created by irresponsible owners, irresponsible rescues and irresponsible puppy producers. That’s where shelter dogs come from. And until we educate the general public on responsible dog ownership, there will always be dogs in the shelter.
A few years ago, I went to dinner with some girlfriends. We exchanged the usual hugs and then one of my friends commented on another friend’s purse, “Oh that’s cute! Is it new?” The owner of the purse in question proudly set the bag on the table and proceeded to tell us about how it was on sale and she got it for the amazing price of $300.
My jaw dropped. $300 for a purse? And that was on sale! I looked down at my own purse which I had been very excited about finding for $12.99 at our local discount store. I was happy for my friend and expressed the “oo’s and ah’s” that seemed fitting for the moment, but I could never see a reality where I would spend that much on a purse.
So when I tell people that I paid over $2,000 for one of my dogs and that the other would have sold for just as much if I had chosen to take a stud fee instead of a puppy, I absolutely understand when their jaw drops and they say “You paid HOW MUCH? For a DOG?”
If you look at my lifestyle, you would wonder where on this great green earth I scraped up the money. I’m not rolling in gold coins. I don’t go on lavish vacations, I live in a fixer upper, and I drive a used car. So why would I ever spend that much on a dog?
Well, while I have no problem replacing my twelve dollar purse when it wears out, I prioritize my animals and want to ensure that they live the healthiest, happiest lives possible. To me that means choosing a dog that has the best chance of that.
Why is this adorable ball of fluff worth thousands of dollars?
If I asked someone why they would buy a brand new car as opposed to a used car, they might talk about knowing the car’s history, the value of a warranty and dealer support. Sure you can find a used car for a thousand dollars, but you’re not going to be surprised when it breaks down or isn’t covered under a warranty.
It’s the same with dogs. Sure you can buy a “purebred” whatever off craigslist for a fraction of the cost of a responsibly bred pet, but what’s the true cost?
When I consider handing someone money for a puppy, whether it’s twenty dollars or two thousand dollars, my first question is, “Is paying this person going to benefit the canine species as a whole?” If you can’t answer “yes” to that question, then you are supporting a puppy producer not a responsible breeder.
My next priority boils down to three things:
What is the likelihood that my dog is going to be healthy and avoid diseases/injuries that will lead to unnecessary pain or suffering? Has the breeder performed the recommended health tests for this breed? Are these health tests verifiable by an objective third party such as OFA or Pennhip?
I could go into what all of these tests cost and break down how much it costs to breed a littler responsibly, but plenty of people have already done a great job of that. Just know that health testing is not cheap.
Also, a vastly underrated aspect of your dog’s health is their structure. If my dog’s front angulation isn’t correct, he will expend more energy than necessary when he runs, causing strain to certain muscles and joints. That increases the chances that he will end up with an injury or arthritis. Just because you’re not planning on prancing around the conformation ring at Westminster doesn’t mean you shouldn’t want your dog to be built in a way that allows them to move without risk of injury or pain.
A dog’s behavior is determined by a complex mixture of genetics, environment and training. I want my dog to behave in a manner that is predictable and correct for the breed. I don’t want a dog that is overly anxious, hyper or neurotic.
This is where temperament tests and performance titles come in. Titles aren’t a definite way to tell if the dogs’ temperaments are correct, but they help. Also talking to the breeder is very important, find out what purpose they breed for. Are they breeding working dogs that compete in high levels of IPO? Are they breeding therapy dogs?
Just because a dog is a Golden Retriever doesn’t mean they’re going to do well as a hunting dog. You have to find out what the dogs leading up to them have been bred for.
If a puppy producer is willing to just hand a dog to anyone who has money, the likelihood that they’re breeding for correct temperament is very low. Cute dog gets bred to cute dog to make more cute dogs. It’s not important to them if the puppy being sold as a family pet is high strung with a low bite inhibition. They’re not in it for the long haul. And that leads me to my next point.
I have been involved with my breed for over ten years. But I still love the fact that I can pick up the phone and ask my breeder questions. I can’t imagine not having a breed expert who welcomes questions and is willing to help. They already sold you the dog, so they’re not selling you on anything, they just want the puppy they bred to have the best life possible. And answering questions like, “She’s doing this weird licking thing….is that normal?” is how they can help.
A responsible breeder wants to know how their dogs are doing. Many breeders shed tears when their puppies leave to their new homes, whether they let you see them ugly cry or not depends on the person – but it absolutely happens.
And aside from the emotional connection and responsibility they feel for their pups, it is invaluable to a breeding program to know if their male dog was monorchid, developed fearful tendencies, or was shorter than standard. And you benefit from that when the breeder can tell you “Don’t worry, that’s totally normal, her mom went through a phase like that.” or “No, I don’t recommend that medication, his father had a reaction.”
This breeder support is phenomenal. My dog’s grand parents were bred by a well respected breeder who has been involved in the breed for decades. I have never bought a dog from her, but when I called her with questions about the breed, she picked up the phone and spent valuable time sharing her knowledge with me. I cannot put a price on that.
Note: Just because a producer is charging thousands of dollars for a puppy, doesn’t mean that the dog is well bred. Please do your research and know what a responsibly bred puppy in your particular breed generally costs. Don’t be taken in by smooth talking sales people.
A few years ago a friend of a friend asked me for help finding Rottweiler puppy. I warned him that finding the right dog may take time and a quality dog could cost over a thousand dollars. He nodded and made all the appropriate noises so I gave him some names of breeders to check out. After a few weeks he called me excitedly to tell me that they were going to pick up their puppy that weekend! He wanted me to check out the dog online and tell him if it was good choice.
None of the breeders I recommended had available puppies, so I was a bit confused. “Which breeder?” I asked.
“Oh, it’s one we found on pet finder!”
I looked up the “breeder”, and saw that they were advertising that the dam came from a very well known breeder a few states away from us. The interesting thing is, this particular breeder was known for not docking his Rottweiler’s tails. The female dog in the picture very clearly had a docked tail.
So I called the kennel they were advertising a connection with and asked the breeder about the woman from pet finder. He had never heard of her and was incensed that she was using his name to advertise his puppies!
I passed this information on to my friends and figured they would be appalled at the deception and choose a breeder I recommended. Nope. They decided they “didn’t want to wait” and that the breeders I suggested were too expensive.
So they drove down that weekend and picked up their adorable puppy for the low price of $800 as opposed to waiting a few months and paying $1,300.
The dog was cute as advertised, but by nine months old she’d already been in and out of the vet’s office for a number of issues including an ACL injury she needed surgery for. I don’t know exactly what they paid for the surgery, but I know that in most parts of the US ACL surgery can cost upwards of $5,000.
Buying from a responsible breeder isn’t a guarantee that these things won’t happen, just like buying a car brand new off the lot isn’t a guarantee it’s not a lemon, BUT it’s a lot less likely to happen. And, if you buy from a responsible breeder, they will be there for you during the process.
So sure, I could get a purebred Cane Corso for $600 instead of $2000, but in the words of a very wise family member, “I can’t afford to save that much money.”
*The feature photo is a painting by Richard Ansel.
I recently read a great blog post on Puppy Buyer Etiquette and shared it on Facebook. The post was from the perspective of a responsible breeder who does not just hand out dogs to anyone who has money. They want to build a relationship with the puppy buyer, not only so they can assess whether the pup will be a good fit, but also so that they can be in contact with that person for the rest of the dog’s life.
The post received mostly positive feedback, but not everyone agreed with the author’s advice not to lead with questions about price. Most breeders I know will not entertain a potential buyer who starts by asking “How much?” They want someone who is interested in more than just the price.
This can be off putting to the average puppy buyer. They’re not looking for a show dog. They’re not interested in competitive obedience, agility or field trials. They want a companion dog. And believe it or not, the majority of dog owners are not afflicted with the competitive sports bug, and don’t spend all of their time, money and energy obsessing over their canine companions!
So it is completely understandable that people would be taken aback by breeders apparent refusal to just tell them how much the dog is up front. We end up in a situation where a lot of amazing people are turning down great dogs from responsible breeders and a lot of responsible breeders are turning away what could be amazing homes for their puppies. Why is this?
Imagine you were really into restoring vintage cars and you came across an old rusty ’57 Thunderbird. Your expert eye could see the potential beneath the old chrome and cracked leather. So you spent a few years and too much money turning the bucket of bolts into a real beauty. This car becomes your baby. But now that your done restoring it, you start getting the itch to start another project. So you reluctantly put the T-Bird up for sale so you can find your next car.
The first potential buyer comes out, gives the car a cursory glance and asks, “How much is it?” You give him a number, his jaw drops and he laughs. “That much for a car?!”
You think about the thousands of hours you’ve spent under the hood. How many times you almost gave up rebuilding the engine. The endless phone calls tracking down original parts. You look at this stranger and you realize that to them, this is just a cool car. They’re not a kindred spirit, you don’t share that passion. You imagine them eating at the wheel and spilling soda on the seats….sticky finger prints on the once shiny door handles. Popping out the vintage radio so they can put in a fancy high tech computerized doodad with an aux input…
“Nevermind. The car isn’t for sale.”
Now imagine that instead of restoring a vintage car, you were investing the same passion, time, energy and money on your dogs. You spend thousands of hours educating yourself on your breed, training your dogs, and learning everything you could about their pedigrees. You may spend months or even years planning a mating. Finally the timing is right, your female whelps her pups, and that’s when the real work starts!
You spend the first few weeks sleeping near the whelping box, waking up when the puppies fuss, worrying over the momma dog, making sure she’s cared for. Then as the puppies grow you spend hours working to give them age appropriate stimulation and training. You see them take their first steps. You watch them develop personalities. They play and fight and sleep and poop and you didn’t know that you could hold so much love in your heart. This whole time you’re fielding calls from prospective puppy buyers.
And inevitably you get that call or email. The person isn’t asking about the puppies’ parents, they’re not asking about health testing. They don’t seem to be interested in finding out what the puppies’ personalities are like. They don’t even seem very familiar with the breed. But the first question out of their mouth is, “How much?” You give them a number and their jaw drops. “That much for a dog?!”
“Nevermind. The puppy isn’t for sale.”
Now, I can see it from the puppy buyer side as well. Few families have an extra thousand or so dollars just lying around to spend on a dog. You can go to your local shelter and get a dog for under two hundred dollars. You can get a “purebred papered yorkicorgapoo” off Craigslist for $400. And conveniently, the price is right there in the picture with the dog.
99% of items we buy have price listed next to it. Why should it be different for puppies?
Well, 99% of the things we buy are not living, breathing, feeling creatures whose lives and happiness depend on us. That’s why.
Talk to your breeder. Get a feel for the hours they’ve spent “under the hood” of the breed. Are they passionate? Educated? Why are they breeding? What makes them tick? Feel free to ask them questions.
Acknowledge that this is a bittersweet moment for them. You’re not buying a puppy. You’re taking a part of them with you in the form of a tiny ball of fluff.
Be the buyer that slows down as they walk up to that ’57 T Bird. Take in the polished chrome and the porthole window. Whistle when you see the original radio complete with push buttons. Run your hands over the baby soft leather seats. When you look into the sellers eyes, show them that you’re going to take care of their baby. That she’s not just a car to you either.
I was recently reading the comments below a very “adopt don’t shop” Facebook post, and came across a few variations on the following opinion:
“All purebred dogs originally came from other breeds mixed together so “dog breeds” and “purebreds” are just man made concepts. Why can’t we all just enjoy our dogs and not care about the breed?”
To a certain degree, this is correct. A St. Bernard has no concept of being a St. Bernard. They would gladly mate with any available dog regardless of breed. Technically, a Chihuahua could mate with a Golden Retriever. They’re all dogs. So why have breeds?
Well, let’s take a step back for a moment. I used to have a very small car. But since then, my lifestyle changed and now I need a vehicle that can fit my family, large dogs and cargo so I got a medium sized SUV.
Imagine if someone was to say, “Cars are cars. I don’t know why everyone is so worked up about the make and model. Just be happy you can get around!”
If you need a vehicle to transport your three kids to soccer practice every day, a Lamborghini may not be the car for you. You may be a bit happier with a minivan. And if you’re a single person with a 3 hour commute in the Bay Area, you may prefer a small, gas efficient vehicle.
I know people swear by Ford and others who say “FORD?! More like ‘Found On Road Dead’….Am I right?!” Every one has a different lifestyle and a car that is the perfect fit for one person may not be a good choice for the next.
Some people drive a car because it gets them from point a to point b, and others are fanatics and spend their extra time, money and energy on their automotive hobby.
The thing about dog breeds is that each breed has a set standard for size, coat type, energy level, and temperament. Most dog breeds were created either intentionally or out of necessity to serve a specific function. You may be able to teach a Bullmastiff how to herd sheep, but I highly doubt you will have the same success rate with a litter of Bullmastiff puppies as you would with a litter of Border Collies.
Dogs do what they’re bred to do, and a well bred dog fits their breed’s standard. If you’re an apartment dweller with children, you may want a smaller dog that was bred specifically for companionship. If you’re an avid hiker you need a dog that can keep up with you and isn’t likely to be injured on a long trip. I personally am drawn to large breed dogs but a good friend and coworker of mine loves little dogs. If dogs were all just a homogeneous blend of “dog” we would have a harder time finding companions who were likely to fit into our lives.
Choosing a purebred dog has nothing to do with bragging rights or being a snob. Choosing a purebred dog has everything to do with finding the right dog to fit your lifestyle. A contributing factor to dogs ending up in the shelter is a lack of preparation and training on the part of the owner. When I used to train, many people would start the evaluation by telling me things like, “We had no idea he would get so big” or “He just has too much energy for us!”
If dog owners took the time to educate themselves on which breed may fit their needs, we would have fewer dogs being rehomed. I know many a Cane Corso breeder who spends more time convincing prospective buyers that the breed might not be a good fit for them, than advertising their litters.
Having different breeds of dog to choose from is an intrinsic part of being a responsible dog owner. You may choose to buy a mix breed dog from a shelter, but the key is that you had a choice. You weighed your options and decided that specific dog was the best choice at that time.
I have absolutely nothing against mix breed dogs. I’m currently fostering a small puppy from the shelter. She’s likely a Chihuahua Dachshund mix, but honestly, I’m not completely sure. I have no idea really how old she is, and while I don’t foresee her getting very big, I can’t say whether she’ll end up at 12 lb or 25 lb.
What I can tell you is that she’s an adorable, sweet little thing, and she grows on me every moment I spend with her. But there is an unpredictability that makes it hard to know what home will be the best fit for her.
Papers and pedigrees have no bearing on whether a dog deserves to be happy and loved. And to be honest, there are plenty of purebred dogs out there with kennel club registration that are not in an ideal situation. But wouldn’t it be nice to live in a world where every dog was chosen and wanted? Where every dog was bred intentionally with care and devotion by a breeder who was passionate and educated? Where they went to homes who chose them as opposed to ending up somewhere.
Breeds are important. And responsible, educated breeders and owners are crucial to the well being of dogs and their place in the world. Get the dog that is the best fit for your lifestyle, and defend the right to choose.
I recently read an article regarding “puppy mills” and “backyard breeders” recommending we “make it illegal!”. They talked about dogs stuffed into tiny kennels and kept on chains in their own filth.
The author asked, “Why is this allowed to go on?!” They went on to urge citizens to contact lawmakers and demand legislation to combat these issues. The emotional responses in the comments ranged from people figuratively grabbing their torches and pitchforks, to cries of “Those poor innocent dogs!”
Directly after reading the article I sat down and with a flurry of fingers and keys typed out a response that I titled “Just Make it Illegal, right?”. Once I had posted it on my blog, and it had been shared by a few Facebook groups, I read the comments and realized that in my haste to get my thoughts out, I had done a poor job of actually getting my point across. Let me try again.
First, I really think that using broad, undefined terms like “puppy mill” and “backyard breeder” we’re really shooting ourselves in the foot. I’ve talked in the past about the gradient from Puppy Producer to Responsible Breeder. When we start throwing around pejorative terms like “puppy mill” and “back yard breeder” we elicit a visceral, emotional response.
Now, don’t get me wrong, when I see photos of animals being kept in deplorable conditions, my heart goes out to the animals and I too feel anger at the people who treat the animals that way. Hopefully the majority of people would feel the same way.
But generally speaking, emotional, knee-jerk reactions are not always the best way to find a measured, thought out solution to a problem. As satisfying as it is, name calling is not helping.
Instead of using catch phrases and derogatory terms, we need to call a thing what it is: animal abuse.
Neglecting and abusing animals is already illegal. The US has come a long way in the last few decades. There are currently federal and state and local laws regulating the care of animals. If the animals are being kept for commercial purposes, there are even more laws. I’m in California, so I am most familiar with those animal laws, and I will tell you that it is a very thick book with very small print.
California Penal Code 597t Confined Animals states in part that: Every person who keeps an animal confined in an enclosed area shall provide it with an adequate exercise area. It goes on to discuss access to food, water and shelter etc.
Shortly after that in PC 597z the law states it is a violation to sell puppies under 8 weeks of age. Immediately after that it has PAGES on how to seize animals due to lack of veterinary care (PC597.1.)
Those three codes right there give me the ability to address most of those “puppy mill” and “backyard breeder” situations. Many cities and counties already have codes requiring people with a certain number of dogs to register as a kennel and submit to yearly inspections. Those photos of row upon row of puppies stuffed into tiny crates, covered in their own feces – I can’t think of a state where that wouldn’t be a violation. Even if there is no state or local law addressing the care of dogs specifically, that’s bound to be some type of code violation, whether it’s a health code or a building code.
The next logical question is, “If it’s so illegal, why does it still happen?”. There are a few reasons why we still have puppy producers who continue to neglect and abuse their dogs.
First, if law enforcement doesn’t know the violation exists, they can’t respond. People need to report these things when they see them. People have told me, “When I arrived to pick up my puppy, the house looked nothing like it did in the photos it was terrible! I finally convinced them to let me see the momma dog and she was covered in mats and was too skinny. I got my puppy out of there as fast as possible! I really feel like I rescued her. ”
I’ve heard countless stories like the one above, and every single time I ask if they called law enforcement. I have never had someone answer, “Yes, as soon as I left I called the police/animal control.” Not once.
The puppy buyer felt bad for the puppy, so they handed the producer money and left. What do you think that producer is going to do? Even if the buyer told them off, the producer had a puppy and got handed money. They’re going to keep producing puppies as long as it gets them cash.
This leads me to our next problem. Law enforcement is often understaffed, underpaid and overwhelmed by the sheer volume of calls. If they do not have an Animal Control department, regular law enforcement may not be familiar with animal law.
Even if a town has animal control, right now there is very little oversight and regulation for them. If they are through a police or sheriff’s office, the oversight is usually better, but there is no federally required training program to be animal control. Some animal control departments are run through humane societies that have no legal reach. If they come across a violation they have to include their local police who do not always have the training and staff to fully support the humane society.
I was recently at an animal control training and spoke to one of the attendees who was an animal control officer through her local humane society in a very rural part of the country. She had no authority to issue citations, no way of issuing search warrants – heck, she didn’t even know what a duty belt was. Her uniform consisted of a purple t-shirt with the humane society’s logo, jeans and a walkie talkie. I can’t imagine trying to do this job with just that; she is a brave soul!
Because of the lack of federal, and even state regulation and support, animal control’s role in an area is up to whoever is funding them. If you’re lucky enough to have an animal control division of your local law enforcement, they’re going to be far more likely to have the ability to investigate a puppy producer for abuse and neglect. But their budget does not always allow for enough staff or resources to allow for the kind of training you need to have to be able to investigate and charge.
If the local animal control is through a humane society or private shelter, their role may be even less clear. They may not have the training or desire to approach the job from an enforcement side. People often don’t realize that animals are legally considered property.
You can’t just walk into someone’s house and take their bicycle without a warrant; it’s unconstitutional. It’s also unconstitutional to just walk into someone’s house and seize their animals without following proper procedure. If you’re not sure what the legal procedure is, the idea of seizing animals and charging someone for animal abuse can be daunting.
On the other side of the same coin, you have animal rights activists who join animal control for the specific purpose of pushing their agenda. They seize animals from breeders without legal cause and accuse people of animal cruelty based on their personal beliefs instead of the law.
Please don’t let this information stop you from reporting the violations! Steps are being taken to create a federal standard for animal control officers with required training and testing.
The point I’m trying to make is that the current inconsistency in enforcement of animal law can contribute to failure to charge people for keeping their animals in unsafe conditions.
Another contributing factor to puppy producers being allowed to continue neglecting and abusing their animals is puppy buyers. I touched on this briefly a few paragraphs ago.
As a puppy buyer, you’re driving the market. You’re creating the standards of what is acceptable from someone selling a dog. So when you give your money to someone who is not being upfront with their methods, won’t show you the puppy’s parents, hasn’t health tested and is not showing that they’re responsible, you are the one encouraging these puppy producers to continue.
Every single person who has paid money for an irresponsibly bred dog is contributing to the problem.
In my opinion the solution is education. We need to educate people on what responsible breeding looks like, what to ask for when buying a dog and how to care for the dog once they have it.
The hundreds of thousands of dollars being spent by big organizations to lobby for tighter restrictions on breeders could be spent on education programs. Instead of commercials vilifying breeders and guilting people into buying dogs from rescues, we could have educational materials informing people of the time, energy and work that goes into owning an animal. We could go into schools and teach kids that you don’t just buy an animal because it’s cute, you are responsible for if for the rest of it’s life. We could form sponsorship programs to help offset training costs for people who do adopt from shelters to help the new owners keep the dog.
More laws won’t educate dog owners. More laws won’t give law enforcement and animal control the training and funds they need. More laws won’t stop people from abusing animals. More laws won’t stop people from buying puppies from neglectful and abusive puppy producers. Abusing animals is already illegal.