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Responsible Dog Ownership, Support Responsible Breeders

Part Four – Responsible Breeders

 

In Part One, Part Two and Part Three of this segment,  I’ve touched on the “adopt don’t shop” movement and popular anti-breeder sentiment. I completely understand where that movement started, and harbor no ill will towards anti-breeder people.

I have friends whom I love dearly, who believe that there is no good dog breeder – that anyone who has a dog who has puppies is contributing to the shelter problem.  I also have friends whom I love dearly who are dog breeders themselves and who consider themselves “responsible”.  I hear both sides of the argument and believe that both sides have merit.

Responsible dog breeder.

The problem with this term is that much like parenting, dog ownership and breeding styles differ considerably. For instance, some people believe that all it takes to be a responsible breeder is getting a clean bill of health from the vet and making sure you’re careful about where the puppies go (whatever that means).
Other breeders are meticulous about adhering to their breed’s recommended health tests and only breed dogs that have been titled in a well respected kennel club. Some believe you can only be responsible if you breed purebred dogs. What is the standard? Is being a responsible breeder even possible?

Well, I think of it as similar to being a responsible business owner. That means conducting business in an ethical manner and treating your employees well. But what does that mean? Some people would argue that unless every building was powered 100% by renewable energy the business could never be considered “responsible”. Others would say that to be responsible the employees shouldn’t have to pay a cent for health care. Still others would argue that the business shouldn’t be allowed to make a profit at all and should donate all proceeds to charity. We’re in a similar position with dog breeders.

Malinois
Picture from playbuzz.com – I will gladly give credit to the photographer and dog owner if that information is made available.

 

Imagine that a person is breeding purebred, titled Belgian Malinois from working lines. They are health testing the dogs, keeping the puppies clean, and in general, abiding by the minimum guidelines to be considered “responsible”. But, they live in a densely populated area and are flooding the local puppy buying market with high drive dogs who are not well suited for city living. They’re not emphasizing to their puppy buyers that these puppies are going to grow up into high energy dogs that need to be given intense amounts of physical and mental stimulation.

Are they responsible breeders? The parents are health tested! They’re AKC registered puppies! The parents have TITLES!!!!

Now imagine that less than half a mile away from the Malinois breeder is another breeder. They’re breeding Cavalier King Charles but are mixing Shih-Tzu’s into their breeding program because they’re concerned about the heart issues that can be genetic in the Cavalier breed and are trying to introduce genetic diversity. The parents are health tested, but the litters are not registered with a kennel club and the parents have no titles. They too are raising the puppies in a clean environment, and aside from not breeding purebreds, they’re abiding by minimum “responsible” guidelines. But before they sell their puppies, they make sure each family is well aware of how long the dogs live, how much they will be spending on grooming each month and give a portion of the deposit back when the new family completes a training course with the dog.

Are they responsible breeders? They’re selling mix breeds! They’re calling them Cava-Tzu’s for Pete’s sake! How could they possibly be more responsible than the registered, titled, Malinois above?!

But think about it….which one of these breeders is more likely to have puppies end up in the shelter? Which one of these breeders is helping dogs as a whole?

Pizzaz
A puppy I fostered earlier this year.

Now that was a bit of an extreme example, but my point is that just like in parenting, while there are some minimum requirements you must meet to ensure you’re not causing harm, the definition of “good” and “responsible” is subject to interpretations. Really as far as hard fast rules, all we’re left with is minimum requirements.

Minimum Requirements

To me, this is the least you can do for a litter of puppies and their parents without being considered neglectful or abusive.

  • Are the parents old enough to be bred without causing physical harm?
  • Do they stop being bred before they’re old enough for the breeding to cause physical harm?
  • Is veterinary care provided to avoid pain and suffering?
  • Are the dogs’ physical needs met? Food, water, shelter, exercise etc
  • Are the dogs’ mental needs being met? Mental stimulation, training, rewards etc
  • When the dogs are no longer useful in the breeding program are they treated humanely? Keep in mind, this could include humane euthanasia – not my preference, but we are talking about minimum requirements here.
  • Are the puppies being given basic socialization to help them transition into life with a new family? Have they been inside a house? Have they had positive interactions with humans? Walked on various surfaces including grass and carpet?
  • Are the people in charge of the litter vetting the potential families and making sure that the new families are willing and able to do the work involved with purchasing a puppy of that particular breed?

And…. That’s it.

That’s the minimum. To me personally, this doesn’t seem nearly enough.  Legally, this list is actually a little bit more than required. Remember, the producer vs breeder distinction is more of a gradient than a hard, fast line.

In relation to the picture below, someone who abides by the absolute minimum requirements to not be abusive or neglectful of their animals starts about in the middle and responsible is on the far right.

 

Producer vs breeder

That’s a lot of grey area in between, and all of that is subject to interpretation.

Here is my interpretation:

Responsible Dog Breeder: (noun) A person who breeds dogs with the improvement and well being of the entire canine species as their main goal with a priority on health and stable temperament.

Responsible Dog Breeder - defined text

One of the key words in this definition is “improvement”. Taking the same two dogs and breeding them together over and over does not improve anything. It merely produces puppies. If you’ve read any of my earlier posts, you probably noticed that I use the term “puppy producer”. That is my way of distinguishing between responsible breeders who are working toward a goal and people who merely produce puppies.

Notice that I didn’t say “A person who breeds dogs with the improvement and well being of their breed as their main goal” I said “improvement and well being of the entire canine species as their main goal”. If breeding your particular breed of dog is not good for dogs as a whole, stop doing it. I’m going to come back to this in a different post.

DCM

Health

Now let’s talk about health. If your breed is generally very healthy and has low likelihood of ending up with hip dysplasia, are you going to completely write off a breeder because they didn’t get the parents’ hips tested? The number of health tests available today is mind boggling and if every breeder tested their dogs for everything, the cost would be prohibitive.

But – and now I’m going to start picking on some breeds very specifically – if your breed of choice has a specific issue, certain health tests may be a very high priority. Higher even than titles, registry in a kennel club etc.

Over 61% of Golden Retrievers in North America die from cancer. If I was buying a Golden, you can bet your hat that I wouldn’t give two shakes if the dog’s dad won group in Westminster. What I would care about is how long every recorded ancestor of his lived, and what they died of.

According to a recent study, 58% of Dobermans suffer from dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM). There is screening available that is very accurate – again, I don’t give a rat’s rear end if the breeders feed their dogs steak and caviar….. I want to know if my puppy’s parents have been screened and what the results were.

There are plenty more breeds I could point out, but I’m going to stop there for now.

Why would I spend money to buy a dog, fall in love with him, enjoy him as my daily companion, just to see him get sick and die before his time? Dogs are our best friends. Let’s keep them healthy.

You cannot seek to improve a breed if you are not also improving their overall health and longevity.

Tonka
Tonka the sleepy Malamute

Temperament

And last but absolutely not least, temperament.  I would rather have a leggy, dome headed Labrador who would make the judges at Crufts double over in laughter than a beautiful well balanced Grand Champion if it meant that he had a temperament that was consistent, stable, and correct for his breed.

To me, this is really where the rubber hits the road in the purebred vs. mix breed argument. I absolutely believe that while they are few and far between, people can and do breed mix breed dogs responsibly. And that statement right there will result in about four more blog posts!

But, how do you improve a dog’s temperament if you do not have a goal or a starting place? If your dog does not have a purpose or a standard, how do you know if you’re moving forward or backwards? You can absolutely work towards creating a new breed, or mix an existing breed to introduce more genetic diversity, but to just breed random dogs together willy-nilly does nothing to improve. It is stagnant.

If you take a dog who is aloof with strangers and breed their lines to be open and friendly with everyone, is that an improvement? If you’re breeding Labradors maybe, but definitely not if you’re breeding livestock guardians!

A well bred dog has a consistent, predictable temperament. A responsible breeder knows what that temperament should be and will not use dogs in their breeding program who do not meet those requirements.

A herding dog on a farm needs to be determined, tenacious and independent. A family dog in the city needs to be gentle, patient and look to their owners for decision making. The same traits that make each of those dogs excel at their specific purpose would make it difficult for them to switch places.

So, instead of giving you a list boxes to check off when deciding whether a breeder is responsible or not, I just ask:

Are they improving the entire canine species by choosing to bring more dogs into this world? Are they educating themselves on the issues that are pertinent to their choices? Are they ensuring that their puppies have the best start possible? Are they doing everything they can to ensure that their puppies turn into healthy, stable adults? Are they contributing to the shelter population or are they educating people and helping them become responsible dog owners?

Remember, we as puppy buyers drive the market. Let’s create a demand for responsible dog breeders not puppy producers.

 

 

 

Responsible Dog Ownership, Support Responsible Breeders

Part 3- Puppy Producers

When I started writing Part One of this subject I had no intention of needing a Part Two. And when I finished part two I felt relieved that I was finished – I didn’t like the pressure of people waiting for me to publish the next segment.

But as I started trying to write about responsible breeders vs puppy producers I realized that really, the whole topic is just a continuation of part one and two and I should write it like that. So here’s part three, and it looks like there’s going to be a part four. Get your reading glasses out!

Part Three – Puppy Producers

In part one I spent a little time going over the landscape of dogs in the US. In recent years there are fewer dogs coming from AKC breeders, fewer dogs in shelters overall, and eighty- three percent of dogs in the United States are spayed or neutered*. Which begs the question, where are the new dogs in the US coming from? Dogs have an average lifespan of 8-10 years. Once the dogs that are currently alive pass away, where does the new generation come from?

According to 2011 Mintel Pet Ownership information:

  • 30% of dog owners got their pet from a shelter or rescue.
  • 28% of dog owners got them from a friend or relative
  • 15% of dog owners got their pet from a breeder
  • 9% of dog owners got them from a pet store

So at this point, a good percentage of people are getting their dog from a shelter or rescue and the next largest group are getting their dogs from a friend or relative. That leaves 15% who are buying their dog from a breeder. The pet store puppies are a very small percent, more than likely because pet store puppy sales are relegated to certain pockets of the country where people are still “unenlightened” and legislation still hasn’t been passed prohibiting it.

The Mintel information uses the word breeder with zero qualification. I’m assuming they are using the term to describe anyone who owned a female dog, allowed her to become pregnant (intentionally or not) and sold the puppies. This could include the “oops” litter from the next door neighbors, the “yorkipoo” off craigslist, the show breeder who health tests and sells pups on a strict companion contract and everything in between.

So let’s talk about breeders.

I’ve touched a bit on the argument that dogs in shelters are the result of breeders creating more dogs. Yes, dogs being born creates more dogs, no that doesn’t cause them to end up in shelters. If you’ve made it past part one and two, chances are you don’t completely disagree with my logic.

To reiterate, irresponsible owners are the main reason we have the shelter epidemic we do. Puppy producers absolutely contribute to the problem, but not necessarily in the way we would imagine. It’s not the act of creating more dogs that really is the problem. It’s the way it’s done.

Generally, these types of posts end up in a discussion of “responsible breeder” vs “irresponsible breeder” and everyone has an opinion of what “responsible” is. There’s usually a list of requirements that a breeder must meet to be considered responsible (according to the poster) and if the puppy seller doesn’t meet those requirements, they’re labeled “irresponsible”.

What makes the list of “Responsible” requirements varies wildly from person to person. For instance, to someone who breeds purebred AKC registered show dogs, the list could include “Must be part of the breed parent club” “Puppies must be AKC registered” and “Breeder must actively compete in AKC conformation” as non-negotiable for being considered “responsible”

Someone who breeds their dogs as working ranch dogs might not give two shakes if the dog is AKC registered or purebred. All they care about is whether the dog is healthy and if it can move livestock. So their list of requirements will be completely different.

There some basic things that many people agree on. For instance, the dogs should be adequately cared for, the conditions should be sanitary, elderly or very young dogs should not be bred, and puppies should not be sold younger than eight weeks old. These are bare minimum requirements and in my opinion shouldn’t even need mentioning -but they do.

The problem with this current system of everyone doing what is right in their own eyes, is that we have a large number of people who consider themselves to be “responsible breeders” but who are still contributing to the irresponsible owner epidemic in our country.

Let’s take a step back for a moment and think of other types of people who produce something to sell. Imagine a zip tie manufacturer. Zip ties are amazing little things! They’ve saved my bacon countless times, especially when I lose the clips that come with plastic crates.

dog crate

But once the manufacturer has created the zip tie and sold it, they’re not really giving a second thought to what someone may do with it down the road. It doesn’t really affect them if someone uses the zip tie to tie their shoes, fix a crate, or you know…. kidnap someone and hold them for ransom. They produced it, they’re not responsible for what someone does with it. They don’t sell zip ties with little booklets telling you that it’s wrong to use their product for kidnapping. Telling people kidnapping is wrong isn’t really the zip tie company’s responsibility….people should probably have learned that from their parents or at school.

That is a producer. They produced the thing for money. The thing was produced, they got their money. Rinse and repeat.

So in my mind, you have Puppy Producers and Responsible Breeders. I did not coin those terms, but I’m going to use the heck out of them in an attempt to take back the conversation. The mentality behind puppy producers is the same as the zip tie manufacturer. The dogs may be AKC registered, they may be purebred, the parents may even be health tested! But if the driving force is “producing puppies for money” then they are not a responsible breeder.

To me the landscape of dog breeding is not black and white like the picture below:

Resp vs irresp

It’s a bit of a gradient:

Gradient 2prv

On the far left we have people who are producing puppies for money with no thought to the dogs’ safety or well being. These types of producers are often referred to as “puppy mills”. You’ve all seen the news stories. People hoarding 30 matted, little dogs in their garage in disgusting cages and selling puppies non stop.  The thing is, generally speaking, this type of environment is not really sustainable from a practical standpoint. Turn over is high, often puppy buyers come back  because the pups have health or behavior problems, neighbors complain etc. It’s just not good business. Plus, if you have any compassion for animals at all, it’s not something you can stomach.

In my experience, the majority of puppy producers/dog breeders in the US are somewhere in the middle. There are three main groups of producers out there. You have the “puppy mills”, high volume commercial producers, and producers who breed their pets.

You’ll notice, that I listed puppy mills and high volume commercial producers separately. Many people lump them together, but when I say “puppy mill” I am referring to a producer who keeps the animals in abusive/neglectful conditions. The photo below is what pops into my mind. These animals are being kept in physically and mentally harmful conditions for the sole purpose of creating puppies to sell.

Puppy mill 2

Just like the puppy mills,  high volume commercial breeders are still keeping dogs for the sole purpose of creating puppies to sell, but the conditions are generally better. I’m not saying they’re ideal – I’m not saying I condone the practice. I’m just pointing out that the conditions are a bit better. Which from a business stand point, makes more sense. Better conditions means healthier dogs, which means they can produce more puppies.

Many of these high volume commercial producers are USDA certified, which means that the USDA inspects the kennels periodically and they must maintain a certain quality of life for the animals. That’s not saying much, and depending on the area, the inspections could be cursory or even non existent. Just because a producer is USDA Certified, does not mean the conditions are better, or that they are a responsible breeder.

 

Puppy Mill

The picture directly above shows conditions that are better than the puppy mill picture, but it’s still not great. If I was a dog and I had to pick one, I would pick this picture for sure- but again we’re still in the darker shades of grey on the Producer to Breeder spectrum.

USDA Kennel 4

Now this picture, is also a USDA Certified high volume puppy producer, but these conditions are markedly better. The dogs are still not in a home as part of a family, but they’re clean, they have room to run, and access to the outdoors. If I were a puppy, I would absolutely choose this picture over the other two. So now, we’re still in the producer area, but as far as the dog’s health and quality of life, we’re still in the grey, but it’s getting lighter.

That brings me to the term “backyard breeder”. I have a love/hate relationship with this term. To me, it really illustrates the concept of some random person who has a girl dog, tossing a boy dog into their back yard and making puppies. Generally their reasons range from “My Sophie is such a sweet dog I just want more like her” to “If she has 10 puppies and I sell each one for $200 I can make $2000!”.

The reason I don’t like this term is that many people think that any one who has a backyard and produces puppies is a “backyard breeder” including passionate, educated hobby breeders who are the backbone of responsible breeders. The term “backyard breeder” gets a lot of harmful legislation passed. I plan to do a whole blog post dedicated to harmful anti-breeder legislation, but for now, let’s just touch on it briefly.

When terms like “backyard breeder” and “puppy mill” are used hand in hand, it is easy for both the public and politicians to think of anyone who breeds a dog at home as being irresponsible. So legislation gets passed banning people from breeding dogs in their home. They claim that the only way to know if a breeder is responsible or not is if their facilities are held to certain requirements are subject to regular inspections. The problem with this is a) as we saw above, USDA Certified and Inspected does not guarantee the animals are in great conditions and b) most  responsible breeders do not have “facilities”. Their dogs are part of their family and the whelping box is in their living room. They may have one or two litters a year, and they hand raise those dogs with intent and love. They don’t have the funds or the inclination to have a huge heated kennel with runs and exercise areas. They may only own a total of three or four dogs. So a lot of well meaning legislation ends up banning the people who do the most good for the dogs and rewarding the high volume commercial producers.

So when it comes to “backyard breeders” there’s not always an obvious difference between a responsible breeder following a breeding program and a backyard breeder producing puppies irresponsibly.

Now let’s go back to our gradient:

Gradient 2prv

On the far left we have the first photo. Dirty cages, unhealthy animals, breeding solely for profit. A little to the left we have the second photo. Still breeding solely for money, conditions are slightly improved – emphasis on “slightly”. Then we have picture number three. Now, being the realist that I am, I’m convinced that the third photo is a staged photo-op. That facility may exist for the sole purpose of convincing people that high volume commercial producers are not puppy mills. Realistically,  high volume breeders are probably a range in the middle.

For argument’s sake, let’s suspend our critical thinking skills for a moment and imagine that the photo-op photo is real. In fact, let’s get wild and imagine that most USDA high volume commercial producers look like these photos below:

USDA Kennel 1

 

USDA Kennel 2

USDA-Breeder-Kennel.jpg

The areas look clean and according to the Real Animal Welfare Group, the floors are heated, classical music is piped in, and the animals are all clean, bathed and happy. Would this be considered a producer or a responsible breeder? Ask yourself, what is the purpose of breeding these dogs? You guessed it. Making money.

Often times, these facilities are not selling directly to puppy buyers. They have brokers who sell the pups to pet stores, puppy buyers and even to ” retail rescues” (more on that in another post).

So far, all we’ve discussed is the physical aspects of these producers. Are they clean and healthy? Do the dogs get to play outside? Are they well groomed and well fed?

The next consideration is genetic. If you’re breeding for money, it doesn’t make any sense to phase healthy, young dogs out of your kennel. And one or two males can service dozens of females. So in a producer setting, say you have ten female Toy Poodles who each produce one or two litters a year and each time it is with the same male. The gene pool for Toy Poodles is now flooded with those same dogs’ DNA. Say each litter averages five puppies and each female produces one litter a year for four years – this is a very conservative estimate. That’s two hundred Toy Poodles who are all related to each other. Now, males can continue to breed far longer than females, so say the producer rotates those ten Toy Poodles and replaces them with ten more. So in four more years, we have another two hundred Toy Poodles who are still related.

This is not an improvement on the breed. If that male has any genetic issues, say eye problems (common in poodles) guess who  just inherited eye problems? Yep, four hundred Toy Poodles. It’s also just producing the same thing over and over again. There is no forward motion in the breed’s genetics. This is a major problem in producers, whether they’re producing ten puppies a year or a thousand puppies a year. They’re flooding the breed with the same genetic material.

Because this post just isn’t quite long enough, and I know you’re dying to spend all day staring at your screen, let’s talk about how producers contribute to the shelter problem.

Producers are producing puppies for profit. Once the puppy has gone to it’s owner the dog is no longer their responsibility. There have been instances where puppy owners have come back to the producer with complaints and they’ve gotten their money back, but those are pretty far and few between. Once you buy that dog, it’s yours. And if you decide you don’t want the dog any more, or she ends up in the shelter, that’s between you, your dog and your conscience.

The conscientious producers may offer a health guarantee or even hand out free booklets on responsible ownership, but they place the ultimate responsibility for the dog on the new owners shoulders.It is not in their best interest to ensure that the new owners understand that the breed has very specific grooming needs or that maybe buying their seventeen year old daughter a Scottish Terrier may not be the best choice since she’s never owned a dog before and she’s leaving for college in  a year.

If the family decides on a Tuesday morning that they want a dog, puppy producers will gladly sell them a puppy on Tuesday afternoon.

And that is how puppy producers contribute to our shelter dog problem. Puppy producers sell to anyone willing to hand them money for a dog. And it is abundantly clear that not everyone who has the money to buy a dog is in a position to be a responsible dog owner.

Right now, we have shelters, rescues and puppy producers who are adopting/selling dogs to people who could potentially be irresponsible owners. Responsibility for the dog still rests on the shoulders of the adults who decided to get a pet, but handing dogs out to anyone willing to pay is not helping the problem.

To transcend from puppy producer to responsible breeder, the goal has to be more than just producing a product to make money. So, if the goal in producing puppies isn’t to make money, what is it?

We’ll talk about that in  Part Four – Responsible Breeders.

*The featured photo for this blog post is a painting titled “Senior Wranglers” by Maud Earl

 

Cool Beans

Our Amazing History With Dogs

We’re interrupting your regularly scheduled blog post to share some exciting information.

Apparently there is a Museum of the Dog!

I’ve been obsessed with animals and dogs my entire life and somehow missed that there is an entire museum dedicated to dogs! They are moving back to New York City after spending a few decades in St. Louis.

They have an amazing collection of historic works of art including the beautiful pieces below. The first photo pictured really speaks to me in ways I can’t explain. Just lovely.

 

The Falconer by Donald Grant
“The Falconer” by Donald Grant – Gift of the estate of Cynthia S. Wood. (Salukis)
Senior Wrtanglers by Maud Earl
“Senior Wranglers” by Maud Earl – Gift of the Estate of Jean Graves Brainard. (Wire Fox Terriers)
Ch. Estat d'Argeles of Basquaerie and Ch. estagel d' Argeles of Basquarie by Edwin Megargee
“Ch. Estat d’Argeles of Basquaerie and Ch. Estagel d’Argeles of Basquaerie” by Edwin Megargee – Gift of the estate of Mary Crane. (Great Pyrenees)

 

 

 

Responsible Dog Ownership, Support Responsible Breeders

Part 2 – Rescues and Shelters’ Role in the Shelter Dog Problem

In part one of this piece I talked about the “adopt don’t shop” movement and  I mentioned that I felt their energy was misplaced. While I think that it worked to a certain degree, it’s not the answer to our current situation. We don’t have a pet over population problem – we have a shelter population problem. Those are two completely different things.

The term “pet overpopulation” gives the impression that there are too many animals. That’s not necessarily the case. The problem isn’t that we have too many animals and not enough homes. The problem is that animals keep ending up in the shelter.

We need to shift the way we look at the situation. From where I stand, dogs being born isn’t the problem. The problem is that dogs are ending up in shelters.

A puppy is born.

A dog goes to the shelter.

Those are two separate facts. A dog being born is not a guarantee that they will end up in a shelter. It would be the same as saying: A child is born so a person goes to jail.

Just because a child is born is not a guarantee they will end up in jail. There are many factors that contribute to human incarceration….and there are many factors that contribute to dogs ending up in the shelter. If fewer humans were born it is likely that fewer would end up in jail, based solely on the fact that there would be fewer people total in existence. So fewer dogs in existence does lead to fewer dogs in shelters, but it’s correlation, not causation.

Why are dogs ending up in the shelter? Two words: Irresponsible owners.

Most of these irresponsible owners love their dogs and really believe they have tried their best. I discussed this a bit in a previous post titled Is There A Right Way To Love Your Dog?

A large part of the problem is how our culture perceives dog ownership. There is a lack of intent and a whole lot of reaction. What I mean by that is, instead of intending to get a dog, many families end up getting a dog. Once they have the dog, they’re not actively planning to train the dog, they end up having to do something about the dog. Some people end up  finding a trainer, and they are able to learn to train their dog and develop a relationship with them. But training is a lot of work and takes consistency, something a lot of people are not willing or able to do. Training requires that you stop reacting to your dog’s behavior and start actively shaping it. Many people are not ready or able to do that. A direct result of  humans’ reactive behavior is dogs ending up re-homed or in the shelter.

I’ve said this before: Dogs are living, breathing, feeling creatures whose lives can span over a decade. The decision to get a dog should not be taken lightly. Yet shelters, rescues, pet stores and many puppy producers across the nation allow you to decide on a Tuesday you want a dog and on Friday bring one home.

The problem is two pronged. One part of the problem is the lack of personal responsibility and education on the part of dog owners, and the second part, sadly to say, falls on the rescues, shelters and puppy producers.

Personal responsibility on the part of the dog owner seems pretty self explanatory and the education problem is part of what I meant when I said that the “adopt don’t shop” energy was misplaced.  Over the years, rescues and humane societies have spent tens of thousands of hours and millions of dollars telling people to “rescue” their dogs, but haven’t educated them on how to be responsible for them.  If we spent just a fraction of the Humane Society of the United States’ advertising budget on teaching people how to be better dog owners I feel confident that in a few years we would see a marked decline in shelter intakes.

The other part of the problem rests at the feet of the rescues and shelters. Now, I am in no way anti-rescue or anti-shelter. They are necessary and are generally staffed by good people who love animals. I know people who spend forty or more hours a week staffing a shelter, then go home and spend their free time volunteering and fostering dogs in their home. These people love animals and have dedicated their lives to helping them. That is no small thing.

When I say rescues and shelters are part of the problem I mean a few things. One, because they are sometimes crowded and under staffed, there is generally no waiting period to get a dog. Often there is no home visit and no one verifying that the information on the adoption application is accurate. Irresponsible dog owners with a history of getting dogs impulsively then giving them up or letting them stray can often keep adopting dogs. Even if they end up on a “do not adopt to” list at one shelter/rescue, they can often drive a couple hours and adopt from someone else.

I understand. Shelter staff is already over worked and under paid. They don’t want the dogs in the shelter any longer than they have to be. So why would they force people to wait, or be ultra picky when the potential adopter can just go down the street and adopt from someone who makes it easy?

The other side of that coin is the rescues who only adopt to “perfect dog parents”. By this I mean that a normal family with two working parents and children in school do not qualify to adopt because the dog would spend 8 hours a day by itself. Or the experienced dog owner who doesn’t qualify to adopt because she has a dog at home who is not neutered. Or because the potential adopter has bred dogs in the past. Or any number of ridiculously stringent rules that rescues sometimes abide by to prohibit “irresponsible owners” from getting dogs. Their hearts are in the right place, but good homes are being passed over because they’re not perfect on paper.

Another issue that I have with many rescue/shelters is the idea that every dog can be saved. Now, this is the part of the show where you may decide you don’t like me…that’s ok, I understand.

Don’t get me wrong, I love animals. If every single pet in the world could be in a loving home that was perfect for them, I would be ecstatic. I don’t want to see any animal suffer.

BUT….we have to be realistic. There are worse things than being humanely euthanized. Have you ever interacted with a dog who has been in a shelter for a long period of time? Even dogs with fairly stable temperaments can go a little crazy, let alone dogs who have separation anxiety or trust issues. I have seen dogs who are not stable, who do not pass their temperament tests just sit in the shelter because the rescue/shelter is “waiting for the perfect home” for them. And they wait. And wait. And wait. Confining any dog, but particularly an anxious dog, to a shelter environment for long periods of time is a form of torture. Their basic needs may be met, but it is not healthy for them psychologically.

And I can tell you, there are far more dogs who need the “right home” than there are “right homes” for them.

8b71877fc5806f2962eac52e509217ed
The photo above has been going around on social media lately. And while I applaud the emotion behind it, it’s rarely that simple.

This is different than there being too many dogs and not enough homes. What I’m talking about is best illustrated in the following adoption ad:
Sammy is a 4 year old terrier mix looking for his forever home! He’s really shy, but has lots of love to give. He would do best as an only pet in a home with no children. He needs an experienced dog owner who can give him the attention he needs. He’s really had a rough go of it and just needs some stability and someone to love him. He’s our shelter’s longest resident and is waiting for the right home. 

That’s what they say. What they mean is:

Sammy has bounced around from home to home and has a bite history. He’s terrified of his own shadow and has attachment issues so he’s never bonded to a human. He will throw himself against a door to get to another animal because he never learned to interact with them and has never been given boundaries. He’s been in and out of the shelter and while he has learned to tolerate some of our staff, he has no house manners and will try to bite you if you scare him – and don’t forget, just about everything scares him. 

Now, don’t misunderstand me. My heart goes out to Sammy. But, because of my experience training and interacting with similar dogs, I know that even if I had no other pets and adopted this dog, it would be a long, hard road before we were able to have a relationship. My partner and I may get bit a couple times during the process, I may never be able to introduce him to other animals, and I’d better not have a very active social life because my friends are not going to be visiting my house for quite a while. This is a best case scenario considering I have over ten years of hands on dog experience and have the knowledge and resources to rehabilitate him.

Imagine someone with no training or canine behavior experience getting this dog! It would be a nightmare. They want a companion, a dog they can interact with, and instead they get a cowering, growling mess of a dog that spends six months hiding in the back of a closet and pooping under the bed. Can you imagine someone who ended up getting a dog being able to handle that? Half the time the average dog owner can’t handle their Golden Retriever puppy, let along an adult dog with issues. So Sammy ends up back at the shelter and the dog owner feels like a terrible person for not being able to keep him.

The amount of homes that are willing and able to rehabilitate dogs like Sammy are very low. The amount of homes that are willing and able to responsibly care for a dog with very minor behavior issues is high.

This may seem like an extreme example, but I know from personal experience that there are many rescues that will withhold a dog’s bite history because they desperately want the dog to be adopted. I understand that feeling.

About six months ago I had to authorize euthanasia for a beautiful young dog. It broke my heart and I bawled like a baby. It is never an easy choice. She was a two year old, hundred and ten pound mastiff type dog that had been raised in the middle of nowhere with her sister, had zero training and socialization, and just got the short end of the stick. She was not well bred, it was obvious that her lack of confidence was in part genetic. I found her a home that seemed perfect on paper, but when she started exhibiting behavior issues the family didn’t tell me and they didn’t contact the trainer I recommended. They waited until she had attacked their other dog and bit one of the family members before they informed me that I needed to pick up the dog in the next four days because they couldn’t handle her. I have a very strong policy against adopting out dogs with a bite history. I’ve seen it happen and it very rarely ends well. If I adopt out a dog and it hurts another dog or a person, I feel personally responsible for the incident. That being said, the decision to euthanize her was one of the most difficult I’ve ever made.  I second guessed myself and sought the counsel of another trainer who I trust implicitly . She verified my assessment of the dog and agreed that euthanasia was the best course of action. That dog’s default setting was so anxious and wound up, I didn’t even realize how constantly stressed she was until the sedative took affect and she relaxed for the first time.

It is incredibly naive to imagine that every dog can be saved.Keep in mind, behavior is a complex result of genetics, training and environment. There are instances where the behavior is so entrenched that rehabilitation isn’t a realistic option.

And, as harsh as this sounds, it comes down to resource management. If I had the facilities to keep that girl and give her the training and love she needed, I would have kept her for the rest of her life. But, I don’t have those resources. If I had decided to keep her, it would put everyone in my household at risk, and I wouldn’t be in a position to help other dogs. For every kennel filled by a high risk dog, there are three easily adoptable dogs who are not being housed. Keeping unadoptable dogs long term is not fair to the dog, to other dogs in need and it’s not fair to potential adopters.

All of these factors come together to set dog owners up to fail. The dog owner is not being educated to research and choose the right pet for their family. Then, they have the ability to impulsively get a dog and they’re being told that the only right place to get a dog is a rescue, so they go down to their local shelter and adopt a cute dog. More often than not, this cute dog has behavior issues that have been downplayed by the rescue. Once they get the dog home, they don’t have a lot of education on how to be responsible dog owners, and they have no idea how to handle the dog’s issues so they react by re homing the dog or surrendering it to a shelter.

I can’t count how many times I’ve brought strays in to my local shelter just to have the shelter staff not only recognize the dog because it’s been in so much, but tell me that the dog was adopted from them to begin with.

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.

I plan to get into the role that puppy producers play in this, but that is another thousand words or so…..

 

 

 

 

Responsible Dog Ownership, Support Responsible Breeders

Part 1 – Where Are Shelter Dogs Coming From?

PART ONE

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. 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.

akc-registrations-1930-to-2010

 

akc-registrations-since-peak-1993-2008

 

Dalmations showed a  98% decrease in AKC registrations from 1993 to 2008

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.

EDIT 3/11/17:
**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