I was putting up some flyers the other day and had the unfortunate experience of walking into several puppy stores. I sometimes forget that these places still exist, especially in forward-thinking cities like Manhattan.
I’m sure there are some decent reasons for certain people to buy a dog from a breeder or pet store. For instance if they plan to show they dog, or breed it themselves, so they need to know the lineage. Or if they want a hunting, tracking, or guard dog from particularly talented parents. As it happens, mutts have been shown to be among the best police “sniffer” dogs, and you can probably guess what I think about choosing showing, not to mention hunting, over giving new life to an abused dog on death row. But the point is, I’m sure there are good reasons for certain people to buy rather than adopt. I probably just can’t think of them right now.
Still, MOST of the reasons you commonly hear are entirely out of whack:
- “The poor puppies in the pet stores need to be rescued!”
In fact when you buy a puppy from a pet store, you’re essentially paying for new puppies to be bred. For every one “rescued” from a pet store, two more are created to fill its place. Furthermore, for every dog that is purchased instead of adopted, one more dog is left to die in the shelter system. If you buy instead of adopting, you are effectively choosing to kill an innocent shelter dog – while contributing to the breeding of more dogs, which will in turn lead to more being put to death.
- “I don’t see what the big deal is, they’re healthy and happy.”
Milled puppies are notoriously fraught with health problems, and purebred dogs in general tend to have more health problems than mutts. Even when pet stores advertise that their puppies are health-checked and vaccinated regularly, the true victims are their parents, particularly their mothers, suffering locked away in tiny cages giving birth to puppies for their entire lives, often horribly looked after and never seeing the light of day. Don’t be fooled by stores that say their breeders are “USDA licensed”; licensing is easy, and monitoring of standards is notoriously difficult and ineffective.
- “Shelter dogs have too much psychological baggage.”
Some have “baggage” that in fact makes them more appreciative, loyal, and loving for what you can give them. Also, many previously homed or homeless dogs are excellently socialized, as opposed to pet store dogs who’ve only known cages with glass fronts that say “Please don’t reach over.” Furthermore, EVERY dog, whether from a breeder or from outer space, needs to be taught rules and manners and have respect and trust conditioned into them every day, with calm consistent leadership, reinforcement, and socialization. But the main point to know is that unlike humans, dogs live purely in the present moment and are always ready, willing, and able to learn to trust, respect, and be peaceful. Dogs with “baggage” are always ready to chuck those bags aside and run happily free, as soon as you show them the open road. Not only have I seen this in the hundreds of rescue dogs I’ve worked with – we recently adopted a dog who’d been locked in a cage for the first nine years of his life. You should see this little guy wag, play, and run now; then look me in the eyes and tell me he had too much “baggage” to be worth saving.
- “They were given up for a reason.”
Not all shelter dogs were given up at all; many were simply born homeless, or wound up on the street by no one’s choosing. Most of the dogs that are given up are surrendered for financial reasons – the family can’t continue paying the dog’s expenses – or simply because the family is moving, or doesn’t have adequate facilities or time. Especially after the holidays, many surrendered dogs are ones that were given as unwanted gifts. And even when a behavior issue is cited as one of the reasons for the surrender, a good shelter will tell you exactly what those issues were and what their expert assessment is. And behaviors that are problems for one owner won’t necessarily be problematic for another, in a different situation and lifestyle. Finally, I see every day people with “problem dogs”. In the vast majority of cases, these problems disappear with a little exercise, socialization, and positive reinforcement.