Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Shop? Adopt? There's a 3rd Option

I'm a member of many online groups, communities and bulletin boards -- both personally and professionally. Because of this I get all kinds of email. Some I find interesting and pass along. Some I feel don't apply to me and I quietly hit delete. Then there are some that just piss. me. off. I got one Anti-Puppy Mill message a couple weeks back that had me swearing like a sailor. I don't like puppy mills (who does?) so I read it. Most of it was informative. Then I got to this part:

Please urge your friends and family to adopt — even if they have their hearts set on a purebreed dog there are rescues for most all breeds. Check them out. Don’t shop pet stores.

Really?! First of all, it's purebred. (Sorry, Grammar Nazi strikes again.) And then there's the gross misconception that you either get a dog from a puppy mill stocked pet store or you get it from a rescue/shelter. I'd like to remind everybody that there is a third option: RESPONSIBLE BREEDERS.

I've had many dogs throughout my lifetime (and cats. and birds. and rodents. and reptiles. and fish. but I digress . . . ) and I've acquired them many different ways. Eli and Logan were from the pound. Sitka and Pepper were "free to a good home" puppies. (I actually found Pepper in the Pennysaver!) Roxy was a foster failure. Jedi was purchased from a breeder (who is now a dear friend of mine). All of these dogs are precious to me, and all of them have a special place in my heart. So why is it that I have to justify my decision to pay for Jedi? Not that it's anybody's business, but:
  • I wanted a show-quality dog. I've wanted to show dogs (you know, like Westminster) since I was nine years old. A dog must be registered/pedigreed to do that, which means you have to know the dog's history. And to compete in conformation, a dog must be intact. Papers or not, I don't know any shelter that would adopt out a dog with reproductive organs.
  • I wanted a dog that met the AKC breed standard. Every breed has a blueprint of the ideal dog called a breed standard. A responsible breeder doesn't breed dogs that are too big/small, has bad joints, bowed legs, poor movement, missing teeth, is a funky color or knowingly carries other unhealthily/undesirable recessive genes. If -- despite a breeder's efforts -- an "out-of-standard" puppy is born it is spayed/neutered (so it won't pass on those traits) and placed in a loving home to live out it's life as a beloved pet.
  • I wanted an idea of what I was getting. Dogs were bred for different purposes, so some behaviors are innate to certain breeds. For example: beagles bay, dachshunds dig, greyhounds run, collies herd -- whether you want them to or not! The problem (and joy) of mixed breeds is that you never know which breed-related characteristics are going to be present.
  • I wanted a puppy. Puppies are hard to come by in shelters, especially purebred puppies -- unless you count the sickly, unsocialized, poorly-bred ones confiscated in the latest puppy mill raid.
  • I wanted a dog that came from healthy stock. Pepper's hip dysplasia and Logan's heart problems adversely affected their quality of life. It was painful to watch. Jedi's ancestors were all tested for a slew of genetic problems. Responsible breeders ensured that. No, the tests aren't a guarantee that my dog will be problem free, but it does stack the deck in my favor.
  • I wanted a dog with an even temperament. A responsible breeder doesn't breed unstable, fearful or aggressive dogs. I got to spend time with Jedi's mother and half-brother before he was even born. Both have beautiful temperaments so I had a good idea what to expect. Plus, the breeder knew her pups intimately so she was able to help me find the right one to fit my family.
  • I wanted a dog that was well-socialized. My responsible breeder started working with the puppies at birth. By 8-weeks old they had been touched extensively, cuddled continuously, exposed to everyday household noises and various surfaces, they ran outside, climbed a puppy-sized jungle gym and played with dozens of toys. The puppies went to their new homes strong, curious and confident. Conversely, Roxy's life before us was horrible. She was a mess when we got her and it took years for her to trust us. I didn't have the time or energy to do that again.

This moment was worth the wait!
Yes, I had a lot of criteria. But I have the right to be picky. It's MY money. I earned it. I can spend it however I want. My friends don't have to justify holding out for a new Volvo or a Coach purse. They're not chastised because there are already so many other cars out there. (So what if they're all Kias?) And why buy a new purse when there are perfectly good knock-off bags at the flea market just waiting for a new home? Granted, dogs aren't cars or purses, but a dog is a long-term commitment. What's wrong with waiting for the right dog? And by the same token, what's wrong with someone ethically and lovingly breeding the happy, healthy dog that I want? I assure you, my breeder's pups are never unwanted (she has a waiting list) and they'll never see the inside of a shelter (she will take back the dog at any time for any reason).

In society's push to promote the rescue and adoption of homeless animals (of which I am a BIG proponent) it seems that all deliberate dog breeders have been vilified -- regardless of their intentions. Responsible breeders have been lumped in with puppy mills and unscrupulous dog owners looking to make a quick buck. This is so sad . . . and so wrong! I know people who think it should be illegal to intentionally create ANY puppy. Many rescuers think it's vulgar to make money selling pets (though if you call it an "adoption fee" and make a profit it's OK.) But let's think this through: If we don't have puppies being born -- period -- dogs will cease to exist. I doubt that will ever happen, but if we don't have responsible breeders out there breeding happy, healthy dogs then all we will have to choose from are dogs from puppy mills and backyard breeders. (BTW, where do you think those purebred dogs in the shelters and rescue groups are coming from? Hint: Not the responsible breeders with 10-page contracts and regular check-ups.)

Ok, yes, I'm a little touchy about this subject. I actually lost "friends" when I paid for a puppy. I thought my animal community colleges would be happy that I was getting another dog, especially after the devastating loss of Logan. Some did, but not everybody. Others berated me. Belittled me. Un-friended me on Facebook. (Seriously, I've eaten hamburgers in front of vegetarians and gotten less venom.) I ask that you please think of me and Jedi before mindlessly spouting out "Adopt. Don't Shop." There is a third option.

This guy is from a responsible breeder
and I will be forever grateful to her.
OK, the rant is over. You may now return to your regularly scheduled program. -- K