Adopt Don't Shop?
I am sure everyone has heard this mantra repeatedly: “Adopt Don’t Shop” or “The best breed is rescue”. I have had two wonderful rescued dogs, both of whom required quite a lot of hard work at first, but ended up being fantastic companions and incredibly special and unique.
However, my registered pure-breed dogs are also all special and unique and bring me more joy than I could ever have imagined. The origins of a dog are certainly not going to affect how special they are, how much we love them or how much they deserve to be loved and cared for, but in many cases, they will affect the amount of knowledge and dedication required to help them become well-adjusted members of our households and their ability to do so, regardless of how much work we put in.
I am becoming increasingly distressed by the amount of “rescue guilt” that is placed on the general public in social media and other platforms and also by the enormous amount of emotionally dysfunctional dogs adopted out by “pro-life” shelters to unsuspecting members of the public – more often than not, to families who are just looking for an easy-going companion and not a life-long project.
The reality is that, just as there are many poorly bred or problematic dogs being sold by backyard breeders, there are as many being sold by well-meaning rescue organizations. Problems with rescued dogs are not limited to adult dogs that have suffered trauma, neglect and abuse resulting in sometimes irreparable physiological and emotional damage – there are also numerous puppies being sold by shelters that have been conceived, carried to term and born without the benefits of proper nutrition, care and a low stress-environment. Many contract diseases which result in them being isolated during the critical socialization period. Many spend their most sensitive emotional period in a cage or an inappropriate foster home, denied the sights, sounds and experiences that are vital for healthy emotional development. If they remain there too long, they become institutionalized and neophobic.
These puppies are then adopted out to your average family with a couple of young kids that has never had a dog before. Most are just looking for something to “tick the box” as far as having a pet is concerned and between raising kids and work, barely have the time to deal with typical puppy problems – they certainly do not have the ability or commitment to successfully cope with a puppy with special needs e.g. pups with poor bite inhibition, lack of frustration tolerance, poor learning skills and huge socialization deficits. This is just the behavioural and emotional side of things - there are also many pups being sold with health problems which are swept under the carpet, but which have a significant impact on quality of life and ultimately behaviour.
One of the most powerful guilt-trips laid on people, is that for every dog bought from a breeder a dog in a shelter dies. The conclusion is that we should have no breeders at all, registered or otherwise, and make rescued dogs the only option for acquiring a dog or puppy. If one follows this argument, then the only dogs that ever reproduced would be stray dogs or dogs belonging to people who bred unregistered dogs of dubious origin illegally, with no health checks and no definable standards. We would have no more well-bred dogs of any specific breed. We would only have dogs born into dysfunctional or deprived circumstances.
As a behaviourist and trainer, I see hundreds of dogs every year. With the “Rescue is the new black” trend, often the majority of dogs in our classes are from shelters. Increasingly, even in puppy class, we are having to manage dogs so incredibly carefully, because of the poor social and emotional coping skills that so many of them have. When we do get a well-bred puppy without any issues, it is like a breath of fresh air! I sometimes wonder if many people have forgotten what a well-bred, emotionally healthy dog is actually like? Reactivity is sadly becoming the new normal!
Having said that, we also have some absolutely lovely rescued dogs in our classes. Dogs that have been responsibly adopted out to the right people. Dogs who are a joy to work with and have made their owners’ lives complete.
So what am I saying? I am not against rescue organizations. I am grateful that they exist. To say that their work is hard is a complete understatement. I am not against people adopting from shelters. I applaud those willing to give a shelter dog a home. However, I am against rescue organizations laying guilt trips on every dog owner and insisting that rescue is the only way to go. I am against rescue organizations insisting on saving the sickliest, most disadvantaged, orphaned few-day-old puppies that have no chance of developing normally and becoming emotionally healthy and selling them to people who do not know how to cope with a special needs dog.
While it is devastatingly difficult, there needs to be more honesty about a puppy’s chances of living a normal, healthy and well-adjusted life. When chances are slim, things should go no further. These puppies should not be raised and then presented to the public as completely normal and suitable for your average family or owner. When puppies or adults with behaviour problems are homed, they must be homed to appropriate people with full disclosure!
At the same time, we need to support sterilization projects and stop backyard breeding altogether. We also need to support initiatives which educate communities in responsible pet care.
But we can also support registered breeders and hold them accountable for their breeding practices. Let’s work to a future where we have more responsibly-bred, emotionally healthy dogs and as few shelter dogs as possible.