Written by Sam Martinez
“Adopt, don’t shop.” It’s something all of us likely have heard from proponents of animal rescues at one point or another. And while we here at Ruff Translating certainly are huge supporters of rescues, we’re not big fans of that popular phrase.
For starters, adopting a dog is a shopping process itself, and potential owners should be prepared for that. While it’s entirely possible that someone could go to one rescue and find the perfect dog for their family that day, that’s not always -- and most likely won’t be -- the case. Instead, owners should start by researching local rescues and compiling a list of the ones they want to check out. You also should get an idea of what kind of dog you want, even if you’re not looking for a specific breed. The types of characteristics you can consider are things like size, activity level, coat type, and health. There’s a lot of research to do before getting a dog, even if you’re willing to be flexible once you actually go to a rescue!
The more damaging part of the phrase, though, is that it suggests buying a dog from a breeder is a bad thing, when that couldn’t be further from the truth.
Service dogs are the first thing that comes to mind when we talk about the necessity of reputable, responsible breeding. Choosing a rescue dog already is labor-intensive for someone looking for a pet, but it’s even more so if you’re looking for a service dog. Service dogs must be stable, smart, and free of health issues, and finding all of that in a rescue dog can feel like a one-in-a-million chance. Many service dog handlers also prefer to raise and train them from a young age, and it’s very common for puppies to come to shelters from backyard breeders, puppy mills, or because they were taken from their dam too early, all of which are highly unlikely to make a good service dog candidate. Simply put, it’s wildly unfair to expect people with disabilities to have to put the extra time, travel, and money it will take to evaluate a rescue dog into purchasing what already is an expensive and time-consuming medical device. You can learn more about what goes into making a service dog a service dog from our owner Ejay Eisen here.
But there should be no shame in using a breeder to get a companion dog, either.
The mere existence of rescues proves that not every person should be a dog owner. But we also have to reckon with the fact that not everyone should be a rescue dog owner. Rescue dogs can be extremely difficult trains, and just because a potential owner doesn’t have the experience to put in that kind of work doesn’t mean they won’t be able to train any dog. Dogs in shelters can be a unique challenge!
Rescues also aren’t always the best at placing dogs in the right homes, by no fault of their own. They rely heavily on volunteers and donations, which means there are many people involved who aren’t experienced in knowing the kinds of behaviors and body language that can turn difficult or even dangerous. They are unbelievably well meaning people who don’t want to see dogs living their lives without a place of their own, but when your bottom line is getting them adopted, the lines between wanting to see a dog in a home and wanting to see a dog in the right home can get blurred. Plus, when the ultimate goal is to get all dogs out of shelters, how would people continue to own temperament- and health-tested dogs without responsible breeders?
Ultimately, what we’d like to see is people fighting to help rescues employ dog trainers and behaviorists who would be able to make rescue dogs more accessible to owners, especially first-time owners. But for now, we need to make sure rescue dogs don’t get bounced around to people who aren’t quite ready for that type of responsibility yet. A stable purebred dog can be a gateway into getting a new owner excited about training and give them the experience to make a rescue dog their next choice. Good breeders also make their clients sign documents that include language stating that if the dog needs to be rehomed for any reason, it should be returned to the breeder, which will prevent more dogs from winding up in rescues and shelters in the first place.
When it all comes down to it, we all want to see a world full of healthy, happy dogs. And if breeders play a vital role in making that happen, then we shouldn’t be shaming any potential dog owners for using them.