This is a response to what I find to be a highly judgmental and harmful article on Dogster about buying a dog (or pet) vs adoption. Not only is it judgmental, but it has a photo of an angry face with a wagging finger! The author even claims to “wish bodily harm on others” (although yes, it is one of the worst scenarios we hear of – and yes, I’ve been a volunteer who encountered this “relinquish a senior dog for a puppy”). Although that is a separate issue than the overall topic at hand. An article admonishing the general pet owning public does not help the pet adoption movement, and this kind of message only hurts us and can lead to a reduction in adoptions. So here is my response.
Pet overpopulation is a myth. There are more than enough homes for every pet who is killed at shelters: 17 million pets are brought into homes each year, and 4 million die in shelters. While I choose to adopt, and hope others will too by striving to help advocate shelter pets, I do not hold purchasing a pet against you: it’s not directly causing a pet to die as there are more than enough homes for shelter animals and animals from breeders.
It is our job as advocates to get the great dogs and cats in front of your eyes, effectively, and if we do our job well the shelters will be empty. Shelters can be emptied, this has been demonstrated in over 30 communities in our country! But until we reverse the stereotypes and implement the No Kill Equation in our shelters, animals will continue to die. But it is not because a person bought a puppy from a breeder.
Puppy mills are evil, but breeders aren’t always bad
Don’t get me wrong, is true by definition (“milling”) that puppy mills are bad and harm animals physically and mentally – this is a separate issue. It is true that many of the dogs (not all) in a pet store are from those bad situations. This is a legal problem: mills need to be closed down, because they harm animals. Breeders come from all shapes and sizes: some are terrific, knowledgeable, caring, and responsible (even rescuing dogs of their own breed). Others less so. But well-bred dogs, ones bred entirely for temperament, will help out all kinds of dogs. Having many more excellent temperament dogs in the gene pool, who can “put up” with our hectic schedules or a somewhat neglectful home, means more dogs will stay in those homes and out of kill shelters. Nope, not an ideal situation and perhaps a better home would be nice – but busy dual-income households are reality. Sadly many dogs are relegated to the back yard or indoor life (and then the shelter when they have a barking problem). But if they don’t have a barking problem, they stay with the family. If they withstand a hectic child-filled household with a wagging tail, they stay with the family. They wait on the couch until you return from your workday, and don’t freak out if the walk is short, they don’t end up at the shelter. These stable dogs stay with their families, and they are OK with life as it is.
I know many of you might think “but that dog should never be with those families!” In some cases, perhaps not. But remember that family will decide to get a dog anyway, and the more stable that dog they find is (better temperament) means it is more likely to stay with that family and out of the shelter… and the dog is more accepting of whatever life hands their way. There are few “perfect” homes, most homes have imperfections and life (and dogs/people) are unpredictable – this is reality.
Sharing experience is good. Guilt-tripping lectures are bad.
Advocates want to get the word out that shelter dogs are some of the best canines around, and come in all shapes, sizes, temperaments, and ages. Guilt-tripping, shock-tactics, and wagging fingers is not the way to do it. Information about the great dogs and cats in shelters are. Showing how there are puppies, young dogs, pure-bred dogs, highly-trainable dogs, non-aggressive animals, and so on – not admonishing your co-workers for purchasing their dog.
Advocates: show, don’t judge and preach! Maybe print out a few adoptable animal listings and ask them to just take a look. Ask them if they’d like a hand. Do you train dogs? Offer some complimentary services. Don’t be pushy, just be helpful. If it doesn’t work, maybe it will next time. But being preachy or laying the guilt-trip on your acquaintance won’t help them find their way to a rescue or shelter (where they may feel they will encounter more of the same!) If they have questions or concerns, chat with them about your experiences instead of starting a lecture about what they “should” do. This leads to defensiveness, and won’t (easily) lead to an adoption.
I choose to adopt. I hope others will, too.
While I choose to adopt while animals continue to die, I respect that others may be confused or simply do not understand our movement or the kinds of animals who need homes. Remember, if you can, back to before you understood sheltering. Before you personally knew the shelter and rescue pets. Did you know much about shelters or the animals in them? Statistics? Maybe not, and that’s what your friend or co-worker is up against – statistics show many are undecided about where they will find their next pet. They have heard stories maybe, they have been swayed by myth perhaps. Maybe they just need to hear a bit about “the other side”. And it is how we approach this convincing that will make all the difference.
It is our job to spread the word, and how we do so will directly influence how successful we are in doing so. Carefully choose your words, tone, and evidence. This will lead to your friend considering that shelter animal (this time, or next). Wagging your finger at them with a frowny face or stepping onto the soap box will not.