I’ve been a supporter of shelters and adoption for as long as I can remember. It never made much sense to me to go out and buy an animal from a breeder when there are so many in need of a home at shelters. But while my bleeding heart may find this to be a common sense practice, I’m aware that many people find the allure of shopping for a puppy nonnegotiable. I mean, when you’re thinking with the logic of getting a cute as hell baby, picking the breed and thus the traits, and not getting a shelter traumatized fur baby it seems like a no brainer to find the best breeder in town and get the next available bundle of joy. And in some circumstances I can understand buying from a reputable breeder instead of adopting a fur baby. But in most cases when it comes to getting a new member of the family, the best option for all involved is adoption.
And that’s exactly why Chris DeRose’s non-profit organization Last Chance For Animals came up with the slogan “Adopt, Don’t Shop.” Their aim is to educate the public on the importance of adoption when it comes to making the lives of fur babies everywhere better off. And I’m going to do my part in narrowing some of those reasons down (with pics of my pets, mostly taken by my talented sister Nastassia, for cuteness relief).
It’s no secret that we have more cats and dogs in our communities than we have available homes for, but to put it into perspective for you approximately 6.5 million animals enter shelters around the U.S. every year with about half being cats and the other half dogs, according to the ASPCA. That’s a lot of cute, cuddly, and innocent puppers and kittos with no real place in the world to call home. Considering that we already have so many animals in need of homes, including those in breed/type specific rescues for anyone interested in specific traits in a fur baby, it doesn’t make much sense to create even more animals that may one day end up in a shelter.
Sidebar: This is also why it’s so so important to spay and neuter your pets. It’s simply not true that it’s good for your pet to have a litter before getting spayed, that they will be less protective after being neutered, that they will get fat, or that they will be less of a male/female as a result. Spaying and neutering saves lives because it prevents more animals from being brought into this world for which there simply aren’t enough resources. And if you’re someone who thinks your little Fluffy or Baby or Pookie or Spot are so adorable that their babies would sell quick and make you some nice money on the side, please consider that these animals are not commodities from which you can make extra cash via selling their babies. They are thinking and feeling beings that need love and care and to be treated as members of the family, not as work animals.
"only 23% of dogs and 31% of cats are adopted from shelters"
Despite the staggering amount of animals in shelters and rescues needing homes, when it comes to bringing a new companion animal into people’s’ lives, only 23% of dogs and 31% of cats are adopted from shelters (the rest being from breeders, friends, private parties, and other sources, according to the ASPCA). This means that the majority of companion animal owners were not screened to make sure they were indeed prepared to take in a fur baby and were not given the proper resources or information on how to care for that baby. So what happens when that baby’s behavior becomes unmanageable and the owners can’t afford training? What happens when that baby grows bigger than expected? What happens when the high of puppy/kitten love passes as the animal ages and no one cares to give the baby the necessary amount of attention? Many times these babies end up in shelters, adding to the already existing problem of overcrowding and straining the community. Which leads to the next point.
Bad Outcomes and Euthanasia
Perhaps you’re someone who doesn’t believe in or support so-called “Kill Shelters” because you can’t bear the idea of an innocent creature being euthanized for no good reason other than a space issue. If that’s the case, you should definitely support these shelters by adopting from them, volunteering, becoming a foster parent, or donating supplies/money. The Kitten Lady made an awesome video explaining the difference between so-called “Kill Shelters” and “No Kill Shelters.” In a nut shell, the two types of shelters that can exist are private and municipal. Private shelters can put a cap on how many animals they receive, thus never needing to use euthanasia for space issues. Municipal shelters, on the other hand, are government-funded shelters and as such are in place to help the community. This means that they are an open shelter and cannot turn away any animal brought to them. When push comes to shove, if you don’t have room, you have to make room. So we absolutely need to lend our support to alleviate the load and lower the chances of public shelters needing to clear up room for new drop offs.
"The ASPCA estimates that 1.5 million animals are euthanized each year."
All that is to say that euthanasia is an ugly truth in animal welfare. The ASPCA estimates that 1.5 million animals are euthanized each year. If we don’t want healthy or treatable animals being euthanized, we should be doing our part in giving those animals better options by adopting or fostering them.
But euthanasia is not the only bad outcome to consider when thinking of buying a puppy or kitten. While it may arguably be the worst, other bad outcomes to consider are animals spending extended periods of time in small shelter kennels or being adopted and returned thus adding more emotional trauma to their lives. And this is not exclusive to shelter animals. Many dogs from breeders end up in a shelter or rescue because the owners did not realize what they signed up for with behavior, size, expense, and/or the animal became sick.
Puppy Mill Problems and Breed Specific Issues
It’s unfortunately pretty difficult to find a reputable breeder that screens their animals for breed specific health issues and illnesses, and even if you do find one they will likely have a long waiting list to buy a puppy. This is because responsible breeders won’t put their females through the trauma of enduring pregnancy after pregnancy with no recovery in between. And they screen adopters to make sure the puppies will be going to a good home. But most people wanting a specific breed of dog want it now and won’t wait for a good breeder to have an available puppy. That’s why there’s such a high market for puppies from irresponsible breeders and puppy mills, and that’s where buying puppies becomes a real issue.
So what is a puppy mill exactly? Puppy mills are essentially dog breeding factories where dogs are treated as things to make money rather than living beings in need of a lot of care. The conditions these dogs and puppies live in are beyond gross and lead to avoidable infections. Also, many of the dogs result from inbreeding due to a lack of regulation when it comes to reproduction. As a result, the puppies often have a myriad of genetic issues later in life that most owners won’t want to deal with or simply can’t afford, but they’ll have no idea about until long after their purchase. When you buy a puppy from a pet store you are most likely buying a puppy mill dog and unwittingly supporting a cruel industry.
"It is known that some breeds are prone to certain health issues..."
As far as backyard breeders or your friend/relative who didn’t spay their dog and found themselves with a litter to sell, again these dogs are not screened for genetic issues. It is known that some breeds are prone to certain health issues (ex: respiratory problems in Pugs) and while there is no hard science proving that mutts are healthier than pedigree dogs, a majority of vets agree that they tend to be healthier. And when it comes to good health it certainly doesn’t hurt to have a varied gene pool the way mixed breed dogs do.
Of course, there is a flip side to this argument when it comes to behavior. That is that shelter dogs have an unknown and often traumatic past which will lead to bad behavior or psychological distress/anxiety issues. While this can sometimes be the case with shelter dogs, and it’s true that from a reputable breeder you will know your puppy’s entire history, dogs from puppy mills have not had it much easier than shelter dogs and may even have had it worse. Many shelter animals are owner surrenders which means that they came from a home that simply could no longer care for them. A dog like that in contrast to a puppy from a dirty, stressful puppy mill will likely be less emotionally scarred. Moreover, many shelters and rescues work with foster parents to give the animals the best care they can have before adoption. And both fosters and dogs within shelters can be given socialization opportunities with play groups.
The truth is, when it comes to the well-being of these animals, shelters and rescues are going to be far more invested in your potential dog’s care than any pet store/puppy mill will.
The Bottom Line
At the end of the day, bringing a new member into your family is a personal decision that should require a lot of thought and research to ensure you’re matched with the best available animal for you. And in some cases, like if you want to train your future dog to be a service animal, researching to adopt a specific breed as a puppy from a reputable breeder will make the most sense. But for many people just wanting to add some fluff and joy to their lives, giving an animal in a shelter or rescue a second chance at a good life is the most rewarding and ethical decision. When you adopt a dog or cat you are saving two lives (that of your new baby and the next animal needing room at the shelter/rescue), you are supporting the efforts of people wanting to make a difference in animal welfare, and you are reducing the demand for puppies from awful puppy mills. When it comes to finding your next fur baby I hope you decide to help animals everywhere by adopting, not shopping.
Check out Petfinder’s page on Breed Specific Rescues if you want to adopt a specific breed!