Adopt or shop? Make your own responsible choice

Written on July 22nd, 2017

One of the most polarizing conversations I’ve noticed as a dog owner is the discussion about where to get your animal: from a shelter/rescue or from a breeder.

People get extremely passionate about this topic, and I understand why. It’s an important decision for anyone looking to add to their family!

But this passion sometimes leads to rudeness and hurtful generalizations, and nothing makes me sadder than seeing people who should be bonding over their love of canines berating each other’s choices.

Here’s the deal: you can be a responsible owner and get your dog from a shelter or rescue… and you can also be a responsible owner and get your dog from a breeder. These things are not mutually exclusive!

I’ll be honest; I used to stand firmly in the “adopt don’t shop” camp. After seeing what Snort went through because of an unethical breeder, I was ready to brand anyone who sold puppies as a horrible person. I hashtagged #AdoptDontShop without a second thought, and I cringed when the people on my social media feeds showed off their new non-rescue puppies.

I thought I was promoting good decisions and showing my love for dogs. But what I didn’t realize is that I was also wrongfully discriminating against some great owners — and causing them to feel ostracized.

What I came to understand is that there are both unethical and reputable breeders, just as there are unethical and reputable rescues.

The breeder who bred Snort despite her eye condition and then dumped her at a shelter? Yes, it’s safe to say they weren’t very responsible. But every breeder in the entire world? That would be a horribly ignorant generalization to make.

So while I personally plan to adopt many more of my future pets, I respect that everyone is different and it would be ridiculous to expect the whole population to take on the responsibilities of a rescue. I adore dogs, and what matters to me at the end of the day is that someone is giving an animal a caring, steady, and loving home — regardless of where they get their companion.

Rescue animals can come with some more inherent risk than those from long-standing reputable breeders. When honestly evaluated and addressed, this risk doesn’t make most rescue pets unadoptable; it just means that an appropriate, well-matched home needs to be found. After all, not every person in the world is perfectly suited for every dog!

But an individual has every right to decide they don’t want this risk, even if it is properly assessed. And that’s okay. Bashing someone’s decision to get a purebred puppy from a breeder does nothing except create a divide when we should instead be coming together for the love of our animals.

Ethical breeders are extremely important in preserving and improving the breeds we have come to love. Maintaining steady temperaments and good health is something we should be praising them for! There is so much value in a dog with a known ancestry, predictable personality, and low chance of genetic diseases. While rescues and mutts can certainly be amazing dogs (I mean… do I not make it clear how much I love Snort?) it’s undeniable that a dog from a reputable breeder is likely to be more stable.

At the end of the day, each individual gets to decide what they’re looking for in a dog — and they get to make the personal decision of where to get that animal on their own. It’s great to have open dialogue and educational conversation, but no good comes from narrow-minded hatred.

Here’s a quick list of the pros/cons of going with a shelter/rescue versus a breeder, based on my own experience and research.

Rescuing

Pros

  • You save a life!
  • An adult dog’s personality is well-established, so there will likely be fewer surprises provided that the shelter/rescue accurately assessed the animal’s temperament
  • A reputable shelter or rescue will give you a very clear idea on exactly what you’re getting into with the dog’s behaviors and training
  • It can be extremely satisfying to see an originally unwanted dog fulfill their potential
  • It’s often cheaper than a breeder
  • Most dogs will be spayed or neutered prior to coming home with you, and this cost will be included in their adoption fee
  • I swear, some dogs just seem to know who saved them

Cons

  • It’s frequently hard to determine exact breed composition and lineage if these things are important to you
  • It can be difficult (though not impossible!) to find puppies in these situations
  • There is no guarantee against genetic diseases with unknown ancestry
  • An unethical shelter/rescue just trying to get pets out the door quickly might not fully vet the animal — or you!
  • It can be mentally/emotionally draining to live with an animal whose past is unknown; you might have questions that never get answered and need to be comfortable with this ambiguity

Going through a breeder

Pros

  • You know your dog’s exact lineage
  • You can meet the parents, see the premises, and know what your pet’s life has been like since the day they were born
  • A reputable breeder will give you health guarantees and ensure that your puppy’s parents are hip and eye certified
  • You get to raise your puppy from the moment it leaves its mother
  • The chances of a stable temperament are extremely high (though there’s never a guarantee — dogs are individuals) when an ethical breeder has carefully chosen the dogs to be bred

Cons

  • You must be careful not to inadvertently support a puppy mill or unethical breeding practice
  • It’s often more costly than going through a shelter/rescue
  • You frequently have to cover all spaying and neutering costs yourself

So what’s the rub? I usually tell my friends and family to “make adoption their first option” if possible because I’ve seen firsthand the love of a sick shelter dog. While there are always exceptions to consider, I believe most rescued dogs can become fulfilling family pets. But if you want to raise your own puppy and your situation demands the best possible chance of having a stable and healthy pup — for example, you have small children in the home or want a dog for a specific working purpose — then a reputable breeder might just be the route for you!

Now, regardless of what avenue you decide, it is important to make sure that you get your pet from an ethical place. While some rescues/shelters/breeders are amazing, others aren’t in it for the right reasons… and those are the ones we should avoid.

There are many things to look for and countless other articles say it better than me, so I’ll just focus on the two I find most important: first, every place from which you get a dog should conduct proper health/temperament testing, and second, there should always be a rehoming contract.

A rescue or shelter should carefully evaluate each dog that comes to them and make appropriate recommendations for a future home. It’s tempting to say that every dog is great with kids, for example, just to get them adopted… but in the long run, honesty is the best policy for everyone.

Similarly, it’s vital that a breeder conducts temperament evaluations and health checks on both the dam and sire prior to breeding. For example, Snort should never have been bred because of her eye condition — ophthalmologists don’t know if it’s genetic or not, so there’s a chance she could have passed it onto her young. An ethical breeder will never breed a dog with an unstable temperament or any health problems; they are in the business for the betterment of the breed and not for profit, which means carefully evaluating what traits are passed along in their lines.

As for a rehoming contract, this ensures that if you are unable to care for your new pet at any given point, they end up in a good home. Most shelters or rescues require you to return the animal to them if anything is to come up since they know the pet’s history and already went through this process once before.

Breeders, on the other hand, do not all have these contracts — but I believe they’re so important. A breeder with a rehoming contract will never contribute to the growing number of dogs in shelters because any of their puppies who can’t be kept will be returned to them instead of abandoned. Snort’s original breeder, for example, was absolutely devastated to learn that the family she sold her to had dumped her at a shelter. A rehoming contract could have prevented the entire thing — and while I’m honestly deeply thankful for how it all played out because it brought Snort into my life, I would also love for no dog to have to go through such an experience in the future.

Ultimately, the decision of where to get your dog is a big one that should be thoughtfully made. Whether you choose to get your companion from a shelter or a breeder, I implore you to do it in the right way — carefully screen the organization regardless of how it identifies, do your research, and make your commitments.

And at the end of the day, open your arms to the unbelievable love of an animal! I’m so happy for everyone who decides to bring a dog into their home, whether they adopt or shop.