JoAnna Lou
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Breeder v. Shelter
Do you have to choose?

Earlier this week at Westminster, two PETA supporters crashed the Best in Show judging with “Mutts Rule” and “Breeders Kill Shelter Dogs’ Chances” signs, highlighting the breeder-shelter debate.  Yesterday,

The breeder-shelter debate is a topic that I’ve been conflicted over for a long time.  My Sheltie, Nemo, came from a breeder.  Being my first dog, I opted to go this route for the predictability, both in personality and health.  While genetic testing and breed standards don’t guarantee the dog you get, it certainly increases the chances in your favor.

With millions of animals euthanized in shelters each year, this wasn’t an easy decision.  But, as a supporter of adoption, a shelter pup is not out of the question for the future.  I do believe that there is room for both purebreds and mutts in the canine world.

This week the New York Times debates this topic and has invited Mark Derr (author and The Bark’s own Science Editor), Ted Kerasote (author), Stanley Coren (psychology professor), and Francis Battista (co-founder of Best Friends Animal Society) to weigh in on the issue.

They raise some interesting view points supporting both sides.  Where do you fall in the debate?

JoAnna Lou is a New York City-based researcher, writer and agility enthusiast.


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Submitted by K9 Coach | February 19 2010 |

The biggest issue is not pure versus mixed breed, but responsible ownership and ethical and responsible breeding. I believe the solution to these issues are education rather than wholesale rejection of one group over another.

The fact 40 percent of dogs adopted whether from a breeder or from a shelter end up in a shelter. Because the dog was a purebred or not, doesn't change those numbers.

We are a society that has come to except engineering the birth of our children. People are looking for perfect which doesn't exist in purebreds or in mixed breed dogs.... or in our children... the option of "taking them back" just isn't part of the equation when it comes to children. :)

Education, proper leadership and responsibility from both sides of the issue are paramount in keeping more dogs in homes and out of shelters no matter what side of the tracks they come from.

Submitted by Sharon Baron | February 19 2010 |

Agree with K9 Coach above completely - it is about responsibility.

Responsibility in breeding is equally critical. A reponsible breeder carefully screens her puppy buyers and will take the puppy back at any point in it's life if the buyer cannot keep it. In fact - most require this with a contract. Any breeder who does not do this (and screen for all potential genetic issues associated with the breed and only breed specimens deemed worthy via success in some sort of competition - bench, field, obedience or whatever) is not a responsible breeder and is contributing to the shelter population issue. Basically, this means that pet shops (almost entirely stocked from puppy mills) and back yard breeders should not be supported.

If the puppy mills and BYBs went out of business through lack of sales - shelter populations would decline.

And I have one special needs rescue and one puppy purchased from a top (bench) Lab breeder. They are both the joys of my life.

Submitted by Maura | February 19 2010 |

This has got to be one of the most conterversial topics in the dog world!
Just because your rescueing from a rescue group or shelter, doesn't mean you are getting a mutt per say. There are loads of purebred dogs at shelters. For all true dog lovers, I don't see how you could buy a dog when you know that MILLIONS are being killed each year... it just doesn't make sense to me at all.
Plus, it's a great lesson to pass on when people see you have rescue dogs who are nice, normal and beautiful dogs. With so many breeders these days not doing health test on the dogs they breed, you never know what ailments your purebred will end up with anyways.

Submitted by Holly Newstein | February 19 2010 |

I live in an apartment with a not-dog-savvy husband. I own two purebred dogs, a Sheltie and a Papillon. I got my Sheltie from a breeder as a pup for the predictability of temperament -- and she is a completely unshowable white Sheltie with a tri head. My Pap also came from a breeder - as an adult. He is a retired show dog that the breeder was looking to rehome.

I volunteer at my local shelter and see the adorable mutts that come through - and a fair amount of purebreds too. My search for a Pap started with a Chihuahua/Pap mix that came in to the shelter and was adopted before I could get my landlord's permission for a second dog.

I am a definite fence-sitter on this argument. I have seen beautiful, well adjusted dogs at my shelter that I would take home in a New York minute -- if I had a fenced yard and a big house. Most of the dogs that come into shelters in Maine are bigger. If you can wait for the small dogs, and are dog-savvy enough to face adjustment and possible training issues, it's worth the time. If, like me, you want a small dog with a reasonable expectation of how they'll behave as an adult, often breeders are the only way to go.

Submitted by Anonymous | February 21 2010 |

I don't buy it. You have "adjustment and training issues" with ANY dog. No dog enters a new home knowing exactly what is expected of him or her be it puppy or adult. As far as "reasonable epectation of how they'll behave as an adult" there are MANY rescues that are breed specific so the answer would be to research and find the breed that best fits the conditions of the home and personality the person and ADOPT that particular breed.
I too have worked in a shelter and have watched too many perfectly healthy dogs be "put to sleep". I could never go to a breeder.

Submitted by Carolyn | February 19 2010 |

When I was a kid, our dogs came from shelters as well as backyard breeders. They dogs I've had as an adult have come from shelters. I hate the idea of unwanted animals condemned to death for lack of adopters.

I know purebreds end up in shelters too, but somehow, I think they have a better chance in life since everything about them, genetically speaking, has been selected for. Therefore, someone must want these more predictable features. Maybe their chances for adoption are higher, or maybe they are not so readily surrendered to begin with.

I also tend to think that many purebreds have unstable personalities and health problems due to irresponsible breeding. I'll continue to adopt from shelters.

Submitted by Lisa H | February 19 2010 |

Interesting that out of the discussion panel they don't have a breeder representative. Being one myself for more than 3 decades, I can tell you that many purebreds from unethical breeders fill the pounds every bit as much as the irresponsible public and their mixed-breed mistakes.

One thing PETA forgot to mention during their protest is that their own shelter is known for carrying a 97% kill-rate! When are they going to stop pointing fingers at responsible breeders (who take back every dog bred by them and then some)and answer for their own shortcomings?? Where is their no-kill shelter? Why aren't all their big advertising dollars going to fund one of those instead of their own egos??

Submitted by FJM | February 20 2010 |

Like you, JoAnna, I am ambivalent about this issue. Here in the UK the situation is perhaps not quite as bad as in the USA, although there are still far too many dogs in Rescue, and dogs PTS because no homes can be found for them. When I was looking for a companion for my papillon (who came from a breeder), I searched the rescues for months. There are very, very few small dogs looking for homes through general rescue - Dogsblog.com - the national site for dogs needing rehoming - lists only half a dozen toy-sized dogs, out of nearly 1200. The breed rescue societies often have waiting lists, and the dogs that are available usually have issues - not suitable to live with children, or cats, or other dogs. I do not consider myself a sufficiently experienced dog owner to take on a dog with significant, established problems - I do know how to raise a happy pup into a happy, well-adjusted dog, but I think that is a very different thing. I have known many, many delightful rescue dogs - and a few very difficult ones. None of them, however, were the right dog for me. Let us concentrate on educating dog owners - and prospective dog owners - about the responsibilities of dog ownership, including neutering and spaying, and on putting the dog battery farms out of business, so that every puppy - pedigree, cross breed, mixed breed - is born under the best possible conditions, with a good home already waiting for it. Now that would be something worth campaigning for!

Submitted by Tricia | February 22 2010 |

My husband and I are looking to add a new dog to our family. We will absolutely adopt a dog from a rescue group, shelter or pound. For us it's about providing a loving home to a neglected, abused or unwanted dog. With that said, it's not been easy. We have checked into many rescue groups/shelters and most (even the reputable) need to improve their adoption processes. We've come across shelters that act like they are selling used cars instead of finding a dog a forever home, ones that don't know anything about their dogs (not their names, sexes, medical conditions, histories, etc.) and told us just to pick a dog and adopt it. When we go to pet adoption sites, it's amazing how many volunteers ignore us while they chat away on their cell phones. I have found that city pounds and the Humane Society are the most professional - they really take the time to tell you what they know about their dogs. I'm not saying that all rescue groups/shelters have been clueless. We have come into contact with some really amazing groups, but they have been the exception, not the rule. If groups want people to rescue dogs then they need to be professional and knowledgeable.

Submitted by Anonymous | February 22 2010 |

I totally agree that responsible pet ownership is key to reducing the number of dogs, both purebred and mutts in shelters. People are accustomed to satisfying their every want without putting much thought into the consequences. They "want" a dog, but fail to realize that they will be (or should be) making a lifetime commitment to another sentient being that they will have to train, feed, and provide medical care for. They fail to understand that dogs don't come hardwired for obedience or knowing that they should potty outdoors. When confronted with behavioral issues, it is easier for them to take the dog, who is by this time no longer a cute puppy, to the pound than it is for them to find a trainer and make the time and financial commitment to teach their dog how to be a good canine citizen.

My issue with breeders vs. shelter/rescue lies with irresponsible breeders. Breed standards seem to change every time the wind blows, seeming to follow what humans "want" in a dog rather than what is actually good for the breed. In short, if you can find an old picture, take a look at a GSD from the 1950's, and then take a look at a current champion. They look like totally different breeds. Another case in point would be the border collie, who after many many years of being bred to work is now being bred for conformation....

Do any of the breeders consider whether the focus on conformation is healthy for the breed? Do they breed for the current trend in conformation or do they breed for the work that the dog was once known for? Is the breed still able, after so many years of breeding for conformation, able to herd, hunt, or retrieve, or has that been bred out as a result of the focus on conformation? I have great respect for those who breed responsibly with a passion to better the breed, but can't help but wonder whether in too many cases, self interest wins out over the breed's interest.

I currently have a border collie mix and what appears to be a purebred blue heeler. Both came from shelters. I have also been a foster and worked with depressed, neglected, and poorly socialized dogs. Given the choice between a shelter dog who is possibly hours from being pts or buying a dog from a breeder, it is a no-brainer for me. I will take a shelter dog every time.

SW, MackieB, and BoomBoom

Submitted by mmalaford | February 27 2010 |

I work with a breed rescue. I own 6, yep, 6 dogs, ALL of them have come from shelters or rescues AND I purchased a dog from a breeder for my mother last year.

Why? My mother wanted specifics I couldn't find at the rescue that I worked with, and couldn't find at the shelters in the area, in a time frame. I checked the breeder out. I got references. She hand raised her puppies in her home. No backyard puppy mill, abused breeding dogs, neglect. I will NEVER, NEVER, NEVER buy from a pet store.

Neither option is correct. It's about what works for you and your family. Education is the key to everything.

PETA needs to get its own house in order BEFORE it continues to attack the AKC or anyone else. Their record isn't steller. Their own shelter isn't no kill. (so much for "ethicial treatment of animals") They are on the record as anti-companion pets.

Submitted by Ann | October 14 2010 |

Excellent comment mmalafor, I couldn't agree more. One size does not "fit all." As for PETA, they have little to be proud of when they would prefer to euthanize animals rather than find adoptive homes for them. Their philosophy, and many PETA supporters don't get this, is to remove all domestic animals form human care and that includes pets that are well cared for in loving homes. Food for thought: "Since 1998 PETA has killed more than 17,000 animals, nearly 85 percent of all those it has rescued" (Newsweek, 4/28/08).

Submitted by emay | March 10 2010 |

I feel very strongly about adopting shelter dogs and rescues, yet I own a purebreed dog. Why? Because I couldn't qualify for any of the shelters or breed rescues. I rent an apartment without a yard and I work long hours. This automatically disqualified me from pet ownership according to every rescue I contacted. I wound up having to buy a dog from a breeder (a home-raised puppy with mom on site) because I couldn't get a shelter dog. My dog is well-cared for, well-loved, and wonderful. Yet, this home was not considered suitable because it didn't match the "perfect" qualifications the rescues asked for. I do understand the need to weed out serious owners who have the ability to care for an animal, but some of the requirements are ridiculous. A dog doesn't need the "perfect" situation to be happy and healthy, they just need a person devoted to giving them a wonderful life!!

Submitted by Anonymous | March 13 2010 |

Every time someone chooses to purchase a dog, that's a choice not to rescue one of the bajillions of homeless ones who already exist, to let another be executed for the crime of being homeless. For me, it isn't about the ideals in human brains. It's about the dogs, sentient, feeling creatures we created and often refuse to take responsibility for. Lucky for me, shelter/rescue adoption is a win-win. I grew up with wonderful shelter mutts and continue to share my home (and volunteer time) with dogs (of whatever parentage) in need. <3

If we must breed at all in an era of gross overpopulation, a breed standard is terrible way to choose who gets to reproduce. The ever narrowing gene pool is bad for dogs and no amount of health testing will ultimately resolve that problem. :(

PeTA has some serious management issues, but they do make a valid point this time.

A lot could be solved with a culture shift toward responsibility. We should definitely work toward that. In the mean time, we owe a second, third, fifteenth look at dogs in shelters everywhere. Now let's all go browse petfinder.com. :D

Submitted by Tiffani | March 17 2010 |

All animals deserve a safe, loving home. I think the better choice is to adopt. I also think there should be state liscensing for breeders. As a hairstylist that had to get 1250 hours of training, take and pass two state exams, all to cut someone's hair, I think there should be a similar program for dog/cat breeders. If you make it impossible for inexperienced breeders and puppy mills to operate then I believe there would not be as many unwanted animals in shelters to begin with.

Submitted by Anonymous | March 17 2010 |

I don't think you need to choose a side. I am all for adoption and rescue. But both my dogs are purebred. There lines are researched and breeders were screened before I decided. I have adopted many dogs and rescued out many dogs through my life. I can say that some dogs in rescues and shelters should have never been adopted out. I have seen families that have adopted from a rescue thinking they had been screened and matched with a great safe dog have there lives ripped apart. Children bit, parents to never want pets again. We all know a puppy is the best way to start. It does not mean you are gauranteed the perfect dog it just gives you a better start. Now those of us who choose to adopt are doing a great thing and yes saving a pet but at no easy cost. Unfortunatley rescue dogs have been through a lot and need owners that are willing to help them and have patients with them (and a good trainer.
And we as owners need to know when a pet just needs time and when a pet is a danger to us and the public. Purebred or mutt.
I think that there should be system that regulates rescues and breeders. MOre breeders that have spay neuter contracts, More rescues that know what the heck they are doing and pet shops that have to have all there pets spayed and neutered.
Just my two cents...

Submitted by Chris | December 11 2010 |

"We all know a puppy is the best way to start" SERIOUSLY? Starting with a puppy isn't always best- Maybe A puppy wouldn't fit one's lifestyle... puppies require MUCH more attention than A full grown housebroken dog and I'm not sure what so called rescue you think you are talking about but actual Humane Society and SPCA DO SCREEN and match the right pets with owners... I assume you are talking about a local dog pound or animal control... Where they dont do as much research but if the dog is in fact vicious they will be euthanized.
I understand where you are coming from (even though I would never go the breeder route) because you believe your dogs are somehow going to act a certain way because they are a certain breed.
NOT TRUE- Thats like being racist and saying White, black, or hispanic people are ALL a certain way and Its flat out ignorant! Its not about the breed- its MOSTLY about the owner, trainer and situation.
BOTH my dogs are from the shleter, one is straight up mutt (not sure what all she is mixed with) and one is purebred pomeranian. Both thrown away like garbage! Its people IN GENERAL who need to change, and there is NO BREED of dog nearing extinction so breeding (especially for profit) FLAT OUT DISGUSTS ME!

Submitted by Sarah | March 19 2010 |

Rescue dogs are so amazing and deserving. I have met the most dependable, reliable and loving dogs who have come from shelters. It is exactly this kind of web article which truly disappoints me about The Bark. It not only misleads people with the myths that purebred dogs are more reliable and "healthy", but the author attempts to justify her choice, and reassure people that it is okay to make this decision as long as it "wasn’t an easy decision" and you support adoption in principle. What does that kind of attitude get the millions of wonderful dogs and cats waiting in shelters? What kind of leadership does your magazine show with this kind of article?

I am in general very discouraged that your magazine does not do more to encourage adoption and help pass legislation that will stop puppy mills. If you truly loved dogs, you would work to protect them. Until you show true leadership and concern for the welfare of dogs, I will no longer subscribe to your magazine nor will I give it as a gift.

Submitted by Anonymous | July 11 2010 |

In, 2008, I purchased a Shih Tzu, and it was killed in 2008, I paid a lot of money for this dog because I wanted a pure breed. Last week I went to my local shelter and found a Yorkie that was one year old and is he is just the sweetest dog, I have ever owned! He was already housebroken and obeys well! I was blessed to come across him! I don't know his story on how he got to the shelter, only that someone found him and was nice enough to bring him in! I know this dog had to belong to someone and I'm sorry they lost such a great dog! My kids have fell in love with this dog and I have too! Great thing about the shelter is they gave him all his shots, neuter him all for 85 bucks v/s the $350.00, I paid for the shih tzu! I would advise anyone to look at their local shelter for a dog!

Submitted by Anonymous | February 6 2013 |

I don't have a dog but I'm considering getting one in the near future. I recently adopted a cat from a shelter that had a good reputation. Within less than 24 hours of bringing the cat home I had to rush her to the vet. Turns out she had a severe bladder and kidney infection with possible kidney failure. I notified the shelter immediately. They refunded me my $90 adoption fee and gave me the option to put her down at no charge. I couldn't believe that they were not even going to consider to pay for the vet costs. Anyways, about $1000, daily medication, and a month later she is doing very well. She is a great cat and I do not regret adopting her but this experience has definetly made me think twice about whether or not I will be getting a dog from a shelter as opposed to a breeder.

Submitted by D.C. | September 27 2013 |

Interesting. I used to be very active in rescue, having fostered over 60 dogs, from pups to seniors. I always championed the rescue pet and admit to being disrespectful to breeders. My perspective has changed for a variety of reasons. Not the least of which is the fact that rescue has become big business and a well oiled PR machine. The numbers don't add up, dogs are imported to fill demands. People are shamed for wanting a well bred, health tested companion. Rescues have opened up in malls, doing exactly what they used to decry as wrong. Reputable breeders always take their dogs back, so they are not contributing to the shelter system. It is the system itself that needs overhauling.

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