#04 – Where the Adopt-Don’t-Shop Movement Has it Wrong

by | Jun 15, 2021 | People Management

I was lonely and I wanted a dog to fix that.

Detroit has an incredible adoption event at the Detroit Zoo just as the summer is kicking off and I made up my mind. I was getting a dog.

My man had left for Afghanistan and I was needy, clingy, and this poor dog took the brunt of all my pathetic emotions. I made her sleep in the bed with me—this snow-loving dog with a double coat. She had to stick it out in an apartment with no yard, thankfully there was a park down the street, and she became my therapist. That dog saved me that year and I still have her today, 13 years later.

Dogs from shelters and rescues aren’t any lessor dogs, they don’t have any more or less ‘heart’ than a dog who comes from a breeder. They are dogs, like the rest of them, who need love and care, a job, and a break.

Despite having—and loving—my share of rescued pups, I can’t stand behind the adopt-don’t-shop movement. It doesn’t paint a full picture and is very misleading to the consumer.

You see all sorts of people posting online how proud they are that they adopted a dog from a shelter or a rescue and how they didn’t buy a dog from a breeder. The implication is that buying a dog from a breeder somehow contributes to this problem. That buying a dog that was intentionally bred somehow creates tons of dogs in shelters that are a combination of several breeds.

Ever notice how dog DNA tests are on the rise? The ones that tell you the breeds of dog that are in your mixed pup? This is telling. You see, if a breeder has two breeds of purebred dogs and they have an accident, you still only get a litter of puppies who are 50/50 two purebred parents. You don’t get a dog that has 1/8 this and 2/5 something else. These dogs in the shelters with these crazy genetic makeup come from generations of accidental or poorly planned breedings.

Honest breeders aren’t creating dogs that have all sorts of genetic makeup, they are breeding a single breed of dog, occasionally, purposefully, crossing a breed. To suggest that buying from a breeder causes these issues is to generalize that breeders are operating without plan or direction, allowing multiple breeds of intact dogs to mingle and do whatever. This is simply not the case for honest breeders.

Adopt-Dont-Shop also forgets that honest breeders take their dogs back.

Without exception, all the breeders that I know and respect take their dogs back in the event that the owner can no longer care for them or no longer wants them. It is written in their contract, it’s on their website, and it’s offered when the owner is having difficulty. This is yet another reason why you don’t see too many purebred dogs in shelters, the breeders take them back.

As an honest breeder, I feel responsible for my dogs, I feel responsible for all the dogs that I whelp at my kennel. I feel responsible for finding them good homes, for their health, and feel awfully responsible when that doesn’t work out.

People are human, animals aren’t always predictable, and life happens. Occasionally your best efforts in matchmaking result in a failed match. It reminds me that sometimes the best laid plans of mice and men go awry and we need to be flexible. That’s why we build into our contracts that any dog, at any age, in any condition can be returned to us. After all, they are life that we’ve been responsible for bringing into this world, and we are therefore responsible for making sure our pups have the best opportunity for a quality life.

Breeders differ in their definition of Success compared with shelters and rescues.

Success for a breeder and success for a rescue and a shelter are vastly different in their definition. As a breeder my success is defined by finding the perfect home for my puppies by placing them in a home where they are wanted. I work hard to align the temperament and drives of the puppy with the lifestyle and temperament of the family. A perfect home for a dog is not just one where the dog will be fed a quality dog food and goes to the vet when needed. It’s so much more. It’s a home where the dog improves the quality of life for the family and, in return, the dog is seen as member of their family and he therefore enjoys a high quality of life in that family. This alignment is key for success.

A dog should never be a burden on a family. It doesn’t mean that it will be easy, but it shouldn’t make life more stressful than it does make it rewarding. I see it a lot like kids: kids are not easy, believe me, I know it was part of the plan to make kids cute, otherwise there are those days where you’d kill them. But you can’t beat how rewarding it is to have children and watch them grow and prosper through your guidance.

Dogs, like kids, can be a challenge, but that challenge should be aligned with the family, such that conquering that challenge will be rewarding for both parties. For example, it is really rewarding when a puppy becomes house trained and there are no more accidents in the home. The owners are happy because the pup is not making a mess in the house and the dog is happy because he knows what’s expected of him and he can perform.

The challenges shouldn’t be so severe they prevent you from getting a good night’s sleep nor from inviting friends over for a bonfire.

When you align the puppy to the home, these challenges are aligned with the family. Sure, there is some training involved—but yet again an honest breeder will help their owners there, too.

A good match is aligning the challenges of the dog with the family who is equipped and ready to handle these challenges. This matchmaking is greatly facilitated by the breeder. Breeders know their dogs’ antics and quirks and how they pass those quirks to their puppies. A good breeder can peg the personality of a puppy in short order, usually around 4 weeks of age, and then align it with a family where it will thrive.

Let’s shift to the rescue side of the world. By definition you have a dog that someone didn’t want. You now have to take that dog, with whatever damage it has, whether that’s genetic, health, temperament, or conditioning, and you need to find a family that can manage it. Their success is determined by how many dogs they can home and how quickly. Using business terminology, a highly successful rescue will have low inventory a high turn over of product. It’s ideal to find a home where the dog will improve quality of life for the owner adopting it, but that’s a secondary consideration to whether or not the dog will be taken care of and off the books of the rescue.

To compound the issue, they have very poor funding. I’ve yet to find a rescue that is for-profit, nearly all are struggling to afford their costs. They rely on volunteers, donations, foster homes, discounted veterinary services, and adoption fees to sustain their organization.

They often have to weigh the pros and cons of having a dog who will be difficult to find a home for, as that dog will be taking up valuable space that could be used for another, more adoptable dog. The ideal owner for an adopted dog from a rescue is someone who is willing to stop at nothing to make it work with their adopted dog, while the ideal owner for a breeder is the family that aligns with that particular puppy.

The difference is responsibility. If a rescue places a dog, and the new owners have problems, it doesn’t become the rescue’s problem unless they want to return the dog. For honest breeders, it becomes their problem as soon as they are aware the problem exists. Honest breeders will work to find a solution and will also take this experience and incorporate it into their breeding program, potentially changing breeding pairs, removing breeders from their program, providing better, more specific screening for buyers, or better training resources to assist their owners in managing the challenge.

Because a breeder’s long-term success is derived from creating high-quality dogs and placing them in the perfect homes, they must place quality over quantity in their breeding decisions.

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So where does the adoptdontshop movement come from?

Many people don’t understand that dogs are not all the same, usually people who push this movement have had a dog they rescued and it turned out spectacularly in their mind. They couldn’t imagine life without this dog and can’t understand why people would need to buy a dog from a breeder, when there are “perfectly good” ones at the shelter. I’ve found that many of these people got a dog because they wanted a companion, they felt good “rescuing” because they were taking a dog out of a less-than-desirable situation, and giving him the quality of life he deserves. They had time to dedicate to the dog, and, when they purchased the dog, they didn’t have a specific purpose for the dog beyond companionship.

They didn’t have expectations that the dog could fail.

The lack of expectations for a rescue dog is ideal. It makes it difficult for the owner to distinguish the difference between normal dog behaviors and dog behaviors that are maladaptive. People who feel a particular challenge is a part of the normal course of things, like puppies chewing as their baby teeth fall out, are more likely to put the time into fixing it because they think every dog will have a similar issue.

This usually stems from a parenting mindset, as a parent, your children are your largest life project, the best parents see a failure or challenge in their child as a reflection of their parenting, and, therefore, their responsibility to fix. —

Well, the best owners that adopt from shelters are the ones who are ready and prepared to take a dog. They have done their research, they generally know the size they are able to handle and when they get a dog, it won’t go anywhere, they will take care of it through thick and thin.

When people buy from a breeder, they have a lot of expectations, not just for the dog, but for the breeder. Most buyers know what they want, they have a purpose for the dog, and they’ll be quick to let the breeder know if the dog isn’t living up to those expectations.

This can be seen as positive or negative, but really it just is the nature of it. When a breeder has a quality breeding program geared toward a certain type of dog owner, these expectations become easier and easier to meet, because the dogs are literally bred for this purpose. This predictability is exactly why buyers want to buy from a breeder.

#Adoptdontshop Shames Owners Buying from Breeders

People buy from breeders to minimize the unexpected, they want to know what they are getting. When you get a dog from an honest dog breeder you aren’t just getting a dog, you’re getting health clearances, you’re getting stability in temperament and drive, you’re getting a support network from the breeder. You can breathe a sigh of relief because you’re not going to be stuck with problems.

Most people don’t buy a dog to lessen the world’s problems. Most people buy a dog because they want to enrich their life. They want a dog to make memories with, memories that you want to share on Instagram, not ones you need to discuss with a therapist.

There is nothing wrong with wanting the best for your family, including paying a little bit extra to avoid problems for your family. This covers everything from buying better food so your kids are healthier, to paying a little more for a hotel with a view, so the vacation is that much more special, to buying a safer vehicle, so you aren’t stranded on the side of the road in the middle of nowhere, and, yes, it includes buying a dog that will better fit your lifestyle.

You know what areas of your life you want to spend a little extra money in, maybe you don’t see a difference in name brand underwear, but you really feel the difference with name brand shoes. Adopt-Don’t-Shop doesn’t acknowledge the difference in quality that comes from buying from an honest breeder. They don’t acknowledge the difference in a puppy that comes from cultivated selection over many generations compared with dogs created out of hormones and opportunity.

Breeders and Rescues are a lot like a divorced couple with kids: they both care about the dogs, but blame each other. Ultimately it would be best for kids (read dogs) if they worked together and got over their negatives assumptions and perceptions.

So what’s the solution?

We certainly need to work together. We both care deeply about dogs and improving their quality of life in the world.

Together we need to work to educate the public on how to find the right dog for their family. We need to help potential dog owners understand that getting a dog that fits their lifestyle will make the process of ownership so much easier and more rewarding.

We need to change the culture that says “I want a dog today” and change it to, “I want to find the right dog for me.”

What if buying a dog like selecting a career? What if we really thought hard about it and how it would impact us throughout our life? How if we picked wrong it would make life a lot more frustrating?

What if the new culture of buying a dog was waiting 6 months because it usually takes that long to get a puppy from an honest breeder?

Together, breeders, rescues, and shelters can work together to shift the culture of dog ownership.

Breeders can take the reins here and make the most impact. Within our breeding world we need to do all we can to support our owners and be there for them. This way when they have problems, we can be there to help. It is our responsibility to see our pups to success throughout their lives.

We also need to reach out to rescues, especially the breed-specific rescues of the dogs we breed. Not only will they help us get our dogs back if one of them was surrendered without our knowledge, but we can help through education, support, and even fostering. We can be a resource for them.

One thing that I don’t hear often enough is education to new puppy owners on heat cycles. We know that long-term health benefits are abundant if we wait to spay or neuter until the dogs well past their first heat cycle, so our new owners are going to have to get through those heat cycles without their female getting bred. We are the subject matter experts here, we need to help our owners notice those heats, let them know what to expect, and most importantly, we need to let them know how to prevent and unwanted pregnancy. This simple concept will prevent so many mixed breeds from being born.

Along with this, we can’t be putting verbiage in our contracts that will prevent our owners from telling us if their dog is accidentally bred, things like ridiculous fines per puppy born if their dog is bred. All this does is kill trust and prevent our owners from feeling comfortable telling us what happened. Which sucks, because we are absolutely the best people to help them with things if their young female gets bred.

As breeders, let’s be the positive force towards honest breeding and responsible ownership. If we do our job right, the shelters and the rescues shouldn’t have a job.

Show Notes

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Hey! I’m Julie Swan! I’m here to help you build a breeding business that you love, one that produces amazing dogs, places them in wonderful homes, gives you the life you want, also pays the bills!