As long as people have kept dogs as pets, people have abused, neglected, or abandoned pets they no longer want. Thankfully, in the western world, we have various animal rescue organizations and shelters to take these animals in, feed them, care for them, and try their very best to find them a home before the clock runs out and they’re euthanized to make room for other abandoned animals.
In smaller communities, space constraints might not be so great, and volunteers able to find homes for most of the animals they take in. But in many large centers, dogs (and cats) surrendered to shelters without a no-kill policy have little chance of survival. These animals spend their last confused and scared days likely in a crate or cage. They’re fed, and their day consists of maybe being taken for a walk or out to play with the other dogs once a day, if they’re lucky. This can go on for weeks before their time runs out, sometimes, months, others are on borrowed time the second they’re dropped through the shelter doors. Every now and again, a young, cute dog gets lucky and finds a family to give it a forever home. But for many animals, it’s not a happy ending.
In late November, Montreal’s largest newspaper, The Gazette, published an opinion piece by Joan Coull called “Why I wouldn’t buy a dog from the SPCA.”
In it, she takes her own personal experiences with shelter dogs (three separate incidents involving close family members, who, by the sound of it, should never have been allowed to adopt a dog anyway) and uses them to paint pretty much all rescue dogs with the same brush.
She then talks about her own personal decision to buy a dog from a breeder, and how it has worked out famously for her family.
“I defend my right to know what kind of animal I am bringing into my family. I do not want a labracockadoodleshihtzu,” she says in the column. “I want to know the nature of the breed and I want a puppy that has not been damaged by the previous owner. It is a responsibility to my family that the animal fit in with our lives.” She then goes on to talk about how she had bred her own dog twice, which takes away any sort of legitimacy from her argument (backyard breeding and failing to spay or neuter pets is half of the reason why so many unwanted animals end up in shelters in the first place).
People with attitudes like Coull’s are most of the problem. Dogs are animals, with their own brains and own thoughts, it doesn’t matter if you pay $2,000 for that animal at a breeder, or decide to take in a puppy you found abandoned on the side of the road. It’s just that when someone pays $2,000 for something, they’re more inclined to make it work. But you can’t “know the nature” of a dog – all dogs are different, and while certain breeds are bred for certain characteristics, they’re not computers programmed with consistent traits. Dogs require hard work, training, patience, and love. Sometimes they’ll have behaviour problems, sometimes they’ll pee on everything in your house, but that’s the risk you take when you bring a new family member into your home. Yes, a puppy is easier to train into the dog you want, but even older dogs can be treated for behaviour problems with the right amount of patience and the right approach.
While indeed, she is correct in pointing out it is everyone’s individual decision to decide where they get their pets, to think getting a dog from a breeder is going to magically mean the dog is perfect in every way is delusional.
There’s a point to be made that if everyone made sure they brought home the right dog for them then there’d be a lot less crowded shelters, but that doesn’t mean you need to buy it from a breeder.
There is a shelter dog out there for every person, and for every family. There are mutts that can offer the best of multiple breeds, but there also many purebred dogs, if you have your heart set on a particular type. There are old dogs (sometimes a great choice for someone who doesn’t want a 15-year commitment) and young puppies. The dog for you might not be available in the same city, or the very week you decide to get a pet, but owning a dog is not a decision that should be made on a whim. If you’re willing to put the time and effort into finding the right dog for your family, and willing to wait for the right time to bring it into your home, than you’ll not only be saving a life, but you’ll be rewarded with a lifetime of loyalty and love. And if you don’t want to wait, or want a dog that is perfect from the moment you bring it home, than perhaps you should reconsider your choice of pet and get a goldfish instead.