Catchy phrase! I like it and it rhymes, only there is a problem with it. Adoption sometimes isn't the best option, (hey look! That one rhymes too!) and no one should ever be made to feel guilty for owning and loving the dog they chose to buy instead of adopt.
So when should you adopt and when should you shop? How do you choose? And when you do choose, how do you make sure you're doing the right thing?
I hope I can shed a little light on the subject, and explain why it's not at all a black and white point of ethics.
Our first family dog, Kelly, was a stray my parents adopted shortly before I was born, he was perfect and I loved him very much! But I myself have never adopted. I have fostered dogs. I have worked the summers of my youth in animal shelters. I continue to do charity works for excellent rescue organizations and cannot count the number of rescue animals I have trained, advised on, and assessed. Just the other day I sent someone to look at a dog in a local rescue organization and the day after that they're coming home with their new family member. I have been a part of many adoptions, but have yet to bring an adopted dog home for myself.
Making the right decision for you: Adoption vs Shopping
Here are a few great reasons adopt:
- They are already here and they do not have a home. By adopting a dog you may save his life, or you may save the life of another dog needing his place in the shelter
- A puppy is not a good fit for your current lifestyle. Maybe you work long hours, which would make potty training and socialization difficult. An adult dog, or even just an older puppy might be a better fit.
- You want a pure bred dog, but you don't want a puppy. That's right, purebred dogs are available in rescue too! Sometimes they pop up in local shelters, but there are also many breed specific rescues offering purebred dogs for adoption.
- You like a challenge! Some dogs (not all) are in shelters because of behavioural problems. Most of them won't reach the adoption floor unless the shelter staff believes these problems are fixable. Trust me! It's very rewarding to put some work into a dog and see huge pay offs in their change in behaviour. This is one of the reasons I love training rescue dogs. Rescues usually have a network of people ready and eager to help you turn your new adoption into the perfect family member.
- You need to know what you're getting. Adopting an adult dog can be helpful. They're full grown, you know exactly what they will look like and how big they will get, and while any bad behaviours can still be trained out of them, their personalities are already developed. If you want a cuddle bug, you will get a cuddle bug, if you want an independent dog, you'll get that too. They're already grown up and they know who they are!
- They're already vetted and spayed/neutered. That's a startup cost covered by your adoption fee and one more little thing you don't have to worry about!
- Shelter dogs can bond like crazy. Sometimes it takes a little longer, especially if they've been bounced around and have lost some of their trust, but once they do bond it is usually rock solid and an incredibly rewarding feeling.
Here are a few reasons adoption may be difficult for your situation:
- You have small children. Some rescue organizations will choose not to adopt dogs out to families with small children. By all means, if you want to adopt then check with your local shelters and rescue groups to see what their policies regarding children are. Sometimes this will also limit the selection of dogs you can adopt, as rescue dogs are assessed for compatibility with children. Many rescue dogs make great family pets, our Kelly was one of them, but there are challenges with bringing home an older dog into a family with small active children.
- You have other pets. Maybe the shelter dog wants to be the only dog, or maybe your current dog has issues with other dogs entering the home. Perhaps you have rabbits or other small prey like animals that would be at risk when introducing a new adult dog into the home. Sometimes it works out great, other times it can be a challenge.
- You need to know what you're getting. While adopting an adult dog from a shelter provides you with a predictable size and temperament, adopting a young dog or a puppy from a shelter doesn't offer the same predictability. Sometimes they get larger than estimated, and without knowing their origins it can be difficult to predict a personality type.
- You have no genetic history on the dog. Genetics play a huge role in both health and behaviour. While they don't suffer from inbreeding, a mixed breed dog can still have genetic health issues, and while a rescue dog might look like a rolly polly english lab he might have the fiery personality of a terrier or the herding drive of a collie.
- Baggage. A lot of rescued dogs come with it. A lack of early training or socialization can make a rescue dog difficult to handle, while some seem to have no problems at all! If you aren't prepared for the challenges of fixing these problems, maybe now is not the best time for a rescue.
How to adopt responsibly:
Yes, you read that right. Adopting isn't just automatically the good and responsible thing to do. Sadly there are people out there running operations as rescues who shouldn't be, and they're putting people and animals at risk as a result. Some organizations allow their rescue dogs to breed while in their care so they can adopt out the puppies as an easy sell while their mothers continue to wait for homes, others house dogs in deplorable conditions, and still others do not seek vet care, test for temperament, or screen adoptive homes. When you adopt, you want to make sure you're supporting an organization that has the best interests of the dog in mind and who practices responsible animal care and rehoming.
Here are some tips for adopting responsibly:
- Only adopt from registered charities, or at the very least, from charities in the process of getting their registration. Charities need to meet specific criteria in Canada and meeting this criteria helps insure that your adoption fees go towards the care of the animals and not line a private party's pockets.
- Only adopt from rescues with a spay/neuter policy. Sometimes a shelter will wait until an animal is on hold for adoption before spaying or neutering, this is to save the cost of the surgery on a dog that might not find a home, but all animals should be spayed or neutered before they go to their new homes. They should all also be on a vaccination program.
- The shelter should be clean and dogs should be housed indoors especially at night. A little bit of pee or poop in the kennels is to be expected when you consider that 1-2 staff members and a couple of volunteers may be responsible for the well being of dozens of animals at any given time, but excessive mess and mess that is not cleaned up in a timely manner is both a health and house training concern for a new owner. In the case of foster based rescues you may not be able to see the foster home, but ask questions about crate training, chewing, and how many foster dogs are allowed in a home. Foster based rescues should try to have only one or two foster dogs in a home at a time, and should be encouraging the fosters to crate train and house train their charges.
- Always be 100% honest. Sometimes the application seems intrusive. They want to know the age and sex of all the residents of the house, they want to know your landlord's name, they want to know what you had for breakfast that day... you get the point. But there is a reason for it, the more carefully screened an adoptive home is, the less likely it is that an adoption will fail and the animal will be returned. Expect to be screened and take it as a good sign, and don't feel bad or slighted if you are rejected as a home for a specific animal, the shelter staff knows that dog better than you do and it may not be the match made in heaven that you had hoped for.
- Waiting periods are a good thing. Rescues should be reluctant to send a dog home with you on the first day. It's a big decision, they should want you to sleep on it.
- Obey the rules. If you were told the dog must be an indoor pet, then he must be an indoor pet. If obedience school was a requirement of adoption, go to obedience school. These rules are generally put in place for a good reason.
- If there is a problem, contact the rescue sooner rather than later. Do not wait for it to get out of hand. The rescue will have resources to help you. Don't wait until it is too late to ask for help.
- If, for any reason at any time, you find you cannot keep the dog you adopted, please contact the organization you adopted from. Many organizations have this in their contract, that the dog must be returned to them if for any reason you cannot keep it. Be honest about why you are bringing the dog back, and please don't feel ashamed. Sometimes it simply can't be helped. The rescue will help find your dog a new home.
Some great reasons to buy from a breeder:
- You know what you're getting. Most dog breeds have fairly predictable personalities, and all dog breeds have a standard size and appearance. If you are buying a purebred, you know what to expect. Studies also show that crosses between two purebreds show predictable personality traits in the first generation, but beware, sometimes size gets a little skewed when you combine breeds.
- Meet the parents. A little scary when we're talking about future in-laws, but there are advantages to meeting the parents of your potential puppy. This will also give you an idea of what your puppy may grow up to be like. Generally pups will be a combination of their parents, if both parents have stable temperaments you can expect a stable puppy out of them. However if one or the other has an extreme temperament, or a certain behaviour that you don't like, you might want to consider a different litter.
- Previous litters may have been born to the parents you are considering a current litter from. This will give you the chance to see what previous puppies from these parents have grown up to do. Kodi was the first and only litter of his breeding, but Badger has relatives all over the dog sport and working world that I can compare him to. All dogs are individuals, but you can get an idea of what you're buying by meeting relatives.
- You have a very specific purpose in mind for your dog. Perhaps you want a height dog for a sport, or a very specific temperament, size, or coat type. Or perhaps you want to show your dog in conformation. While rescue dogs can do anything a purchased puppy can do (except compete in conformation as a registered dog), it is sometimes easier to start with a puppy.
- You have other animals or young children. Introducing a puppy to a family with young scary children and vulnerable animals can be easier than introducing an adult dog. Both my dogs were raised with my pet birds and as such were taught as babies not to chase, stare at, or eat them. My foster dogs were another story! It can also, sometimes, be easier to bring home a puppy to introduce to an adult dog, than to bring home another strange adult dog.
- You want a puppy. It's ok to want to start with a puppy. Don't feel guilty! Sometimes puppies do show up in rescue though, so if this is your only hang up, you can still look for a rescue pup.
Reasons a breeder's puppy might not be the choice for you:
- You don't want a puppy. It's ok to not want to start with a puppy. Don't feel guilty! Sometimes breeders do have adult dogs available, or older puppies, but there are always stacks and stacks of adult dogs waiting in rescue, your perfect friend might be there.
- The additional cost of puppy shots and sterilization. You will need to get all those boosters and that spay/neuter surgery done. Buying a puppy generally has a slightly higher startup cost than a rescue dog.
- Breeder contracts. Not all breeders have breeder contracts. I've never signed one. But some breeders do. It's understandable, breeders take a lot of pride in the dogs they produce and sometimes that means they want to have a say in how their dogs are treated. If your breeder thinks a dog you would like to buy has show or breeding potential, they may require you to sign for co-ownership or breeding rights, which means you'd have to keep the dog intact until it was fully developed, and agree to future breedings of your pet if the breeder so desired. Sometimes a breeder contract is less complicated, but might include limitations on when a dog may be spayed or neutered. You might not mind a breeder contract, but sometimes they can complicated dog ownership.
Just as there are things to consider when adopting a dog, there are also things to consider when shopping for one. You need to know that the breeder you are getting your dog from, whether they are purposely bred mix breed dogs or registered purebred dogs, has the best interests of the dog in mind. breeding is not profitable, if it is, then the breeder is doing something questionable. It is up to you to carefully choose the source for your dog to ensure you are not contributing to the future suffering of animals by supporting an unethical breeder.
This subject deserves it's own post, so I have given it one. Click here to read about how to find a responsible breeder.
Whether you choose to shop or adopt, it's a great idea to get your relationship off on the right foot. Find an excellent network of people to help you out. Introduce your new pet to his veterinarian, the groomer, and of course to an obedience instructor!