A dog will change your life. But finding your next best friend will support one of two very different philosophies. Here’s what you need to know before you decide.
The late Andy Rooney, long-running resident curmudgeon of CBS’s 60 Minutes, once offered this bit of wisdom: “The average dog is nicer than the average person.” Dogs are our constant companions, always ready to ride along with us no matter what life brings. They show us unconditional love and will do whatever they can to give us a good laugh. A dog will even listen to us like it knows exactly what we’re saying. In the words of Peanuts creator Charles M. Schulz, “Happiness is a warm puppy.” It seems clear that most dog owners agree with him.
Nowadays, there is a vigorous debate surrounding how we should obtain a canine companion – whether to purchase a dog from a breeder or pet store, or to adopt one from a rescue or shelter.
Let’s take a hard look at the practices of commercial pet breeding operations, and then meet three terrific dogs who were acquired in three different ways.
For more on the storied bond between humans and canines, check out the MagellanTV documentary Dogs & Us.
The Big Debate: Breeder, Pet Store, Rescue, or Shelter – What’s the Best Way to Acquire Your Pet?
It’s probably safe to say if we are looking to add a dog to our household we want a quality canine companion. But where to find the perfect pooch for your family? Do we go with retail and purchase a dog from a local pet store or breeder? Or would we rather save a life and rescue or adopt a dog in need?
Getting A Dog from a Pet Store Is a Gamble
Small-scale breeders whose primary mission is simply to maintain particular breeds perform an important and ethical service. Functioning virtually as nonprofit enterprises, their efforts amount to a labor of love. But do your homework, because such breeders are the exception, not the rule. Many breeders try to assuage the potential fears of would-be dog owners by using many of the same tricks employed by unscrupulous “puppy mills.”
Commercial breeding operations emphasize profit over humane treatment of animals. They are the main source of dogs for sale in retail pet stores. The animals from such puppy mills are treated like livestock and are often crammed into filthy cages with no choice but to sleep, eat, and live in their own feces. The animals are frequently underweight due to poor nutrition and unsanitary eating conditions.
Females are generally kept in squalid, overcrowded wire cages stacked on top of each other so that their feces just drop into the cages below. These mother dogs are bred constantly, without any rest or screening for diseases. Males oftentimes fare no better. Horrific conditions, poor genetics, early weaning, and stress can cause puppy mill survivors to develop serious health and behavioral problems that are expensive and difficult to treat.
Puppies from an Illinois “Puppy Mill" Photo courtesy of Illinois State Representative Andrew Chesney
Pet Store Puppies May Come From Unknown or Deceptive Sources
Because of the bad reputation they have earned, some disreputable pet stores now make false “no puppy mill” promises or claim to have “zero tolerance” for cruel breeding. And since customers don’t see where the puppies came from, they can easily be deceived.
Among the tactics used, pet stores like to emphasize that their breeders are USDA-licensed or that the puppies have American Kennel Club (AKC) registration, but neither of these qualifiers guarantee that the puppies are healthy or well cared for. To become a USDA licensee, a breeder needs only to follow certain so-called standards, but these standards are laughably low, generally falling far short of what average pet parents consider humane. USDA inspections of these facilities (if they happen at all) tend to be few and far between, and violations often go unpunished.
AKC registry merely means that a puppy’s parents both had AKC papers, and nothing more. It is not a guarantee of good environmental conditions and signifies nothing about the health or quality of a puppy. Nor does AKC registry indicate anything about the temperament, disposition, and personality of the dog itself.
Payment plans are unethical and exploitative
A lease agreement for a puppy may sound absurd, but it’s a real ploy some pet stores use to take the sting out of high-priced pooches. It’s mainly a scheme to help commercial breeders and retail stores to offload their puppies quickly. Some pet stores even team up with private lending institutions to offer their customers a seemingly low monthly payment plan, but then pad the purchase price with high fees and interest, often without fully explaining these costs to customers. In the end, such pet leases benefit the stores and lending companies – not the customers and, most importantly, not the dogs themselves.
Our Canine Case Studies
Now, as promised in the intro to this article, let me tell you the stories of three wonderful dogs who are beloved by their human companions.
Jake, the AKC Havanese
Jake when he was a five month-old puppy. (Photo used by permission of Jake’s owner.)
First, let’s meet Jake. He is a pedigreed, American Kennel Club–registered, purebred Havanese. The ancestors of this breed traveled to Cuba with Spanish nobles and farmers in the early 16th century. There, they adapted and may have interbred with other types – most likely the Bichon and Maltese breeds – to become the national dog breed of the island nation of Cuba. Breeders generally charge around $1,500 for a typical Havanese puppy, and upwards of $2,500 for “show-quality” pups. (The primary difference is in the dogs’ coats.)
Bella, The Rescued Welsh Corgi
Bella as a six month-old puppy. (Photo used by permission of Bella’s owner.)
Meet Bella. She is a Welsh corgi (just like those Queen Elizabeth II was so fond of). Bella was adopted from a local corgi rescue in Southern California. She is similar to Jake, inasmuch as she is clearly a single breed. But there is no written guarantee or assurance as to her bloodlines and pedigree, making her ineligible to be a show dog. The initial cost of Bella’s rescue was under $100, which included her being current on any necessary shots and medical checkups. She was also spayed as a condition of her adoption.
Beemer, The Shelter Mixed Breed
Beemer, the mixed breed, age 4. (Photo used by permission of Beemer’s owner.)
Lastly, meet Beemer (yes, like a BMW car). He’s a mixed breed – most likely Jack Russell terrier and corgi (with perhaps a few other breeds thrown in). Beemer was adopted from a shelter in Northern California for a fee of $49. Included in his adoption fee were the procedure by which he was neutered, his shots, and a certificate of general health from the shelter’s veterinarian.
To prevent the population of stray or abandoned dogs from becoming manageable, most adoptions in the U.S. are made on the condition that the animal is either spayed or neutered.
Now we have to ask, which of these three ways of acquiring a dog is best?
Costs Of Maintaining a Dog are Similar Based on How It’s Acquired
Retail options are the most expensive, running down to rescuing and adoption which are the least expensive.
Aside from the initial costs like spaying or neutering and assuming that there are no unforeseen medical costs, e.g., accidents with medical consequences, the average cost of maintenance for these three similarly sized dogs in the United States currently ranges from around $1,400 to $1,900 annually. Although it is possible to spend more on a dog’s care.
Potential Downside to Adopting/Rescuing
The stigma that shelter dogs tend to be unpredictable and come with behavioral issues is simply not true. Many dogs are surrendered to shelters due to changes in family situations, not because of the dogs’ behavior, and many have already had some training. But, when you choose to adopt a dog straight from a rescue or a shelter, you need to know how to pick the right one for your situation.
Rescues tend to deal with specific individual breeds, while shelters take in all kinds.
One particularly important factor is health. Like humans, dogs are at risk for illness from numerous causes, so get an early evaluation from a trusted veterinarian. Early and continuous veterinary care will ensure that potential health issues in these types of dogs are at least pointed out. That is one big reason most shelters work directly with veterinarians. The less serious problems are treated and disclosed to potential adopters, as are issues of a more serious nature that might prevent a dog from leading a normal life.
Why We’re in Love with Dogs
Jake, Bella, and Beemer are all three descendants of the same ancestors, essentially wolves, so what do these three dogs all have in common? Indeed what is so special about dogs in general?
Dogs Make Us Feel Less Alone
Our dogs are there for us when people can’t be. Their round-the-clock snuggles and the impact of their emotional support all boil down to unconditional love. We may interact with dozens or even hundreds of other people throughout our daily lives, but a dog might only interact with its human. While we can get emotional, social, and physical needs fulfilled in many ways, for our canine companions we are often their whole lives.
Dog Ownership Can Be Good for Your Health
Whether because of the exercise we get from walking our fur babies regularly, or because our stress levels are lowered by the attention we focus on them, just living with dogs makes a profound difference in our lives. Numerous studies show how having a dog in our lives reduces stress and lowers blood pressure.
For example, a recent study from the Purdue University School of Veterinary Medicine found that the coping skills of military veterans significantly improve when they are paired up with service dogs, which provide a sense of calm. The study included a variety of dog breeds.
A happy family on a summer day. (Source: Mdk572/Wikimedia Commons)
It All Comes Down to What is Right for You and Your Family
Owning a dog is a big responsibility. Taking time to do the research and ask questions are important steps on the journey. Get to know your new potential “best friend.” Shelter and rescue agencies want to help match the right person with the right dog. They will usually insist that you spend time interacting with your prospective companion animal, and they’ll want everyone in your household to get to know the pooch. They want to see how you interact with them and make sure you are the right human match. Once the decision is made, just love and care for your new family member like you would any new addition to your clan.
Where you get your dog from is perhaps just as important as the dog you get. Buying from a commercial breeder or a retail pet store only serves to prop up an unconscionably inhumane industry. Adopting your new family member from a shelter or rescue not only saves the dog’s life, it makes room for more lives to be rescued going forward.
Shawn Eisner is a Southern California native with a love of history, the arts, the natural world, philosophy, education, and volunteerism. A graduate of Pepperdine University, he has worked with and managed a variety of businesses and charitable groups.