We will be dog owners in a few months.
In celebration of that, I want to get one thing out of the way: Our puppy is coming from a breeder!
I have been dreading this post for a while. It bothers me a little that just by hearing that one word, “breeder,” people may already have a preconceived judgment about our choice. And I get that. I had similar feelings a little less than a year ago.
Bryan and my decision to get a dog from a responsible breeder was the result of a personal struggle stemming from my insecurity of others’ opinions and dislike of frivolous things. I am by nature a simple person – the jewelry I wear on a given day consists of my wedding ring and diamond stud earrings. I can’t even remember the last time I went clothes shopping. Heck, any of the furniture we did not inherit was purchased from IKEA. I cannot stand the idea that people think we are spending a lot of money on a “designer” dog – a dog to get based on looks (“blue eyes and a spot on his nose and two spots on his forelegs, please!”) rather than personality and compatibility. They do not understand the term responsible dog breeders, much less the unpredictability of genetics if that is the case. I’ve come to realize that breeders represent the ideal in raising a healthy, stable, loved, and socialized pup. Yes, their puppies will cost more than adopting from the local shelter. But, the way that we as a human race have bred dogs to be beloved, loyal, nearly-human members of our families means that they are worth AN INVESTMENT – especially when you divide that over the course of 15 years.
I dreamed of owning an Australian Shepherd long before my family even adopted Madie (our family’s half-Aussie). Last year, when Bryan and I decided the two of us were ready for our own pet (read: I convinced Bryan a dog was a necessity for my survival/sanity), I couldn’t stop picturing a fluffy, athletic, mid-size dog snuggling with me on my couch and playing frisbee with me in the local park. It seemed I was bitten by the Aussie-bug. Bryan and I wanted a new family member to come with us on hikes, vacations, to eventually welcome our children into this world with us. I knew that dog needed to be healthy, trainable, and snuggleable. Sure, we could find lovely dogs in shelters, but even more than that, I wanted our dog to exemplify what it means to be an athletic, intelligent, loyal Australian Shepherd. I used to be embarrassed of that last fact. But I’ve come to terms with the fact that wanting a specific breed isn’t morally wrong. I don’t know why I felt that it was before. It’s okay to love a specific breed.I knew there were shelters with Aussie-like mutts (or even purebred Aussies – some with horrible pasts). I knew they needed a home, too. But I’m a curious person and I wanted to know how their moms and dads were loved and I wanted to know that this dog would love playing frisbee with us and would love our babies. What’s more, I came to realize that the sole reason healthy, beautiful Australian Shepherds (or Bulldogs, or Schnauzers, or German Shepherds, or Poodles) exist for me to lust after is because people who love these breeds spend money and time thinking about, researching, and showing their dogs to best preserve a healthy version of the breeds we recognize today (There are some ethical concerns about preserving breeds that have significant health problems like Bulldogs and Cavalier King Charles Spaniels but that may be a digression for another post).
It’s not that mutts from shelters don’t deserve a home (they do! ABSOLUTELY ABSOLUTELY), it’s just that by buying a specific breed (with its narrow genetic variants) from an unknown person, I was entering into a realm of unpredictability. Not only could I be purchasing a dog with health concerns, I also could be unknowingly supporting inhumane dog treatment. I know animal lovers would never knowingly purchase from a puppy mill (a farm where studs and bitches are raised solely for their reproductive organs to create puppies in less-than-humane settings), but almost anyone could unwittingly acquire adorable “purebred AKC-Certified” puppies from such a place.
A few weeks ago, I found a frigthening example after a quick CraigsList search for an “Australian Shepherd”: http://charlottesville.craigslist.org/grd/4864090959.html – this link has expired, but here is the advertisement in full:
“3/4 ausralian 1/4 lab.very smart dogs,wormed& first shots.many with blue eyes.”
1. They misspelled “Australian…”
2. “Many with blue eyes …” All puppies have grayish-blue eyes when they’re born.
3. There are no complete sentences in an advertisement for a litter of seven puppies.
4. $150 for a pup that’s been wormed and given his first shots and well-fed…?
Some other examples:
If any of these people have spent time giving the puppies food, shots, and shelter for 8 weeks … don’t you think they might write a little more than that? And the line “Please do not try to low ball me.” Hahah, what even is that? Craigslist isn’t the only culprit, but it sure is an easy target.
For a contrast, Here’re websites from some responsible breeders:
I’m not trying to be all: “Australian Shepherds are a corrupt breed.” Or even, “EVERYONE should join PETA and close all the mills and spend all their money on purebreds and treat dogs like royalty at their beck and call.” But, I am saying I wish people would be thoughtful and take more care when they’re looking to bring a pup home. If, most especially, they’re looking for a particular breed they adore (Chihuahua, Boxer, Golden Retriever, etc), I wish they’d recognize why those breeds still exist: Those breeds exist because of responsible breeders who raise these dogs, and for responsible breeders to exist, they require people who purchase their dogs.
Bryan and I understand that the decision of where to get your dog from is a complex multi-faceted balancing act that requires individuals to consider everything from how much they are able or willing to spend to what their most important values about animals are. This is not meant to be an attack or a judgment on any person in any way. It is still an issue I think a lot about; puppy mills lead all of us who love dogs to a Catch-22. Each of these inhumanly treated dogs need homes and love, too. They did nothing to deserve the treatment they’ve received. And they can be the most loyal, joyful, obedient dogs. However, the only way to stop puppy mills from existing is to stop providing them with profit.
I recognize that we are able to choose to purchase from a breeder because we planned for it financially, and because we have determined that preserving the specific breed we love so much in the way it has been preserved so far is valuable to us. I hope I don’t sound defensive about this, but I feel strongly that being informed about breeders, puppy mills, and rescues is under recognized but so important.