Not quite as catchy, but marketing was never my forte.
How you bring a dog into your life is entirely your choice. Adopt Don't Shop is memorable for sure, but ultimately a false choice. Likely created with good intentions, it has been hijacked and morphed into nothing more than a nasty marketing ploy and a way to demonize other dog-lovers with wide-reaching consequences.
Allow me to give you some background: I've been involved in the rescue world for a number of years, long before I was ever a professional dog trainer. I've worked in a number of shelters in several states. I've volunteered for a number of organizations in a wide range of roles, behind the scenes, both with local, regional and breed-specific organizations. My first two dogs were proudly rescues, and I loved them dearly. The thought of buying a dog from a breeder never even crossed my mind. Why would I? I was only interested in a canine companion, not all that highfalutin pretty dog stuff. Besides, I could save their life at the same time if I adopted! Win-win!
That was until I unknowingly adopted a dog who was aggressive. I wasn't looking to do this. I wanted a pet. To be clear, I don't mean he was reactive or grumpy. No, he was aggressive. As in he would kill other dogs if given the chance. We're talking he bit one of our friends (luckily not severely, but a bite nonetheless). We're talking I lived like a hermit for the 5 years I had him. Oh, and he was a medical mess. Bilateral hip dysplasia. Horrendous allergies that required injections, medications and a ridiculously strict diet. Translation: my dreams of taking my dog for a walk or hike that I had fantasized about for the 4-years it took me to rearrange my life to responsibly be able get a dog back into it were dashed. No, instead there I was under a constant level of stress, a never-ending routine of trial and error and a low-level of fear of what could happen to him...or what he would do to someone else. Yet, he was my prince. My little man. My baby boy. I loved him with every fiber of my being, and would move the moon and stars to help him. And he loved me just as much. He was the reason I became a professional dog trainer, and he taught so much. That doesn't negate the fact that it was pure dumb luck that something truly horrible did not happen while I had him. I shudder to think what could have happened if he had ended up with someone else... "...So you think rescuing is bad because of him?" No. He was only at the rescue for 2-weeks before I adopted him. The rescue hadn't seen him do anything that would have made them think he had the aggression issues he did. Once the issues did present themselves, the rescue tried to offer assistance by referring me to trainers and the like.
The reality was he is a classic case of bad breeding. I found out later that he was from well-known commercial (translation: make money off of) line that is riddled with a huge slew of behavioral and medical issues. A line peddled by puppy mills and unscrupulous people. A line who has a large number of dogs who find themselves in shelters across the country.
"...Wait, so the breeder was bad...that means adopting is better!"
Not so fast.
After my boy passed away, I wanted to get another dog. Understandably, I was not looking to repeat the same experience. I wanted a stable dog. Dog sports were on the agenda. I needed to ensure this dog could mentally and physically handle what I wanted to do.
That meant researching a reputable breeder. One who did health testing. One who had temperamentally stable dogs. One who proved their worth in a variety of dog sports.
And I found one, met my current boy and couldn't be happier. I now share my life with a dog again, not a loaded gun. We can go for walks, hikes and be around other people and dogs without a care. He is healthy and truly a joy who is game for anything I want to do, dog sports or otherwise.
"Are you saying people cannot find good dogs at shelters?! I love my shelter dog!" Nope.
Again, I've adopted fantastic shelter dogs myself. Stable, sweet, intelligent and awesome dogs. Some of my favorite and more memorable training clients were shelter and rescue dogs.
"UGH! WHAT DO YOU MEAN THEN?!"
We need to stop demonizing each other.
Stop avoiding the true issues.
Take a hard look at what is going on and come up with real solutions to a complicated problem.
What am I against?
Unscrupulous breeders aka puppy mills aka commercial breeders aka people just looking to make a buck by slapping two dogs together with the right plumbing with no regard to the well-being of the dog or who will bring that dog into their life. Unscrupulous shelters who are not properly evaluating their dogs. Who are allowing behaviorally and medically unsound dogs to go out into the public where they do can, and do, incredible harm. Who empty out their kennels to keep their adoption numbers artificially high solely for the purpose of making their donors feel good (so the donations keep coming in), yet not noting half or more of those very same dogs had no real place in society. As such, those very same dogs will likely be returned to that shelter or a different one, or they will inflict incredible damage onto other dogs or people while out in society.
Unscrupulous groups who ship dogs across the country, meeting naive and well-meaning adopters in parking lots to hand off a dog sight unseen, all for a fee.
Irresponsible owners who do not do their due diligence, who impulse buy or adopt, who do not provide for their dogs and/or dump them.
What am I for?
Reputable breeders who oftentimes spend their entire lives devoted to the improvement of their respective breed. Who health test. Who train, campaign and test all of their dogs. Who carefully evaluate each puppy buyer, pair them up with the ideal puppy and are a partner with that buyer for the life of the dog. Who will take a dog back for whatever reason. Who have to make heart-wrenching decisions should Mother Nature be cruel and something medical or behavioral rears its ugly head. Those people who put everything on the line for the betterment of their dogs.
Reputable shelters who oftentimes spend their entire existence and every waking moment looking out for the well-being of dogs who do not have anyone else. Who will properly house, care and provide for those dogs, not only with food and water, but with daily enrichment, training and care. Who will partner with the adopter for the life of the dog and will take the dog back for any reason. Who will properly assess dogs, and will make the heart-wrenching decision when a dog is deemed unsuitable to go out into society for either a medical or behavior issue. Those people who put everything on the line for the betterment of their dogs.
Responsible transportation services who partner with reputable shelters and rescue groups to get dogs into better situations where they can be helped.
Responsible owners who bring a dog into their life when they can provide for that dog, who meet all the needs of the dog and who ask for help when they need it, be it leaning on their breeder or shelter for support, working with a reputable trainer or a veterinarian.
Notice any similarities? Reputable breeders and reputable shelters work under the same premise: what is the best interest of the dog? How will they improve the dog's life going forward? What are the long term consequences of their actions?
Responsible owners do their part and are always looking for how they can best provide for their dog, as a small thank you for all the dog gives them in return.
So, what can we all do?
Stop with the use of simplistic and unhelpful memes and slogans. Recognize the complexity of this problem. Have honest discussions on how we can solve it. Know some of those conversations will be difficult. Realize we all love dogs and are on the same team.
Support reputable breeders. Recognize their achievements, hard work and dedication. Take a moment to congratulate them on their hard work. Marvel when their dogs who have been selectively and carefully bred perform the tasks they were meant to do. Know they are one of the good guys.
Support reputable shelters. Recognize their achievements and contribution to society. Donate. Volunteer. Thank them for their hard work, the many sleepless nights and emotional toll they endure, not to mention the countless times they have had their hearts broken. Join them in celebrating a success story, and open your heart and home to one of these dogs, either as a foster or as a permanent member of your family. Know they are one of the good guys.
Support fellow responsible owners. Celebrate their successes, from getting through teething and potty training to taking a dog-friendly vacation to showcasing some newly learned tricks. Be kind when they have questions, provide them support when they need it, and a shoulder to cry on when they have to make the final kind choice at the end of their canine friend's life.
Responsibly shop or adopt. It really is your choice.
Dianna L. Santos has been training dogs professionally since 2011. She has done everything from teaching group training classes and private lessons, to specializing in working with fearful, reactive and aggressive dogs, to being a trial official and competition organization staff member.
Following a serious neck and back injury, Dianna was forced to retire from in-person dog training. But she was not ready to give up her passion! So, she created Family Dog University, Dog Sport University, and Scent Work University to provide outstanding online dog training to as many dog handlers, owners and trainers possible…regardless of where they live! Dianna is incredibly grateful to the amazingly talented group of instructors who have joined FDU, DSU and SWU and she looks forward to the continued growth of all these platforms and the increased learning opportunities they can provide.