Is Rescue the Only Moral Way to Get a Dog? (And Should We Judge Those Who Take Other Legal Paths to Dog Ownership?)

By Ron Sturgeon, Founder & Senior VP of National Alliance for Dog Breeding Reform

I read an opinion piece in Dogster that I admire for its frankness. The article is titled “Commentary: I will Judge You for Buying a Dog from a Breeder” and describes a view many people hold.

It’s ironic that the writer is a huge opponent of breed-specific bans that often discriminate against pit bulls. Of course, she’s right about breed-specific laws. It’s really unfair to condemn a whole breed based upon the behavior of its worst specimens.

I’m against breed-specific bans because there is a huge variation in behavior within a breed, and beyond genetics, much depends upon the human beings who raise the dogs.

In the same way, the way that the best breeders treat dogs differs quite a bit from the way the worst breeders do. I don’t condemn all breeders based upon what the worst breeders do.

Think for a moment about what the best breeders do. The French Bulldog that Kezia Willingham, the writer of the Dogster article, wants so badly (but won’t buy because it’s a breeder’s dog) may be more expensive for a reason.

The best breeders do genetic testing to ensure that they have carefully selected the right dogs to make defects common to the breed less likely in the pups. They socialize puppies carefully. They keep the pups longer. They care for puppies and parents meticulously.

The best breeders take great care in making sure the person who wants one of their puppies will be worthy of it. They come to visit the home where their puppy will live. They ask many questions before money changes hands. The best breeders will take back a dog any time that the owner can’t take care of it. They are accessible to the buyer with advice about the breed long after the transaction.

So, how should we judge the person who wants a dog from that breeder? Have they done something wrong because they want a dog with a known pedigree, a dog that an expert has carefully bred? Have they done something wrong by choosing to buy a dog from a responsible breeder?

I don’t think so.

Dogs come into people’s lives in different ways. Some wander in as strays. Some come from shelters or rescue groups. The people who rescue and foster are doing worthwhile work. The author of the article, rescued her dogs and has confidence that rescue is the right path to pet ownership for her.

It’s not, however, the only moral path. And just because it’s right for her doesn’t make it the only path or allow judgment of others who don’t agree. By the way, we can disagree without being judgmental. To become judgmental essentially means we have stopped listening and trying to be objective. By the way, I won’t be judgmental about her being judgmental. I just don’t agree with Kezia, but I’m glad to continue to listen and to talk about the issues her article raises.

When Kezia learns that her friend has probably purchased a puppy from a breeder she has this response: “I realized I’m not as open-minded as I like to think: I immediately thought less of the person for buying a dog instead of rescuing one.”

I admire her candor even though I disagree with her. I think we should not judge other people’s choice to buy from a breeder rather than to adopt a pet from a rescue or shelter.

As dog lovers, we should see that what matters is not whether the dog comes from a breeder, a rescue, or a shelter, but what type of home the dog gets.

As far as dog-breeding reform goes, we know that there is a world of difference between the best breeders and the worst. We recognize that breeding is going to go on because people want to buy dogs from breeders.

However, we also believe that dog breeding can be made better for the dogs. We want to ensure that every dog is treated humanely, shown kindness, and bred using only medically sound practices.

Many believe that we should never buy a dog; rescue is the only path. It’s an intriguing pointy of view. I think I understand why they feel that way, but I can’t support a position that isn’t practical.

To say that adopting is the only moral way to get a dog is not realistic and will certainly alienate many dog lovers who feel otherwise—many of whom might otherwise support sensible reform of dog breeding laws that would make a difference for the dogs.

I want to win for the dogs. Registering all breeders and reforming the bad ones are lofty goals and may never be 100% achieved, but both are practical and reachable on some level. If you think these are worthwhile objectives, please share our posts, sign up for e-mail updates and volunteer (we need researchers to help us finish the dog-breeding-laws wiki).

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