M. F. Jones  

Writer, Editor, Animal Advocate

A Heart for Shelter Dogs


Posted by M. F. Jones on July 8, 2021 at 1:15 PM

When most people think about getting a dog, what options do they consider?

Speaking personally, in years gone by, my husband and I, infatuated with golden retrievers, sought out breeders and vetted them until we were sure that they were responsible in their practices, not just casual backyard pup producers looking to make a buck. Equally, they vetted us, nearly as thoroughly as if we were adopting a child. We paid a lot of money and got a succession of three beautiful dogs whom we loved. Unfortunately, one developed a crippling orthopedic problem within his first six months, and two died prematurely of cancer – a disease that afflicts as many as 60% of goldens.

Other purebred dogs can manifest different breed-associated health or temperament problems: bad hips, breathing trouble, skin problems, rage syndrome -- to name just a few.

Still, I understand breed loyalty, and would have another golden in a heartbeat – but at this point I would adopt one from a shelter or a rescue organization. There’s a rescue group for nearly every popular breed, so if you want a purebred dog that’s a great option. It’s sure to be cheaper than buying from a breeder, and you will have the satisfaction of knowing that you’ve given a homeless dog a new life.

Some prospective pet owners might go to a pet store. Unwittingly in doing so they may support the puppy mills that supply many such stores – cruel dog production facilities that wear out female dogs with repeated breedings, keep the animals in filthy, miserable, overcrowded conditions, and produce pups that often have health or temperament problems. (See the Humane Society of the United States [HSUS]’s article on “pet store doublespeak” https://www.humanesociety.org/resources/pet-store-doublespeak" target="_blank">http://https://www.humanesociety.org/resources/pet-store-doublespeak that casts a harsh light on the deceptions pet store owners use to hide the troubling origins of their puppies.) HSUS goes so far as to warn against ever buying a pup from a pet store.

Some adopters acquire a dog from a friend or neighbor or family member, or get a pup "free to good home" from an owner whose unspayed female got accidentally impregnated.

Many people don’t consider adopting from a shelter. As a shelter volunteer who, at any given time, is in love with five or six of our canine residents, I struggle to understand why this should be.

One reason is that the idea of shelters makes some people so unhappy they could never contemplate setting foot in one. They feel that they would be passing kennel after kennel of sad-eyed dogs facing bleak futures.

There is also a perception that shelter dogs are rejects. Problem dogs. Behaviorally, temperamentally, constitutionally unsound. I believe that was the subtext of a, to me, infuriating letter published in The New York Times Magazine’s Ethicist column, May 15, 2016.

The writer said that, when his present purebred dog dies, he will probably get another, once again from a breeder, and he wondered if this was ethical, given the number of shelter dogs needing homes. He went on to say that he has taken in strays and kept them all their lives, and is willing to give money to shelters for spaying and neutering and owner education, but, for unspecified reasons, “given a choice between a shelter dog and no dog, I would choose no dog at all.”

The Ethicist, Kwame Anthony Appiah, replied that there's nothing unethical about choosing a purebred dog, but he pointed out that there are plenty of purebreds who wind up in shelters through no fault of their own. He advised the writer that "your opposition to shelter dogs may be a prejudice that would yield to a more careful examination of the facts."

In my next post I will refute the foregoing and other common misconceptions about shelters and the kinds of dogs you’ll find in them, hoping to convince more people to make shelter adoption their first option.



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