Why I'm Sick of Hearing About Puppy Mills
I'm happy to know a large number of dog lovers. Many are just pet owners who can't imagine their lives without a canine. Others are involved in things like therapy work, conformation, SAR (search and rescue), or dog sports. And then there are those who were put on this planet to nurture and rescue animals in need. Still, they're all the same in one regard: they're dog lovers.
Unfortunately, we dog lovers can often be our dogs' worst enemies as well. We have all, at one time or another, been guilty of bickering over how something should or shouldn't be done. But of all the petty arguments we have, I truly believe that the most damaging (to our dogs) are the ones fueled by extremist views.
The more dramatic cruelties in this world tend to garner the most attention. A puppy mill or hoarder being exposed is an obvious atrocity. Meanwhile, Joe Schmoe down the road, who indiscriminately breeds small fluffy "companion" dogs, suddenly becomes the good guy without proving himself or his dogs in any way. In an effort to avoid contributing to puppy mills, the average dog owner will often put their trust and money into the hands of a backyard breeder like this. The problem? These breeders are turning out unsound, unstable, unhealthy pups. They often let them go to new homes long before they are ready (increasing chances of serious behavioral issues as they age). They don't keep track of what happens to each pup after they leave. There won't be a spay/neuter contract and I've even known a few who would sell sibling pups and suggest that the new owners breed them. I could go on for days about the things these breeders get away with all because the public remains largely unaware.
Do we really need more breeders out there who do zero health testing, zero screening potential homes, and little to no vet care? Do we need more breeders who don't even offer to take a puppy back in the event that it doesn't work out? My blind and deaf, full-blooded, AKC registered rescue bull terrier puts his vote in as a resounding NO. Being born to a small scale breeder didn't save him and his AKC registration didn't ensure that he came from good stock. He was saved by a lover of the breed who happened to be at the right (online) place at the right time. Someone who is far from anti-breeding but who also knows the difference between a good breeding situation and a bad one.
I don't know a single person who hasn't heard that puppy mills are cruel. Sadly, only the most dog-savvy people also realize that a "small, local, breeder" can be just as bad. Especially when it comes to overpopulation in the rescue and shelter world. Short attention spans and lack of information have made backyard breeding a popular and profitable hobby. One local breeder alone may or may not offer large numbers of puppies each year, but if you put them all together you have one enormous puppy factory with no end in sight.
To add insult to injury, the damage from extremism doesn't stop there. Many dog rescuers quickly come to the conclusion that ALL breeding should stop. Why? Because there are more dogs in many areas that need homes than there are actual good homes. I do remain deeply respectful and understanding of the opinion that breeding should end until all rescue dogs have a home. Unfortunately, the idea that all breeders are bad tends to alienate a number of people who might have been great allies in the cause to eliminate pet overpopulation. When you tell someone (who insists on getting a pup from a breeder) that all breeders are the devil, you once again throw them into the arms of Joe Schmoe, our trusty backyard puppy farmer. You lose the previous opportunity to guide someone to a better alternative because you expect them to share your personal morals. (Spoiler alert: There will never be a day when we all share the same morals.)
If you walked into your local animal shelter and removed each dog that came from a backyard, small-scale
breeder, you'd have empty kennels. Not just empty kennels, but maybe even an empty shelter. Depending on the area, you could walk into the same shelter, remove all the puppy mill dogs, and still have a significant population problem. My point is NOT that one is worse than the other. My point is that they are both awful and deserve equal efforts when it comes to educating the public to avoid them.
Most people don't know the difference between Joe Schmoe, the local breeder, and Responsible Ruth, who puts her life into breeding, showing, and titling dogs that you will almost never see at a shelter or rescue. (I'm not saying that it doesn't happen, but that it is extremely rare.) Responsible Ruth uses spay/neuter contracts and demands that her pups come back to her if the owner should ever stop being able to care for them. Spayed and neutered dogs cannot reproduce, and dogs that end up back with their breeder do not crowd shelters. Is it foolproof? Certainly not. But if everyone supported the Responsible Ruths of the world, our dogs would be in a MUCH better position.
We have to face reality: There is no perfect answer that can also be called feasible. If we want to live in a world with dogs (and I know I do) then we need to put priorities in place. We must realize that people are all very different. A rescue dog can certainly be the perfect companion for most people. But we don't get to decide that at the end of the day. All we can do is educate our fellow dog lovers about their options and hope that they choose mindfully, compassionately, and carefully. They won't always choose what we like, but there are ways to help them choose better. There is no room for preaching a personal, alienating, view when your goal is to simply do as much good for dogs as humanly possible.