“Adopt, don’t shop!” A common phrase in the animal activism community. Now, I know what you’re thinking: “Here comes another crazy animal person trying to shove her beliefs in our faces.” Well as crazy and repetitive as it may seem, a world like the one we live in requires loud voices that are willing to advocate for the voiceless until no voice is left. I have another approach when it comes to having a discussion about adopting or shopping for pets, and it’s not subtle.
I didn’t always share these views, as it all starts with my big, beautiful, fluffy, hyper, and adorable German Shepherd, Sunny. I got him three years ago at a farm, from a breeder. He was the most shy little thing. I would have never thought he would grow up to be 120 pounds and almost half my size. I’m 4’10, so he may not seem like a giant to everyone, but he certainly seems like one to me.
To say I’ve struggled with Sunny’s behavior is an understatement. When I got him, I didn’t know anything about raising a dog. Like most of us when getting a pet, I was naïve. I sheltered him too much in fear that he would get sick. Which made him scared of the outside, and aggressive towards others as he got older. Walking him and meeting new people or dogs became a problem. Anything that required him to behave like a normal dog became an issue. He’s 3 now and I need to muzzle him anytime we go outdoors. It breaks my heart. Sunny has also bitten me. Anyone who knows this fact would probably think he’s too much to deal with, and that I should have let him go as soon as he bit me, or maybe just give him up. After all, that’s what animal shelters and rescues are there for. There’s many others who are willing to put up with that, right?
My simple answer to that is: no. Although, it’s not that simple, at least not for everyone. I keep trying for Sunny because I love him and we do not give up on those we love. I love him because I’ve seen the loyalty, love, and complete innocence that pets radiate. Their companionship brings a little ray of sun even in the darkest days. There’s those of us who view pets as part of the family, as part of our lives who we would never give up on. Sadly, there are others who view pets as simply an accessory, something disposable, something without emotions or the capability of understanding abandonment.
Everyone is free to think and feel as they please. However, these outdated beliefs are creating a problem that is out of control. Animal shelters and rescues shouldn’t be overflowing, there shouldn’t be pets euthanized weekly, daily, or hourly. A pet shouldn’t have to leave this world wondering what they did wrong, where their favorite person is, and why they’re left in a cold metal bed all alone. It’s a very sad story, one that I wish was not true, and heartbreakingly something that happens all too often.
So many people decide to go out and pick up a pet for all the wrong reasons, and they never stop to think or even research about the journey they are embarking on. They don’t think that pets can process thoughts like we can, or that they can’t distinguish right from wrong. Pets know you like and dislike some things, and will try to replicate the behavior they sense that brings you more joy. Ultimately, many people just don’t realize the hard work that it takes to raise a well-behaved dog.
A simple internet search would show a dog’s athletic needs, common behavior issues, proper diets for each particular pet, life span, common injuries, and even diseases they may present layer on in life. Instead, people focus on the videos they see online where a cute pup is hanging with a baby, a puppy is having a nightmare, or a couple is laughing about their dog chasing their tail. They never see the amount of hours it took to train that dog, and the amount of money it takes to keep them healthy. People don’t see the vacuuming you have to do twice a day to keep your house clean, and of course they don’t see that our pets are a reflection of ourselves as pet owners.
If you are a present and attentive owner, it will show. If you’re a lazy or violent owner, it will show. So it comes as no surprise that as soon as a pet chews a shoe, scratches, barks too much, requires too much, it’s off to the shelter for them.
There are many other scenarios that end with the abandonment of these poor souls. Some people don’t seek pets for companionship or to love for cuteness, but instead for their breed. To these people, pets are nothing but a breed and a dollar sign. I get it, easy money, and you don’t have to do anything other than make your pet mate. It’s a selfish and cruel practice when female dogs end up in shelters after they no longer are able to bear pups. Sometimes they just abandon them in the streets or side of the highway, sometimes they let them starve.
Now, I am not saying there are not reputable breeders out there. They exist. The demand for aesthetically pleasing pets means a female animal out there is being forced to breed, taken away from her full life span, putting her through pain — and for what? Is the love we show these creatures who have nothing but love for us?
Furthermore, what does it say about someone that they will constantly breed an innocent creature? How much love can someone have for a creature that they’re willing to put their life at risk so often? Those licensed breeders claim to be regulated.
Here in Texas, we have the Texas Commission of Licensing who “oversees” dog breeders. Let’s be honest though, if common laws and regulations can not be realistically enforced thoroughly, how can they enforce laws and regulations for living beings that are still considered property by law? With the amount of licensed breeders, it would be extremely hard to regulate and catch the bad apples out there.
Just as there is no way of us being able to enforce regulations, there is also no way we can ensure everyone will buy from a reputable breeder, which is why adoption is always the best choice. Additionally, getting what you want at the cost of another living being doesn’t seem fair to me.
Oftentimes, you will hear animal shelter slander such as: “Shelters do the same, they charge when adopting. So why not get it from a breeder and I can find a puppy instead?” Shelters only exist because of necessity, due to the extreme surplus of pets in the country. The adoption fees they charge keep the establishment open, and allows them to be able to take in as many strays as possible. Most shelters charge $60-$150 as adoption fee, which is very extremely inexpensive when you consider how much they help those animals in need of medical care, food, and a roof over their heads. Shelters & rescues perform background checks and have requirements you must meet before taking a pet home. Not only that, they understand that we are struggling with over-breeding these pets, which is why they make sure you don’t have the option to do that. They neuter and spay their animals before releasing them to you, eliminating the possibility of irresponsible breeding.
So I digress, why is it so important to advocate for adoption instead of shopping for a pet like it’s another shirt in the closet? Do we hope to eliminate the forced breeding of pets altogether? Although a beautiful thought, it’s very unrealistic. The reason that the amount of breeders keeps increasing and the overflow of shelters and rescues is at an all time high, is because the demand for cute pets is always there. If we are able to decrease the demand just enough, we would be able to keep the strays longer in the shelters, meaning these pets would have a higher chance of finding a home. There wouldn’t be a need to euthanize so much, because there wouldn’t be a surplus of pets in the world, and we would be able to have more tolerance for their presence.
In a perfect world, everyone would pay the hefty prices licensed breeders ask for, they wouldn’t give up on their pets so easily, they’d have more patience, they wouldn’t take the easy way out, and they wouldn’t view their pets as disposable. We don’t live in a perfect world, though. We live in a world where my Sunny wouldn’t stand a chance. The breeder I shopped from did not perform a background check, did not ask questions, did not do a house check, and most importantly, never asked about Sunny ever again. All he wanted was those easy 500 bucks. For all he knows, Sunny ended up in a shelter, in an abusive home, or 6 feet underground. When I understood how indicative this was to the way we treat pets, that was when I understood that we are the problem and only we can fix it.
At the end of the day, mixed breed and “full breed” dogs love the same way. We are all they know, we are their whole word and they give us their all. They’re not here for long and that short life shouldn’t be spent in a shelter or forgotten. We need to do better.