Right now, as I am writing this, dog rescue organizations across the country are being inundated with requests for adoption of their dogs. Why?
Because Oprah Winfrey said so. Oprah told everyone – well, okay, her viewers, so close enough – to go out and adopt from their local rescue or shelter, so everyone – yes, everyone – knows what that means.
Inspired by a billboard calling attention to the existence of puppy mills, Oprah devoted her April 4th show to exposing this warped manifestation of purebred dog breeding. So now the minions are on the march, clueless as to what they are getting themselves into.
The existence of puppy mills is an outrage. The American Kennel Club, in the full letter sent to the Oprah Winfrey Show that was ignored in favor of an insipid blurb, explained their method of inspection of any breeder registering more than seven litters a year, spot inspection of anyone registering four to six litters and any breeder for whom a complaint has been received. And, as a fellow breeder told me, when the AKC inspector shows up, it’s for a good involved inspection. Kennels that don’t pass, lose their ability to issue AKC papers.
The process, however, does leave the door open for abuse. No one checked to see if I am who I claimed to be when I registered our Australian Shepherd litter. Presumably, I could be registering 15 other litters in 15 other names and having paperwork delivered to post office boxes, which is how I assume puppy mills come in under the radar of AKC inspectors.
What Oprah didn’t have the time or the inclination to discuss was that most rescue and shelter dogs are little furry time bombs that can go off at any time during its life span and the pet owner needs to be prepared for that. Most have psychological issues either inbred or as a result of their previous life. They require huge swathes of time and attention. There are no records of genetic diseases like hip dysplasia or epilepsy. Rescue organizations screen what diseases they can, but usually the genetic diseases don’t manifest until much later in the dog’s life. And, when a disease or problem does show up, many rescue dogs are returned to the rescue or shelter system. What you see in a tiny furry little puppy is not necessarily what you get when that puppy grows up to weigh more than a Buick.
For us this wasn’t a consideration when we adopted our rescue dogs. We wound up with a $1,200 vet bill to eradicate a skin condition in one of our Parson Russell Terriers and we still battle flare-ups from time to time. Our other Parson Russell has socialization issues that require consistent and elaborate reinforcement on a regular basis. In both cases, these conditions were predestined. Salt’s skin condition was inherited from his mother. Gaspode’s anti-social behavior was reinforced by another family who found he required too much attention and tossed him back into the rescue system.
We went into our commitment knowing that rescues require more attention and patience. We had the time and the resources. Besides, breeders should be the most frequent adopters of rescue dogs, since we deliberately feed more dogs into the pet pool.
But there is also a place for well-bred purebreds outside the show ring. Well-bred puppies are just plain easier to train and families with children especially cannot risk the behavior and expense of some rescue dogs. Good breeders don’t breed genetically inferior dogs and they screen for temperament, making sure a pet and owner are a compatible match. But the onus is on the purchaser to find that breeder – and there are plenty of them out there. They are in abundance at dog shows and love to impart information. They will have a fanatical glint in their eye, but don’t let that scare you. And they will screen you just as aggressively as they screen their dogs. If they don’t, walk away.
A puppy should never be acquired from a pet store or online. State and local animal control and even the AKC are huge, lumbering organizations concerned with law suits and insurance matters. The quickest and most effective way to close down puppy mills is to eliminate the need for them.
At any rate, Oprah says she is a “changed woman” that will adopt only rescued dogs or dogs from pounds. Good for her. She’s got the staff and money to do it; though even that isn’t always an indication of a good rescue dog owner, as Ellen DeGeneres showed us.