A recent essay by Dr. Nancy Kalish called "It's National Purebred Dog Day" caught my eye as I was scrolling through essays posted on Psychology Today's homepage. In this piece, Dr. Kalish argues that it's perfectly okay to buy a dog from a reputable dog breeder, in this case advocating for purchasing briards. While I somewhat understand some of her arguments, I'd like to offer another point of view given the number of dogs who need homes and who either will spend their lives in shelters or will be killed -- aka euthanized -- because no one wants them.
These are special times and special times call for decisions that we'd otherwise not make. So, while briards have a lot of very appealing qualities, this does not warrant buying one in lieu of adopting a dog who needs a home. I don't see any reason to focus on some of the negative traits of these dogs because weighing their pros and cons is not at issue here. Neither do I think it's fruitful to argue which breeders are reputable and which are not. What is of issue is that there are millions of homeless dogs who, I'm sure, have many if not all of the qualities of briards. And, there are plenty of briard rescue groups who have dogs who need a home.
I've previously argued that we do not currently need any more dog breeders and noted that twenty-five percent of dogs who enter local shelters are purebred and that this number that might actually be an underestimate. So, with a little work and perhaps some luck, a person can find the perfect or near-perfect dog for their home, even a briard. And, perhaps, there won't be a perfect fit, but with some work and lots of care and love, a not-so-perfect dog can become a wonderful companion.
Dr. Kalish also writes, "Reputable breeders are not the reason there are dogs in shelters, and people who buy purebred dogs are not the cause of dogs in the shelters, either." But, this is not so. Reputable or not, dog breeders and those who choose to buy a dog from a breeder clearly are the reasons that dogs in shelters are not adopted. If someone wants to bring only one more dog into their home, then their choice means another dog is not taken in.
I also agree with Dr. Kalish that good people do buy dogs from breeders and that in some cases it's not a shameful decision. This is not a matter of judging those who buy dogs or adopt them. Rather, it's a matter of taking into account the fact that millions of dogs need homes. And, it's also the case that many people do not know how many dogs there are who need homes. I'm always surprised when someone I know -- good people for sure -- simply do not know that there are dogs in local (or distant) shelters or in rescue groups who are available.
Adopting a dog from a shelter is the most humane and compassionate choice to make and I'm sure the dogs who are chosen will be forever thankful for people who make this decision. Dr. Kalish's claim that "Rescue groups are 'politically correct' right now" is not only misleading because they have been around for countless years, but also has nothing to do with the fact that there are countless wonderful dogs in need who would love a good home and many people who choose to rescue them, politically correct or not, often compromising on the list of qualities they'd like in their new housemate. They recognize that it's the right thing to do.
In our not so perfect world, some give and take allows us to adapt to challenging situations. Choosing a companion animal often is challenging, frustrating, and time consuming. However, as the Rolling Stones famously sang, "You can't always get what you want, But if you try sometime you find, You get what you need."
Given the millions of dogs who live and die in shelters and who desperately want and need safe homes in which to live and to thrive, adopting a dog should be strongly advocated. This would be a win-win for the dogs who need homes and the people involved. Sometimes both the dog and the human will have to make compromises. This would also be a wonderful lesson for learning to adapt to a complicated world and for fostering humane education for youngsters. What could be better?
Marc Bekoff's latest books are Jasper's story: Saving moon bears (with Jill Robinson; see also), Ignoring nature no more: The case for compassionate conservation (see also), and Why dogs hump and bees get depressed (see also). Rewilding our hearts: Building pathways of compassion and coexistence will be published fall 2014. (marcbekoff.com; @MarcBekoff)
Note: I just received information about this essay published in December 2010 called "Don't buy a pet: Look to the shelters"
A Matter of Breeding: A Biting History of Pedigree Dogs and How the Quest for Status Has Harmed Man's Best Friend by Michael Brandow is also an excellent book on this topic.