Getting a New Dog (Part 1): Rescue or Breeder?

In this installment of the “Getting a New Dog” series, we will go over the first big decision, after the decision to get a new dog of course! This could be the biggest decision that you make:

Should I go to a rescue group or animal shelter for my new dog or should I go to a breeder?

Let’s go over the pros and cons of both options:

Rescue Group/Animal Shelter
When you get an animal from a rescue or shelter, you know you are helping an animal to live a full, happy life that otherwise might have been impossible for them. This is a huge plus and I am definitely a pro-rescue person! I am also of the mindset that if you have never owned a dog before, you might want to look at a reputable breeder instead or at least get a very young puppy, not over 10-12 weeks old from the shelter. I say this because when you get a shelter or rescue dog, you may not know any details about them, if anything at all, before you welcome them into your home. The dog could have major behavior problems that will need to be worked on. These groups routinely handle animals from abusive situations, neglectful situations and other situations that leave their mark on the animal. While I commend you for wanting to help these animals, you should also be aware that 99.9% of the time, they have left a bad situation and gone into a slightly better one: at the shelter, they LIVE in a kennel but get the health care and food they need to be healthy. Then they leave that and go home with you. They might be fearful, territorial or even aggressive after you bring them home and if you aren’t 100% prepared to deal with any situation that could arise, you shouldn’t adopt them. This is for their benefit as well as yours: a dog that is returned to a shelter is not likely to be adopted out again but will most likely be euthanized, especially if you mention any fearful or aggressive behavior. If you want to adopt from a shelter or rescue, you should first and foremost make sure you are educated on behavior issues and how to handle them. If you are going to be leaving the house to go to work, make sure you can take the time off work to help the dog adjust to their new home, generally a week or two. Be prepared to arrange for a caretaker while you are at work in case the dog has separation anxiety or housebreaking issues. Usually a neighbor or freelance dog walker stopping by once or twice a day while you are at work will help, but you might want to look into the affordability of doggie day care and make sure the provider you will use is able to help you with any problems that your rescue dog may have BEFORE you bring them home.

I have worked with several shelters and rescue groups and I can honestly tell you that IF you are prepared for your rescue dog, bringing them into your home can be a rewarding and fulfilling experience for both of you. If you are looking for a dog with a rescue group, make sure to talk with the dog’s foster family. They can provide you with more information on the animal and help you select one that will be a good fit for your household and schedule. Rescue groups generally have animals placed in foster homes while they await adoption, so these dogs are a little more socialized than shelter dogs will be and most foster parents have skills to already be working with behavior issues and to begin obedience training for their foster pets. If you are a first time dog owner and are determined to rescue a dog, this would be the best option for you! The adoption fees will be higher than the fees from an animal shelter, but the animal will be more adjusted to living in a caring home and may even already have received some training before you bring them home.

Either decision you go with (Rescue Group or Animal Shelter) is awesome because you are saving the life of an innocent animal who needs help. In most animal shelters, dogs are available for adoption for a limited time before they are euthanized to make room for another animal. This creates a huge turnover in shelters, with new dogs coming in and after a little while, they are either adopted out or euthanized to make room for more animals. Shelters don’t have an unlimited amount of space or resources to care for animals and most of them can’t keep up with the demand for their services, resulting in more and more euthanized animals, overcrowded cages and poor conditions behind the scenes. Adopting an animal from the shelter assures that the one you bring home won’t be “put down” to make room for the next one. Adopting from a rescue group also saves an animal’s life but in a slightly different way: rescues don’t euthanize for space but they also have limited space and resources to care for animals. Adopting from a rescue frees up space and resources so they can rescue another animal and place them into foster care.

Alternately, if you are financially, mentally and emotionally ready for a rescue dog to come into your home, you could consider contacting a rescue group and volunteering to foster animals for them! While it is hard work to accept different dogs into your home (knowing they are going to be adopted out eventually and leave your home), train them (most are in dire need of even basic training like leash training, house breaking and obedience training), provide food and health care for them (some rescues will pay for this for you, ASK FIRST!), it is well worth the effort! The feeling of helping the animals is absolutely amazing and while that last parting to send them off to their furever home is often teary and sad, it is also elating and happy to know you have prepared them for a balanced, happy and healthy life with their new family! Think long and hard and if you feel that you are ready and willing to take the leap and offer your home and heart for rescuing dogs, then give it a try. Most rescues will work with first time foster parents and help you adjust. You just have to step up and ask for help to allow you to help the animals!

Dog Breeder
If you aren’t sure that handling a rescue situation is right for you (and don’t feel bad, it isn’t for everyone!) then there is still the option of finding a dog breeder who will sell a puppy to you. I can’t stress this enough: DO NOT BUY A PUPPY FROM A PET STORE! Even those with signs stating that the puppies come from “USDA Approved Facilities”. It doesn’t take a lot of work to become a USDA approved facility, as their guidelines are set forth for livestock and farm animals, not for dogs and cats. This is the same as a huge, blinking neon sign saying “Puppy Mill Dogs Available Here!” Puppy mills are breeding facilities that often keep animals for their entire lives in small cages, doing nothing but breeding puppies to be sold at pet stores or online. Their care is atrocious: living in their own feces, inadequate or no health care, inbreeding blood lines, forced to live their entire lives in a cage barely big enough for them to stand or lay in, with their paws never touching the ground! While some people will go ahead and buy from a pet store, thinking “I have saved this one puppy,” also keep in mind that you just sent monetary support to the puppy mill that the dog came from and your pity for that dog has allowed them to stay in business.

You can use several methods to find breeders offering puppies: the classifieds section of your local newspaper, craigslist and a ton of other online resources. I suggest going to the AKC (Americal Kennel Club) Breeder Search and look there first. The AKC has very stringent guidelines for the breeders that they license and endorse and you know you are getting a puppy from someone who truly cares about the dogs they raise and breed. Be wary of people offering animals for a small amount of money. While it is certainly nice to get an awesome puppy for cheap, the odds are high that you are going to be purchasing from a puppy mill, or a seller for a puppy mill. Always go to the breeding facility and ask to look around. Ask to meet the puppy’s Sire and Dame, their daddy and mommy. Ask to see where the animals live and are cared for. Beware of places that have areas that you aren’t allowed to see, like a garage, storage shed or outbuilding that could have cages packed inside full of breeding dogs. Make sure you are able to interact with the puppy’s parents and the rest of the litter. If they are kept in a home that you are welcomed into and you are shown around with free access to the entire property, that is a good sign. Remember that when you are buying a puppy from a breeder, they have already invested a lot of money into the puppy. They paid for the parent’s vet needs during pregnancy and her special dietary needs while pregnant and nursing the puppies. They have paid for the puppy’s vet checkups, deworming and vaccines until the day you take them home. Most good breeders ask for a lot of money for their puppies, up to thousands of dollars per puppy! Also remember that even though they ask for a lot of money, they usually barely make enough money from the entire litter to break even on the cost of breeding the dogs and their care of the dogs and puppies. Breeding dogs in a responsible manner is an expensive venture and they do it for their love of the dogs, not the money. Even if you find your breeder from the paper, craigslist or some other method, make sure that you are able to interact with the parent dogs, see their home and that the sellers earn your trust and respect.

Even a free puppy could be a reject from a puppy mill, so always be wary and do your homework on each and every breeder that you encounter! If you suspect you have encountered a puppy mill, don’t hesitate to call authorities about it! Call the Humane Society of the United States, call your local law enforcement authority or if all else fails, call your local news station! No matter which route you take to alert people to your findings, they will continue to investigate the situation, determine if they really are a puppy mill or not and possibly get the puppy mill shut down. Good investigative journalism has led to tons of puppy mills being shut down and even occasionally legal action taken against the mill owners!

Now that you have armed yourself with some good knowledge of different sources for obtaining your new dog, stay tuned in for the next installment in this series for more information! I will be covering information on how to find the right dog breed for your lifestyle, how to prepare your home for a new puppy or dog, how to find good veterinary care, how to begin training your new pet and more! Regular installments are coming. 🙂

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