While this is no doubt a depressing way to start off a new blog, I suppose the point of writing one in the first place is to express your thoughts about issues that stir you, so I imagine there’s no better medium than this. Warning: this is a long one. However, it would really appreciate your feedback after reading.
Checking up on Twitter this evening after a snow-filled romp with my dog Jasper, I came across a link on the official Dogster Twitter feed that threw me for a massive loop. The link was to an open letter from a shelter manager speaking to the issue of pet adoption (please read it. It’s hard to take, but please read it to the end).
Well, no, it’s more than that really. It’s a devastating but justified rant about the realities of “life” in an animal shelter (or lack thereof as expressed by the author) and a call for an end to professional breeding (and buying from said breeders) as long as shelters exist.
Here is my personal reality: 1) I am passionate about dogs 2) I support and encourage pet adoption, and 3) My family breeds dogs. Having stated these very bare-bones facts, here are my thoughts on the open letter:
Upon admitting that my family breeds dogs (specifically a breed called Shiloh Shepherds, former breeders of Miniature Schnauzers) I am often faced with scathing remarks about how in the world I could claim to support pet adoption when my family is engaging in a practice that only produces more dogs when so many go without the love and forever homes they deserve. In all honesty, my first reaction upon reading the letter was to be insulted – not all breeders are uncaring puppy farmers out to make money off of another living creature.
But no sooner did this thought cross my mind did I realize that I had unearthed the deeper matter at hand. No, not all breeders are like that, but some of them are. In fact, a lot of them are, and therein lays the real root of my own personal crisis with the overall issue.
As mentioned above, my family breeds Shiloh Shepherds, a certified rare breed that was developed in the 1970s. We got into the practice years ago when our two Miniature Schnauzers, Holly and Reilly, came into our lives. Not that breeding the two was something that happened as a part of some master plan – we let nature takes its course and in turn found loving homes for the resulting puppies.
I can honestly say that throughout the course of my entire life, few events have had the lasting impact on me than helping bring puppies into this world has. Your perspective on almost everything changes the first time you hold that squirming, squeaking, slime-covered newborn pup in your hands. I have helped deliver 14 puppies. Two have died in my hands, forcing me to face the sometime cruel realities of nature for the first time. Another two are only here today because my mother and I were there to help when complications arose. I have loved them all and I believe I am a better person for having had these experiences.
After reading the shelter manager’s letter, two things really stood out for me as someone who comes from the “other side” of this issue. Both of them really just come back to my naivety, and I can honestly say the letter opened my eyes.
The first is this: the breeding contract that accompanies all of our dogs upon adoption states that if the new owner is unable to keep the dog, for any reason, the animal must be returned to us. You cannot resell the dog, you cannot give it to a friend or family member and you most certainly cannot dump the life that you suddenly find to be a burden on the doorstep of a shelter and then carry on with your life. If you cannot give the dog the love it deserves, then we will find someone who will. That is the responsibility we accept upon engaging in what we do.
I’m embarrassed to say that I had never before considered the fact that not all breeders are concerned with whether or not their puppies are going to genuinely caring forever homes. As I said, I was naïve and this realization broke my heart.
The second realization is very closely linked to the first one. We are ethical breeders. Between our Mini Schnauzers and Shiloh Shepherds, we own ten dogs. But we live on a 150 acre farm and these dogs spend their days tearing around in large, clean, fenced-in areas. They are fed well, they have warm places to sleep and they are never without love.
In Holly’s eight years she has produced four litters. The truth is, we have yet to produce a litter from our Shilohs. Why? Because we believe in waiting until they reach healthy maturity before breeding and they all must go through thorough health testing before that can even happen. If they fail their testing they will not be bred. Period. If they fail they are fixed and continue living as they always have: as furry family members.
I’m not a fool – I am well aware that there are too many out there who will cut corners and subject their dogs to terrible conditions all for the sake of money. That sort of behaviour is appalling no matter what side of the coin you’re on. It gives all breeders a bad name and it makes me feel sick.
What we do, we do for the love of the breed. Holly just had her very last litter (a pleasant surprise of course, but she was caught by Reilly before we had the opportunity to have her fixed) and she will be retired from motherhood after her pups have been weaned. We breed now because we love Shilohs and want what is best for this young breed. Our process is slow, carefully calculated, and respectful.
But does all this change the fact that there are countless animals in shelters in desperate need of forever homes that probably won’t get them? Absolutely not.
So I find myself at an impasse. After reading the letter, I crept downstairs and scooped up one of Holly’s newborn puppies and snuggled her to my chest, feeling her tiny heart race and her breath on my neck. I went to where Jasper, my own beloved Shiloh companion and dear friend, lay sleeping soundly after our long romp through the snow. Jasper is intact and came to me on a very basic breeding contract. While not necessarily part of our formal program, I had figured he would father a litter or two before I had him fixed and we carried on. Now, I find I have a lot to think about.
After all of this, I’m not really sure what else to say. For reasons I hope I managed to make clear here, I cannot simply renounce breeding all together. Still, the plight of shelter animals is a serious issue and one that I cannot ignore.
My personal opinions are as such: All animals deserve to be loved. To want a purebred animal just because it’s a purebred is ridiculous and naïve. Every breed is different and not every breed is for everyone.
If you have your heart set on a specific breed, please do you research first. Be certain that you know what you’re getting yourself into and be thorough when choosing a reputable and ethical breeder. Review their contracts, talk to clients and visit their location if possible. Do it to save you and your new family member potential heartbreak in the future, but please consider adoption first.
If you are just looking for the unconditional love of a new animal companion, please adopt. There is so much love waiting in those shelters.
But above all else, before you take that step, be 100% sure that pet ownership is right for you. Animals are not toys or fads – they are living and breathing creatures that depend on your love and care. If you cannot commit to all of the responsibilities that come with owning a pet, don’t do it.
Thanks for reading.