If you like the idea of getting a purebred that embodies the very best of its breed, should you feel guilty about letting down a poor homeless dog facing euthanization in a shelter somewhere? PETA takes this view. Every once in a while, PETA supporters crash dog shows displaying purebred dogs, and hold up signs that read Breeders Kill Shelter Dogs.
It’s a debate with intensely felt opinions on both sides. What kind of choice should you make?
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Understanding what dog breeding is
Puppy mills and backyard breeders tend to have a terrible reputation among animal rights groups. These pet sellers tend to be business-minded people who see the dogs and puppies that they sell as nothing more than widgets to sell, caring little for their well-being. As purely profit-oriented businesses, they tend to breed their pets with little concern for genetic viability, and to raise them in exceedingly poor conditions. Buying from them would be unconscionable.
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Reputable breeders are completely different. These are people who care for the puppies that they bring into the world. They care so much for them that they won’t sell them to just anyone who comes asking. They interview candidates intensively before they let them buy one of their puppies, making sure that they will be good pet parents.
Why do people want purebreds?
The reason people yearn for purebred dogs is that they desire pets that are perfect specimens of their breed. When they get a breed of dog, they wish to see it with the exact type of fur, body shape, musculature and ear shape that it is known for. They also prize certain precise character traits that are known to exist in the breed.
There aren’t that many dogs that meet such exacting standards. In most cases, the pool of dogs that breeders have to breed from contains no more than 20 perfect individuals. They can’t go outside this group for fear of bringing in genes for qualities that customers don’t want. Repeatedly breeding back and forth within a small group leads to inbreeding, and brings in all kinds of genetic health issues — hormonal, digestive, respiratory, bone-related, eye-related and so on. Purebreds, then, tend to be less healthy than mixed breeds. While breeders may not abuse their dogs the way puppy mills do, pure breeding, which is synonymous with inbreeding, does result in great suffering for the dog anyway.
The very best breeders do manage to breed their dogs in a way that minimizes such genetic problems. The problems aren’t entirely eliminated, though.
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Do buyers of purebreds love their pets?
One in four purebred dogs (according to numbers by the US Humane Society) end up in the shelter, given up their owners for not closely matching their breed profile. Their owners only wish to keep dogs if they turn out perfectly. Buying purebreeds, then, does involve cruelty — both in the way they are bred, and in the way they are treated.
Even when buyers of purebreds attach sentimentally to their dogs, though, they live with the knowledge that they’ve supported a process that promotes poor health.
The argument for rescue dogs
The top reason to go with a shelter dog is the most obvious one — you rescue an animal that will otherwise be euthanized. Many other reasons exist, though.
Dogs from shelters are always cheap or free. Usually, you will pay no more than $200 for vaccinations, sterilization and micro-chipping. You would need to pay three or four times as much if you chose to go with a breeder.
Many people stay away from shelters, believing that they only keep older dogs. In truth, though, shelters tend to have plenty of puppies. They get given up, too. Perhaps the best part of going to a shelter, though, is that you allow for serendipity. You give luck a chance to surprise you with possibilities that you never considered. With a vast array of breeds before you, each one a different age, you are able to see what each kind looks like when fully grown. Unlike with a breeder, you don’t need to imagine what your dog will turn out to be when he grows up. Many people discover that this type of environment gives them their best chance at finding the dog that’s right for them.
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If you do have your heart set on a purebred, there is a way to get one without going to a breeder. You can visit shelters in your area to see if they have rescues of the specific breed that you’re looking for. Purebreds make up a significant part of the rescue shelter population.
If you don’t find what you’re looking for, you can always resolve to go with a reputable breeder who knows how to breed not only for the best look and character, but for health, as well.
Finding a good breeder isn’t easy. You need to do research on the Internet, ask friends, and also personally visit breeders to talk to them, and inspect their operations. You also want to make sure that the breeder you choose is selective about whom to accept as a buyer. Good breeders tend to care about making sure that each puppy of theirs is placed with a responsible family.
Finding a purebred dog isn’t necessarily irresponsible in the way buying from a puppy mill is. If you manage to find a breeder who is able to breed healthy animals, there would be no harm done, save for the missed opportunity to give a rescue dog a home. If you can’t find a breeder who is able to breed healthy puppies, then, going to shelter should be a much better idea.