It’s not a good thing.
It can be hard to talk about objectively, simply because we do all care so very much about our dogs, and the fate of dogs in general.
This ungood thing has become so pervasive that we can be a part of the dialogue whether we realize it or not—and what we say can, all inadvertently, support a viewpoint we either don’t necessarily mean to support.
Ready for the plunge?
Where do you get your dogs? Do you pay for them, regardless of source? Do you pick them up off the street? Do you research and target your breed? Do you pick them out of a pet store window? And how do you frame those choices in your mind? How do you frame other people’s choices?
In my mind, it doesn’t actually matter. People make choices based on their personal needs, and that’s how it should be. But a pet’s origin becomes a problem when people with one set of wants and needs choose to impose those factors on other people. (Or to try to.)
Once upon a time, I acquired most of my animals from where they’d been dumped in the very remote Appalachian forest. For all of those I kept, I found homes for three times as many. There was no shelter in these very rural areas. When we did have animal control it was one man with a pickup truck, dog boxes in the back, and a rifle waiting back home. Things have probably changed there now, but that’s the way it was then.
Once upon a time…
But now my needs are different. My life is different and what I do with the dogs is different—what I want to do with them is different—and so my dogs usually come from conformation breeders.
I want to have reasonable expectations of health and temperament, and I enjoy the camaraderie with the breeder. My breed itself is chosen according to the preferences I developed over the years—my love of hounds combined with my need for a slightly smaller dog than those I once lived with.
Meanwhile, though I haven’t ever picked out a dog directly from a shelter, I’ve had dogs that came from shelters with a third party in between. I also grew up with pups bought from less-than-carefully managed home breedings. So on the whole, I’ve got pretty decent perspective.
Or I think I do, anyway.
Unfortunately, in today’s doggy gestalt, there’s an ongoing dialogue from an overwhelming number of shelters and organizations, and it goes like this:
“Rescue dog owners are virtuous and breeder dog owners are killing shelter dogs.”
Yeah, I don’t think so. And likely this subject deserves its own dialogue at another time, but for now let’s stick with the conversation I started—and for the sake of that, let’s assume that my years of investigation on the matter are accurate: the ugly tagline above is effective but false. A perfect illustration of the way emotions have been manipulated. And given that, there’s this:
As fallout from the largely successful and long-term campaign being waged against breeder dogs, the label “rescue” has become remarkably loaded. In fact, it’s mainly become about claiming virtue cred while simultaneously shaming breed dog owners.
Let’s hark back to one of my first comments, about how we can be part of this dialogue whether we realize it or not. Plenty of people are simply being factual when they use this label, but like it or not, the word has been poisoned, and at this point the usage contributes to the overall gestalt.
What I like to hear is not label, but backstory.
Our Trudy the Babe Brittany came from a shelter via a city friend—a dog with far too much energy for apartment living, so she came to be with us in the mountains. Handsome Dewey Lake was a feral adolescent; the man who killed the rest of the dangerous pack saved him, but Dewey didn’t fit with the family so he became ours when we took over his log cabin home. Camo was a goofy Leopard Cur left out in the national forest to die. Timid young Akela was left at the dump. (No shelters in that area, remember).
Strider the Wonderhound, ever the dog of my heart, was orphaned at birth and raised in my living room. More recently, shelter dog Rena Beagle came to me in the hopes that a different life would fulfill both her and us (though her illness was unfortunately more profound than anyone knew).
Kacey Cardigan came from a breeder, carefully chosen to suit my newly suburban circumstances. Jag came from my friend Jennifer Roberson’s Cheysuli Kennels, a show dog with mysterious panics that we hoped I could sort out. Jean-Luc Picardigan came from Jennifer because he, too, needed special care—brain-injured at birth and severely autistic, he ran agility as therapy. Belle was also a Cheysuli Cardigan, tremendously talented and ever striving for perfection.
Breeder dogs, those four, but as much in need of the exact right home as any. As was Connery, and Dart, and now Tristan.
So that’s how I look at dogs in the wake of the very difficult dialogue in play. Not as labels, but as situations. Shelter dog means one general set of circumstances, adoption organization means another, breed rescue means yet another, breeder rehome yet another, breeder puppy yet another again…and then there’s always “off the street, couldn’t find the owner” or “in the woods, couldn’t find the owner.” * **
*Microchip your pets. Update the microchips when contact info changes.
**If you find such a dog, look for the owner. It takes a stunningly short amount of time for a beloved pet to look as though it hasn’t had TLC for years. Don’t assume!
Backstory provides context and information. Labels are words being used for a purpose.
And the thing is, wherever a dog comes from, it is no less nor no more loved, its owner no less nor no more virtuous.
If we’re smart, we all make the choices that meet our needs, whatever they are–knowing that the dog will be happier that way, too. And if we’re really smart, we’ll actually work together to keep the dog world as a whole as healthy and happy as possible…without putting each other down in the process.