Purebred dogs come in an astonishing variety of temperaments, looks and activity levels. Make sure you do your research before adding one to your family. Photos by Heidi Dahms Foster
February and March are favorite months for me. Not only does the Westminster Dog Show take place in February, but the Iditarod Sled Dog Race in Alaska follows in March.
Westminster always has a few quirks and this year was no different. This year, the PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) folks got in the mix, much to their pride, I'm sure, by entering the Best of Show Ring with signs stating that "Breeders kill shelter dogs' chances" and "Mutts rule." I'm sure they'll be present at the Iditarod as well.
This ridiculousness would take a lot of columns to refute, however, PETA's ultimate aim is that no one ever again breeds a dog, period, purebred or not. "It is important... to keep our companion animals from reproducing, which perpetuates a class of animals who are forced to rely on humans to survive," states the PETA media center website. "...no form of breeding can be considered responsible. Every newborn puppy or kitten means one home fewer for dogs and cats who are desperately waiting in shelters or roaming the streets."
It's obvious that we have an overpopulation problem. Have breeders ever been part of the problem? Yes. Do puppy mills exist? Yes. But the answer is not to shut down all purebred dog breeders. Breeders are more and more policing themselves. Virtually every breed has a rescue arm that works hard to place those dogs that need rehoming. "Backyard breeders" and those who allow their family pet to procreate also contribute to the problem. Laws exist to deal with the abuses, and the breeders and showdog enthusiasts with whom I associate work hard to be part of the solution and protect their breed.
It would solve a large part of the problem if pet shops quit selling puppies that they often buy from puppy mills. But pet shops will not stop selling puppies until people quit buying puppies from them. If the buyers aren't there, the market dries up, and puppy mills become unprofitable. If you buy a pup from a pet shop, you have no relationship with the breeder, and no way of knowing how the breeder raised it and cared for it. If you purchase from a responsible breeder, you should have a relationship for the life of the pet, and the breeder should be willing to take the dog back if you can no longer care for it. This is an education issue, as is that of "designer dogs."
The popularity, and the price, of these dogs, which are nothing but mutts, amazes me. But again, it's the market. When someone will pay upwards of $800 for a mixed breed dog, then people will breed them for money, period. It's whole lot cheaper to find a nice shelter dog and give it a good home.
One of the biggest reasons for a lot of dogs landing in the shelter is behavior. Owning a pet is a long-term commitment to consistent care and training. If you decide to add a pup to your home, make sure consistent, positive training is one of your first considerations. If you put in the time and effort at the beginning of your new pet's life, you'll greatly increase your chances of a long and happy life together.
It is imperative that you research dog breeds and find one that will fit your lifestyle, whether you pick from a mixed breed (shelter staff most often evaluates these dogs for temperament, activity and health), or from a breeder. Know what is the activity level, longevity, health outlook, and training needs of the dog before you succumb to cute puppy syndrome.
The issues are long and complex, but stopping responsible breeders from producing healthy, well-bred dogs and selling them into good homes is not the answer.