More than 57 million American households include at least
one dog or cat. But unlike other varieties of pets, dogs and cats are the only companion
animals that vastly outnumber the homes available to care for them. Their survival
is threatened simply by the act of reproducing themselves, resulting in a staggering
surplus of orphan pets. Every year, an estimated 5 million dogs and cats remain
in shelters or are destroyed for a want of sufficient homes. In her book, The Pet
Surplus: What Every Dog and Cat Owner Can Do to Help Reduce It, Susan M.
Seidman outlines the many large and small ways thoughtful pet owners can make a
difference and reduce this frightening shadow population of surplus pets.
Ill be candid
with you up front. In general, Id like to discourage you and other pet seekers
from acquiring an animal that was bred expressly to be sold. Most particularly,
I hope to dissuade you from buying a new puppy or kitten directly from a breeder
or kennel or retail shop.
Lets touch briefly on the reasons why people do seek purebred dogs. (The situation of purebred cats is somewhat different.)
Snob appeal seems harmless
enough. But it can turn tragic when a fashionable breed falls out of favor or the
dogs themselves prove too challenging for the faddists to handle. Then, their trophy
pets are dumped en masse into the shelters. Such was the fate of the Chow Chow and,
more recently, the Dalmatian (from thousands of disillusioned owners who had been
enticed by the Disney movie 101 Dalmatians). Some observers think it
may now be the turn of the Rottweiler and the cocker spaniel, both of which still
rank among the top ten breeds registered by the American Kennel Club (AKC).
What some pet owners
do seek out, though, are performance dogs: those which will take part in championship
shows and other events. The dog fancy the rarefied milieu of people who breed,
exhibit and compete with their purebreds enthusiastically promotes such activities.
The AKC, in one of its policy statements, encourages and strongly supports
the interaction and mutual enjoyment of owners and dogs in sporting activities such
as hunting and field trials, in working circumstances such as herding, tracking,
and pulling, and in competitive events such as dog shows, obedience trials, and
other performance tests.
But in actual practice only a small minority of owners of AKC-registered dogs at most 20 percent, one AKC official estimated to me avail themselves of these costly and time-consuming options. Others may be tempted by the idea when they purchase their purebreds, but then fail to follow through. One dog lover I know made a hundred-mile trip to a breeder in another state for an English Springer spaniel puppy, with visions of one day entering it in field trials. Five years later, the spaniel not only had never competed but hadnt proved too manageable a house pet either. My friend remained devoted to her upmarket dog. But I expect she would have become just as attached to a nice mutt from the local shelter (which is where she obtains her pet cats).
If at least four out
of five purebred dogs are indeed destined to be solely and entirely family
pets, as the AKC official told me, how do they really differ from mutts in
the hearts and minds of their owners? Put another way: Why would someone who is
not a status snob, who does not need the skilled services of a working dog, and
who is not likely ever to participate in dog shows or other competitions bother
to buy an expensive purebred in the first place?
Next, where do all
these purebreds come from? There are four principal sources. Large-scale commercial
breeding operations the notorious puppy mills are located
predominantly but not exclusively in Midwestern farm states. These puppies are distributed
through wholesale brokers to retail pet shops around the country. (However, the
1998 APPMA survey showed that only 8 percent of all the dog owners pets had
been acquired from stores contrasted with the 29 percent obtained from breeders.
This suggests, but of course doesnt conclusively prove, that the impact of
the puppy-mill producers may be somewhat exaggerated in the propaganda of humane
organizations.) In addition to retail shops, there are also some large commercial
kennels which sell their puppies directly to the public.
The fourth source of
purebred dogs the only one recommended by the AKC, the dog fancy in general,
most veterinarians and other experts is what is often called a responsible
breeder. Other approving adjectives for the same activity include professional,
conscientious, reputable, private or hobby
breeder. Some advertise in the classified columns of local newspapers and magazines
like Dog World and Dog Fancy; others rely on word of mouth for their customers.
Some are manifestly more responsible, professional, etc. than others.