Tails was founded in 2000 by Janice Brown, who was tired of hanging out at dog parks listening to well-educated, well-intentioned people talk about their expensive purebreds who were flown in from halfway around the country because they came from the finest lineage. Were they going to be show dogs? No—regular old, happy-go-lucky family pets. So why not adopt and rescue a dog that might otherwise be killed? When asked why they chose to purchase a pet rather than bringing one home from a shelter, most people responded, “I didn’t realize I could find a specifc breed/good dog/sweet cat from a rescue group.”
When you are working in the animal-welfare arena, rescuing/adopting is no-brainer. But just what kind of impact has a decade of “Don’t shop . . . adopt!” actually had on the animals? That’s what we wanted to find out when we queried more than 500 people throughout the country and asked for feedback and stories about adoption, purchasing pets, and if they thought the public seemed to be getting the message.More than 200 respondents weighed in with opinions, observations, and experiences.
Rosanna Donnini from Downers Grove, Illinois, claims she’ll never buy a pet again. On her way home from work one night, she was lured into her local pet store when she saw a “Puppy Sale!” sign. Donnini ventured inside and bought her Puggle, Hank. For $900.
Shortly afterward, the vet bills started pouring in because Hank was suffering from allergies, upper respiratory problems, and digestive disorders. After shelling out more than $2,000 in veterinary treatment, Donnini did some research and learned that, despite what the nice employees at the pet store had told her, most of the dogs sold there came from puppy mills. And why wouldn’t they? What responsible breeder who cares about the genealogy and future of his or her dogs would distribute them to a pet store where an inexperienced clerk is happy to pawn them off to the first customers with cash in hand?
“I really wish I had known about this before,” notes a frustrated Donnini. “Now I know you can find any breed you want at rescues. I’ll never buy from a pet store again.”
On the other end of the spectrum, some guardians complained to Tails not about their experiences with pet stores—but about their encounters with rescue groups and shelters. Not long ago, Julie Jensen* and her family set out to adopt a dog. They live in a spacious house with a big backyard in a beautiful suburb of Philadelphia. Jensen said they were looking to bring a dog into their home to love and cherish forever.
So they visited a nearby shelter, where a member of the staff introduced them to six different dogs. Jensen’s eleven-year-old son fell in love with one of them. In the end, however, his heart was broken. The staffer informed the Jensens that they were “not dog-appropriate” because of a forty-five-minute window on weekdays when the animal would be left alone with only the eleven-year-old for companionship.
“We were so sad and really took it to heart and wondered what was wrong with us,” says Jensen. “So we didn’t get a dog for two years. When we did, we went to a pet store and found Rocky. He was everything we wanted in a dog.”
Karen Beasley, who acts as a director and clerk at Kitty Connection, Inc.—a pet-rescue group in Medford, Massachusetts—elaborates on how the Jensens’ story illustrates an important issue.
“It’s easy to buy, as sellers don’t care who’s buying,” she explains. “[On the other hand], adopters can be refused and may think the adoption process is just too much of a hassle.”
There can be legitimate reasons as to why a family may not be the best fit for a particular pet, including work and school schedules and an animal’s compatibility with children. At the same time, however, the Jensens’ tale is not unique. Prospective guardians who are caring, attentive, and financially responsible are periodically turned away from shelters due to a seemingly small “problem” that an adoption counselor perceives. As a result, potential adopters may believe they have few other choices besides purchasing a pet.
Though there are clearly factors that occasionally complicate the “Don’t shop . . . adopt!” argument, there is also overwhelming evidence of countless happy endings that have come from supporting this philosophy. There’s no denying that working with a shelter or rescue can improve and save lives, not to mention teach lessons about love, compassion, and the value of animals as family members. Katie**, who fosters pets for a rescue group called Last Hope, Inc., in Farmington, Minnesota, can attest to this fact.
“I was fostering a yellow Labrador Retriever-Golden Retriever mix this summer and brought him to a PETCO adoption event,” she recalls. “A family [came in] that recently lost an older dog and was on the hunt for a new family pet. I met the husband, wife, and young daughter. They had an older daughter looking at a nearby pet store at the same time.” According to Katie, the family bonded with her foster dog and made a meaningful choice when they ultimately decided to adopt, rather than shop.
“The couple asked me to take the Lab out of his cage and immediately fell in love,” she says. “[Then] the older sister called, claiming she had found the perfect puppy at the pet store. The couple considered the situation for a few minutes and finally said that they would be happier with a rescue dog. The husband told me, ‘I want my daughter to think every time she plays with this dog how she helped save his life.’”
For better or worse, a multitude of other factors have the power to influence the perspective that Katie saw play out during the aforementioned adoption—including our innate sense of impulsivity. How much is that doggie in the window . . . and how quickly can I take him home? A somewhat volatile economy has impacted numerous aspects of people’s—and animals’ lives. Yet while everyone’s purse strings may be a bit tighter, many prospective guardians continue to act on impulse when considering the best way to add a new pet to their family. Tracy Moll, a volunteer with Northeastern Boxer Rescue (NBR) in Sunderland, Massachusetts, theorizes about what triggers such individuals to plunk down a credit card at the pet store.
“From my experience, people don’t have the patience to wait for a dog and go through the rescue process, so it’s easier for them to impulsively buy the dog in the pet store window,” she remarks.
Ironically, the economic troubles that have gripped America for the past several years may have actually produced some good by counteracting consumer impulsivity with a desire to save money. John**, a self-proclaimed “serial volunteer” with different animal rescues in the greater Los Angeles area, comments on how hard times could possibly equate to increased adoptions.
“It’s tough out there for everyone,” he says. “Shelters generally have adoption fees that are lower than what it costs to purchase a pet. So hopefully, that encourages people to go to the shelter instead of a pet store.”
Whether motivated by a practical desire to conserve dollars and cents or that instantaneous bond that forms when someone spots the perfect pet at their local shelter, more prospective guardians will hopefully adopt, rather than shop. For her part, Brown believes that people genuinely want to be a part of the solution to pet overpopulation and homelessness. She therefore has confidence that they will do the right thing if they are educated and armed with relevant facts and information.
What can you do to encourage people to choose adoption? Try simply having a good chat with a friend or family member! Let them know that it’s possible to Google any breed of dog or cat (or bird, reptile, or small mammal) and find a rescue group that is committed to aiding animals in need. And, yes, that even applies to the fancy designer/hypoallergenic dogs like Golden Doodles and Puggles. So, get out there and get talking!
*Not the real name
**Requested to be referenced by first name only
To learn more about pet adoption and the organizations referenced in this article, check out the following resources:
Kitty Connection, Inc. | KittyConnection.net
Last Hope, Inc. | Last-Hope.org
Northeastern Boxer Rescue | BoxerRescue.com
We realize there are several other angles to this issue and want to continue the conversation. Visit our Virtual Dog Park and let us know your thoughts and ideas!