The Segregated World of Adopt or Shop

Rescues versus Breeders

If you hear the word “rescue” in any given circle of people, just sit quietly and watch the variety of reactions that ensue throughout the conversation. Some people will light up and expel their mantra of “Adopt, Don’t Shop,” while others will roll their eyes and walk away from the scripted responses to all but scrutinize the rescue world with their counterparts.

I have personally had someone walk up to me in a public park and scowl at me for having a “pure bred” dog. I was asked; “why on earth would you purchase a dog? You killed a dog in a shelter when you bought that dog!” Oh, the irony in that statement was comical.

Before I continue to write, I want to make it clear that I am wholeheartedly a supporter of animal rescue. I have volunteered and/or fostered dogs for a rescue since March of 2015. All five of my dogs have come to me via rescue or shelter situations. However, 4 out of 5 are pure bred, German Shepherd Dogs, so I guess people assume I purchased from a breeder….but I digress.

Fun fact: The breed is called the German Shepherd Dog (GSD), not “Shepard,” and the dog may be pure bred, not “bread.” I see this ALL the time on adoption applications for my fosters dogs.

According to the 2017-2018 APPA National Pet Owners Survey, 44% of dogs were adopted from a shelter or rescue, 29% were purchased from a breeder or from a store, and the other 27% were acquired in other ways. With an estimated number of 89.7 million pet dogs in the United States, what is causing the bickering and arguing on social media?

Fact2017-2018 APPA Survey
Dogs adopted from a shelter or rescue44%
Dogs taken in as strays 4%
Dogs acquired from friends or relatives 25%
Dogs purchased from a pet store 4%
Dogs purchased from a breeder 25%

The bandwagon effect runs deep in the rescue world. Where the “adopt, don’t shop” mantra IS needed for situations like backyard breeding, it’s not necessary for reputable breeders that produce stock fit for service dog training, protection work, dual purpose K9s and many more types of working or sport dogs.

Why I no longer use “Adopt, don’t Shop”

The term “Adopt, Don’t Shop” is a campaign slogan that a growing number of animal rights proponents are using to promote adopting pets from shelters, rather than buying them from pet stores or breeders. At first, I thought this sounded like a fantastic mantra that I religiously used in almost every Instagram rescue post (prior to 2017-ish.) Then I realized I was falling into the “blind breeder” hate category and detracting from a worthwhile industry that sells puppies — reputable experienced breeders.

I adore the German Shepherd Dog breed, which, by the way, wouldn’t existed without breeders. Don’t get me wrong….backyard, puppy mills, and commercial breeders have royally screwed some of the GSD lines. They typically breed for appearance, and therefore don’t take temperament, health, or the need for culling into account. There is a reason that most military, K9 officers, and other working dogs are imported from other countries. Genetics play a HUGE role in behavior; it’s not always “how they are raised.” If that’s the case, any dog could be trained as a military weapon used to take down the leader of ISIS, but we all know that’s not the way it works.

According to the American Pet Products Association (APPA), revenue in the pet industry is expected to be $62.75 billion in 2016, an increase of more than 4% over 2015. The average annual growth rate since 2002 is 5.4%, and revenue has been growing steadily for well over 20 years.

Money makes the world go ’round.

Just like many other industries in the US, the pet industry is no different. As an example, a backyard breeder (BYB) will sell you a German Shepherd pup at 6 weeks old, which is entirely too young, for $350 without papers and $500 with papers. This “deal” will likely not include vaccines or any sort of health screen or guarantee. The unwanted puppies that don’t sell rarely have a good outcome. The nonvaccinated pups either die from exposure to disease, they are “let go” to fend for themselves, or taken to the nearest shelter by a friend or family member so nobody gets suspicious of multiple surrenders.

A reputable breeder will focus on the health, preservation, and betterment of the breed. They will spend top dollar on medical care, premium food, and the overall maintenance of their pups and breeding pairs. A reputable breeder will always screen potential buyers to make sure they can afford to care for one of their pups. They will also require you to sign a purchase contract, which will likely have a spay or neuter clause, a health guarantee, and a requirement that the owner will return the pup if they are no longer able to care for it. These puppies usually come with the hefty price tag, because of the money that goes into their care upfront. If the dam and sire are titled in confirmation, PSA, IPO, then expect to pay top dollar. These puppies can cost anywhere from $3000 and up.

I know I’ve personally heard this statement, “breeders are the main contributors to the overwhelming number of animals surrendered to the shelter.” So breeders are bad and rescues are good, right? Well, yes and no. Most reputable breeders won’t let their dogs go to a shelter in the first place, as part of the contract. So, who is contributing to the overpopulation..the person that just wanted a German Shepherd, and bought the cheapest one they could find from the shoddy breeder down the road? That backyard bred, pup grew up into an adult with serious behavioral or medical issues because they were bred with only appearance in mind. That adult dog was then dropped off at the local shelter, which was then pulled by a rescue. It’s a vicious cycle that never ends. I’m not even getting into the slack regulations that allow puppy mills, commercial breeders, and backyard breeders to even exist. That’s for another post.

There is also a greedy, dark side to animal rescue as well. Let’s face it, “adopt, don’t shop” has been a successful campaign, which at it’s root had a great foundation. However, now that it’s trendy to have a “rescued” dog, the door has opened for…you guessed it…more money making opportunities. There are now “retail rescues” that participate in auctions of pure bred dogs (or highly sought after dogs, like poodle mixes) who purchase the dogs from the commercial breeders and adopt them out as “rescued” or “saved,” because that’s what people want. Adopt, don’t shop, right?


So here I sit….in the middle…in the grey area….like many other aspects of my life…in between these opposing sides. Why do we have to choose which we support; adopting from a rescue or purchasing from a reputable breeder? In reality, whether you chose to purchase from a breeder or paid an adoption fee for a rescue, we all “shopped” for the right dog to fit our family and lifestyle. At the end of the day, if we all did our research and acquired our dogs from either reputable breeders (pure bred or purpose bred mixed breed dogs), reputable rescues, or shelters (let’s face it – that’s always going to be there because we live in a disposable society), then we could all help do our part in helping to keep the overpopulation problem at bay.

There are so many questions left to ponder. Would the influx of rescues even exist with better regulations on animal breeding practices? Would backyard breeders still exist if every Joe Blow didn’t jump to buying “that dog he saw in that movie?” If every person that owned a dog were required to have basic knowledge of care, take basic obedience classes, and generally be a more responsible pet owner, would I even be writing this post?

Where do you stand on the “Adopt, Don’t Shop” slogan? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

4 thoughts on “The Segregated World of Adopt or Shop

  1. What a great article. I always supported the adopt dont shop slogan as well. But you have made some really great points I never considered. I now find myself sitting somewhere in between. There seems to be a place and purpose for both. Thanks for a thought provoking piece.

    1. Thank you for the feedback! I never had this perspective until I owned dogs that were pure bred, GSDs. I had so many negative comments from people, so it made me stop and think about the “why” part of the equation.

  2. This is a very interesting article, thank you. It is saddening to see the idea of adopt dont shop being cheapened and maybe exploited by individuals and organisations using greed to make some headlines for themselves and the “rescuers”. I am sure there are many rescuers who wish merely to save a dog from the shelter or pound to re-home the dog and give it a better life.

    1. Thank you for your comment. For just as many unethical breeders and rescues, there are just a many (if not more) good ones! I encourage people to do their research before adopting or purchasing a dog from a rescue or a breeder. Things are not always what they seem, unfortunately.

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