I have been terrified to write this article, but also felt the desire to for so long. There is so much misinformation and hate out there when it comes to the conversation of rescues vs Breeders. The same goes for purebreds vs mutts, but that’s a conversation for another day. I hope people will read this article and be respectful, but as I said I am very concerned about this becoming a polarizing argument rather than people learning from what I have to say.
Let me start this by saying I have had extensive experience with both. During my childhood my mother worked for the SPCA and was a breeder, so I have a unique position of seeing both up close.
I will break this article down into a couple points: Why you should adopt a rescue, Why you shouldn’t adopt a rescue, What is a good rescue, What is a bad rescue, Why you should go to a breeder, Why you shouldn’t go to a breeder, What is a good breeder, and what is a bad breeder.
I hope some of you will come away with the view that it is a personal opinion and that neither are inherently better. To me it is similar to having a biological child vs adopting and I will get into more detail as to why later. Many people have extreme hatred for breeders thinking that all breeders are bad and all rescues are good, but no aspect of life is black and white like that. There are grays like everywhere else in the world and that narrow-minded hate causes exploitation by bad rescues making it harder for both the good breeders and the good rescues. Like I said earlier it would be like saying people who have biological kids are wrong for not adopting.
Why you should adopt a Rescue
Adopting a rescue is, as stated earlier, much like adopting a child. They will come with baggage 9 times out of 10, but working through there hardships with them is an extremely rewarding feeling. You will beam with pride as issues go away, like going from scared of you to curling up next to you on a bed. Pets with weight issues will have you grinning ear to ear as they get into better shape. It is truly an amazing feeling to know how much better their life is because of you. Rescue dogs are unique in that they know how much you helped them as well. To me that is a major difference when it comes to rescues, that they know what bad is and that causes them to appreciate what good is.
Why you shouldn’t adopt a rescue
As stated above most rescues come with issues that if you can overcome will have you beaming with pride. If you cannot, however, they can cause very serious problems. If you are not properly prepared for the mental or physical scars that come with that pet not only could they get worse, but someone could get seriously hurt or in a worst-case scenario they could kill your other pets or even a baby. If the pet has a preexisting health concern it may go improperly treated if you are unable to recognize and understand it.
You also should not adopt a dog if you are looking for something specific. Let’s face it, rescue dogs are a gamble. Let’s say you want a calm family pet and you go to a shelter and find a very quiet cat. You may go home and that quiet cat may start acting completely different in that new situation. It is imperative that when you are rescuing you properly consider all the variables that come with it and are properly prepared. A big part of that is finding a good rescue.
What is a good rescue?
A good rescue is one that is truly committed to making a difference. People have different opinions on if the goal of rescues should be to focus on the big picture of making it so there are no strays in their area and then expanding their area, or to simply pick animals and rescue them following the every life matters mantra. I personally lean heavily in the solve the problem camp, but this is a personal decision and no one can tell you how you should feel.
It is however very important for rescues to understand the weight of their actions and decisions. A good rescue understands that every decision they make has consequences and takes those decisions seriously. When you talk to a decision maker at a good rescue it should be very easy to see their goals and how they’re following through with them. Many rescues will say things like they believe in never euthanizing, but that’s idealistic unless they can follow through with a plan for what to do as far as sick or aggressive animals. The ones that do have a solid plan and have seriously considered the variables deserve all the respect and support we can give them. They are people committed to changing lives and they need your backing, especially mentally as it can feel like an unwinnable war. Please do not dismiss the mental drain that comes from spending every day dealing with the harsh realities of the world.
Walking into a good rescue you should be able to see where they invest their donations as well. If you enter a facility there are beautiful kennels and outdoor play areas then the money has clearly all gone to providing the animals with the best accommodations possible. Rescues like this will tend to get more support from a smaller more dedicated group of volunteers and donators and are typically run by someone throwing their life’s savings into it to try and help. The sad reality of rescues, and many other businesses, is that the largest, most successful rescues tend to invest the least in the animals and get the most donations. On the other hand, the smaller rescues where people are practically bankrupting themselves are not as well known because they have no marketing budget. Please look into your local rescues and find and support these amazing people.
In my opinion though, the most important part of being a good rescue is providing the adoptive family with as much information as possible on the animal. An accurate representation of personality, fears, aggression, health concerns, etc. goes an extremely long way in making sure they find the right pet for that family and that the family can provide it with the best care.
I also highly recommend breed specific rescues. They have a great understanding of the dogs they are rescuing out and what type of homes are necessary for them. Obviously, there are still good and bad ones, but it’s something I have had a lot of luck with in the past.
What is a bad rescue?
The problem with telling a good and bad rescue apart is that you typically only meet volunteers or bottom-line employees and those people are almost always incredibly devoted and passionate. The problems typically lie at the top.
One major issue is” for-profit rescues,” rescues that are bringing in large sums of money and the owner, manager or directors are pocketing that money. This should not happen, but absolutely does. I know multiple Humane Societies that were closed down or amalgamated due to directors embezzling money. I have also known owners of small rescues and even spay neuter clinics to brag about how rich they were getting.
Some rescues also have no love for pets. I have had volunteers tell me about rescues putting live cats in a freezer, employees abusing animals, putting animals in inhumane situations or just trying to make them look as pathetic as possible. Please if you think anything like this is going on do not give that rescue money. I know you will want to get the animal out of the situation, but giving them money encourages them to continue doing it. Please alert the authorities and tell them you would happily take the animal once the rescue has been investigated.
The more common issue, and less extreme but equally important, is simply information. How much accurate information are they providing you with when you get the animal? This can be a massive problem because many rescues will fail to disclose that an animal has a bite history or a health concern. I have seen many cases of people being told a dog was perfectly nice, but ended up attacking them, their friends/family or another animal. In many of these cases the rescues knew this had happened in the past as the animal had done that in previous homes or at the rescue, but withheld that information to get money. This is an extremely common issue because the rescue either just wants the animal gone so they can make money or in many cases they are overly idealistic and want that animal to have a home more than for everyone involved to be safe.
Lastly a big red flag for me in a rescue is marketing. For example, when every animal in their facility has some big story about coming from a far away place. I have heard stories in 2019 of people rescuing dogs displaced by Hurricane Katrina, which happened way back in 2005. Sometimes these stories are true, and necessary like when Katrina happened, but often it’s a marketing tactic. Rescues know if the dog is from across the world rather then down the street people will feel more empathy and be more likely to rescue them. These animals tend to come with a larger financial commitment as well since there is so much travel involved.
Why you should go to a breeder
The main reason to go to a breeder is because you are looking for something specific. If you want a certain personality then itis necessary to get a purebred from a breeder as that is the purpose of a “breed.” Breeds were created to have a consistent look and personality. If you are looking for a loving family pet then getting a golden retriever, from a good breeder, means you will always get a dog that loves its family more than anything in the world. If you are looking for a dog to make you feel safe getting a Great Dane means you will always feel protected from harm. Where rescuing is more random, breeding is very consistent. I personally also recommend that everyone start with an easy breed like a golden retriever from a good breeder as if you get unlucky with a rescue or get a more difficult breed it can be a very bad experience for you both. It is always a good idea to develop your abilities with easier breeds first before tackling more difficult challenges. In addition, do your research when looking at a particular breed or breeder. I hear all the time that breeders are what cause the overpopulation of rescues. However, any good breeder will take the dog back if it needs rehoming. Good breeders will also say no to anyone they think will be a bad pet-parent. This is why it is so important to research a good breeder before even considering getting a puppy from them.
Why you shouldn’t go to a breeder
The biggest piece of advice I can give someone is do not buy a dog because you think they look pretty/cool. This is a family member you will hopefully be spending 10-15 years with, ideally more. Having personalities that match is so much more important then liking the look of them, and there are so many good-looking breeds out there it’s better to find one that you will enjoy having around and will blend into your family well. If you are very low energy then getting a husky, as beautiful as they are, is likely a mistake as they are a very high energy breed and will get bored. Bored dogs like to destroy things. Similarly, if you get a lazy dog and try to get it to run marathons it is not going to work out.
The other thing that may make going to a breeder wrong for you is price. Breeders do not receive donations like a rescue so they need to charge more money to pay for food and accommodations. Most do not have armies of volunteers either, so they need to consider it a job and make a living as well. This means that as the new family you will have to pay a larger sum for an animal from a breeder where as a rescue you can think of the donations as paying for a large part of it.
What is a good breeder?
A good breeder has nothing to do with titles, price, etc. A good breeder is someone passionate about the breed. Someone who could talk for hours about the things that make their breed special. For these breeders watching the puppies go to their new homes is akin to watching their children go off to college. When you visit a good breeder you will see their passion for the breed and love of their pets immediately. Many look like crazy people to onlookers as their houses are filled with figurines, pillows, etc. covered in their breed of choice and many will spend all day surrounded by their pets. As much as many people think this is the dream job to be playing with puppies all day, it is insanely stressful. For those of you who have had a loved one go through labor think about how stressed you are about the mother’s health and the babies health and then imagine going through that multiple times a year (as the breeder). It is true that once the babies are matured a bit and are strong and healthy breeding is a lot of fun, but the childbirth phase and first couple of weeks takes a few years off your life every time. Staying up all night with a mother in labour or to make sure all the puppies will remain healthy is not a fun ordeal.
When looking for a good breeder a big thing is transparency. You should always be able to meet the mother of the babies and ideally meet the father as well. Sometimes they’re offsite, but you should be able to see them too if you’re willing to travel. You may also be able to meet grandparents, older siblings and the like, which is ideal because it gives you a great idea of what yours will grow up to be. My mother even has a Facebook group for her breeding so people can ask each other questions, share pictures and organize playdates. This is a great way as someone considering a puppy to see a large sample size of what the babies will grow up to be like and see if there are health concerns people bring up often.
Health concerns are a major part of being a good breeder. A good breeder knows what health concerns to be aware of and breeds the healthiest animals together to create the healthiest children. A good breeder will stop breeding animals that turn out to have any genetic disorders and give away any puppies that are not the picture of health.
When it comes to good breeders you will have to sell yourself to them as much as they will have to sell themselves to you. You are asking to have their baby and if they do not trust you then they will not let you have the animal. I always advise new breeders that if someone sets off red flags just say no. It is not worth worrying every day about them. A good breeder will also have health guarantees and will always take the animal back and rehome themselves. No animal from a good breeder should ever end up in a rescue.
What is a bad breeder?
This one many of you could answer for me. A bad breeder is someone who does not care about the animals they breed. Puppy mills are the extreme example, but other common examples are breeders who inbreed, provide subpar living conditions, overbreed, breed dogs with health concerns, etc. These are not people madly in love with the breed, but people madly in love with money.
There are many practices in breeding that I disagree with, but wouldn’t categorize as bad, such as contracts, co-owning, rehoming retired parents, etc. I dislike when either rescues or breeders try to make you take care of the animal the way they want. It is arrogant, but I do understand that it comes from a good place.
If you ever talk to a breeder that wants to meet you somewhere rather then have you see where the babies are raised, please alert the authorities. This is a common practice of puppy mills so that you do not see the terrible living conditions. A huge part of looking at puppies and kittens is seeing their family, the breeder and the situation they are raised in. If a breeder tries to hide these things from you it should set off alarm bells all over. Many “bad breeders” have no intention of being a bad breeder, but simply are misinformed like breeders who “line breed” (inbreeding) because someone told them it was no big deal. Another example is those that say “these two dogs are cute” and breed them, but never make sure they are prepared to be a breeder and that those two dogs are going to produce healthy puppies.
Does this mean every good breeder does testing? No. Some tests are very important and enlightening, but some are, in my opinion, money grabs. Some tests like the ones for eyes only show if the issue is already existent in the dog, not if it will develop down the road. If the issue would not manifest until they are retired anyways then it means nothing to do the test when they are young. I put way more stock into seeing extended family and ancestors and how healthy they are.
There is a large range of “bad breeders” that ranges from irresponsible to criminal. The irresponsible ones I simply recommend encouraging to do proper research and then getting your pet somewhere else. The criminal ones I cannot stress enough DO NOT PURCHASE THE ANIMAL. I know your instinct will be to save it from this horrible situation, but by giving them money you’re encouraging them. Please alert the authorities and adopt the animal from the authorities after they shut down the breeder.
I hope some of you see now the differences between a rescue and breeder, but also the similarities between them. Like I said earlier, to me a rescue is so much like adoption and a purebred is like having a biological child. The rescue will fill you with pride as you turn itheir life around, but will come with baggage. A pet from a breeder will be a blank slate for you to raise and mould.
At the same time though the people running good rescues and good breeders are a lot alike. They are people passionate about animals and about finding the animals a good home. I hope you came away from this no longer feeling like one is the villain and one is the hero, but that they are both providing important services and that they are both heroes fighting against the villains which are people exploiting animals.
As for the villains, I hope this helped you identify them. We all need to work together to stop supporting for profit rescues and puppy mills and make sure they go out of business. If we can recognize them and put our money into supporting the good breeders and rescues, then they can work hand in hand to truly solve issues.