A Review of the Moral Debate About Dog Adoption

dopting a pet should be about making individual choices responsibly and ethically for the best interest and welfare of the dog.

In the United States, the current Animal Welfare Act (AWA) is outdated and blatantly inadequate at preventing trafficking and cruelty. Every year in America, more than half a million dogs are euthanized, and hundreds of thousands of others are suffering at the hands of all the shady breeders, brokers, and scammers that supply pet stores.

Ultimately, the choice of buying a puppy from a reputable breeder or adopting a rescue dog from a shelter is strictly a personal decision. However, the individual choice of dog, his temperament, his history, his breed, and where you get the dog from, are your responsibility and will have an important impact on how successful the adoption will be.

We'll explore what is at stake when you adopt a dog, and what you should be aware of.

Facts about pet adoption

Obtaining accurate data about pets in the U.S. is not easy. Most of the data are based on periodical surveys, and the various survey-takers do not agree on methodology. Data for shelter populations are unreliable due to a lack of reporting requirements. One of the main sources of pet demographics in the U.S. is the American Pet Products Association (APPA) National Pet Owners Survey.

In an article about adoption, we have given some numbers about dog shelters, but let's just summarize of a few key facts about them for 2019/2020:

  • Approximately 3.3 million dogs enter shelters each year, and 1.6 million (48%) are adopted.
  • 24% of dogs in shelters are relinquished by owners, and one in three dogs had only been adopted less than a year before it was given up.
  • 47% of dogs relinquished every year are given up by owners because of "pet problems" linked to health, aggression, destructive, or disruptive behaviors.
  • Each year, approximately 670,000 shelter dogs (20%) are euthanized for either health, behavior, or overpopulation reasons.
  • Dogs were adopted from shelters (44%), found stray (5%), acquired from friends or relatives (18%), bred at home (5%), purchased from breeders (19%), or online or from pet store (9%).
In the U.S, 24% of dogs in shelters were relinquished by owners. One in three dogs had only been previously adopted less than a year before it was given up.
800,000 dogs are relinquished each year by owners - Dog Learner
800,000 dogs are relinquished each year by owners

Lessons to learn regarding adoption

Although the numbers themselves are subject to caution, a few key lessons can be deducted from these facts when it comes to adoption.

Ending dog euthanasia starts in our own homes. In 6 years one unspayed female dog and her offspring can reproduce 67,000 dogs.

Adopting a shelter dog is a generous and kind decision, but 800,000 dogs relinquished or abandoned each year suggest that far too many adoptions are impetuous and lack genuine long term commitment to the dog's welfare. The statistics also indicate that dogs adopted from shelters are much more susceptible to being relinquished than purebred dogs that were purchased from breeders as puppies. Probably, many new owners of shelter dogs are not sufficiently prepared to deal with the responsibility and costs of training and rehabilitating dogs with behavioral issues. If more care was taken before adoption to inform new dog owners about breed selection, compatibility, behavior rehabilitation, and obedience training, far fewer dogs would be given away or abandoned.

There is an overpopulation of dogs in America. Ending euthanasia starts in our own homes. Only 10% of dogs in shelters had been spayed or neutered. In 6 years one unspayed female dog and her offspring can reproduce 67,000 dogs. (Source: Spay USA).

There is still a huge number of dogs purchased online or from pet stores that originate from puppy mills. A puppy mill is an inhumane high-volume dog-breeding facility that churns out puppies for profit. The HSUS estimates that roughly half of the 2 million pups bred in mills are sold in stores or trafficked online. In puppy mills, dogs can spend most of their lives in cramped cages, with no room to play or exercise. Puppies are found with bleeding or swollen paws, feet falling through the wire cages, severe tooth decay, ear infections, dehydration, and lesions on their eyes, which often lead to blindness.

An illegal and inhumane puppy mill  - Dog Learner
We should put an end to puppy mills

Making a responsible choice when adopting a dog

Whether you decide to adopt a dog from a shelter or a rescue center for saving his life, or you decide to purchase a purebred puppy from a breeder, you should be realistic and decide in priority what is best for the dog.

A dog is for life! Hasty adoption decisions based on emotions, pity, cuteness or esthetic factors, will often end up with owners giving up the dog within a few months, and may end up costing the dog his life.

Guidelines for responsible adoption

Dog breeds should be selected wisely, whether it is a puppy or an adult shelter dog. The choice depends on your experience as a dog owner, on your living conditions, on your budget, on the amount of time and space you can dedicate to your dog, and on your personality. Some breeds are high maintenance, can be harder to train, and more aggressive than others. Make sure that you do your homework and ask for professional advice before you select a breed.

Individual dog temperament should be tested in puppies and adult dogs for aggression issues (fear, dominance, possession, defense or idiopathic) and for behavioral problems due to stress or trauma. If you adopt a shelter dog with known behavioral issues, ask yourself if you are prepared to potentially invest the time and money necessary to train and rehabilitate the dog.

Don't give up on your dog! Get professional help. The vast majority of behavioral issues can be rehabilitated.

If you have recently adopted a dog from a shelter that shows disruptive or destructive behaviors, make sure you talk to an experienced dog trainer or behaviorist. Don't give up on your dog, get professional help as soon as you can. The great majority of behavioral issues are learned behaviors that can be rehabilitated through adequate training. Be aware that most veterinarians are not qualified dog behaviorists and can only help to refer you to an experienced trainer.

Only purchase puppies from breeders who are registered with the AKC or with an official breed association. Only choose breeders that raise a single breed with a proven track record, and can provide information about the dog's antecedents and proof of medical health screenings. Always visit the breeder's kennel before making a decision, and ask to view the rest of the litter and the mother. If possible, test puppies for temperament and behavior from 6 weeks of age.

Never buy puppies online from unknown individuals and kennels, or from pet stores, no matter what the store salesman tells you about the origin of the puppy. Each year, 2 million puppies are sold in puppy mills, and federal institutions are unable to control mills and enforce the law. The only way to stop this inhumane puppy trafficking is to stop buying pets online or from pet stores.

Dogs should be neutered or spayed at puberty. It is important to help reduce dog overpopulation. In some dogs, timely neutering or spaying can have a positive incidence on dog's life expectancy. Talk to your veterinarian when your dog is under 6 months of age to evaluate the safest options.

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