Gone to the Dogs

0711.connery.teeter.LJThere’s a thing going on in the dog world these days.

It’s not a good thing.

It can be hard to talk about objectively, simply because we do all care so very much about our dogs, and the fate of dogs in general.

This ungood thing has become so pervasive that we can be a part of the dialogue whether we realize it or not—and what we say can, all inadvertently, support a viewpoint we either don’t necessarily mean to support.

Ready for the plunge?

Where do you get your dogs? Do you pay for them, regardless of source? Do you pick them up off the street? Do you research and target your breed? Do you pick them out of a pet store window? And how do you frame those choices in your mind? How do you frame other people’s choices?

In my mind, it doesn’t actually matter. People make choices based on their personal needs, and that’s how it should be. But a pet’s origin becomes a problem when people with one set of wants and needs choose to impose those factors on other people. (Or to try to.)

Once upon a time, I acquired most of my animals from where they’d been dumped in the very remote Appalachian forest. For all of those I kept, I found homes for three times as many. There was no shelter in these very rural areas. When we did have animal control it was one man with a pickup truck, dog boxes in the back, and a rifle waiting back home. Things have probably changed there now, but that’s the way it was then.

Once upon a time…

Tristan's sire

Tristan’s sire

But now my needs are different. My life is different and what I do with the dogs is different—what I want to do with them is different—and so my dogs usually come from conformation breeders.

I want to have reasonable expectations of health and temperament, and I enjoy the camaraderie with the breeder. My breed itself is chosen according to the preferences I developed over the years—my love of hounds combined with my need for a slightly smaller dog than those I once lived with.

Meanwhile, though I haven’t ever picked out a dog directly from a shelter, I’ve had dogs that came from shelters with a third party in between. I also grew up with pups bought from less-than-carefully managed home breedings. So on the whole, I’ve got pretty decent perspective.

Or I think I do, anyway.

Unfortunately, in today’s doggy gestalt, there’s an ongoing dialogue from an overwhelming number of shelters and organizations, and it goes like this:

“Rescue dog owners are virtuous and breeder dog owners are killing shelter dogs.”

Yeah, I don’t think so. And likely this subject deserves its own dialogue at another time, but for now let’s stick with the conversation I started—and for the sake of that, let’s assume that my years of investigation on the matter are accurate: the ugly tagline above is effective but false. A perfect illustration of the way emotions have been manipulated. And given that, there’s this:

As fallout from the largely successful and long-term campaign being waged against breeder dogs, the label “rescue” has become remarkably loaded. In fact, it’s mainly become about claiming virtue cred while simultaneously shaming breed dog owners.



Let’s hark back to one of my first comments, about how we can be part of this dialogue whether we realize it or not. Plenty of people are simply being factual when they use this label, but like it or not, the word has been poisoned, and at this point the usage contributes to the overall gestalt.

What I like to hear is not label, but backstory.

Our Trudy the Babe Brittany came from a shelter via a city friend—a dog with far too much energy for apartment living, so she came to be with us in the mountains. Handsome Dewey Lake was a feral adolescent; the man who killed the rest of the dangerous pack saved him, but Dewey didn’t fit with the family so he became ours when we took over his log cabin home. Camo was a goofy Leopard Cur left out in the national forest to die. Timid young Akela was left at the dump. (No shelters in that area, remember).

Baby Strider

Baby Strider. Baby Me.

Strider the Wonderhound, ever the dog of my heart, was orphaned at birth and raised in my living room. More recently, shelter dog Rena Beagle came to me in the hopes that a different life would fulfill both her and us (though her illness was unfortunately more profound than anyone knew).

Kacey Cardigan came from a breeder, carefully chosen to suit my newly suburban circumstances. Jag came from my friend Jennifer Roberson’s Cheysuli Kennels, a show dog with mysterious panics that we hoped I could sort out. Jean-Luc Picardigan came from Jennifer because he, too, needed special care—brain-injured at birth and severely autistic, he ran agility as therapy. Belle was also a Cheysuli Cardigan, tremendously talented and ever striving for perfection.

Breeder dogs, those four, but as much in need of the exact right home as any. As was Connery, and Dart, and now Tristan.

So that’s how I look at dogs in the wake of the very difficult dialogue in play. Not as labels, but as situations. Shelter dog means one general set of circumstances, adoption organization means another, breed rescue means yet another, breeder rehome yet another, breeder puppy yet another again…and then there’s always “off the street, couldn’t find the owner” or “in the woods, couldn’t find the owner.” * **

*Microchip your pets. Update the microchips when contact info changes.

**If you find such a dog, look for the owner. It takes a stunningly short amount of time for a beloved pet to look as though it hasn’t had TLC for years. Don’t assume!

Backstory provides context and information. Labels are words being used for a purpose.

And the thing is, wherever a dog comes from, it is no less nor no more loved, its owner no less nor no more virtuous.

If we’re smart, we all make the choices that meet our needs, whatever they are–knowing that the dog will be happier that way, too. And if we’re really smart, we’ll actually work together to keep the dog world as a whole as healthy and happy as possible…without putting each other down in the process.

Bonus picture of Tristan and The McPants, because I can.

Bonus picture of Tristan and The McPants, because I can.

The Right Bitch Trio by Doranna DurginDoranna’s quirky spirit has led to an eclectic and extensive publishing journey across genres. Beyond that, she hangs around outside her Southwest mountain home with horse and beagles who compete in agility, obedience, and tracking.

She doesn’t believe in mastering the beast within, but in channeling its power. For good or bad has yet to be decided…

Doranna’s ongoing releases include Nocturne paranormals and joyful new indie efforts–like the special BVC release of the Changespell Saga, and reader favorites like Wolverine’s Daughter and A Feral Darkness. Whee!

Not coincidentally, Doranna’s books tend to have DOGS in them!



Gone to the Dogs — 26 Comments

  1. It took me a very long time to grok that pedigree animals, too, deserve and need loving homes, homes that are willing to work with an individual’s quirks etc etc. I mean, intellectually I knew that, but for a long time I felt that it’s a nicer act to give a shelter animal a good home, which… no. You’re not a bad person to pick an animal that will suit your needs and give *that* animal a loving home, and if your circumstances are more unpredictable than average, acquiring an animal that will be relatively easy to rehome is doing that animal a favour.

    It’s also not a nice act to acquire an animal that will not be able to meet your demands (this is, of course, much more common with horses) – but if your thing is agility or even just long walks in the countryside and you acquire a shelter dog that cannot do these things, you’re either always trying to find out how much your dog can do (and often, in the process, demanding too much) or resenting that you can’t do all the things you *want* to do. _Your_ dog getting older or injured is part of the deal; taking on a problem is something you should only do if you want to. (And quite often we choose to.)

    There are so many things I want to see done to prevent so many animals getting in need of an upgrade, never mind rescuing, but people who pick the right pet for them is not where the problem started.

    • Your second paragraph says it very well indeed.

      I think it’s hard because (if I may generalize), we have such love and compassion for our animals. We want to see dogs in need find a home! So it’s been really, really easy for certain groups to take control of the conversation.

      At the same time, we need to have compassion for ourselves. The pets we get should fill our needs, whatever they are–and only we know what those are. But there’s nothing happy about a family/dog mismatch, whatever the origin of the dog. No one wins–not the dog, and not the better-matched dog who might not find a home because that spot is full.

  2. Thank you for this. As a (very) small-scale breeder, I can say that people seek me out because they know I prioritize health and they’ve been burned before; or because they’re into performance and trust me to sort out puppies with ideal conformation from those that perhaps don’t have the best shoulder layback or whatever. It’s a pity that when I tell someone I breed and show, I also feel that I must add, “But I lose a ton of money breeding” or some other defensive comment.

    • I know exactly what you mean! As if it’s not even all right to cover your expenses, when the truth is, responsible breeders are the ones keeping the breeds available to the rest of us.

      There’s a reason that rescues snap up purebred dogs from animal control–they can sell them for a good price, and quickly. People *want* them.

      (Why they snap them up from animal control and then refuse to return them to their owners when that connection is made, I can’t fathom. But that, too, is a Thing.)

      • (Why they snap them up from animal control and then refuse to return them to their owners when that connection is made, I can’t fathom. But that, too, is a Thing.)

        I was speechless with outrage when I first encountered that. I still don’t know how to process it.

  3. Doranna, this is right on! After our beloved Golden Retriever Worf died, we wanted another Golden because we knew the breed and characteristics. Then Fate intervened and rescue dog Bear landed in our laps. I was a bit nervous because there was no history other than that he was found wandering in Idaho and ended up in a barn/shelter, probably headed for euthanasia before the Happy Tails group brought him to our town to find a family. I was worried because he’s clearly part Chow, and people said they could be aggressive. But after our trial time with him, it became clear that he has a really sweet disposition, and our cats finally agree. We feel lucky that it’s a good match, and we are happy that such a wonderful guy didn’t end up euthanized. We use the shorthand “rescue dog — we don’t know his breed,” because everyone on the trails asks what breed he is. But, yes, you are right that there seems to be some kind of trend about the virtue of taking on a rescue dog. We know people who have taken on dogs that weren’t suited to their homes and activity levels, and it hasn’t worked out well.
    Thanks for your experience and insights!

    • I’m so glad that Bear is working out! “Happily ever after” is the best ending, however you get there.

      To me, Bear is a shelter dog, or an adoption dog. Or even simply a lovely mixed breed. We always got the same question about Dewey Lake, Strider, and Akela–sometimes the mix comes together in a really handsome way!

  4. We have a “rescue” dog because, frankly, we had two kids in the house at the time, and the process of going to the ASPCA and falling in love with a dog was part of what we all wanted. And we got a splendid dog out of the experience. I have a slight prejudice toward mutts, because I’ve had good experiences with them. And our needs, dog-wise, were to find a dog to be part of our family, and that didn’t require any particular breeding. I like the idea of giving a home to an animal that might otherwise be down on its luck. That being said, though–

    A good dog is a good dog for all sorts of reasons, and is only the better for finding the right person(s) to love and work with it. I read your posts (and Deborah’s about their Tajii) with real pleasure.

    And I don’t get the necessity to make a binary out of the issue of rescue/pure bred. Can’t we all just get along?

    • I think most of us can just get along just fine. But certain groups have an agenda (kinda sidestepping that because it’s a whole conversation in itself) and they’ve insinuated themselves into the conversation and co-opted it. That’s where the gestalt has become corrupted. Me, I want to take back the conversation. 8)

      Sounds to me like you did the perfect thing for your family, and it worked out just as perfectly!

  5. All our dogs are rescues, but I see no need to make an either or out of it. However the dogs come into the world, decent people take care of them, and sh*tweasels dump them or do worse.

    • Exactly so! Your final sentence should be spread far and wide!

      Unfortunately, there are definitely people who are making an either/or out of it. Ignoring them (as breeders have done for the past two decades-ish) has only allowed things to get to where they are. I think the resolution, in part, is to have discussions like this one.

      (Other resolutions are more drastic, and will likely involve finally taking certain adoption organizations and lobbyists to task for their behavior, but I think that’s coming, too…)

  6. And it is worth mentioning that there are rescue groups for every breed and type of animal known to man. Whatever breed or animal you want to own, you can probably rescue one from a horrid fate. Just throw the phrase ‘breed-name rescue’ into a search engine.

    • And ironically, breed rescues are generally managed by…you guessed it–breed clubs. Which are made of breeders and owners of the breed. They don’t care how well the dog is bred or even if it’s mixed, as long as it’s mostly the breed in question. But they do know how best to rehab, foster, and place the dogs in their own breed. 8)

  7. Breed rescues are a mixed bag. I think their practices must be investigated as thoroughly as one would investigate a breeder. Home visits by breed rescues to check that fences are intact are (to me) useful and wise. Insisting on doggie doors for giant breeds is not reasonable in all cases. (If it’s big enough for a giant to get through, it’s big enough for a human of almost any size to get through.) But then, some breeders insist on strange conditions. The oddest I encountered was for the dog to have its own bedroom and twin-sized bed. Yes, she seemed a bit odd. I found other breeders who might still have conditions, but they could defend them with solid data.

    • Oh, but that applies to all adoption organizations. There are good ones and bad ones and a huge trend toward overly controlling ones. Every adoption organization in my area, for instead, has requirements that eliminate me from either adopting or fostering one of their dogs.

      (A few years ago I seriously considered fostering medically needy dogs or senior dogs, and I checked the applications for every organization in the area. Then I checked them again when my sister was looking for her Border Terrier.

      I have intact animals. I have breeder dogs. Quite the ironic situation, given how I started out with dogs once I was on my own.)

      The point being, no matter where you get the dog from, it’s necessary to do the homework. Just as there are problem breeders out there, there are also seriously questionable adoption organizations–and there are others with good operating procedures yet with problematic adoption contracts that essentially preserve their ownership of the dogs.

      But I’m really enjoying the imagery of the Wolfhound-size doggy door.

      • Horse rescues can have ridiculous conditions, too. While, on the one hand, I’m in favour of them saying ‘if the horse doesn’t work out, we’ll take it back, so don’t stay with a bad match (or get to the point where you just want to be rid and don’t care what happens)’ I really, _really_ do not want to ask anyone’s permission before putting a sick animal down and I will not consent to blanket statements about what suits a horse best without looking at the individual. (My mostly-TB loved living out and thrived on it. I’ve looked at a rescue that said all of their horses must be stabled overnight during the winter months.)

        • Exactly. Blanket conditions that don’t allow for individual needs or situations. I know of one person right now who’s afraid of losing her adopted dog back to the rescue because it’s a giant breed with health issues and she doesn’t want to spay early/spay until the dog is healthy/wants to do an OSS instead of a full spay.

          Dealing with conditions like those are another reason that I know, for myself, that adoption/shelter isn’t right for me. In fact, after dealing with Rena’s heartbreaking decline I feel even more strongly about it. Everything that occurred with her can be reasonably traced back to early spay and over-vacs. I’m not for a moment arguing the shelter policies that led to these things, but I’m not going there.

          DuncanHorse is mostly outside, also. His stall door doesn’t even close right now. (Ground cover drift…)

  8. I agree it should not be a binary issue, and the wellbeing of both the animal and its human family are important.
    On the other hand, some breeds appear to have been overbred to the point that a majority of the new animals appear to have health problems. At that point, I personally feel troubled to be adding to the unhappyness of animals if I ask a breeder to breed an extra (probably unhealthy) animal for me.
    I love cats, but am allergic to them. 15 years ago I accidentally discovered that I’m not (or very much less) allergic to Persian cats, when my sister found a starving stray who couldn’t get along with her 3, and I looked after the stray while we searched for the owner. No owner had reported him missing (he had some health problems), and I was very happy to be able to give him a good home. When he died, a decade later, I didn’t want to stay catless; but by then I’d found out that almost all persian cats have trouble with their eyes and tearducts, can’t keep their own fur clean (not that I mind the combing, but a lot of them aren’t that happy with it), and a majority have an inborn tendency to kidney disease. The vet told me that Persians generally live to 12-14 years, where 18-19 is normal for ordinary cats; and that they are more liable to get heart and other congenital diseases. Knowing that, I decided I didn’t want an unhappy kitten bred especially for me, but would love to give aan allready-living rescue Persian a good home. If the breed standard went back to what it was a century ago, so the cats could have at least half a nose instead of having it completely pushed in and their eyes bugging out, it would be a lot less bad for the cats (and look better too, in my opinion) – if the new blood allowed in that case also helped solve the congenital (kidney)disease(s), I wouldn’t mind buying from a breeder. But as overbred as they are now, even though I love both my Persians, I don’t want to create more. This is my personal balancing, on this difficult issue, and not a reflection on anyone else’s choice. Apart from the congenital health issues, I quite believe that they are lovely animals with sweet dispositions and well-suited to life in a smaller territory, with a lovely soft fur that some people who are allergic to cats in general can deal with without trouble, and can understand a breeder wanting to continue those traits.
    I’m not depriving a previous owner: as far as I know here in Holland the shelters all do their best to reunite lost animals with their owners, regardless of whether it’s an alleycat or a purebred.

    • A perfect example of thinking through what’s important to you and filling your needs.

      However, I suspect that when one thinks of these “breed issues,” one generally points the finger at show breeders. I think that’s a mistake.

      When I was grooming, the breeder dogs were my very favorite (and I had none of my own at that point). They were *always* healthier, less warty, less temperamentally problematic, and in better coat than their puppymill/pet store counterparts–no one needed to tell me when one walked in the door. So IMHO, the “overbred” argument is a part of responsible breeder shaming that largely (while still holding breeders accountable for addressing such things) needs to Go Away. Not to mention I know from the inside the genetic tools breeders are using to prevent issues/fix issues (things that weren’t even known when some of the problems were accidentally introduced).

      Though I should drop the conversational bomb, while we’re at it, that there’s no such thing as superior hybrid vigor. In fact, a mix is simply vulnerable to any genetic issues from its various breeds, as well as issues that arise from combining unlikely partners. From mismatched angles to bones not quite aligned to endure to congenital crap to temperamental insanity. This applies to deliberate mixes, too.

      • I don’t know anything about dogs, except that breed diversity looks a lot larger than for cats. I guess that makes it very much more likely that mixed parentage dogs will have trouble because of the bits not fitting together very well (it’s not a meccano assembly from existing parts, but I don’t know how to say it better), and that would make hybrid vigor unlikely.
        I have read that the extreme pugnoses of modern Persian cats have been driven by show breeding, as for a long time a shorter nose was considered ‘better’. Looking at pictures of Persians (champions) from long ago, when the breed started it had a much more ordinary-cat-like face, a bit short in the nose but not the extreme pugnoses seen nowadays. I don’t think the showbreeders can be totally exonerated from sometimes breeding for show traits beyond what is comfortable for the animals to live with. Though the ‘breed rules’ have been changed, I think, to avoid the noses being pushed even further back and allow for a little lengthening, I don’t see any clear signs of the noses getting longer again; but I’ve not been following things closely for the past few years. I do understand that healthy-animal criteria have recently become much more important than just fitting in with some ideal looks for the breed.
        And, as said, I have no idea how these things are done or regulated regarding the breeding of dogs, except that animal health has become more important there too, but a sudden surge in popularity of a certain breed is almost always very bad news for that breed, because that brings in the unscrupulous puppy-mill breeders. I know that’s not the kind of dog breeding you’re talking about here. In that sense, good breeders who aim for the healthy animal are much to be lauded, as they countrract the pernicious influence on the breed of the puppy mills who produ e as many labradors or dalmatians or whatever as possible to sell, and not to show.
        I do agree that puppy or kitten mills are a lot worse than a responsible breeder, and wouldn’t want to encourage that in any way!

        • Actually I’m distinctly reframing the conversation so it isn’t about one source vs another source at all, but about making choices that are right for the individual without using divisive language about other people’s decisions.

          What I hear you saying is that you’ve thought out your decision very well and that it works for you. But everyone has their sweet spot.

      • there’s no such thing as superior hybrid vigor. In fact, a mix is simply vulnerable to any genetic issues from its various breeds, as well as issues that arise from combining unlikely partners. From mismatched angles to bones not quite aligned to endure to congenital crap to temperamental insanity.

        The dog world seems to be particularly hit by this – I’ve lost track of the ‘oodles’ I’ve heard about (some of the I can’t even parse).

        In horses I’ve seen two crosses that were working out particularly badly: Arab/Haflinger (a cob type popular in Germany): you almost always end up with a horse that’s very flighty *and* which takes a long time to calm down. (Arabs spook and settle, purebred Haflingers take a lot of time before they get upset. Either of them tends to be calmer than the mixes.) The other is Shire x Thoroughbred, which is a rant all by itself – I used to ride a horse who had inherited bad points from both parents and who never felt completely at home in his own skin.

        • I think Judy’s mentioned the TB/Lipp cross as being like that. Just universally bad.

          I know some designer breeds are the same, but don’t feel like mentioning them by name. Heh.