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Rescue, Buy, or Adopt?

Updated on March 9, 2012
Prucha, the pup I adopted long-distance from a rescue in Arkansas in July 2007.
Prucha, the pup I adopted long-distance from a rescue in Arkansas in July 2007.

Where to Start?

The question plagues many people who want a pet. Should I save an animal from a shelter who is going to be "put down"? Should I dish out a thousand dollars to buy a puppy of the type of breed that I think I want? Or should I give a bunch of personal information to a rescue organization who will hook me up the the animal that is right for me?

Pet Stores and Puppy Mills

Is it worth even weighing the pros and cons of each of these options? Why not just head to the nearest pet store and pick up one of the cute puppies in the window there?

Well let me just stop you right there and say that, if there is one of these options you should not pick, it is the pet store one. Buying a puppy from the pet store almost guarantees that you are overpaying a puppy mill and therefore allowing it to continue abusing dogs.

The sad truth is that, no matter what the pet store tells you or what "papers" they provide you with, these puppies have come from puppy mills. Their parents are forced to breed more than is healthy, never able to see a vet or get out of the sunlight or rain, never let out of their crates. Buying one of those cute little puppies in the pet store window perpetuates the cycle of the torture of puppy mills. Please visit this website to learn more about this before you buy a pet store pup.

While the little puppy you take home may not end up sickly and could be a great pet, his parents are in deplorable conditions. There are plenty of other cute puppies out there, I promise.

Beyond the Pet Store

Beyond that, everyone has their own ideas about what is the best way to get a new animal in their lives. When I went looking for a puppy in the Spring of 2007, I started at because I knew that I did not want to spend the money and buy from a breeder, nor did I feel the need to have a purebred pup.

I ended up talking with a rescue called Ozark Mutts & Stuff in Mountain Home, Arkansas. Considering that I live in New York City, it seemed pretty random, but they had just found a litter of puppies and its mother who would be ready to go to their new home at just the right time for me. It worked out perfectly.

In shelters and at rescues, you will find many purebred dogs (and puppies!) for less money than you will pay at a breeder or pet store. In fact, there are even breed-specific rescues for each breed, and usually there are many rescues for just one breed! Just go to Google and type in "[breed of your choice] rescue," and no doubt you'll find one or two near you.

It comes down to this: any of the first three options will work (the shelter, a rescue, or a breeder), but there is a right and a wrong way to do each.

My family's six-year-old German Shepherd/Border Collie mix from North Shore Animal League.
My family's six-year-old German Shepherd/Border Collie mix from North Shore Animal League.

Adopting from a Shelter

The Right Way

  • Research the type of breeds and the age of the animal that you want before going in.
  • Let yourself fall in love with the right animal once you are there.
  • Keep in mind that larger breeds obviously need more room than small breeds do (but that smaller breeds sometimes have a much higher energy level).
  • Don't forget that certain breeds are highly prone to specific health problems, though the crossbreeding in many mutts eliminates these congenital predispositions to defects later in life (such as hip displasia and diabetes).
  • Go back a second or third time if you do not find the right animal for you the first time you go.
  • Follow any shelter policies about later spaying/neutering the animal if it is too young to be fixed when you get it. A fixed dog will lead a happier, more well-adjusted life with fewer health and behavioral risks.

The Wrong Way

  • Going once with no idea of what you want.
  • Picking any cute animal with no regard for the care it will need.

How to Choose a Dog From the Pound

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Buying from a Breeder

The Right Way

  • Again, research the type of breed that is right for your household and familiarize yourself with that breed's common health concerns.
  • Find a reputable breeder by making sure that s/he has references (from a vet and from past adopters), a contract that requires you to spay or neuter your pet when it is of age, and that his/her animals have a recognized pedigree from the American or United Kennel Club (in the U.S. or U.K. respectively).
  • A good breeder tests both parents of the pup for congenital defects and has certificates to prove this, and s/he should be active both in the conformation and working arenas.
  • The contract you sign should have a health guarantee that forces her to take back the dog if it is sick because of its breeding, and the breeder should expect you to maintain a relationship with her for the extent of the dog's life.

The Wrong Way

  • Doing no research on a breed or breeder and then paying way too much money for a puppy whose parents have not been tested for congenital defects and ultimately supporting a backyard breeder, a puppy mill, or an animal dealer.

Adopting from a Rescue

The Right Way

  • Give them all of your correct information on the adoption application.
  • Allow them to do a home-check if they want to (and they probably should).
  • Make sure that they are a reputable rescue and not just a backyard breeder masquerading as a rescue. You should talk to their vet and to at least one person who has previously adopted from them.

  • A rescue is probably fostering the dog that you would get from them, meaning that the dog is living in a volunteer's home, probably alongside other dogs and possibly children and cats. This way the rescue can tell you if your new pet will be good with other dogs and cats, and they can make sure that he is child-friendly.

The Wrong Way

  • Lying or giving them false information that would change their opinion about whether or not to adopt the animal to you.
  • Not reading the adoption contract (a la Ellen) and then violating it.

Drawing Conclusions

If you have questions, you should. But there are a million online resources that can help you make the right decision. Remember that a dog or a cat is a 10-20 year commitment, but one that -- if healthy and well-taken-care-of -- can only exponentially improve the quality of your life during that time. I promise.


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    • aslaught profile image

      aslaught 6 years ago from Alabama

      I have adopted, bought and rescued. I think rescuing is the best way to go.

      I have 10 dogs and fortunately I live in the country on plenty of acreage.

      My daughter bought one puppy from a breeder. I was very disapproving and didn't know she was going to do this, until the puppy was here.

      I have always rescued dogs from shelters, and some of my dogs were either, "dropped," near my house and I took them in, or someone found them wandering lost and brought them to me.

      I cannot refuse to take in an animal. I also feed and take care of approx 15 semi feral cats.

      I've read the horror stories about puppy mills and I'm appalled. The woman my daughter bought the Chi puppy from was someone we had known for a long time, and she took very good care of the puppies she was selling, but she was a subcontractor with a breeder and we don't know the conditions the parents were in.

      I love all animals and wish there were none suffering on this planet.

    • profile image

      karemals 6 years ago

      I think it is always better to adopt, but you and your new pet need to fit together. Also, you can't feel that a shelter dog is worth "less" than a non shelter dog....horrible way to start your new relationship!

    • danielleantosz profile image

      danielleantosz 6 years ago from Florida

      This hub reminds me of all the listings I see on craigslist for puppies with an "adoption fee" of several hundred dollars. Not to say that if your dog has puppies you shouldn't ask for a small fee to cover your costs and ensure the puppy goes to a good home, but those are what you rightfully call "backyard breeders" Great info, I hope people take this to heart.

    • helenathegreat profile image

      helenathegreat 9 years ago from Manhattan

      Hi Robert, thanks for stopping by. I have to disagree with your analogy; saying all pet stores sell ill-begotten puppies is NOT like saying that all African American males will end up in prison. While the puppies you sell in your store may not come from literal puppy mills, I regret to inform you that they absolutely do come from "backyard" (and therefore illegitimate) breeders.

      The puppies may be AKC registered, but frankly that really does not mean anything. A breeder that is a member of his/her breed club pledges to NEVER sell a puppy to a third party like your store. Anyone who does is just trying to make a quick buck without regard for the health of the dog, the breed, or the canine population as a whole. And THAT is a fact.

    • profile image

      Robert Sherman 9 years ago

      Not every single pet shop sell puppy mill puppies. That statement is like saying all african American male are likely to wind up in prison.

    • helenathegreat profile image

      helenathegreat 9 years ago from Manhattan

      Hi Joni, thanks for bringing that to my attention.  It's exactly that type of thing that's such an indicator to me that we need to crack down on puppy mills AND backyard breeders.  It's sad that all we need is a little bit of education, but we can't even seem to afford that...  Thanks for reading!

    • Joni Solis profile image

      Joni Solis 9 years ago from Kentwood, Louisiana

      Thanks for making this hepful hub - it is a great one and one that is needed!

      Help, please read about the 176 animals killed at my local animal shelter, and they are not giving us any reasons that sound reasonable...The Tangipahoa Parish Animal Shelter in Hammond, Louisiana is in the news…

      News Reports and Video posted on the Internet August 5, 2008…

      Only nine animals saved from the mass killing! See their photos.

    • helenathegreat profile image

      helenathegreat 10 years ago from Manhattan

      Animals deserve more than what they get for sure, trakker. Thanks for the link; I'll check it out right now.

    • trakker14 profile image

      trakker14 10 years ago from franklin

      My opinion exactly, Animals deserve far better in life.

      Unconditional love is priceless.

    • helenathegreat profile image

      helenathegreat 10 years ago from Manhattan

      Thanks for your nice words and your comment, Ann. You are absolutely right, and I will add that point right now!

    • Ann Wright profile image

      Ann Wright 10 years ago from Northern Nevada

      Great info, thanks! Another point, sometimes people don't realize that they can find breed pets (maybe not with papers, but you can tell if the dog or cat is old enough) at animal shelters. I got a most wonderful Siamese cat (seal point) at our local humane society and he took care of the details around my house for many years. Thanks again for a very informative (and helpful) hub. --Ann