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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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