20 October 2014

“Mom, I want a dog!”

Stephanie McDonald
InfoStream Guest Author 

These are the inevitable words that many parents hear from their young animal-loving children. It begins the discussion of whether to add a dog to the household, or not. As parents, they will have to deal with this request and provide a reasonable answer to their child. And, of course, many children will continue a relentless negotiation as their parents make their decision.

“I promise I will walk the dog every day!”
“I promise I will clean up the yard.”
“I promise I will play with the dog, and feed it, and love it!”

I was one of those kids; you may have been too. In the end, I won over my parents and was given the greatest gift of my life, a sweet, little black puppy.  But where did they get my dog from? It certainly didn’t matter to me, at the time.

Back then, some could say, life was easier. We were not overloaded with information, opinions and social pressures. Getting a dog was as easy as shopping at the pet store, finding a neighbour with a litter of puppies, locating a breeder, visiting the animal shelter or searching the classified ads.

In those days, any of those options was as socially acceptable as the next. I don’t think many people gave it a second thought.

The current options are not substantially different—add sourcing a rescue group to the list, and the options for finding a dog today are pretty much the same. But being in the age of readily-available information has changed many people’s perceptions. More people are aware and conscious of the pet overpopulation crisis and are seeking to make informed, socially responsible decisions about where to find their next pet.

For some, the most apparent solution for not wanting to contribute to this massive overpopulation problem is to adopt their dog from a shelter or rescue group. After all, rescue groups and animal shelters have done a pretty fantastic job of getting the “Adopt, don’t shop!” message out there.  But for others, the choice is not so straight-forward.

What if the pet you want is simply not readily available at the local shelter or rescue group? The reality is, certain breeds enter shelters or rescue groups incredibly rarely and, let’s face it, once a family is ready for their new pet, the wait can be nearly unbearable.

So, you head over to the online classifieds and find pages and pages of puppies for sale. In a few clicks in you realize that some of the “breeders” of these pets may not be on the up and up; in some cases they appear to be backyard breeders, others are accidental litters, and in the worst cases they’re puppy-mills disguised.

Presumably, you still want to be part of the solution. You want to make a good decision for your family and make one that takes animal welfare into account.
What now? What happens when your search for information leads to more questions? As a public member simply wishing to do the right thing while adding a new family member, it can begin to feel nearly impossible for you to do just that.

How do animal welfare leaders create a road-map for the public? Despite the pet overpopulation crisis, is breeding animals ok under the “right” circumstances? What are those circumstances? What does it mean to be a “responsible reputable breeder?”  Who defines it? Who regulates it?

Can the breeding industry accept standards, guidelines, transparency and maybe even an accreditation process? Can they reach a consensus on what that process is?

I spent over a decade of my career advocating for animal welfare as CEO of a large humane society. I’ve seen thousands of families choose the adoption option and I strongly believe that it’s a great option for most people, but I’ve also come to understand why that isn’t always the first or best option for everyone.

When faced with the question of where to get a pet when adoption is not an option, I’ve provided the “from a responsible breeder” answer. Guidelines, like these from the HSUS, provide a basis for people to start to figure out what that means. But it’s not necessarily an easy process for people.

I believe that it is time for the pet breeding industry to develop and accept standards and accreditation that account for animal welfare and care throughout the purchase process. The standards need to all-inclusive, from record keeping and health care to housing and environmental enrichment.  They need to account for these aspects for the offspring and for the breeding pets as well.

This is just the tip of the iceberg, as I see it, and it won’t be an easy task.  Animal shelters and rescue groups are struggling with this task too. Not all shelters and rescue groups are the same, and they all have different standards.  It is getting better with introduction of the Association of Shelter Veterinarians Shelter Guidelines, but we still have a ways to go.

As animal welfare professionals, I believe we have a responsibility to help the public make the most informed, ethical choices possible.  We should be thrilled when people add animals to their families in a well-considered and responsible manner whether the animals come from a shelter, a rescue group, or from a responsible reputable breeder. But we need to guide this process, set some standards and help people as much as possible, don’t you think?


Stephanie and her experienced team provide consulting services for animal welfare organizations. Partnering with Humane Society Management Services Canada LLC.  

Stephanie McDonald was the CEO for the Edmonton Humane Society for over 12 years. She introduced a multitude of innovative shelter operational improvements, focusing on improved animal care, new facility, customer service, fiscal management, disaster response and employee satisfaction.

Stephanie has been recognized internationally and locally for her contributions to animal welfare and has received several prestigious awards.

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