With no verifiable objective statistics about the number of dogs euthanized at animal shelters in the United States, proponents of adoption of unwanted dogs have been lobbying for the ban of sales of purebred dogs from pet stores in many communities, in an attempt to eliminate the existence of “puppy mills.” The sad truth is, because there are no controls over the origin of puppies and dogs sold through shelters and rescue groups, they may have been bred and sold by very same “puppy mill” breeders the opponents are trying to put out of business.
Before we continue to condemn the sale and ownership of purebred dogs, we should take a hard look at the facts, and regardless of breed-purebred or mixed-all breeders should be required to provide the same standard of care for all dogs bred, wherever they are sold. Furthermore, instead of eliminating sales of purebred dogs, owners can be provided information about the origin, medical history, and breeding of those animals. Similarly, animal shelters and rescue operations should be required to obtain and provide all the information they have to owners buying rescue animals, to the extent that information is available. That way the unscrupulous breeding and sales of dogs into the shelter/rescue chain, by those who seek to exploit the expansion of policies favoring animal adoption, can be curbed, if not eliminated.
A few of the issues underlying this complex problem include:
- The number of dogs euthanized at animal shelters has not been verified, and estimates vary wildly. Only a few states require shelters to record the number of dogs (and other animals) euthanized, and of those states, only a handful of statistics are regularly maintained.
- It is not enough to merely quantify the number of dogs euthanized-the signalment (age, breed reproductive status) and reason for the euthanasia should also be recorded, so proper analysis can follow.
- The origin of dogs imported into a shelter for adoption should be recorded and closely monitored. Tracing back the original location of dogs is essential to address any overpopulation issues at their source. Unscrupulous breeders may be exploiting society’s interest in rescuing abandoned animals, and may be intentionally breeding and selling dogs into the shelter network. That activity should be exposed and stopped. If not, there will be a never-ending source of allegedly abandoned dogs sold through shelters and rescues.
- Animals imported from other states or countries can pose a health risk to the resident animals of the newly entered state. For example, except for recent reports on the acquired resistance of heartworms, this parasitic infection in the north east has been largely controlled. The introduction of heartworm-infected and contagious dogs from other parts of the country can increase the incidence of these infections to the native populations of mosquitoes and eventually dogs and cats.
- For decades, veterinarians, animal shelter employees, and related non-governmental organizations have promoted the early spay and neutering of pet dogs, as one way to reduce the number of unwanted dogs. However, if a local population is already controlled, and dogs must be imported from other states/countries for adoption, as occurs in the north eastern states, then the value of mandatory spay-neuter programs becomes questionable.
- This issue is compounded by recent reports identifying the negative medical consequences of the routine spaying/neutering of dogs. There is some evidence that certain diseases/conditions may be more prevalent in spayed/neutered dogs compared to intact dogs. Much more research is required before the recommended industry practice in the U.S. will change from the routine spaying/neutering of dogs and cats. However, if reliable scientific evidence supports such a change, veterinarians will consider which procedures will maximize the medical benefits to their patients, while still controlling pet overpopulation.
The placement of abandoned, unwanted, adoptable dogs in permanent homes remains a laudable goal. However, the breeding and sales of purebred dogs does not have to be banned if reasonable and appropriate controls are placed on the breeding of all dogs.