Sunday, April 11, 2010

The Heartbreaking Reality of Animal Shelters

Buck, our golden retriever, was the first dog I ever owned. He was the pick of the litter and would have been destined for show dog stardom if running around a ring would have been my thing. We immediately signed him up for puppy classes. He was the naughtiest dog in the class, but did learn to respond to a couple of commands when rewarded with a treat. Unfortunately, at ten months he wasn’t completely housebroken and listened only if given a treat. At our wits end, we enrolled him in an expensive training program.

Our new trainer took one look at Buck and said, “I like his look. You should consider breeding him.” I loved this idea. We could recoup some of the training costs we’d spent on Buck plus, it would be fun to have little golden retriever puppies running around. The training program was more about training us than Buck and well worth it in the long run.

When we took Buck to our Vet for his one year checkup the Vet tech asked when we would like to schedule his neutering. I told her he wasn't going to be neutered we were considering breeding him. I was shocked by her negative response:

“Leave the breeding to the professionals the world doesn’t need anymore dogs. Novice breeders don’t realize what they are getting into in both time and money and it usually doesn’t end well. Most of the puppies end up at animal shelters.” She volunteers at the humane society and was telling me from experience the majority of dogs dropped off are never adopted and end up being euthanized.

"But our dog is a beautiful purebred golden retriever. We will easily be able to sell his puppies."

“The shelters are full of purebreds with the majority being retrievers. And what about back yard accidents. What will your neighbors do with the puppies? Are they qualified to select adequate homes? Dog ownership is a huge responsibility with many purchasers having no idea what they are getting into. Once a puppy is too big to handle it is dropped off at a shelter never to come out again."

I was reminded of this conversation while reading the following excerpt on A Gai Shan Lifes's blog:
I think our society needs a huge "wake-up" call. As a shelter manager, I am going to share a little insight with you all...a view from the inside if you will. First off, all of you people who have ever surrendered a pet to a shelter or humane society should be made to work in the "back" of an animal shelter for just one day. Maybe if you saw the life drain from a few sad, lost, confused eyes, you would stop flagging the ads on craigslist and help these animals find homes. That puppy you just bought will most likely end up in my shelter when it's not a cute little puppy anymore. Just so you know there's a 90% chance that dog will never walk out of the shelter it’s dumped at? Purebred or not! About 25% of all of the dogs that are "owner surrenders" or "strays", that come into a shelter are purebred dogs.

......Odds are your pet won't get adopted, and how stressful do you think being in a shelter is? Well, let me tell you, your pet has 72 hours to find a new family from the moment you drop it off. Sometimes a little longer if the shelter isn't full and your dog manages to stay completely healthy. If it sniffles, it dies. Your pet will be confined to a small run/kennel in a room with other barking or crying animals. It will have to relieve itself where it eats and sleeps. It will be depressed, and it will cry constantly for the family that abandoned it. If your pet is lucky, I will have enough volunteers in that day to take him/her for a walk. If I don't, your pet won't get any attention besides having a bowl of food slid under the kennel door and the waste sprayed out of its pen with a high-powered hose. If your dog is big, black or any of the "bully" breeds (pit bull, rottie, mastiff, etc) it was pretty much dead when you walked it through the front door. Those dogs just don't get adopted. It doesn't matter how 'sweet' or 'well behaved' they are.

What happened with Buck?
Buck was neutered shortly after the above vet appointment. Our vet also strongly encouraged neutering convincing us it was better for his health in the long run.

What about the expensive dog training?
We ended up buying a second dog from our trainer and my husband became a training center volunteer.  He plans on dedicating his retirement life to training and fostering rescue dogs.  Here he is with our two dogs and our trainer's puppy Molly:


  1. While I sincerely applaud your decision to neuter your pet and to not become a "backyard breeder," I'm still a little baffled as to why you would continue to buy a dog, instead of adopting one in need from a local shelter?

  2. Erica,
    Originally, we brought Teddy home as a favor to our trainer who is also a breeder. He was from a litter of 12, wasn't selling and needed socialization. Once we had him in our home for awhile we fell in love with him and decided to keep him. After assisting with socializing and training Molly and a couple of his other puppies we decided in the future we would foster rescue dogs. Teddy was the seed of our future plans.

    To be perfectly honest, I didn’t know the realities for the animals at shelters were as horrific as they are until I read the excerpt on Gai Shan’s blog. My husband also read the excerpt and just two minutes ago said he can’t stop thinking about it. The whole purpose of this post is to inform others of these realities so they in addition to myself adopt from animal shelters in the future.

  3. Thanks for making light of this sad reality. My love of animals and of philosophy combine in this wonderful and thought-provoking quote from philosopher, Jeremy Bentham:

    "...a full grown horse or dog is beyond comparison a more rational, as well as a more conversible animal, than an infant of a day, or a week, or even a month, old. But suppose the case were otherwise, what would it avail? The question is not, Can they reason? nor, Can they talk? but, Can they suffer?"

  4. FP,
    Wow, that is an amazing quote. Thanks for sharing.