Adopt, Don’t Shop: support shelter dogs over breeders

Maddie Genoways, Staff Writer

When I was nine, we got our first foster dog from an agency in Omaha called Nebraska Dachshund Rescue. He was a tiny, wiry thing, with skinny legs, a crooked snout, and thoroughly rotten teeth. His frail body didn’t stop him from fighting, as he continually snarled and thrashed against his harness, and treated every gently outstretched hand as though it was raised to strike.  

“His name is Charlie,” the rescue agent told us. “And he was abused for five years.” 

So we took Charlie into our home of three spoiled dachshunds, one old chocolate lab and a cranky old former street cat. It was painfully slow going, Charlie’s terror manifested itself as wild aggression, and it certainly didn’t help that he needed to have 24 rotten teeth pulled at the vet.  

After several long months of house-training, doggy disappearing acts, many scratches and bites and lots of reassuring ourselves that this was a good idea, we had a breakthrough.  

One day, I came home from school and sat myself on the floor to greet our overexcited dogs. I pretended not to watch as Charlie poked a slow, tentative path across the room, holding stock-still as I felt his wet little nose push against my palm so as not to scare him off. Slowly, slowly, Charlie climbed into my lap and curled into a little ball across my legs, and let me stroke his back. His fur was deceptively soft, and though he was still trembling, I knew that Charlie had changed fundamentally. 

By the time Charlie was adopted, he had completely transformed. Where had once stood a scrawny, petrified ball of aggression who had never seen real grass in his life, now stood a strong dog filled with energy, a love for attention and an unexpected love for children. If you had seen him that first day, you would never have left him alone with a child, but with time, gentleness and a quiet rehab home, that defensive shell broke away to reveal the sweetest, most protective dog under a foot tall. 

Since Charlie, my family has fostered 25 dogs and counting. The choice my mom had made in an attempt to fill the college-aged daughter sized hole in her heart with dogs has become one of the most meaningful things my family has ever done. That’s why I would ask you to forget everything you’ve been told about pet breeders and purebreds and consider shelters instead.  

In the U.S., companion animals like cats and dogs are wildly overpopulated. According to the World Animal Foundation, approximately 6.3 million of these animals enter shelters every year. On average, 3.2 million shelter animals are adopted, while the other 1.5 million animals are typically euthanized when shelters can no longer afford to keep them. No-kill shelters across the U.S. are maxed out, especially after quarantine, when many families took on “pandemic puppies” that they couldn’t sustain when they had to return to work. 

There are certainly some reputable breeders out there, but as someone with over a decade of fostering experience, I’ve seen far to many beaten, starved, caged, overworked dogs that have been exploited by the puppy mill breeding industry for me to ever want to buy a breeder’s dog.  

The majority of the dogs I’ve cared for have come from puppy mills, dim and dirty commercial dens where dogs are repeatedly bred without regard for their health in order to sell the most puppies. All of these dogs lived in a constant state of terror that usually resulted in outward displays of aggression, making them undesirable for adoption.  

In addition to the tremendous damage these mills do to their dogs’ personalities, the abuse their bodies are forced to withstand is heartbreaking. The female dogs bear the brunt of the brutality, with swollen bellies and teats as a result of being forced into one pregnancy after another without proper recovery. Puppy mill dogs often spend most of their lives in prisons of metal and concrete, leading to constant injury and infection, not to mention the damage done by irresponsible breeders shorting them food and vet visits to cut down costs. 

While we can’t shut down the nearly 10,000 puppy mills in the U.S. overnight, there is plenty we can do to protect the animals we call man’s best friend. If you are looking to bring a dog into your life, please consider local shelters and rescue agencies first. Not only do shelters take dogs off the street and out of dangerous homes, but they also give the animals they house a second chance at life. It sounds corny, but trust me, I’ve seen what can happen when you offer a hurt dog a little bit of time and affection, and it’s one of the best feelings in the world to ease some of the pain they’ve been shown in the past.  

According to Pedigree and The Humane Society, the most common dog breeds in shelters are those seen as violent, like pitbulls and boxers, or those who are overbred, like labradors and German shepherds.  

Along with these, shelters are full or mutts, crosses of two or more breeds that results in an entirely new dog with its own brand of pros and cons. All of this to say: don’t judge a dog by its breed! Every breed has its own specific set of needs and distinctive traits, but there is no such thing as a “violent” dog breed, only cruel people who train them to act a certain way.  

My two dogs are boxer-dachshund mutts who I bonded with during fostering and failed to rehome, but they are still the sweetest girls, whose distinctive traits from each of their breeds make them physically much stronger than their purebred relatives. 

So if you take anything away from this read, let it be that there are hundreds of dogs in shelters or rescue homes just waiting for the right person to give them a second shot at life (at a lower adoption cost to boot!).  

If the allure of a purebred is just too strong, make sure you know what you are getting into; verify your breeder and the conditions their dogs live in, make sure they have an agreeable adoption and return policy, and most of all, make sure you can handle the needs of the dog.  

Dogs are not decorations or toys, they are intelligent animals who feel real love and hurt and pain, and they should be treated as such. If you can’t love and treasure your companion for what they’re worth, I know a weird little family in Eastern Nebraska who would love to take them off your hands!