It happens almost constantly. People meet my dog, and want to know what she is, where she came from, how old she is, and how they can get a canine companion as sweet, quiet and loving as she is. I’ve had people roll down their car windows and yell out “What kind of dog is that?”, and even had people stop their cars to ask me questions about her.
The funny thing is, I don’t really have any answers for them. Truth be told, I don’t know much about Honey myself, except that she’s some sort of beagle-mix (we think maybe partially Chow Chow), that she’s the sweetest, best-behaved dog I’ve ever met, and that she would be dead right now if I had bought a puppy like I wanted to.
Two years ago this month, I moved into a dog-friendly condo across from a park with my partner, and simultaneously started planning to get a dog. I had spent the past four years wanting a dog more than anything, and I just couldn’t wait any longer. I wanted a puppy, something cute and fluffy like a pomeranian, and I wanted it right then and there. I started scouring Craigslist, Kijiji, and online breeder resources to scout out local puppies and figure out what it would cost me.
A few weeks after we moved in though, my plan was derailed. I was out grocery shopping when I recieved a text from a close friend who’s very involved in the Reddit community. She told me a woman had put out a call for help, looking to find anyone in the Toronto area to foster dogs.
The woman, a lovely lady who I later learned is named Dolores Doherty, runs a rescue out of her home in Oakville called “A Dog’s Dream”. A lover of all dogs, Dolores focuses on beagles, mostly from Kentucky, in high-kill shelters, and tries to save them before they’re put down. Her story had spread to Reddit, and my friend had thought of me as a potential foster. Though I had never had any experience with a rescue dog, and didn’t know much about the process, I emailed Dolores right away and said we’d take as many dogs as we could.
While waiting for Dolores to respond, I started to do some research. In Kentucky shelters, 99% of beagles, beagle mixes, and hounds are put down, as there are just too many of them there and no one wants that kind of dog. Often dogs are just left on the side of the road if they’re not as skilled at hunting as their peers, and the shelters can only hold them for a few days before euthanizing them. Dolores and her rescue have connected with these shelters, and attempt to save as many dogs as possible by finding foster parents or forever homes here in Canada for the dogs, then having them checked out by a vet, and driven up to the border by volunteer drivers.
Because Dolores only has limited space, it’s crucial to find adoptive parents or fosters here, or the dogs can’t be removed from the shelter and saved. She emailed me back shortly after I sent her my offer, asked a few questions, and said she’d bring us a dog that weekend.
I had no idea what to expect whatsoever, so I expected the worst.
When Honey arrived in a large metal cage a few days later, I couldn’t believe my eyes. I had always had this preconception that rescues were unwanted dogs, dogs with behavioural problems and health issues, dogs that people just couldn’t keep. But then here was Honey, the perfect size, the cutest face, the nicest demeanor and fully trained. How could anyone have put this sweet, loving, healthy creature down?
Within a week, we had sent the papers and adoption fee to Dolores. Honey was the dog I’d been looking for all along, and though I hadn’t really wanted a random mutt, she’d somehow found me.
The thing is, I’m not against purebred dogs, or puppies, or anything like that. I grew up with Australian Shepherds from breeders, and a ton of my friends have dogs they got because they like the breed. I love all dogs, I really do, and I hope one day I’ll find a perfect little pomeranian sidekick to join me, Honey, and the two cats. The thing is, I just can’t support buying dogs anymore.
In the USA alone, over 3 million dogs and cats are put down each year, and that’s not counting pets that owners put down because they have health issues, behavioural issues, or they just don’t want them anymore. Think of it this way: every 11 seconds, a dog or cat will die for no reason except that it was unwanted and had nowhere to go. Though I once thought of buying a dog myself, whenever I hear people talking about going to a breeder now, or adding their name to a waitlist for a special kind of dog, I can’t help but feel sick instead of excited. For every dog that is bought, hundreds that deserved a home just as much, if not more, died.
Why is it that we buy dogs anyway? I mean, puppies or not, they have an equal chance of health issues and behavioural problems (a higher chance in fact, if they’re purebred dogs), and if a puppy is absolutely paramount, there are a ton of shelters and rescue organizations with puppies to spare.
And if you're really set on a certain breed, chances are there are lots of that kind of a dog out there needing adoption, it just might be a bit more work to find them, and they not be exactly what you pictured. At the end of the day, we all have aesthetic preferences, but should a dog's looks be the deciding factor on whether it is adopted or not? Whether it deserves to eat and run and be loved by humans? I don't think so.
So many dogs are dying out there, about 5500 in U.S. shelters every day alone, and at the end of the day, we’re to blame. The pet overpopulation problem is the result of not spaying and neutering pets, the desire for a certain kind of pet that looks or acts a certain way, and pet abandonment, all problems created and sustained by people, not dogs. This is our mess, and I think we need to stop being so selfish and fix what we’ve broken. Dogs are not belongings, they are living things who need us, and we’re letting them die, every minute of every day, by perpetuating pet shopping culture.
Though going to a farm or a pet shop to pick out a certain kind of puppy has been a long cherished tradition in western culture, I think we have to power to change it. Yes, many rescue dogs have a lot of issues that need special attention, but a lot of purebred puppies that you reserve from before birth can end up with the same exact problems too.
Lately I've been seeing more and more positive action surrounding this switch: films like Earthlings, (a documentary about the relationship between humans and animals so horrifying I couldn’t even finish it) shed light on the pet overpopulation problem, there are thoughtful artists like the man painting 5500 shelter dogs' memorial portraits in Kentucky in an effort to put a face to the numbers for people, and laws in Toronto now forbid dogs and cats from being sold in pet shops.
Honey and I are also doing our best to raise awareness about this issue, though on a much smaller scale. We fostered another lovely dog last spring who was adopted, and plan to foster more this summer. We talk to everyone we can about Honey's story, and try to help our friends source out rescue pets if they're interested. We also sport accessories by Found My Animal, a brooklyn based dog company with the motto “Let your pet wear your values”. The idea is that rescue dogs will wear these specially designed rope leashes and collars, directly spreading the word and encouraging others to consider adoption over shopping.
Seeing the shift around me has only made it easier to come out and say this to all of you, and hope you listen like I finally did.
At the end of the day, almost any dog can be a loyal, loving, and wonderful companion if given the chance, so why don’t we start giving our attention to those who need it most. If you can’t adopt, foster, and if you can’t foster, donate. If you can’t afford to donate, you can share adoption pages from Petfinder on social media in the hopes that someone else has to means to help, or mention adoption to people in your life who are in the market for a new canine companion.
In the 1970s, American shelters euthanized a staggering 12-20 million animals per year. Though that number has been drastically reduced in recent years, there are still thousands of wonderful animals dying daily. We hold the solution to bring that number down even lower, and it’s really very simple: adopt, don’t shop.