The Rescue Religion

Jul 28, 2014 by

The Rescue Religion

Editor’s Note: For the sake of clarity, the people referred to in this article as “the enemy” are those who hate dog breeders and treat rescue like a religion.  This is NOT a commentary on rescues in general.  ILRDB has always and will always support rescuers just as we support dog breeders.

Somewhere in the sleepy recess of partial consciousness that comes with having heated Facebook arguments at midnight, I walked into a “breeder vs. rescue” debate last night.

The thing I hate about this debate is not that it happens- I actually rather enjoy discussing the benefits and drawbacks of buying from one over the other. It’s that it almost never turns into a well-reasoned, factually supported argument.

This particular discourse began when an unsuspecting, well-intentioned future pet owner inquired about what kind of dog they should get. I responded pretty quickly that the person should specify what they are looking for in a dog (size, coat type, energy level, and trainability are all very important factors to take into consideration). I carefully weighed the pros and cons of where they could get a dog- breeder, shelter, rescue, pet store, rehome- but made sure to stress that it was essentially that they should choose a dog to fit their lifestyle, regardless of where it comes from.

So basically, I pulled the pin and tossed the grenade into the middle of a group of otherwise rational adults who, upon hearing an opinion that does not directly coincide with their own, completely lost their shit.


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The scariest part? This occurred in a group completely unrelated to dogs. The majority of responses from what would otherwise be considered “the general public” encouraged the future dog owner to seek a dog from a shelter, because breeder dogs are apparently evil.

Dog breeders and dog owners should be paying very close attention right now, because what is happening here is that we are losing the one battle that we cannot afford to lose.

Rescue has become a religion. While we were all fighting over how many health tests and titles a dog should have before a breeder lets it reproduce, the breeder haters have been busy recruiting. The only thing these people see is the number of dogs that are euthanized every year. And while that is a horrible tragedy because, as somebody who has worked in rescue for seven years, I absolutely hate that any healthy happy perfectly adoptable dog needs to die, what the breeder haters are missing is the “why”. Why are we euthanizing adoptable dogs? Why are shelters with empty kennels still sticking to the “8 days to find a home” mandate? Why are we using more resources to turn down potential owners for not having a fence when we should be using those resources to place the dogs left behind?

Rescue religion fails to acknowledge that the shelter system is broken. If we want to truly tackle the problem of the number of dogs being euthanized in shelters, we need to start with the owners of these dogs. Increasing owner retention, treating dog owners who can’t keep their dogs like human beings, is a fantastic start. Some very good people find themselves in very unfortunate situations. Sometimes dog owners face the incredibly difficult decision of giving up their dog for financial reasons, or because they have to acknowledge that they cannot handle the dog any more. Maybe they didn’t do research before they bought a dog, or they bought a puppy of unknown origin from a shelter. The shining stars in dog breeding and rescue are the breeders and rescuers who spend a considerable amount of time educating these potential owners about the different breeds and stressing that each breed has a different need. In the end, however, it really is up to dog owners to be receptive to education. If we are going to fix the shelter system, we need to encourage this and we need to provide that education.

Breeders, this is a call to ALL of you. Right here, right now. It’s time to start fighting for what you do before you are not allowed to do it. We need breeders to start marketing themselves as something more than puppy producers. We need to scream from the rooftops that all of us who support dog breeding are the ones who really care. We need to talk about the commitment we’ve made to our dogs and their offspring. Breeder haters are constantly accusing breeders of insulting rescue dogs, but the reality is that the opposite is happening. Why are we accepting this? Why are we allowing this to occur? We are losing, and losing is NOT an option.





Stop fighting amongst yourselves about what makes a breeder “reputable” or “responsible”. Stop talking about how few puppies you produce or how little money you make like it’s a competition. Stop making a big deal over people who produce mixed breeds or dogs outside the breed standard. They are still breeders, which means they are on your team. And if we’re going to spend all of our energy fighting with the people on our team, we have no chance when it’s time to go to war with the other team.

I have never bred a dog in my life. The closest I’ve ever come to breeding is pet sitting a litter of puppies every so often for one of my clients who is a dog breeder. I started this page because I am passionate about preserving the art and knowledge that comes with producing dogs of exceptional mental and physical soundness. I have spent seven years in rescue, but only two defending dog breeders. The breeders don’t need to convince me because they’ve already won me. But even I have to acknowledge that the only reason I’m here is because somebody (a breeder) took the time to talk some sense into me.

Every single time I get into one of these conversations, somebody has to accuse me of being a breeder. As if being a breeder is a bad thing. I would be proud to call myself a dog breeder- and you should too. Save for parenting, no other job requires such an extraordinary commitment with very little return for your investment. Even breeders who do make a substantial profit (and good for them!) are putting significantly more into their venture than they are getting out of it. I wish the rescue religion would stop converting long enough to take a good long look at the people they think they hate, because I know we care about our dogs more most people will ever know.

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  1. Melissa

    I completely agree with you that the rescue system is broken. My mom volunteered for a no kill shelter which is very admirable but they just weren’t moving dogs. Whenever a person would come in to look to adopt a dog it was as if the shelter didn’t want to let go of the dog. They would have the person go through all these tests and and visits and pay huge “non refundable” fees and then sometimes (a lot) the person was deemed “unfit” for really stupid reasons. It was a small, no kill shelter that could house MAYBE 15 dogs at a time and they were getting a dog adopted once a month, maybe less. How much help were they really doing by sending away so many perfectly good dog owners?

    My family has owned three Akitas in my lifetime. The first two were from breeders and our current Akita is from the shelter my mom worked with so I see both sides of the coin. Breeding is important to keep beloved breeds in existence and rescues are important to find any dog from a lovable mutt to a purebred Akita a good home. But rescuers need to stop being so sanctimonious about it. It’s almost as if they care more about being able to say “I rescue dogs” than actually doing any real work.

  2. Charlotte

    BRAVO! I admit to being one of the early vanguard of people working for change in the disastrous shelter system of 40 years ago, where one in four dogs entered the “dog pound” and never came out. Today the % of dogs dying for lack of a home is down to 2% – 5%, depending on a few statistical details. We are now suffering from our success. Quite a few people got very used to the $$ and the halos, and now the big orgs got involved . . . What a terrible Culture of Rescue we have created, where victimization is the benchmark for worthiness, the saddest story wins. When there is a disaster, like the tornadoes in Missouri, the entire country lines up for a badge of honor to the extent that the ASPCA recommends holding a lottery for chances at being a hero to a disaster dog. Any disaster dog will do, it seems, as the purpose isn’t to get a great family pet anymore. Your Facebook discussion was horrifyingly familiar to me, I’m afraid. As a former pro trainer, I can tell you that people don’t seem to pay attention to “education” any more. After all these years of preaching, it’s clear we have been preaching to the choir.

    The three worst myths of this Culture of Rescue are; 1)we can save them all, 2)all they need is love, and 3)the life of any animal has more value than any human. Back in the 70s, dog breeders were looked up to, known as knowledgeable and dedicated experts. Nowadays it’s the saddest story wins, dog breeders are greedy SOBs, and doing research and choosing a pet for its appropriateness is frowned upon.

  3. Joyce

    Good post. I would add this to it: breeders are NOT taking homes away from shelter dogs because frankly, breeders and shelters are two different sources for pets that typically serve two totally different markets. People who purchase a purebred from a responsible breeder typically want a puppy, and they’re looking for something very specific–they’ve researched and are seeking the precise attributes they want in a pet that will fit best into their lifestyle–such as a certain size, coat type, temperament and energy level. Most of the dogs available in shelters–not all, but most–are adults and are mixed breeds of indeterminate background and in many cases, unknown prior ownership. Please note that I firmly believe that all dogs have value. I grew up with mixed breed dogs, and most of these dogs were good companions. The reality, though, is that you cannot purchase a mixed breed puppy and know what it will grow into. In addition to not being able to predict the physical elements, you do not know anything about the background of the dog–how it was raised, the health and temperament of its parents/family, etc. For many buyers, this is no problem whatsoever, and those people typically seek a shelter dog when looking to purchase a pet. For others, predictability may be critical to that dog fitting into their home, family and lifestyle. In addition to needing a specific size/coat type/energy level etc., they may have a certain goal for the animal–performance and other events for specific breeds, etc. This isn’t elitism, as people like those quoted in your article often claim—it’s just a different sort of home with a different need for their pet. These are the folks who seek out a purebred. It is NOT a crime to want your pet to fit a certain predictable mold! For many purebred owners, it’s crucial, to be able to provide that pet with an appropriate home.

  4. Hollis McGuire

    This article left me breathless, as I prepare to breed a wonderful dog that is sound in body, mind and spirit, with many titles and much to offer to her breed. No dog will be left behind; any that do not have a home at any time in their lives will come back to me until the end of his or her days, no questions asked. We need to work for the good of all dogs, but do we really want to stop creating good dogs? If no one bred thoughtfully how long would it take before the only dogs created were done out of thoughtlessness or neglect? And what would be the end result?

    • Hollis I agree with you. If all breeders of high quality purebred dogs who do the health checks on their breeding stock and who offer genetic health guarantees to the buyer. the breeders who carefully screen each buyer before selling them a dog, and who in their contract state they will either take the dog back if life situation changes and owner can’t keep the dog . If these breeders like you and I and other reputable breeders were to just quit breeding then what would become of the beautiful breeds we have cherished for so many years? BTW I think rescue people need to understand a reputable breeder doesn’t sell puppies in a parking lot or at a flea market or from a pet shop..just so they know. There is a HUGE difference in breeders.

  5. Michele

    As a show/hobby breeder and a purebred rescue founder and director I see this issue from both sides. Your article is on point and needs to be spread far and wide! The shelter only animal rights people are on a jihad to take over control of every canine uterus and set of testicles in the world. At a recent animal welfare conference the ASPCA presenter stated that shelter pets have only captured 20% of the pet market and they need to do better. How? By offering their customers more variety (read bring in dogs from other shelters) and drop those cumbersome questions and requirements. Another blogger went so far as to say he would support shelters who bred their own puppies to support care of the older dogs. A shelter in WI is already doing that by breeding doodles and selling them online. I could type for about five more days but I think my message is clear. ALL breeders either stick together or we all fall.

    • Janet Ledford

      So you would stand by the shelter that breeds doodles? Cause that makes them breeders. You stand by the mills and the Amish puppy farmers? What about that guy breeding his “pitbulls” in his backyard in horrid conditions? those are not breeders I want to support.

      • Charlotte

        Janet, you don’t have to support anyone else, but if you want to continue with your way, you have to PROMOTE your way of doing things. Tearing down someone else is only helping the anti-breeding groups, handing them their most powerful ammunition. It’s feeding the alligator, hoping it will eat you last. The is suicide by degrees. This is exactly the attitude that needs to change.

        I hope you will go back and read this blog a couple more times, I don’t think you understood it.

  6. Janet Ledford

    I’m totally pro-breeder, but I will not support mills/pet stores, wack job byb’s or Amish dpg farms with horrid conditions. I have done over 20 years of rescue and have counseled people how to find the right dog OR the right breeder. I keep a list of breeders to refer people to. To support ANY person just because they breed is ridiculous. That would like voting for a person just because of their sex or color,instead of what they stand for.

  7. Tara Hansen

    Wow.. what a wonderful post… working on both sides i have seen the best of the best and worst of the worst. I will say that many of the amish communities that i have visited are AMAZING.. Many of the kennels and dogs are better cared for aand loved than many of the “pets” that come into our clinic. The amish have made the effort to produce beautiful dogs that are a wonderful to see and visit,.. let alone own. For example one place we visited … the “nursery was a beautful room with the moms and babies in beautiful pens.” The moms were taken out to the playyard 3 times a day and they all walked on leashes and the babies were handled with such care and love. The males and unbred females where in another buliding with heated and cooled floors.. depending on the time of year. The dogs were calm and loving. I was floored by the amount of time and effort spent with these dogs ( they came to thier names and they behaved better than my house dog dose at times haha )
    I agree that a Dog Breeder should be proud of thier dogs and the job that they do raising dogs.
    There are amazing “shelters or rescues ” and there are amazing dog breeders…. I am sure there are bad in both sides… but i do believe that many of the rescues and shelters are often all to happy to buy dogs from auctions or to buy dogs from other sorcues. I was horrifed to read about the lies and half truths about people who say they “rescued ” dogs, onlybto find out the dogs were a breeders and the rescue had taken the dogs, becasue they didnt believe in breeding.. or the dog that was taken from a backyard becasue he was on a tie out.. and when the owner showed up, the shelterbsaid the dogbwas abused … that is what scares me and why I speak out …because people need to know that a dog is a wondeful pet … but it should never be on the same as a human. I love my dogs.. one i bought from a shelter and one i bought from a breeder… they both love who ever fills thier bowl. But i dont want that choice of where i choose to buy my dog from to be taken from us.
    On a sidr note… if a rescuse or shelter is breeding dogs or buying bred dogs allowing dogs to have pups, they should no longer be a 501 .., they should be put under the same.rules and regulations as a breeder…

    • Sookey Capote

      Tara Hansen, good for you noticing and reporting on the very good work the Amish do raising dogs (and other animals). I’ve visited some Amish farms in Pennsylvania and in Missouri, and they are great farmers who practice highly professional and compassionate husbandry.

      As for shelters who breed doodles or other dogs to make money, duh, of course they should lose their 501 status.

      Keep up your good defense of people who manage dogs well, regardless of whether they breed or rescue or both.

  8. Marc Brown

    I take it you haven’t seen the BBC’s documentary ‘Pedigree Dogs Exposed’. The way the kennel clubs are breeding dogs is creating huge problems for the dogs themselves. It would be nice to see them really address that.

    It’s true as you say that anyone who causes a litter of puppies to be born is a breeder, even if they aren’t breeding AKC dogs. Some issues there need to be addressed too. I know a lot of people who breed their dog (mutt or otherwise) because they want their dog to have the ‘motherhood experience’. Others because they want a single puppy so as to have something left of the mother dog when she dies of old age. The AVMA is lately publishing articles stating that sterilizing your dog can lead to lots of health issues, thus discouraging people from spaying. You know, bring a bunch of pups into the world to protect your one dog’s health, and never mind what happens to those pups or if there’s a chance for healthy life for them.

    On the rescue side, they’re ignoring their own problems too. 32% of shelter intake is pit bull type dog; up to 80% or more in urban shelters. No matter what you think of pit bulls / pit mixes, the fact is that most of the general public doesn’t want one. If ‘rescue people’ concentrate on reducing the breeding of fashion breeds that end up flooding shelters, one has to admit they’re right in doing that.

    It would be good if both camps worked on improving their own behavior and what that means for dogs, instead of fighting each other.

    • elaine

      I have seen articles from qualified scientists and researchers explaining why spay/neuter, particularly before the dog is fully mature, is associated with a number of illnesses and injuries that are less common in intact dogs. In none of these articles did I see advice to breed the dog to assure better health.

      Apparently you are unaware that it is possible to maintain an intact dog without allowing it to reproduce. I have to wonder if that is because you feel that having the dog altered means the owner does not have to supervise its activities and provide appropriate confinement. *FLASH – owners need to take care of their dogs regardless of the dog’s reproductive status.”

      And FYI – a film produced to promote an agenda is properly called “propaganda” not “documentary.”

  9. Linda Deutsch

    Several problems exist, both in the larger “generic” breeder population and the “shelter system” which has largely morphed into a business model loaded with prejudicial attitudes, no longer legitimately eligible for the tax exempt status they enjoy.
    1) Not all “breeders ” are created equal, though the Animal Rights extremists and shelter industry would like to paint that picture. Those individuals dedicated to a particular breed generally have contracts and take back any puppy they raise if & when needed, no questions asked for the duration of the animals life so NEVER NEVER contribute to the shelter problem !!! Further they seldom if ever have a profitable bottom line between all the health testing, nurturing, and lifetime support of all they produce. Secondary to allowing for rehoming all they produce most breed very seldom, only often enough to retain the bloodline they prefer. Any lumping of these with commercial breeders is an intentional lie perpetuated by the AR & Shelter INDUSTRY, with the intent of steering all consumers to themselves.
    2) Commercial breeders and accidental owners with no animal husbandry knowledge on the other hand have a bottom line requiring profit and as such are pumping out quantity with ZERO responsibility for what they produce once it leaves their facility. Both they and the pet shops they supply with live animals do virtually no screening of buyers as appropriate homes creating the vast majority of dogs ultimately being surrendered to shelters or abandoned and ending in shelters. This unfortunate fact holds for all commercial producers whether their facility is clean and “good” or whether it is sub-standard.
    3) Shelters who import dogs from out of state, or off shore, or worse yet breed themselves for re-sale, while denigrating “Breeders” are despicable hypocritical business models and do not deserve any recognition as they are working for profit and or ulterior motives!

    Conclusion) It is past time for the media, ignorant consumers, and legislators to educate themselves about and address the true nature of failure of responsibility and pet retention instead of blindly accepting intentional misrepresentations perpetuated by the Animal Rights Groups and Shelter Industry.
    The idea that a “shelter sourced animal” is superior is hogwash! They are the products of the very commercial operations and irresponsible uneducated minority that the Shelter Industry rails against, lacking any health clearances or temperamentally positive selection of parents or puppy socialization, and often with negative behavioral & health baggage which is why they landed in the shelter in the first place.

  10. Lauri S

    There are only two types of breeders – Responsible and Irresponsible.

    Irresponsible = no health, temperament, or physical soundness testing; no criteria in selecting breeding pairs; puppies raised away from (almost constant) human contact; puppies sold to brokers, stores or other ‘middlemen'; puppies sold to anyone that has the right amount of money; no follow-up on puppies sold; does not take back ANY animal they have EVER produced; does not know the history of their breed; makes new ‘designer’ breeds for profit; only breeds F1 crosses of new ‘designer’ breeds.

    Responsible = completes all appropriate health tests for their breed; has breeding stock tested for appropriate temperament and physical soundness; does in-depth research on pedigrees and other data on potential breeding stock before selecting a breeding pair; puppies raised where they have contact with people for the majority of the day, experience the daily sights and sounds of an active household and have room to explore; only sells directly to the new owner; selects the right puppy (or offers a choice of possible matches) for the new owner; will not sell to someone just because they have enough money if they feel the puppy is not a good fit; keeps in touch with the new owner, is available to answer any questions and help with problems if they arise; ALWAYS will take back any animal they produced at any time in that animals life.

    • Sookey Capote

      There are only two types of rescue–responsible and irresponsible. Put another way, there are only two types of rescue–sensible and demented. Sensible and responsible makes every effort to match animals in need of rehoming with the right homes. Irreponsible and demented is (for example) the cat rescue group who wouldn’t let me take a kitten who had fallen in love with my dog (and she with him), because the dog wasn’t spayed. Res ipsa loquitur.

  11. Fodagus

    Gotta love that billboard. Sponsored by PETA, an organization infamous for euthanizing (“KILL”ing) almost every animal surrendered to them…

  12. Michelle

    What is sad, is that when we DO promote the positive things we do, there is ALWAYS am Animal Rights Activist or other Anti-breeder person who is adamant about this subject and are unwilling to listen to reason or sensible discussion. They say that if you breed even ONE puppy, you are contributing to the pet “overpopulation”. NEVER do they put the blame where it truly belongs!!! Squarely on the shoulders of irresponsible pet BUYERS!!! People who put NO thought into their pet purchase, who impulsively purchase from pet stores or irresponsible breeders and then dump their pets at shelters/rescues after ruining them. I don’t like to throw around blame, but I am tired of being blamed for it. Instead of working together to educate the public about being a responsible pet buyer/owner, they only want to put down breeders and force people to only get a pet from a rescue/shelter.

  13. any mouse

    I am all about educating the owners, no matter how or where they get their dogs. Unfortunately, most of my clients do not come to me until they have a problem. I think people have somehow become dis-associated with animal handling and behavior, so some very nice dogs end up with serious behavioral issues that land them in shelters or pounds. The distinct advantage a puppy has, when raised by a responsible breeder, is the training and handling they get before placement. Shelter dogs (at least in my area) are kenneled. They are not trained (which would take time but would raise the number of dogs placed) and not taught manners. How many times have you gone to a shelter and had an eager, confined dog leap up on the door for greeting? So you move on to the depressed one who doesn’t do that. Once you get that dog home for a month he blossoms….into a garbage raider, or a toy guarder, or marker indoors or something. *sigh*. How many people would rather have an adult dog who can sit politely, walk on lead and not raid the garbage and then threaten the human who needs to get the bone(s) away from him? I would think a dog like that would fly out of a shelter. But they don’t do that. Responsible breeders do, they have puppies that can’t wait to greet the prospective buyers, a mama dog who invites them in to see her babies and a home like environment that encourages visitors to sit down and play with the puppies. There is no choice for me, the shelter dog may tug at my heartstrings, but the puppy is going to be less work in the long run. I will always support breeders.


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