Where do dogs come from?
It’s a surprisingly big question, and the answers are surprisingly complex.
At the micro level, there is the question of where your dog comes from?
If you are like more than half of all Americans, your dog came from a shelter or rescue, which means your dog bounced through at least two or three sets of hands before finding its forever home.
My wife’s Italian Greyhound, for example, was listed on Petfinder as an adult “Jack Russell-Chihuahua cross”. His origins are a bit mysterious, but he reportedly came out of West Virginia before finding his way to Lost Dog Rescue, which is supported by the Lost Dog Cafe, a local coffee house and restaurant that devotes part of its profits to canine causes. Would I be surprised if he came out of a puppy mill? I would not. He’s been a wonderful dog, and exactly what my wife wanted, which was a quiet “love sponge”.
Darwin is another adult rescue dog in the family. He ended up in a shelter in North Carolina where I spotted him on Petfinder. I asked to see a video of him interacting with other dogs and people. Even in the stress and chaos of the shelter, Darwin appeared calm and happy; inquisitive, but not manic or fearful. He rode north in a white cargo van stacked with dog crates, and was transferred into the waiting arms of my mother in a parking lot behind a Cracker Barrel restaurant. He’s been a wonderful dog ever since, spending his days cuddled next to my mother in her chair, chasing the occasional tossed ball, or scarfing down the last dime-size bit of buttered toast.
Other dogs have also bounced into my life. Barney was a shivering stray, riddled with worms, and dumped in a college town at the onset of winter. He was about six months old. I watched him for a few days, waiting for someone else to pick him up. When that didn’t happen, I walked to the hardware store and bought the dog a collar and leash. Barney was with me for the next 15 years.
Haddie and Trooper were Border Terriers. Haddie was acquired as a puppy from a local show-hobby breeder. Trooper followed Haddie, and was acquired from one of the top show breeders of Border Terriers in the United States.
Sailor was a small Jack Russell bought as a puppy from a veterinarian who later became head of the American Animal Hospital Association. Pearl and Gideon were two Jack Russells acquired from ladies who bred working Jack Russells and showed at trials put on by the Jack Russell Terrier Association of America. Both were “run on” dogs; pups kept back on the chance that they might mature into show dogs. Both came to me, at different times, when they were about one year of age.
Moxie and Misto were acquired as puppies, more or less at the same time, from different breeders. Moxie came from a woman who trained horses, but her sire and dam came from a very competent breeder I met by happenstance when I passed her dogs in an X-pen at a show. I watched the dogs for a few minutes and then asked her if they were Bruno kids. “Bruno grandkids” she replied, and we introduced ourselves.
My first dog, Scoot, was a family dog acquired by my mother when I was 7 years old. Scoot was a back-of-the pet-store puppy, a mutt terrier, and the runt of the litter. She cost all of $5 in 1966. She lived to the age of 15, traveling to Africa and back, and when she died my folks had her buried under a marble tombstone with her name engraved at the top.
Back when Scoot was born, in the mid-1960s, puppy mills cranked out dogs like grease through a goose, even as unaltered dogs and cats roamed the streets producing litters with abandon. The result: an estimated 10 million dogs a year were euthanized, and up to 25 percent of all dogs roamed free to be hit by cars, make their way back home at night, or be scooped up by local dog wardens who killed their catch within 3 to 5 days unless an owner showed up to bail them out.
The good news is that today, shelter euthanization numbers have dropped to about 2 million dogs a year, and across most of the country it's rare to see a loose dog without an owner in eyesight.
The bad news is that more than half of all dogs are still being sold as puppies and placed into unstable homes where owners are not prepared for the responsibilities, costs, and daily commitment of dog ownership.
People want puppies, but they get dogs.
When young, rambunctious, and largely untrained dogs begin to chew couches, eat shoes, and bark, too many of the puppies that were cooed over just 9 months earlier are abandoned to "shelters" where death is still a predictable outcome.
That's the secret origin of over half the dogs in America; the story that no "responsible dog breeder" wants you to think about too much because it's the moral fly in the ointment.
When a million healthy dogs a year are being killed solely because they are no longer puppies, what is the rationale for cranking out more pets other than money?
And what of the pet dog buyers? Is there truly no dog in a shelter or rescue that can fit their needs?
Of course dog breeders have given pet dog owners talking points and putative answers to these questions and, in truth, it's not quite as simple as the "adopt, don't shop" folks want to make it out to be.
I have heard it said that "life is too short to have an ugly dog," and it's a point against which I will not argue for too long.
And yes, people really do have a right to something that will bring them deep happiness in their life for a decade or more to come.
And, of course, there are purpose bred working dogs of various types and stripes.
The point here is not to demonize any group of people for the problem, but simply to say that over half of all dogs in American homes were abandoned and came perilously close to being killed for the "sin" of no longer being a puppy.
Is it useful to blame poor people in rural towns and cities who do not have the money to spay-neuter their dogs, or to properly fence their yards?
Yes, it's easy to look down your nose at those who live on the economic edge, but does it do any good? Most of these people are not evil; they are simply people without the money, knowledge, or imagination to do better.
And what about dog breeders? Here too we find few bad people. Do dog breeders wake up in the morning eager to put dogs in harms way? They do not! These are just regular people looking to put a little cash in their pocket in order to make ends meet, subsidize their retirement, and perhaps defray the cost of showing dogs. Is it their fault that so many folks want a pure bred puppy?
And what about the young person with an unstable life who acquires a puppy out of sentiment or loneliness? Here too, we find few bad people; just folks moving too quickly, and who do not fully understand the consequences of acquiring a puppy in haste. Did they intend to abandon that puppy 7 months after getting it? They did not. They simply had no idea how much work a dog was, and how much it alters and restricts a life.
And so we come full circle to the secret of so many well-loved dogs in America today; these were dogs whose lived were once teetering on the abyss. One more wrong turn, or one more week in the shelter, and they might very well be dead.
This is the secret backstory of more than half the dogs in America; they are the survivors.