United States: Thoughts About The NY Times "The Ethicist's" Response To The Question: "Is It O.K. To Get A Dog From A Breeder, Not A Shelter?"

Last Updated: June 1 2016
Article by Nancy E. Halpern, DVM, Esq.

On May 15, 2016 the New York Times published its response to a reader's questions submitted to "The Ethicist:"

"Is it O.K. to Get a Dog From A Breeder, Not A Shelter?"

While author Kwame Anthony Appiah concluded that it was ok to purchase a dog from a responsible breeder, a few comments reflected a lack of understanding about the current state of animal shelters and rescues.

For example, Appiah said "if every canine companion that died or ran away were replaced with one, the shelters would be pretty much empty."

The fact is, shelters in many parts of the country, for example in the Northeast, do not have sufficient numbers of adoptable dogs currently available for people looking for their next pet.

As Ed Sayres, former CEO of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals explained when he testified in New Jersey in opposition to proposed bill S63 which would ban all sales of commercially bred dogs from pet stores in the state:

'There are 80 million dogs owned by pet owners in the United States, and based on an average life span of 11-12 years, pet owners will seek to acquire 8 million dogs in the U.S. in 2016. There are only 3.9 million dogs housed in shelters in the country, of which 0.9 million or 25% were lost and will be returned to their owners. That leaves only 3 million dogs for pet owners who want to buy or adopt a new pet, some 5 million fewer than the 8 million needed for owners seeking dogs.'

As previously described, the profitable retail rescue networks have emerged to fill that need.

"Rescuing" animals is highly lucrative Rescues and shelters are now the dominant providers of pets, replacing pet stores. Pet stores, shelters, and rescues compete for the same market share and profit from the sale or adoption of pets. The supply of shelter dogs is dwindling, particularly in the Northeast, largely due to successful programs encouraging responsible pet owners to spay and neuter their pets, including State's Animal Population Control Programs. The decreasing numbers of readily adoptable dogs at shelters resulted in the importation of thousands of puppies to the Northeast trafficked through shelters and rescues.

In New York City, the Mayor's Alliance for NYC's Animals (Alliance) has established a "giant distribution network with Animal Care & Control (AC&C) as the 'wholesaler' and the partner organizations as 'retailers' who get the animals face-to-face with the public," for adoptions around the City, competing with pet stores and dog breeders.

AC&C operates the City's municipal animal shelter system under a five-year, $51.9 million contract, generating profits of $400,000 in FY 2013, and will receive more than $8,000,000 dollars this year to build a new adoption center and renovate its Brooklyn shelter. Alliance partners, including AC&C, receive subsidies "for every transferred animal adopted above their baseline (2003) adoption figures." So incentivized, adoptions and transfers from AC&C and partner organizations increased by 81%-119% between 2003 and 2007. At AC&C, dog intakes have steadily decreased since 2003, and as of 2013, euthanasia of dogs and cats at the shelter has been reduced by 81% since 2003.

The North Shore Animal League (NSAL) advertises that they rescue pets from "puppy mills" which they sell throughout the City. Since 2010, NSAL has imported at least 3,562 pets from 13 states and Puerto Rico, as contracts to import puppies from shelters like Precious Friends, a shelter in Tennessee, and has recently started advertising with SPCA's to purchase puppies directly from breeders.

Since many shelters and rescues are exempt from USDA licensure, the importation of dogs and cats through "rescue pipelines" is largely unregulated and has concerned animal health officials at the local, state, and national levels for some time. The pets offered by shelters and rescues are obtained from random sources and substandard facilities, and have the highest prevalence of infectious, contagious diseases, sometimes fatal, and behavioral disorders making them undesirable pets.

Animal health officials in the Northeast, where thousands of imported rescues are sent, have changed state laws to regulate the sales of pets imported by rescues, which threaten the health of each state's resident animals and their owners. For example, Precious Pups Rescue, a rescue in Long Island, was "shut down by the state attorney general's office for allegedly 'flipping' puppies and illegally reselling sick animals to unsuspecting consumers" in March 2015.

These operations do not protect animal or human health or consumers seeking healthy pets.

And yes, it is ok to purchase a dog from a breeder or pet store where you will find a pet with the specific physical and behavioral traits you want in your life-long companion.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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Nancy E. Halpern, DVM, Esq.
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