Wherever you live, there are likely dozens, perhaps even hundreds of dogs, cats and other pets waiting right now to be adopted from an animal shelter or rescue group near you.
Their reasons for ending up in a shelter or foster home vary dramatically: some were lost, some were born as strays, some were rescued from abuse and some were turned in because an owner developed allergies, had to move, passed away, could no longer afford to care for their pet or whose lifestyle was a mismatch with an animal's needs.
But all these animals have one big thing in common: they desperately need a home. Could it be yours?
More than a quarter million dogs and cats enter Canadian animal shelters every year and more than 100,000 are euthanized – that’s about one animal every 5 minutes.
While some of these animals have to be put down because of painful, fatal illnesses, in some cases they are perfectly healthy, lovable pets that just don't get adopted.
Here are some key reasons for adopting from a shelter!
Reward. An obvious benefit is the rewarding experience of having saved an animal’s life.
Value. The cost of adopting a pet at an animal shelter is a fraction of what you’d pay to buy from a breeder or pet store. In fact, it’s often "cheaper" than getting an animal for free because the adoption fee usually includes spay/neuter surgery, a complete veterinary check-up, vaccinations and a microchip ID. These services would cost you at least $500 if you had to pay for them yourself.
A match made for you. All reputable humane societies, SPCAs and rescue groups conduct temperament tests on the dogs to ensure they are safe to be adopted out, and many also have programs to match up adopters with dogs whose personalities will best fit their lifestyles and preferences.
Making a difference. Adopting from a shelter means you are helping rather than contributing to the pet overpopulation problem.
Adult = less hassle! While shelters do sometimes have puppies up for adoption, adolescent or adult dogs are much more common. Adopting an adult dog means that you don’t have to go through the trials and tribulations of house-training and raising a puppy.
- What you see is what you get. Unlike a puppy, an adult dog’s personality and temperament are already well-established. It has also reached its full adult size and its coat has come in, so you get a better idea of what it would be like to live with the dog.
Here’s how to get started:
To learn more, check out these common myths about shelter dogs.
Learn all about the adoption process here.
Click here to find humane societies and SPCAs that are members of the Canadian Federation of Humane Societies.
Or check out www.petfinder.com. It’s a comprehensive database of pets that are up for adoption from humane societies, SPCAs and animal rescue groups throughout North America. You can search for dogs by age, breed, sex and more, so this is a useful site if you have your heart set on a particular breed of dog. (Note that not all humane societies and SPCAs post their adoptable pets on this website. Nor do most municipally-run animal shelters.)
Call your municipal government and ask if there is an animal shelter in your city, town or county. They should be able to tell you where to find the closest municipal shelter, humane society or SPCA.
If you plan to buy a puppy from a breeder, you need to know how to recognize a responsible, caring breeding operation and – just as important – where to find them in your area.
If you don’t take the time to carefully choose where you get your puppy, you could end up with a dog that suffers from serious medical issues or behavioural problems, causing you a great deal of heartache, frustration and expense. Worse, you could end up unknowingly supporting the cruel puppy mill industry.
Download a printable list of essential questions to ask a breeder to see if your breeder of choice meets these criteria.
Internet classified sites are not the place to look for a purebred dog. It is virtually impossible to tell the difference between a reputable breeder and a puppy mill unless you do an in-person visit. Puppy mills and backyard breeders are known to use internet classifieds to promote their business and find potential customers. Reputable breeders rely on their own websites, word of mouth and their national or regional breed clubs for referrals.
To find a reputable breeder, go to the national or regional breed club or your local kennel club. The breed club should have a code of ethics that members must meet in order to join. You can also find rescue dogs available through breed clubs.
Dog breeding is a big responsibility. Those who don’t have the knowledge, time, space, love and money to breed and care for dogs at a high standard should not be breeding. Unfortunately, many people do it anyway because they can make a lot of money in the breeding business.
Good breeders put a great deal of time into caring for their dogs, researching and deciding which dogs to breed and screening potential buyers. They are very involved in their breed club, they participate in shows and other competitions and their dogs are a huge part of their lives.
They do all of this because they care – not to make money. Ethical dog breeders usually make, at most, a small profit from the sale of their puppies because most of the money their clients pay goes to cover expenses such as health screening for genetic disorders, stud fees, vet fees and registration.
The only way you can know for sure that a breeder is responsible and humane is to visit and see first-hand the conditions their breeding dogs and puppies are kept in. Be sure you visit before you hand over any money. You'll need to ask specific questions and ask to see certain paperwork to make sure they meet the standards of a good breeder.
Below are the hallmarks of a good breeder.
A responsible, ethical breeder:
- Breeds dogs of only one or two breeds, and does not have a larger number of animals than they could reasonably provide with a good quality of life.
- Requires you to visit and will show you their dogs (including the mothers) and where they are housed.
- Has facilities that are clean and spacious and their dogs are healthy and well socialized.
- Keeps puppies clean, warm, well-fed and allows them to stay with their mother until they are weaned.
- Doesn’t allow puppies to go to new homes before 8 weeks of age.
- Raises their puppies in the home where they can become accustomed to household sounds, such as the phone, dishwasher, vacuum, people coming and going, etc.
- Is a member of their breed club and the national kennel club (in Canada, this is the Canadian Kennel Club), and adheres to their Codes of Ethics. You can find the Canadian Kennel Club Code of Ethics here.
- Is very knowledgeable about the breed and asks you many questions to ensure your lifestyle, knowledge of dogs and attitude are a good fit for one of their puppies.
- Will talk openly about their breeding program and practices.
- Has working knowledge of genetics and will talk to you about genetic disorders prevalent in the breed and how they are working to prevent them.
- Screens all their breeding stock for relevant genetic disorders and removes affected animals from their breeding program. Affected animals are spayed/neutered and may be placed as companion animals as long as health issues are disclosed to buyers/adopters.
- Takes lifetime responsibility for their breeding dogs and the puppies they produce and will take back any animal of their breeding, at any time, for any reason.
- Does not breed animals younger than 18 months and stops breeding by middle age, which will vary depending on the breed.
- Stops breeding any female dog once it has delivered 3 to 4 litters if it’s a large breed, and 5-6 litters if it’s a small breed.
- Provides ongoing guidance and support to puppy buyers.
- Provides a contract that spells out the breeder’s obligations and the purchaser’s responsibilities, such as obedience classes, spay/neuter surgery and the general care of the puppy.
- Provides a guarantee of overall health and temperament, as well as absence of genetic disorders. The guarantee offers some financial reimbursement, not simply a replacement puppy.
- Provides puppy buyers with proper paperwork, including a bill of sale, Canadian Kennel Club registration papers, vaccination certificates and copies of genetic screening clearances for the sire and dam (father and mother) of the litter.
But they say they're registered with the kennel club!
While breeders of purebreds should register their dogs with the Canadian Kennel Club (CKC), doing this alone does not guarantee that they treat their dogs humanely or do any medical screening. All it means is that the registered puppy is the offspring of two dogs that are both also registered as being a purebred animal of the breed in question.
Registration happens by mail, and the CKC does not monitor or inspect the breeding facilities of its members or of breeders who register their puppies with the club.
Here are a few red flags common to puppy mills, brokers, irresponsible breeders and scammers:
- Not requiring you to visit them and their dogs
- Not asking you anything about your experience with dogs, your lifestyle, etc.
- Offering to ship or deliver the puppy to you or meet you in a public place to hand it over. They may initially talk about you coming to pick up the puppy but, at the last minute, they suggest saving you the trouble and just meeting you somewhere.
- Offering puppies of many different breeds
- Requires you to send money to another country
- If you do visit, they bring the out puppy to you so you don’t see the mother, litter mates or where the dogs live. Keep an eye out for barns and sheds on the property that could be for mass-breeding dogs.
- Doesn’t know anything about genetic disorders and doesn’t have their dogs screened by veterinary specialists (such as hip x-rays, ophthalmologist, cardiologist, etc.)
- Provides no guarantee of the puppy's health or only a guarantee that requires you to send the puppy back
Commercial breeders are large-scale breeders that have anywhere from dozens to hundreds of dogs of various breeds for sale. They either sell directly to the public, via ads in newspaper and internet classified sections, or they may sell to pet stores. Some are actually puppy mills that simply call themselves commercial breeders so that it sounds better. Others may provide clean facilities and sufficient staff, but the volume of dogs they have makes it impossible to provide the loving care and attention that a reputable breeder could provide in their home.
This term is used for people who either intentionally breed one or a few dogs but have very little knowledge, or who have an accidental litter because they hadn’t got around to spaying their female dog yet. They may seem harmless, but there are so many of them that they make a substantial contribution to Canada's pet overpopulation crisis.
Chances are you know someone who’s a backyard breeder, though you’ve probably never thought of them in those terms.
How about Bob from the accounting department at work who sent out an email last week to all employees about the adorable Cocker Spaniel pups his dog just had, who all need homes.
Or the young couple in another part of town advertising on Kijiji that their Cockapoo had a litter — the second in a year, apparently.
Or what about your friend, Sally, who kept meaning to get her 11-month old Labrador mix spayed but just never got around to it. One day, the kids let her out of the house by mistake and she had a quick rendezvous with the neighbour’s dog. His owners just never got around to neutering him either! Now Sally has to find homes for five puppies.
Puppy mills (also called puppy farms) are horrendous places that churn out as many puppies as possible in the shortest amount of time and at the lowest expense. That means terrible, filthy, crowded housing, minimal human contact, no veterinary care and unspeakable suffering.
Common features of puppy mills:
- Animals kept in crowded, filthy barns, sheds or basements
- Often, cages are piled in stacks and the waste from the upper levels falls onto the ones beneath
- Unbearable stench of ammonia from urine and feces build-up
- Animals are fed the cheapest possible food
- Breeding dogs are bred continuously from a young age till they can no longer produce enough to make it worth keeping them
- Physical and mental suffering from long-term, extreme confinement and deprivation
- Animals receive little to no veterinary care
- No positive human interaction
- No toys, no exercise, no stimulation
- Puppies are not socialized to people, other dogs, household noises, etc.
As horrific as the experience is, the puppies are the lucky ones in a puppy mill. They (usually) make it out at a young age and have the chance at a new life full of comfort, care and love. Their parents live a life of suffering and deprivation as puppy-making machines, never having a soft bed, nourishing food, comfort or loving touch.
Read the official definition of a puppy mill that we developed with the National Companion Animal Coalition.
Where do puppy mills sell their puppies?
Many puppy mills sell directly to pet stores or to brokers. Brokers are the middlemen who gather puppies from various puppy mills and backyard breeders, often getting them as early as 5 or 6 weeks old and trucking them long distances to supply various stores.
Puppy mills also sell directly to the public through their own websites or via ads in internet or newspaper classified sections. They will usually offer to "save you a trip" by meeting you in a parking lot or other location to deliver your puppy to you. This is so that you don’t see the squalor where the puppy was raised. Some will simply ship the puppy to you. Amazingly, some puppy mills do invite people to come to their location, though they will usually allow them only in their house, not in the barns or outbuildings where the neglected dogs are kept.
How do I know if a breeder is responsible and humane?
You can only know by visiting them in person to see where the dogs are raised, bred and housed and to make sure they meet the criteria for ethical, responsible breeding.
Aren’t puppy mills illegal?
In Canada, we don’t have any laws specifically against puppy mills. But the worst puppy mills are in violation of animal cruelty laws due to the suffering and distress endured by the animals. The problem is that they are located in rural areas and are difficult for humane society or SPCA inspectors to uncover. When inspectors do find puppy mills, they are quick to take action to investigate. If you find or suspect a puppy mill, call your local humane society or SPCA or the police.
Are there any good pet stores?
Yes! There are many good pet supply stores that don’t sell animals. And there are many stores, such as PetSmart, PJ’s Pets, and Petland that operate "satellite adoption centres" for humane societies, SPCAs and rescue groups. Instead of selling cats and dogs, they house and display adoptable animals in their stores. Customers who express an interest in the animals must go through the adoption procedure via the humane society, SPCA or rescue group. By supporting these types of pet stores you are adopting an animal, saving a life and sending a clear message to other pet stores that the humane option is to operate a satellite adoption centre, not sell animals.
If a store is not operating a satellite adoption centre where do the puppies come from?
Many puppies sold in pet stores come from puppy mills, which are horrible breeding operations where dogs are kept in cramped, filthy cages their whole lives, deprived of adequate food, attention and veterinary care, and forced to give birth to litter after litter of puppies until they are too old, ill or injured to continue.
While it’s unlikely that all breeders who supply pet stores treat their dogs quite as terribly as described above, any breeder who sells puppies to a pet store falls short on one important measure of a good breeder: they do not care enough about the puppies they produce to make sure each is placed in an appropriate home with an owner who has been screened to make sure they are capable of caring for the dog.
Be wary of stores that tell you their puppies all come from caring, reputable breeders – almost every pet store that sells puppies will tell you this. Just remember that no registered breeder would ever allow their puppies to be sold to this way. Good breeders want to build a relationship with people who buy their puppies, and they want to stay in contact in order to be a resource for them because they care deeply about their dogs and the health of the breed.
Who is the pet store’s greatest ally?
People who don’t do their research and make impulse decisions based on the adorable puppies in the window are what keeps cruel puppy mills in business. Pet buyers who are well-intentioned but are aware of the many wonderful socialized, healthy puppies waiting for homes at their local humane society, SPCA or rescue or who don’t have the knowledge required to find a responsible breeder. So, please get informed so that you can make a smart, humane decision!
Those puppies need homes too, so why shouldn’t I buy one?
When people buy a puppy from a store that sells dogs, it only makes space for another puppy from a puppy mill or backyard breeder. This perpetuates the cycle of bad breeding, neglect and outright cruelty because it’s about supply, demand and profit. If people didn’t buy those puppies, this multi-million dollar industry would not exist.
The internet can be a valuable source of information on just about any topic. You can learn about different types of dogs, how to raise a dog, where to walk your dog and where to get your dog.
Many animal shelters and rescues post their adoptable animals on their websites (see www.Petfinder.com for a database of adoptable pets all across North America), and many reputable breeders have informative websites too.
But online classified sites are becoming the main tool used by puppy mills and irresponsible breeders to market and sell their puppies. Often using stock photos of home-raised and well-loved dogs, puppy mills present as loving, caring breeders. In reality, the dogs are suffering in filthy, empty cages in barns or basements.
Be very careful when looking for a pet online. The internet can be a good place to research various breeds and find a few leads for breeders you’d like to visit, but the ONLY way you can know if they are reputable is to visit the facility yourself and ask questions to make sure they meet the criteria for humane, ethical breeding.
So, how do you find good breeders? Go to the breed club websites where you can learn about the breed you're interested in and find breeders who are members of the club and agree to abide by their code of ethics.
Warning signs to watch for
Stay away from breeders whose ads or websites show any of these warning signs:
- Sells puppies of many different breeds, rather than just one or two breeds
- Sells puppies that are younger than 8 weeks old
- Offers to ship or deliver the puppy to buyers
- Does not require buyers to visit them and their dogs
- Sells puppies with breeding rights rather than expecting you to spay/neuter your puppy
- Does not have a written guarantee that spells out their or the buyer’s responsibilities
- Selling puppies at a discount without papers (this is illegal in Canada)
- Requires you to send money to another country
Fake rescues and other online scams
If you plan to adopt from an animal rescue group, you should be aware that some unethical breeders and pet sellers are even beginning to pose as rescue groups, posting ads of "rescued" dogs available for adoption at high prices. The rule of thumb here is similar as for breeders: don’t make a decision to adopt a pet based simply on an online ad. Contact the rescue group and ask them questions to see if they seem reputable. Before you adopt, be sure to check out the shelter or foster home where the animal is being kept.