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November 14, 2017

Why I Purchased My Rhodesian Ridgebacks From A Responsible Breeder

On the day I picked up each one of my dogs I handed over a check for nearly two thousand dollars. That is a lot of money. My decision to pay a large sum for a puppy is a contentious one amongst dog lovers. For many, a line has been drawn and anyone who does not acquire their dog from a shelter or rescue is the on the wrong side. But I don’t see my decision to purchase my dogs from an ethical breeder as oppositional to rescue efforts, I see it as complementary to them. I think it’s worth explaining why.
On the day I picked up each one of my dogs I handed over a check for nearly two thousand dollars. That is a lot of money. My decision to pay a large sum for a puppy is a contentious one amongst dog lovers. For many, a line has been drawn and anyone who does not acquire their dog from a shelter or rescue is the on the wrong side. But I don’t see my decision to purchase my dogs from an ethical breeder as oppositional to rescue efforts, I see it as complementary to them. I think it’s worth explaining why.
  1. “Why pay for a dog when you can get one for free?”
There are some pervasive misconceptions about the accounting behind adding a dog to your family. To ensure a dog is healthy and safe to live in your home costs hundreds to thousands of dollars, depending upon circumstance. This is not an opinion. It doesn’t matter if your dog is from a breeder or the pound, there are certain minimum care costs which must be paid for. The statement, “My dog was free,” really means “I did not pay those initial costs.” Which is great, because it removes a major financial hurdle and makes the companionship of a dog more accessible for everyone. But someone does shoulder those bills. Rescues and shelters depend on generous donations of time, money, goods and services in order to operate. When adoption fees are waived it’s not because the dog didn’t cost the organization anything.  It’s because the good people who run the place would rather tighten their belt another notch if it means helping another dog. A breeder pays all these costs, unsubsidized, up front for each of their dogs. It’s a hefty bill. Moreover, an ethical breeder invests significant amounts of time/money/effort during the years long process of evaluating/caring for the breeding pair. You can read more about the wonderful breeders I’ve used here, but in short, ethical breeding is a pretty lousy way to make money. The money you pay a good breeder supports sustainability, not record profits.
  1. Not all breeders are created equal.
I could write a lengthy diatribe about horrible breeders and breeding practices which are unethical and unsustainable. But it’s grossly unfair to categorize all breeders this way. Every breeder should be considered and evaluated on their own merits. We should condemn irresponsible breeders, but not at the expense of those who put in the effort to breed ethically. (You can read more about responsible breeding practices in this AKC guide)
  1. My dog is not better than yours
Money can’t buy you love. Past the genetic screening tests good breeders do, it also can’t buy you any guarantees about the long term health and temperament of your dog. If you think breeders produce “higher quality” dogs than can be found at rescues or shelters you’ve got it all backwards. In fact, many irresponsibly bred dogs are at much higher risk for health issues. An ethical breeder is a steward who works tirelessly to ensure the robust health of a given breed. A breeder offers many things, but a “better” dog is not one of them. A good breeder prides themselves on the quality of their litters, but that statement is a relative one, not an absolute one. It references the thought and effort that went into the endeavor, as opposed to the careless profiteering which motivates irresponsible breeders.
  1. “So you spent all that time, money and effort to end up with a dog no better than any other?”
Exactly right! And I think this is where many rescue-only advocates end the discussion. However, I think the conversation needs to be reframed to appreciate the true value of ethical breeders.  I don’t think Rhodesian Ridgebacks are the “best” dogs. I just think they’re the best dogs for me. Wolves make terrible pets. Pretty much everything we love about our dogs is the result of domestication and breeding. Whether you like big fluffy dogs with low energy, or small stalwart hiking companions, someone along the way purposefully bred for those traits. Unless you’re a total saint, you don’t walk into a shelter and say you’ll take any dog. You meet the available dogs, talk to the staff about your needs/preferences and then consider which pup might be the best fit. A breed is just a type of dog that happens to aggregate a certain group of traits. For me, the Rhodesian Ridgeback breed standard is the best match. I had the time, money and effort needed to add a Ridgeback puppy to my family so I made the decision to do so. I couldn’t be happier with the result. I’ve had the good fortune to share my life with three wonderful dogs, and I’m proud my money supports the efforts of people like Mary and John. Their passion for breeding healthy and sound Ridgebacks helps ensure a bright future for both the breed and the people who love it.
  1. What about pet overpopulation?
The problem of pet overpopulation provides the single most compelling case against using a breeder. If there are dogs who already need homes, why “add to the problem?” It’s important to emphasize that responsible breeding contributes a grand total of zero dogs to the homeless dog population. A good breeder ensures (both in contract and in deed) that each of their pups is happily homed for the duration of their life. Ethical breeders are often the backbone of breed rescue networks as well. However, there is still the very real ethical quandary about how I justify not adopting a dog in need. There is an unambiguously selfish component to my decision. I wanted a Ridgeback. I checked local shelters and the breed rescue, but there were none available. So when I connected with a breeder who had an upcoming litter I didn’t hesitate to submit an application. There were plenty of other awesome dogs at the shelters, but none of them happened to match what I was looking for. If you’re a rescue-only person, here is where I have to cede the moral high ground to you. Because I can’t argue that my desire for a Ridgeback supersedes the value of any of the dogs from the shelter I didn’t get. But I strongly believe my support of an ethical breeder is valuable for the long term sustainability of dogs as companion animals.
  1. Versus vs And
Thanks to the relentless work of animal advocates, rates of homeless pets continue to drop each year. Still, the ASPCA estimates 670,000 dogs are still euthanized annually. It’s a massive improvement from the numbers just a few decades ago but it’s still a staggering figure. The goal of rescues and shelters is to put themselves out of business. We’re a long way off from that day, but the numbers tell a promising story. Adoption addresses the urgency of our current situation while ethical breeding sets the standard for future sustainability. Ethical breeding is not a spigot which can simply be turned off today and turned back on when there are zero homeless animals. It’s a process which requires thoughtful and constant stewardship across generations. Both ethical breeders and rescue organizations share a desire to end irresponsible breeding and I believe that goal is best achieved when working in tandem.
  1. Life is hard. I’m always wrong.
The purpose of this post isn’t to claim I’m “right” about anything. I’ve found I’m always wrong, and my noble goal is to be slightly less wrong about things each day. I have a mixed track record of success. My hope here is to lay out the thought and effort that I put into supporting ethical breeders and why I’m happy with my decision. I also hope this post serves as a reminder that if you do use a breeder, it’s imperative you put in the effort to find one who meets the highest standards. I think we’re all on the same side here – the side that loves sharing life with dogs. Disagreements and criticisms are a healthy part of any community and it’s always worthwhile to challenge each other’s ideas. (I hope people will use the comments here to critique my decision making) But I don’t think dismissive hostility helps anyone. Thoughtfulness, nuance and empathy are the way forward. I could go on even longer about the education, support, guidance and kindness offered by the breeders I’ve been fortunate enough to get my dogs from, but for now I’m more interested in listening. What are your thoughts on dog breeding and adoption, both in the present and the future?

Comments for Why I Purchased My Rhodesian Ridgebacks From A Responsible Breeder

  1. Nicole says:

    Fantastic post! I share the same beliefs, and it can be hard to sometimes feel like I have to justify myself to people who don’t understand why I chose a responsible RR breeder (as opposed to scouring the shelters). I think we all just have to do what is best for us and our families when it comes to adding a lifelong furry family member.

  2. Thanks! I also identify with that defensive/justification mindset, so my goal here is to try to start the conversation on more even ground. As you mention, there are so many individual family circumstances that we shouldn’t expect there to be a single best way to add a dog.

  3. Midge Mercer says:

    Thanks for a thoughtful, respectful perspective. As someone who has lived with shelter rescues and professionally bred dogs the decision to move toward a specific breed with specific traits has only been positive. The breeders have been an invaluable resource for our family. We choose to live with a specific breed but love all dogs regardless of their origin.

  4. jy195 says:

    Well said Will.

  5. Excellent post. As you stated, the situation is different for every family. The world would be a much happier place if we didn’t pretend we know what’s right for someone else. That said, thank goodness for rescuers, and thank goodness for responsible breeders. We’re all better (and so are our dogs) because of both groups.

  6. Connie Taylor says:

    We had one “pure-breed” when I was growing up. He was a Rat Terrier my folks got when we were visiting my grandparents in Idaho. I believe they got him from a farmer who lived down the road from my grandparents. Dynamite was an awesome dog who was a good representative to his breed. As an adult the dogs I’ve had over the years were either from a neighbor’s litter, humane society, or just showed up on our doorsteps. I am a believer in good, ethical breeders and also supporting those animals “out in the world”. There is no real right or wrong answer to this question. One needs to decide which path is best for them and when you get your new pet, make sure they are spayed or neutered to help control the epidemic of over population (including cats too).

  7. Kali and Max says:

    Great post Will. And certain to solicit much comment.

  8. iamparool says:

    I love ridgebacks. My first rescue was a ridgeback mix and I’ve feel in love with the breed ever since. That’s why I’m here – Eko brought me here. After Pino passed, like you, I too looked for ridgeback rescues – they are hard to find. I am tempted to go to a breeder and in the end I choose a rescue in need. Who knows maybe one day I’ll have a ridgeback again – preferably senior – because I really do love senior dogs. There is something so special about that bond. Besides they deserve love and comfort in the later years.

    In the end, we are all on the same side of caring deeply for our dogs. Once committed – it is a done deal. And for that I will always respect you Will.

  9. So well said! I too have a love for a specific breed and have gotten one of mine from breed rescue who was a puppy mill mama with MAJOR ptsd like issues that still haunt her and most recently a puppy from an ethical, responsible breeder. My other one came from what I would call a greeder. Unfortunately I didn’t know how to find a responsible breeder before I adopted my rescue and have learned a lot over the last couple of years. I think there is room for both and you laid out the reasons in such thoughtful and reasonable way. Thank you.

  10. Same here. We know and love dogs of all creeds and breeds, but Ridgebacks happen to be the best fit for us. Hopefully through conversation we can turn the corner from divisiveness to unity.

  11. We’re lucky to have great people on all sides of the equation and I’d like to work towards a day where they’re all properly appreciated.

  12. Every dog is as unique as the family it joins and we should consider ourselves lucky there are equally unique ways to go about finding the perfect fit.

  13. Well said. We’re each at our own unique point, with our own needs and desires, and we each deserve the freedom to find the best companion to share the road with. My brother hit the jackpot with Doc, his senior rescue, so don’t give up hope your match is out there.

  14. lauramcgrew says:

    Will, what a wonderful and well balanced post. I support your viewpoint although we do have two Ridgeback rescues and I volunteer for the Ridgeback Rescue organization in Houston and surrounding regions.

    Our first Ridgeback and my first “dog love” is a beautiful boy and he has a vet folder about an inch thick, I have never begun to add up the bills we accumulated that first year or two getting his stomach and hip issues straightened out but my guess after at least two hospital stays is right around the 10k mark. We would pay every single penny all over again too. But my point is that, like you said, rescue is not “cheap”.

    Our second one, a female Ridgeback mix, has not had health issues, but of course food, shots, etc., are now doubled.

    We don’t judge those who turn to ethical breeders at all, we were just blessed with a good amount of Ridgebacks from which to choose in this area of the country. And at the time we could not take on a puppy due to our work/travel situations.

    Two things we were unaware of until we began our ownership process was 1) that there are resources available to help people figure out the best breed match; we took a lengthy online questionnaire on one of the major animal advocate sites, and 2) There are specific breed rescue organizations such as the Rhodesian Ridgeback Rescue Organization and some amazing folks who will assist if that’s the direction you go. And they even usually have really good networking to point someone to an ethical breeder and AWAY from puppy mills. One of the ethical breeders in northeast Texas ALSO fosters Ridgebacks that need adopting.

    Anyway, I believe in the AND approach and thank you for all the time and effort you spend not only entertaining your readers but also educating us!

    We do love this breed so much. They are gaining in popularity too, from what I understand, and that’s a great thing!

  15. Education and growth are incredibly important in this conversation. Like you, I once had no idea what the difference between breeders really was. I didn’t know what to look for or what questions to ask. I think the best thing we can do is share our experiences to help other avoid the mistakes we made.

    And as you know, no matter where a dog comes from they’re always deserving of our love.

  16. Ridgeback Rescue is an awesome organization and the local chapter president in the north east was actually my first ever contact in the Ridgeback world. She was incredibly helpful, and after 6+ months of no candidates, she connected me with John Arvin about his litter. The rest is history. In part because of her kindness, and because the organization does such great work, I like to give them a donation every time I get a dog. As you know, there are some wonderful Ridgebacks in need of good homes.

  17. Greg F. says:

    Great post Will! Growing up I always wanted a big, strong dog but my parents would not allow me. When I got married my wife got a bichon and we had him for 16 years and he was awesome. When we had to put him down, we wanted another dog and my wife gave green light for big dog as long as it was short hair and light on shedding(although they shed more than I expected )! After we had our first Ridgeback our breeder had another litter and called us. How can you resist the beauty, power, athleticism, intelligence, and demeanor not to get another one?! . So to your point, RR’s are the perfect dog for me and my family at this time. Another point to consider is there is some value in knowing what you are getting from a purebred dog. It is truly amazing how close the pups are to the AKC Breed standard. But we have met some amazing dogs at the dog park who are rescued. We will probably rescue a pup at some point in the future. All dogs are awesome! Especially Ridgebacks!!!

  18. Nicole says:

    This is very well put. I tend to feel like the issue is very polarized. Having worked in the pet care industry for about 6 years now I’ve come across people that are passionate one way or the other, and some people that don’t mind that the dog they’ve gotten is clearly from a puppy mill. But I do think there are more informed, passionate people either paying a good Breeder and people adopting from shelters than not. I suppose personally I’ve preferred to work with breed specific rescues for my dogs. But that requires a lot of patience. Most dogs in rescue have been overbred, caged with little interaction with other dogs or people, health problems or seniors. I know that I couldn’t care well for a dog with many health issues or behavioral issues- just due to my circumstances. My first ridgeback I actually knew before I adopted, as the facility I worked for was fostering her for the rescue. She is a mix that had some minor issues (unsocialized and fearful of people) that I felt confident I could handle. She was $250. Which considering she came to me healthy, vaccinated, chipped and spayed is a deal. I love her to death. She’s my soul dog! About 2 years later I decided I wanted to have a second ridgeback. It took about a year and a half of waiting for the rescue to have a dog that would fit for me. In this case, I worked with a rescue coordinator to pick up the ridgeback from the woman selling it on Craigslist since the organization didn’t have anyone to spare at the time to retrieve the dog. They told me that I could keep the dog if it was the right fit, or that they would send someone as soon as they could to retrieve her. She ended up becoming my second dog! She is from a reputable breeder and came with all her papers. She was a $1,200 Dog, but the rest of her litter was $1,800– she was discounted for being a runt. I only paid $100 to the woman selling her (she’d gotten the dog as a puppy, and about a year later injured her back so badly she could no longer care for it). Sorry I wrote so much, probably didn’t need to to get my point across…but I think you’re right when you say you have to do what’s best for your lifestyle. You don’t want to get a dog that you couldn’t care well for!

  19. Haha, I think your “All dogs are awesome!” comment just about sums it up perfectly. And completely agree, each of us needs to find our own dog in our own time in our own way. For many of us, having an ethical breeder to help guide that process is invaluable.

  20. Victoria says:

    So i have a shelter dog – a st bernard/beagle mix that i got first and a Newf i got from a breeder. My shelter pup was a perfect fit for me – he is my little shadow, my love bug and he thinks my protector. Rigby is his name and he needed a friend to play with so we researched what we thought would be a good fit for him based on his temperament and play needs and our lifestyle and we decided a Newf was the best fit. He was only 4 months old when we decided he needed a friend as was so active no matter how much we played with him he wanted more. I looked in shelters, online at adoptapet.com and newf rescues and couldn’t find one – after 4 months i found what i thought was a reputable breeder – researched her extensively. We got Muffin – she and Rigs are inseparable and love playing together. It was a perfect decision for us and i would do it all over again. A note – Muffin’s breeder isn’t a really good one, which only became clear a few years after we got Muffin. No matter Muff is our family member and we stand by her and love her for life. She does have some health issues which can’t be solved but just have to be lived with but i would still do it all over again. I have since spent 2 years researching reputable Newf breeders and have found one that i will use if i get another Newf. That doesn’t rule out me getting a shelter dog but that does help me if i can’t find my perfect fit there. And as you said a reputable breeder does so much more than just breed dogs – they contribute to the breed and the community they live in – they help the owners with questions, training and in the worst case scenario take the pup back if something happens and you can’t keep the pup (i couldn’t ever do that but i find it wonderful that they care enough to do so). And those great breeders don’t just take a pup back to resell it but to rehome it or keep it and make sure its happy for all of its days. Yes adopting from a shelter is a wonderful, life affirming thing to do but so is getting one from a breeder – in the end its all about the dogs and your family and what kind of wonderful life you can live with them. And in order not to contribute to homeless pets you can do several things – neuter and spay your pet and don’t just take them to the shelter because they shed or you are moving – adopting thru a shelter or breeder is for life (sorry thats my little opinion and speech)

  21. Thanks for taking the time to share your story. I think it perfectly illustrates the types of individual circumstances which inform our decisions about when/how/why we add a dog to our lives. Through conversations like these my hope is we can provide more texture and nuance to what’s become a polarizing issue for many.

  22. I think your story brings up a few great points. First, incredible dogs can come from less than stellar breeders. In fact, a dog should never be considered any less worthy because of its origins. The thoughtfulness and good intentions behind each of your decision is something we should all strive to emulate. It leads us all down different paths, but towards the same goal.

  23. Leslie and Indigo the Pit Bull says:

    Your most compelling point for me is that responsible breeding contributes to a zero homeless dog population. So true!

  24. Tiffanie says:

    You have, once again articulated so well a touchy subject.
    I am not a pushy opinionated person, try to keep an open mind in all topics. There are definately pros and cons to everything. some people only see pros on their side of the argument, and not the cons.
    A pet is a commitment, and there needs to be a perfect match. There are so many unique considerations. These companions might come from a breeder, or rescue. We have had 4 Ridgies. Used 2 breeders and adopted a set from their original owner. Who originally got them from breeders as puppies. Thankfully have had good experinces with all of them.

  25. KarenS says:

    I purchased my current RR’s from a wonderful breeder. Active on rescue. And always there for us. My first RR, not so much.

    Over the years I have been lucky enough to have met many wonderful breeders who are, as you say, stewards of the breed. And when the time comes, I hope to be lucky enough to be able to bring a pup home that they spent time, energy, money in trying to ensure they bred healthy puppies.

    The money I gave them is only a faction of the costs to care for them. I’m lucky that I’m in a position to care for my dogs. And have picked the breed that meets most of my needs. I also know some wonderful pound pups who found truly forever homes.

    Remember, and ethical breeder does that their absolute best to make sure a pup goes to the proper home. I feel blessed that I was given that opportunity

  26. Ideally, I hope the future brings us closer to a situation where dogs are only bred responsibly and only when there are homes waiting for them. Until then we all have a good goal to work towards, together.

  27. People are understandably passionate about their dogs, and that’s a good thing. Unfortunately I think that passion can unintentionally boil over into contentiousness. If we approach the issue, together, with empathy I think we find we’re all in this together – no matter where our dogs come from.

  28. I think many people hear the word “breeder” and their mind immediately goes to puppy mills, pet stores and backyard breeders. Anyone who has witnessed an ethical breeder in action knows how wonderful and devoted they are to their passion. We’re very lucky to have such kind and steady people to help give us our dogs.

  29. Jura says:

    Really well written and thoughtful post! I have always had a huge fondness for Rhodesian ridgebacks and even when I had my family wolfhound as a kid I always said ‘when I grow up I want to get a Rhodesian ridgeback’ of course when i moved to Sudan I was delighted that two of our closest friends had Rhodesian ridgebacks who we used to look after when they were away. As they had acquired theirs in the US and Uk we weren’t going to get one while in Sudan but then as luck would have it our friends rescued some street dogs when the police were doing their annual shooting cull and one had puppies. Although we hummed and hawed because we move around the world for work we decided to make the commitment (and countless expenses flying a dog around the world – so as you say above what starts as free still ends up pretty expensive!) anyway by accident ended up with the perfect dog who in many ways has elements of Rhodesian ridgebackness as I believe ridgebacks were created when European mastiffs were bred with local African dogs. Also by accident adopting in a developing country may have introduced me to my new favourite type of dog ‘primitive dogs’ which I like for their aloofness and intelligence as well as having an athletic body type that can run a half marathon or climb a mountain but because it wasn’t bred for a specific purpose is just as happy lounging on a sofa. My only problem now is that I would happily adopt again but i have quite a specific type of liking primitive breeds now so I think if a perfect little pariah dog came along I would go with that but if we were also in the right country I would still also be interested in seeking out a responsible ridgeback breeder!

  30. You guys definitely have one of my favorite stories from a street pup to a globe trotting hound! I think it’s also really indicative of how each of our unique experiences shapes the dogs we bond with along the way. Your openness about your next dog is a great attitude I think we all could learn from. Flexibility, preference, nuance and history, all blended with thoughtful kindness.

  31. KDKH says:

    Because i Love Dogs, but I’m allergic, I’ve had difficulty getting rescue dogs. I’ve gotten several pure-bred dogs off Craig’s list that were one paw from the pound and helped them to be happy, well-adjusted dogs. This appealed to my desire to rescue and the desire for a pure breed. I once paid $2000 for a mastiff from what turned out to be a very poor breeder. The dog had a genetic defect and we were given one of her siblings as fulfillment of the contract. That dog also had a defect that did not show up for almost a year. We obviously did not research our breeder well enough and encourage everyone to do so. We loved those dogs and they they we’re great companions.. We endured huge medical expenses along the way to make up for poor breeding. Our pooodles were also bought from breeders and we’ve been quite pleased with them and their health (fingers crossed). Before I discovered I was allergic to dogs, I got two from a shelter. So we’ve tried all approaches and found varying levels of mental and physical health. But we found loving dogs each and every time. Always a winner, there.

  32. I totally support getting a dog from an ethical breeder. Doing what we thought was right, my family embraced the “adopt don’t shop” mindset and we’ve adopted two dogs over the years. Both have had significant health and behaviour problems; our current dog would not have been able to stay in our family if our children were younger than teens because he is so unpredictable. We have spent *many* thousands of dollars on vet care, behaviour consultations, ongoing medications to manage anxiety, and training for our dogs because they deserve it- it’snot their fault that humans made crummy choices on breeding and rearing that affected our dogs’ lives. That said, our next dog will be from a breeder and raised with an early rearing protocol that sets puppies up for success in the human world. It’s obvious every day that neither of our dogs received this. Good breeding goes beyond health testing; it’s about being diligent about ensuring that those first weeks of a puppy’s life give them tools to feel trusting of and confident with people. (Steps off soapbox to snuggle dog). If people want a dog from a breeder, go for it!

  33. It’s a lifelong learning process for all of us, but no matter where we are on that road there are dogs to love. A winner every time for sure.

  34. Really appreciate the thoughtful and thorough reply. These are exactly the type of conversations worth having to discuss the merits of responsible breeding. Thanks for sharing

  35. Emmadog says:

    Because of all the bashing on breeders and support for adopting shelter/rescue dogs, Mom was actually afraid to tell the world when we got Bailie. My breeder is one of the breed experts in the world and is well known and regarded. Bailie and Madison’s breeder has used my breeder as a mentor for learning about the GBGV, has been to the UK to learn and bring back good dogs. Mom couldn’t have loved her first dog more who was a shelter dog, but right now our breed is what she wants and will pay a lot of money for from a good breeder. We know there are homeless pets, but it is not right for us now. There are many homeless human children who need homes, but people continue to have their own children. Mom says the two scenarios are a bit similar. Nothing wrong with a shelter dog, or a good purebred. The main thing is providing a good home.

  36. Abbie says:

    I completely agree. Although I will say, we have done both breeder and rescue, neither of which were dogs for me (they were for my siblings so we were in the same house), and I had my dog breed all selected and picked out, but when my brother got his dog, who actually was a dog I was fostering for the humane society, I was against it. Not because I was against adopting dogs but I thought she wasn’t a good match. But now I absolutely adore her and can’t imagine life without her and want to find a dog like her for myself someday. So I’m just saying that sometimes, what we think we want, isn’t the only thing we would be able to enjoy if that makes sense lol. But I am so glad you wrote this because I 100% agree with you. I still plan on purchasing a dog from a responsible (<-keyword there as established) breeder because I want a whippet and they are quite rare in shelters and rescues. Of course I am keeping my eyes out but I have only seen one in my almost four years at the shelter and I wasn’t ready at the time. Anyway, I choose to help by volunteering for the shelter, and taking care of the dogs there. There’s more than one way to support the homeless pets!

  37. omegaford says:

    Will, this blog post is one that should go far and wide. It is not critical, does not choose sides, and does not slam or belittle anyone for their choices. If we ever have hope of reducing the numbers of dogs being pts each year because they’re unwanted, then we as a society must educate, educate, educate. The general public knows so very little about breeder differences and why they may be important, just as many know way too little about how to raise a dog to become the best companion it could be. I know both John and Mary and have much respect for both of them as ethical breeders and lovers of a breed that “suits” them just as it suits you. Thank you for writing this. I will share it.

  38. Malin says:

    I agree with you. My english is not that good so my reply will not be so long. But bottom line I think that supporting a good responsible breeder is potentially making less rescue dogs. But I also think that it is great that people buy rescue dogs. My dog and I have friends that are both rescue and pure breed dogs. Like you said they dogs themself are great no matter if they are pure breed or rescue dogs.

  39. I know that feeling of trepidation when discussing where my dogs are from, but I strongly believe we should give louder support to the wonderful ethical breeders who contribute so much to the present and future of canine companionship.

  40. I totally follow your winding logic because I think it’s a road we’ve all been down at one point or another. Surprise, unexpected circumstance and dumb luck all play their part in our stories. Like you I also donate time, money and help to the many worthy adoption/rescue agencies in need. It takes all of us on all sides working together on this one.

  41. Thank you! And I couldn’t agree more about the importance of education. I was totally oblivious to the standards and work of ethical breeders before I got Eko. Anyone who knows a John or a Mary personally knows how devoted they are to their work and would be proud to support it. Hopefully by championing and highlighting their efforts we can steer people away from irresponsible breeders.

  42. Sherry says:

    I have worked with many animal shelters and am a professional dog trainer specializing in canine sports such as scooter joring, canicross, mushing, lure coursing and tracking. I also prefer to buy my dogs from a reputable breeder rather than adopt. I have adopted in the past but I have found that for me, the Rhodesian Ridgeback is the breed for me but you don’t find them in animal shelters.

    There is a viable solution to reducing the number of dogs found in shelters but I’ve found that owners believe that it would be infringing on their rights and there would be an initial cost to setup the system which the cities do not want to back.

  43. Sue says:

    I agree with you, except on one point. No animal from a Rescue Facility should be free. If a person cannot or chooses to not pay anything for a pet, then the whole transaction is suspect. How much will that person invest in health care for something they receive free? I think that one of the major reasons that animals end up being rehomed multiple times is that the new owner has no investment in the pet. I have purchased many dogs down through the years from reputable breeders and these pets have lived long lives because I chose to spend time and money in the correct way. A breeder is generally trying to produce the ideal of a particular breed. Health is a major aim of these breeders- they should be applauded.

  44. UrbanCollieChick says:

    You really hit the nail on the head with this one. My only caveat are my feelings about the AKC but that’s an entirely different subject.

    Beyond that, everything you wrote about what rescue is for, what breeders do and do not do, is oh so important to point out. I have experienced the guilt trips from rescue-only advocates. I have nothing against rescue if that is somebody’s choice. In fact I’m a volunteer for RRRInc.

    But the option of different choices for different people and situations is critical, if people are to be happy with and keep their dogs for life. Matchmaking is an important part of a happy relationship between dog and owner. Whether you use a rescue, shelter or breeder, a good matchmaking and selection process, and continued support, are paramount.

    Good breeders offer advice, and support in droves. Shelters are often too busy to offer the same sort of lifeline that a private breeder can. A good rescue is very supportive, out of love for their breed, and foster caretakers can assess adults, but they will likely be missing certain pieces of the puzzle, such as lineage, the good and bad experiences a dog has had, etc. A good breeder knows their pups from day one, the parents, and the lines. And, if they are honest, any known genetic weaknesses, as well as strengths, will be revealed.

    True, there are bad breeders, but there are bad rescues and shelters, which have adopted out dogs with known bite histories, to families with small children.

    It’s as you say. There are no complete guarantees. When we take a dog into our lives, we are taking a biological being with all the risks and frailties inherent therein. It is hardly the same as buying a new or used car. Even with dog lemon laws, we are adding the responsibility of owning something with a mind, however cognitively lacking compared to a human mind. The problems aren’t quick fixes. The dogs don’t come off of assembly lines. And given the emotional attachments we make, we who choose to be responsible dog OWNERS, are not looking to replace the dogs we bring into our lives, the way we would likely opt to replace, say, an auto we found ourselves unhappy with due to performance issues or other defects.

    All the more reason to have many options available as we do our research. Be it by breed, or personality type, or both. Shelters are great, and they are important, but they often have certain breeds or types in large majority numbers; types which may not be allowed in certain complexes, or are unsuited to certain people, or who simply do not attract some people. Human relationships are complicated. They involve chemistry, and the chemistry equation works across species. I would not wanting someone dismissing my chemistry for a certain type of dog, any more than I would want them deciding my choice of human friends or a mate. Love is a very individual and complex thing.

  45. One of my favorite things to do is watch the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show each year. There are so many breeds, and I love seeing and learning about all of them. And it’s always exciting when they add new breeds! I think ethical breeders are absolutely important because they’re helping to keep these specific breeds in existence. People have to care, or the breed will disappear.
    On the other hand, I’ve been volunteering at a shelter for six years now and also did a one-month “internship” at Best Friends Animal Society in college, and as much as I would one day love to have an Entlebucher Mountain Dog, any future dog I get will be from a shelter.
    I can’t begin to tell you how many times I’ve heard adopters say that their shelter dog is the best dog they’ve ever had. And there are plenty of purebreds that come through shelters. The shelter where I volunteer has had Great Pyrenees, Golden Retrievers, German Short-haired Pointers, Cocker Spaniels, English Bulldogs, etc. People looking for a specific breed don’t necessarily have to go straight to a breeder. Like others have said, doing your research is an important first step.
    There’s still some stigma around “shelter dogs,” which is unfortunate, but it’s definitely getting better. And it’s also been encouraging to see places enacting anti-puppy-mill laws.

  46. UrbanCollieChick says:

    Dear Sue,
    Question: If people in general are not expected to put anything into a pet they received for free, does the investment of time and love and funds get pro-rated, depending upon the adoption fee?

    Does an owner invest more into their dog in terms of food, training and vet costs, if they paid a $400 fee than and less if they paid a $200 fee? How about a $600 fee? How about a $50 fee? Is there a defined ratio of initial cost to lifetime care investments? Has this been proven? What is your algorithm? What statistical formulas did you choose? What were your sample sizes?

    I have seen homeless people who had more love invested into their dogs on the streets, than people who have spent thousands on imported purebreds. I knew a woman who spent $5K importing a German Shepherd Dog from Russia, and then dumped it in a shelter because her children, whom she bought it for, got bored.

    I cannot entirely dismiss what you’re saying, but I would surmise that the investment into a dog that money has been spent on, may be more tied to the funds the family had that allowed them to spend more on a dog initially in the first place. That is somewhat different from the feeling that a person would not want to casually toss out, something they spent a large initial purchase price for. Heck, the dog show world is full of wealthy people who casually buy and sell dogs, based on winning and losing the game. They were not invested in the dogs emotionally.

    I have a kelpie dog that I obtained from a sheep farmer for the sum price of $0. I drove across two states to get him. He is my very first dog, after nearly 40 years of wishing and daydreaming. The blog owner has a YouTube video of how he daydreamed of a dog and finally decided to get one, because he decided to stop waiting for the “perfect time.” That video resonates with me, because that was what motivated me. Time was passing, and I went for it. I have since invested $ into agility classes, nosework classes, raw food, Rx kibble, toys, equipment, allergy meds, and other random incidentals. Because what he brings to my life cannot be measured in dollars and cents. To rob from the first season of Game of Thrones, he is my sun, moon and stars. He is my childhood dream come true. You cannot put a price on childhood dreams, and I know I am far from alone.

  47. Geri Zeibert says:

    Wonderful post, Will. It is so refreshing to read comments that are respectful of different points of view! Like you, I fell in love with a specific breed, in my case the Leonberger. We started out with an older Leo who was being retired from breeding. Her Breeder just wanted her to go to a good home so we were given Chu-Chu at 6. A few months later another breeder to which we had been directed by the Leonberger Club of America had a litter and the male puppy we had originally wanted, so we ended up with 2 Leos which was never planned! Our 3 rd Leo was also a rehome from a sad divorce case. We were entrusted with her from Leo Rescue after Titan ( our puppy) had died from a sarcoma at 8 and Chu-Chu our original Leo had died of old age at 13. Orflaith died on Veterans Day 2016, also of cancer at 10 years of age. We ourselves are elderly, both close to 70 , so we decided we didn’t have the energy for another puppy and that we would rather give a loving home to a dog in need. We applied at both existing Leonberger Rescue organizations. We have been waiting for over a year but, so far, there have been no Leonbergers in the continental US in need of being rehomed. Great for the breed, not so great for us. Yes, there are thousands of dogs, especially elderly ones, in need of homes across the country and, in fact, we did “rescue”
    a Rottweiler mix from a pound in Jacksonville, Fl when we spent the winter there after we lost Titan. We still have Karma. We suspect she is about 10-12 years old. However, we want another Leo in our lives. They just feel right to us. So rather than go to the pound or another breed rescue, we will wait for as long as it takes, for our Leo in need. To my way of thinking, it is the best of both worlds. We get the breed we love but we still are giving a home to a dog who needs a second chance. We just hope the wait will not be years or never. I am sure that if anything were to happen to Karma, we could not be a home without a furry family member for very long because a house without a canine member, for us, could never be a home! In that case, we would probably go to the local pound and adopt another middle aged dog and still wait for our Leonberger.

  48. Your post is a great example of the depth and nuance this conversation requires. I’ve got plenty of bones to pick with the AKC and shady rescue groups who abuse the trust and goodwill of people who come to them. There’s room for improvement on all sides here and the best way to do that is by working together. The infighting between people who should agree on the large majority of issues seems like the wrong use of our energy. Like you I value options. Each of our circumstances is unique and so to will be the way we find our dogs. We should encourage and value the journey while accepting we each need to travel our own path.

  49. I’m a rescue mutt, and Mom paid $300 for me to pay the foster family I stayed with and the rescue group that transported me. We totally agree that being a responsible pet parent and loving a doggie is the only thing that matters. Everything else is just minor details.

    Love and licks,

  50. I think the statistic is approximately 25% of shelter dogs are purebred, so there’s definitely not a shortage in that department. Many people don’t know that fact which is why they skip over shelters. Education is key, as is progress on the legislative front. It makes me quite happy to no longer see puppies for sale in almost all pet stores.

  51. I think you guys have a great attitude about the entire process. Never forcing the issue, opening your heart to a dog in need, but also waiting for the right Leo to stroll into your life. I know from my brother’s experience how rewarding it can be to rescue the right senior pup from a breed you treasure. Fingers crossed for you!

  52. $300 dollars for the world’s most impressive mid-walk-concrete-napping dog!? An all time steal of deal I say.

  53. TheRidgebackLife says:

    Almost 20 years ago, when we moved to a rural area in the Sierra foothills, we brought a pound puppy into our family. Poco (lab-something mix) was the easiest pup to train and she was trustworthy and loyal (and an amazing gopher hunter). We ended up spending a lot of money on her knees and subsequent medications over her lifetime, but we considered it well spent. We lost her almost 14 years later. It was heart wrenching. Still is. I have her last paw print tattooed on my foot.
    When we were ready for another pup, we thought we were pretty good trainers, so Ridgebacks shouldn’t be a problem. We chose the breed because we are an active family and would include our dogs. We researched. Yeh, they’re thick skulled, active, prey driven, and adventurous. Perfect. Two leather couches later and too many other destroyed items to list, Neeka has finally come to terms with who’s the boss. (She is, obviously ) Adding Khoi after three years has really helped. I don’t think it’s possible to have just one Ridgeback…for long. They are the most amazing dogs to watch play and just be themselves.
    Both pups come from very reputable breeders. Applications are required as well as interviews. A pup was chosen for us based on our needs and it’s temperment. Of course, we fell in love. If things don’t work out, or if a situation arises where you can’t keep it, you’re under contract to return the puppy to the breeder. No questions asked.
    I really don’t think we would have found another puppy like Poco. We got very lucky with her. Even though many shelters and foster programs help find the right pup for you, and most will take it back, finding all the attributes of specific breed is nearly impossible. I’ve gotten pushback from a neighbor who rescues and fosters dogs. She has even gone as far as look away when she drives by. I appreciate what she does for dogs and I’ve told her so, but when I explain our thinking behind buying versus adopting this time, she shuts me down. I think I need to send her your blog. Yes, there are hundreds of thousands of dogs out there waiting for a family. We hope to adopt again, but in the mean time, we have chosen a specific breed.
    Thank you for bringing up this topic and even more so, thank you for sharing your viewpoint. I love all dogs, although I would not want to share my home with many breeds. I do appreciate those who sacrifice so much in order to rescue and find forever homes for all those beautiful souls. I’m happy to say I donate as much as I can on the Day of Giving to local shelters and organizations. My way of helping those I can’t take into my home.

  54. My comment? AMEN!! AMEN! AMEN! I also purchased my dog from a responsible breeder and have addressed this a few times on my blog (but nearly as perfectly as you have). I need to hold on to this. I am tired of some in the rescue community acting as if we are criminals because we chose to purchase our dogs from responsible breeders. I wanted a Shetland Sheepdog, there were no Sheltie rescues near us, I heard about Dakota’s availability from a connection my step daughter had…and that was it. I love shelter dogs but like you, timing etc played a huge part in my decision. Everything turned out just the way it was meant to.

  55. AVIA M RAUSCHER says:

    I also fell in love with the Rhodesian Ridgeback breed. I talked to people who owned them, read about them in books and online. I researched breeders and found one that met my needs. Orion was my first ever dog, and I couldn’t ask for a better companion. He is truly my heart dog. I adopted Osiris when he was a little over 4 months old and Orion was almost 7 years old. It was a private re-homing, and he has required a lot more work and training than Orion did, but I love him to pieces.

    I used to work in an animal control shelter and while I applaud those who choose to adopt their canine companions, I was not prepared to handle a “project”. My husband wouldn’t even consider a shelter dog, our daughter was 10 and he felt that there were too many unknowns with dogs – even puppies – from shelters. Buying our first dog from a breeder did not leave a shelter dog homeless or even lead to the death of a shelter dog, it provided a dog for a home without one.

    Thank you for this post!

  56. All your thoughtful effort and kindness and you’re stonewalled by your neighbor – it’s tough. Especially when you know her heart is in the right place. It’s become a polarizing and divisive issue, but as your story illustrates, there’s a lot of common ground for us all to stand on.

  57. It’s become an unfortunately antagonistic topic of discussion, and social media is an easy place for pithy remarks but not so much for nuanced conversation. Hopefully by discussing the issue we can help reconcile some of the perceived differences between us.

  58. You guys put a lot of time, devotion and love into your decision and I can’t imagine anything better for your pups. That’s what’s most important in my book.

  59. Pam Legault says:

    This is an excellent post. May I have permission to repost it for our Irish Setter Club of Canada and B.C.?

    Pam Legault (also a Rhodie Lover)

  60. Thank you! Of course, please feel free to share. The more places we can have this conversation, the better.

  61. Erika D. says:

    Excellently said and what follows is by no means meant to criticize your personal choice, however you failed to address one issue with breeding (ethical or not)–Human Error.

    The problem with dogs bred in lines to provide a certain look, temperament, or drive is that inevitably some other part of genetic code comes with the gene you are targeting. This means you may just be breeding dogs for super soft and shiny coats and end up with super soft, shiny dogs that are born with an extremely high risk of developing lymphoma–oops!

    Beyond that humans have this tendency to breed for particular outward traits without much concern for possible physiological outcomes of those traits meaning that most breeds have particular diseases and disorders that are very common only in purebreds of that particular breed or group of breeds. Brachycephalic dogs (pugs, English bulldogs, sharpeis, Frenchies etc.) were bred for short noses–because a slightly shorter nose was a breed trait early on and then the shorter the nose the better became the winning formula in the show ring. So responsible, show dog, breeders bred for this trait without considering other effects shortening the nose might have–now we have dogs with normal amounts of soft palate stuffed into incredibly short faces causing major breeding problems–oops again! Dolcicephalic breeds (think greyhound) have the opposite problem–their noses are too long for their palates.

    Human breeding choices cause all sort of genetically related problems long term, outbreeding should be regularly practiced but isn’t because we have become obsessed with maintaining “pure” breeds that were originally developed from a huge mosh of breeds anyways. Even Rhodesian Ridgebacks (lovely dogs) are the result of a genetic mutation which causes that line of fur to stand up on their backs and prone to have dermoid sinuses because of it. Why? Because the particular mutation that causes that neat little hair ridge is actually causing a mild defect in the neural tube fusion and development.

    While I personally want a dog with very particular traits in the future, this would be the main reason that I would attempt to source that dog from rescues first (not to say I wouldn’t look to ethical breeders if I couldn’t find what I needed)–not because they are more ethical but because the dogs there are crossbred, and studies have proven that crossbreeding provides increases in health parameters (known as hybrid vigor) and that you are just as likely to find the desired traits in a crossbreed as you are in a “proven” litter!

  62. You bring up a lot of the important failures and pitfalls of breeding, ones which must be properly reckoned with. It’s certainly a divisive issue within the community and the affected breeds, but I know there are growing movements pushing for outbreeding/crossbreeding to ensure breeds have the genetic diversity needed for long term success. There’s also strong voices in the GSD (just one example) community who are vocal opponents of breeding for a particular gait in the show ring.

    The list of problems with breeding would be about the size of a phonebook. It’s easy to get exasperated and I often do. But in order for my grandchildren to enjoy the companionship of dogs, dogs need to reproduce. The current system leaves much to be desired, but I strongly believe the way forward includes ethical breeding stewardship as a part of the solution.

    Thanks again for taking the time to add a substantive and knowledgeable comment. I think it adds a lot to the discussion.

  63. Erika D. says:

    It’s always good to see push back against certain industry normals, and I would love to start seeing conformation classes reflecting this by being more orientated towards conformation for purpose (well built for the job they need to do) rather than comparing dogs of the same breed–as this may increase motivation to outbreed and ensure purposeful and healthy pets.

    I do agree that ethical breeding stewardship can be part of the solution–having some more distinct groups of dogs (“pure” breeds) is important to prevent certain traits from getting too watered down (high drive for instance) in sequential crosses.

    Thank you for posting such a comprehensive and thoughtful piece on ethical breeding–it is not an easy thing to educate the general public on, particularly when it comes to investing big bucks into a animal that really isn’t special in and of itself (but is special in that it was raised and bred for in a particular way).

  64. Caroline says:

    First And foremost your blog inspires me and I couldn’t agree more with your point of view.

    I am doing research To find my pup (Viszla is the dog that fits me best) but I am struggling to find trust in the breeders.

    How did you find yours and what are the facts that should alarm me when I visit a breeder?

  65. Thanks!

    Here’s a post detailing how I found my breeders. It’s Ridgeback-specific but the general principles are applicable across breeds – https://markingourterritory.com/2017/02/28/everything-you-need-to-know-about-getting-a-rhodesian-ridgeback/

  66. Ogee says:

    From the rescue side of the pond, I applaud responsible breeders – AND responsible owners who take the time to vet them, become educated about their dog’s needs, provide training, love, and a commitment for life. Sometimes life takes unexpected turns – and we are there. But we would so rather that be the only need than for the thousands that are abandoned each year because a puppy grew into a dog and someone no longer wanted it. Rescue will always be my preference. There are so many amazing dogs in need. But if your heart is drawn to a particular breed – and a puppy, at that, – and you do the work that ensures you are not contributing to an industry of misery…I thank you and the responsible breeder you found.

  67. Great post, thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  68. '@rronwina says:

    Thank you for your well spoken message. Thank you for raising the awareness of responsible breeding vs. producing for profit. It’s a true shame the term “breeder” has become infiltrated with such enormous disdain and animosity. I don’t have issue with adoption or rescue, but the #AdoptDontShop mentality simply does not help our dogs. In fact, it has introduced a slew of unintended consequences that I doubt many even realize.
    I, too, could go on and on… =)

    Lastly, thank you, for being willing to seek out two exemplary breeders, John Arvin (Mystic Isle Rhodesian Ridgebacks) and Mary Hodges (Glass Creek Kennels). John and I met many years ago; I wish I could have met Mary in person at our National Specialty this last September in Portland, OR. Unfortunately, being on the show committee kept me otherwise occupied but was able to celebrate her successes from afar.

  69. MamaMinion says:

    As an animal rescuer, I am not against ethical breeders. Most of us aren’t, in my opinion. Ethical breeders keep breed lines intact, and healthy. Without them, certain breeds would be impossible to find. Especially healthy well bred dogs.
    Unfortunately, what we run into most is the non-ethical breeders. The ones who care less about the dogs than the money they make from it. They do not make sure that they are breeding healthy dogs. It’s just income to them. And we end up with the dogs when they become too old to breed, or are too unhealthy to sell.

  70. Unethical breeding is supremely frustrating on so many levels, but I’m given hope by the fact that more people are aware of the pitfalls. The vast majority of pet stores no longer sell dogs/increasingly I see legislation proposed to curb the behavior/education is at an all time high. The problem won’t be solved easily, but I think it’s best solved when we work in collaboration instead of opposition. As you say, I think most of us are in agreement, but it’s often the loudest voices that get heard.

  71. […] love championing the wonderful breeders I’ve used, but it is critical people don’t view puppies as build-a-bears. Every dog is born […]

  72. Katrin Kutsarova says:

    Love, love, love the way you put this all into words! Thank you, Will! You said it perfectly! I dream of building a shelter in my country as there are no decent ones but I also will always remain certain that RRs are the best match for me! Thank you!

  73. Tom says:

    My ridgeback is a mix from the local shelter. I never heard of the breed until I found him. What a great dog. He has all of the text book behavioral traits and looks of a Rhody mutt LoL. My late best friend, (a St Bernard) I did get from a breeder. Both experiences were positive and I have no axe to grind either way. With all that said; I’d just like to point out in a persons lifetime we may have the privilege to have known many four legged souls. Get what you want from a breeder, but pay it forward with equal resolve too, by taking in a great mutt. Love Tom

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