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How to Help Solve Pet Overpopulation

I believe every dog should have a home, and over the years have contributed money, time, and expertise to help make that happen in my community. We now know what it takes to eliminate animal overpopulation, and that doing so is achievable, but it will take getting all pulling together.

Spay/neuter programs are hugely effective, but the problem would be solved more quickly if we would significantly reduce purposeful breeding.

My personal dogs come from shelters, which, I believe, for most families is a great place to get a pet. Purebred dogs, which people believe are superior animals, often have a myriad of health and behavior problems. Does dog breeding cause more problems than it solves?

My thoughts began to crystalize after a couple of occasions to work in East Africa, where I became acquainted with the native "breed" Africanis. In most of Africa, the locals do not own dogs. Dogs are feral animals that roam the streets and villages. They live outdoors and breed on their own without restriction. Never visit a vet. Do not receive training. Serve no discernible purpose. If one gets sick, it recovers or dies. Color and conformation are irrelevant. Its physical traits are well-adapted to the outdoor environment at the equator. In short, the "breed" develops not from human planning but from natural selection. These dogs seemed to have fewer health issues and were resistant to many diseases. By necessity they were tough, and because if they were aggressive someone would kill them, most were, though somewhat wary of people, pretty good at getting along.

I returned home to the States to work again with many poorly-conformed and behaviorally challenged purebred dogs, and I slowly came to a conclusion: Overall, human dog breeding may produce worse dogs than no breeding (natural selection). Mix-breed dogs, which can be found by the dozen at any shelter, tend to have hybrid vigor that results in better health and fewer mental problems. And some people need or want a purebred dog, but if so he or she better make certain to purchase from a reputable breeder with a long-term reputation for quality.

I'd guess that 10% of purebred dogs come from such a quality breeder. And that brings us to one of the most nonsensical causes of pet overpopulation, and one which will require a cultural change to eliminate: backyard breeders.

A "backyard breeder" is a person who, without serious thought and experience, breeds purebred dogs. A brother and his sister-in-law own yellow labs. A guy has a poodle and his neighbor has a golden retriever. Two friends have unusually tiny Australian shepherds. And since people will pay royally believe they are buying a superior purebred pup, they snap them up fueling the demand. The process plays out across the country and the market is flooded with inferior dogs which prevent shelter dogs finding homes and harm the reputation of quality purebreds.

Here's what I've decided: I will continue to get my dogs from shelters. If I must have a purebred, I'll buy only from a top-flight, professional breeder by researching carefully. And most importantly, I will help dry up the market for bad purebreds by never purchasing from a backyard breeder.

How will I know the difference? Easy. Anyone can look legit by uploading a fancy website. I will never purchase or adopt a shelter animal without first visiting the facility in person. A legit breeder will have a quality facility he or she has run for years if not decades. Not a pen or two thrown up behind the house. He or she will have a long client list, some of which I will call. And I'll research the breeder's dogs. I'll learn fairly quickly if this breeder is top-flight or flighty, and in the process I'll get a quality dog knowing I helped reduce the demand for poor-quality backyard-bred dogs. And I will help insure that every dog finds a family.

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