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Puppy Mills, Backyard Breeders and Rescue

This should not be a touchy issue but it has become so given the state of rescue and shelter space right now.

Those of us who have been in the rescue world for some time knew that we were headed for a cliff when the pandemic restrictions eased up. We knew that surrenders would skyrocket. That we’d be seeing dogs with significant behavioral challenges who might not be readily adoptable. And, of course, that is exactly what has happened. Not only are people surrendering their dogs, but adoptions have fallen off significantly. And the really telling thing? It seems that backyard breeders and puppy millers are expecting rescues to take in their unsold puppy “stock” and/or their retired breeding dogs. Not because of medical or behaviour issues, but because they can’t sell them.

This creates a number of problems for rescues…..most of whom are swamped as it is……what do you do when an unethical breeder wants to give you the dogs from which they can no longer profit? Is there a way to intake these dogs and not enable the breeder? Is this basically the same as buying puppies from a pet store and calling it rescue when basically what you’ve done is clear “inventory”?

I have no quick and easy answers here. I struggle with this one a lot. We have taken in puppies that were injured and needed immediate care and the breeder claimed they couldn’t afford that care. What we found was that in many of those cases, the breeder then used us to dump any puppy or adult dog that needed any care beyond basic vetting. They would call us and say “I need you to pick up this puppy cause they need (insert medical care here) and I can’t afford it”….and in most cases, it would happen over and over again. We took in the puppy needing care and the breeder kept on breeding and just assumed that rescue would take in the dogs he/she didn’t wish to treat medically. Could they afford it? I don’t know. Ultimately, I don’t care. I do believe that if you are profiting off the backs of the dogs in your care then you do, in fact, have a duty of care and it is NOT the job of rescues to take in puppies/dogs you choose not to care for properly, can’t sell or for whom you just can’t be bothered finding an appropriate home. IF you can’t afford the vet care for your dogs, then the ethical thing to do is to stop breeding.

And we need to stop being a market for these folks. And by we, I mean all of us. The dog owning public. We need to get our heads in the game and stop just wanting what we want when we want it. We made it easy for unethical breeders to make a fortune during the pandemic. The demand for dogs, any dogs, was staggering and the mills and backyard breeders made out like bandits. And then when the restrictions eased, the very people who bought their dogs from these unethical breeders found themselves with a dog with a host of behavioural issues and they surrendered them in great numbers to rescues/shelters.

Those of us who have been in rescue for long periods of time predicted this. We knew this was going to happen. This was all predictable. While I understand that many people got dogs with no malign intent, they also didn’t give a lot of thought to where they got the dog, what to expect and how to prepare for the fact that there would be a return to a more normal life and many dogs would suffer from separation anxiety/isolation distress, poor/limited/no socialization.

To be fair, there are some damned unethical rescues out there as well. But right now, what I’m seeing are a staggering number of puppies and adult dogs coming into rescue from puppy mills and backyard breeders. Largely, I suspect because they can’t sell them. There is no market and no profit as a result. These aren’t dogs that an owner or purchaser is surrendering….these are coming directly from the breeder. And I have NO reason to believe the breeders doing this are going to stop breeding. They are just getting inconvenient “livestock” out of the way.

How a rescue deals with this is individual. Each rescue makes the decision that works best for them based on their role, their ability, and their own guidelines on what they consider a legitimate rescue job. It’s not easy and it’s not fun to have to make these kind of decisions and leaves us overwhelmed and guilt ridden and angry. So very angry.

Please. I beg of you. Don’t keep providing a market for these folks. DO your research on where you are getting your dog or puppy. There are many, many resources out there on how to determine if a breeder is ethical or not. There are resources on how to spot an unethical rescue as well.

In the final analysis, we created this. Our desire to have a dog. Now. Regardless of who is breeding or how they do it. We created the mills….our own fault. No market? Less likely for a mill to succeed. Think. Don‘t impulse buy. Don’t be mad because rescues can’t take in the impulse dog you now can’t afford or manage. We aren’t being jerks, but we are swamped and tired and may not have the space to take in your dog right this minute. And yes, I do realize that I’m closing the barn door after the horses have gotten out, but I did want people to know what is happening on the ground and it ain’t pretty. Resources:


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