"THE RESCUE MADE ME DO IT!!": On taking responsibility for one's actions and prioritizing one's perceived "rights" over the right to life and well-being of mill dogs.

Bruno, my first foster, was breeding stock from a puppy mill

I’ve been thinking recently about responsibility. Specifically, about if and how people take responsibility for their dogs, their actions, and their choices. I’ve heard several anecdotes in recent months about potential adopters choosing to buy a pup from a pet store or Kijiji when their application for a rescue dog was declined or if the rescue simply took too long to process them.

To be clear, responsible breeders do not sell their pups in pet stores and the large majority of Kijiji pups are from mills, brokers, and backyard breeders (BYBs). I once asked a pet store clerk if the pups, living on grates behind glass at the back of the store, were from a mill.  Of course, she assured me that they were from only responsible breeders.  What ‘responsible breeder’ would pull the pups from the bitch early to prolong the period of ‘cuteness’ in the store window, deprive the pup of critical socialization by placing them in a glass box – sometimes in isolation – and allow the store to sell to impulsive consumers who have had no screening or background checks? If the sale doesn’t work out, who is the pup returned to? (Often to rescue, in fact) By definition, that breeder cannot be responsible. If there are any doubts about the conditions of dogs in puppy mills, watch one of the many undercover videos of puppy mills and reports on mill raids (such as this recent seizure of over 600 dogs from Canadian mill, Paws R Us).

It frustrates me when I hear this reason for a pet store/Kijiji purchase: “the rescue made me do it!” This justification for fulfilling immediate gratification attempts to shift the blame to rescues, but it is not their blame to own. Who really gets hurt by this decision? The buyer does, for one. Mills and BYBs don’t have good track records on things like genetic testing, sanitary conditions, and responsible breeding, and the puppy they buy will come with this genetic baggage (do you know what happens when you breed two merle-coloured dogs?). More importantly, the parents of that puppy pay the greatest cost. Buying a mill puppy may be a great turn of events for that one, single puppy, but it means profit for brokers and mill owners. The bitch will be bred once again to feed the demand generated by the sale of that pup.

Any responsible seller/adopter will have a thorough screening process for their animals – something that doesn’t happen in a store. It is not only necessary to be sure that the pup is going to a good home, it is also important to be sure that the pup is the right breed/type/individual for that good home.  A Viszla breeder would be irresponsible to sell a pup to someone who wants a couch-potato dog. A Bulldog breeder would be irresponsible to sell a pup to someone who is looking for a partner with which to run marathons (on that topic, this is a very interesting article from NY Times, “Can the Bulldog be Saved?”)  Likewise, a rescue looks to place their dogs in homes that are not only generally suitable homes, but also a good match for the individual dog’s needs.  Pups in the pet store window are sold on the spot, no questions asked. Not only does thorough screening prioritize the well-being of the dog, it also seeks to place dogs in to homes would would most enjoy the individual dog. That jogger would be none too happy to eventually find out that their Bulldog can’t run a marathon without serious risk to her health – or even to her life! (In fact, this summer an American Bulldog down the street from me died from heat exhaustion after the owner took him jogging)

I expect the screening process may take longer for a rescue than for a breeder simply because of the number of applications coming in for a single dog at one time. Since the dog is already “there” (not yet-to-be-born), there’s a greater expectation of speed of adoption. Why should a person wait for rescue volunteers to sift through a stack of applications if they can walk into a store and walk out with a pup? Why should they accept that a rescue denies their application when a BYB Kijiji pup is a click away?

People adding a dog to their household need to take responsibility for their actions.  If they truly believe rescue is the right route, if they know that pet store pups come from mills they can’t pin their decision to financially support these vendors on a rescue for ‘taking too long’ or declining them as adopters. Rescues are volunteer-run, they are not publicly funded institutions that are or should be expected to have the resources to immediately approve an application. Somebody’s decision to hand over a credit card in exchange for that puppy-in-the-window is just that – their own decision. It cannot be placed on rescues.

The matter of ‘taking too long’ is a matter of learning patience, not something that is in good supply currently. “Good things come to those who wait.” But what about the person whose application is declined? Of course, that can smart. No one wants to be told that they are unsuitable owners, whether it is a matter of meeting the needs of an individual dog or in a broader sense. Sometimes rescues will decline an application for a silly reason – for example, they may not adopt a dog into a condo building despite an otherwise perfect application and that the individual dog would be perfectly happy to live in a small space. If this is the case, my suggestion to the declined applicant is to brush it off and move on to another rescue. Privately run rescues are just that: private. The dogs are privately owned by them, and the rescue decides on their own terms where each dog will be placed. If you feel inclined, perhaps offer some polite and constructive feedback and move on.

Often, though, the reasons for declining an applicant are serious and credible. Perhaps that trivial-sounding reason is actually valid and the reason was not made clear – that condo owner’s application was denied because the dog will bark incessantly or perhaps is terrified of elevators. A declined application may also be due to preferred training techniques (alpha rolls or rubbing a pup’s nose in its own feces) or safety issues (an application from a family with children for a dog who is not child-safe). It can be a tough lesson to learn but on more than one occasion I have had previously declined applicants asking for resources. They realized that they were declined for a valid reason and they want to further their own education to become better dog owners. I have a lot of respect for these people, it’s not an easy thing to concede, and am happy to direct them to many resources.

Other reasons cited for these purchases include not finding the right breed in rescue. I have to wonder where they might be looking if this is the case. Unless a person is trying to find a rare breed, shelters and rescues have a huge variety of breeds and types.  I also have to wonder about the drive behind a person’s desire for a particular breed. Do they want a Jack Russell because they saw “The Artist”? Do they want a Dane because they think harlequin is a pretty colour? Do they want a pug because they make funny noises?  Perhaps potential adopters can broaden their search criteria and they will find their ideal companion in rescue – dogs are so much more than their appearance or breed standard. Another factor that comes into play here is the amount of time a person spends looking for a rescue dog.  If they check Petfinder.com once or twice, it is very unlikely that they will find a dog who looks to be a good fit. New dogs are constantly coming into rescue, this is an unfortunate truth, and since rescues are volunteer-run these sites are not necessarily updated daily.

It should not be an impulsive decision to acquire a dog, no matter the source, and this includes the process of the purchase or adoption. Whether a person buys from a responsible breeder or adopts from rescue, there will be a screening process and a time of waiting before bringing the dog home. Buying a pet store or Kijiji puppy is an active decision, not a passive fate, and the purchase of this pup feeds directly into the cruel industry of mass for-profit breeding. No one has the “right” to a dog – it is a privilege. It is not in the best interest of the rescue nor adopter to prioritize speed of adoption over appropriate placement of dogs. The screening process is a necessary step if the dogs’ best interests are to remain a priority.

Further Resources:

Rescue resources:



Finding a good breeder:





Problems with Purebreds: