I recently attended an event in New York City called “Meet the Breeds,” a 160,000-square-foot dog and cat breed cornucopia hosted by the American Kennel Club in association with The International Cat Association. It featured 160 dog breeds and 50 cat breeds, each with its own booth, there to educate the public about the unique qualities of purebred animals.
It was a zoo. Not because of the animals, but the sheer number of people. It was difficult to pass through some of the aisles because they were so crowded. Any booth with puppies, such as the Beagle booth, had people standing 10 deep to pet the little tykes. It seems that the purebred dog is still as popular as ever. It was a chance to meet dogs that you are unlikely to see anywhere else, such as the Spanish Water Dog (adorable!) and the hairless Xoloitzcuintli (think very cute raisins without the wrinkles).
A couple of years ago, after attending the first Meet the Breeds showcase, someone asked me how I can personally reconcile the fact that I do hands on shelter dog rescue and run a website, The Pet Postcard Project, that feeds shelter animals, while at the same time enjoying myself at the Westminster Kennel Club show, having dog breeder acquaintances, and going to events like Meet the Breeds. Without missing a beat, I said: “I don’t want to live in a world without Wolfhounds.”
And it’s true. I think about all the rescue people I know, and how many of us have a breed that we love. I have two Schnauzers, Pepper and Zoey, both rescued shelter dogs, and I do hands-on Schnauzer rescue. I also have a mutt, Pearl, but she looks Schnauzer-y. I love the breed. I love the way they look, how affectionate they are, and how independent and spunky they can be. I also know what to expect from them – they are going to bark when a tree falls in Spain and will want to chase after everything from squirrels to a plastic bag blowing across the street.
Let me use my five Pet Postcard Volunteers as other examples: One has six Min Pins; one has four Dachshunds; another has four Schnauzers; another has two Pug/Beagle mixes; yet another is on her second Poodle and is looking for another one to rescue; finally, the most hands-on rescuer of us all has six Lab-y type dogs and one Great Pyrenees. I think of my doggie designer friend Ada Nieves and her six Chihuahuas, and my agility friend Deb Harpur and her three champion Rat Terriers – both are heavily into rescue. This small cross section of passionate dog rescue people shows how powerful pure breeds can be.
Pure breeds mean something to us. Maybe we have good childhood memories of a certain breed; maybe we started with one breed by accident (as I did with Schnauzers) and then got hooked; maybe a certain breed fits our lifestyle perfectly. Whatever the case, even rescuers are attracted to a “type.”
But I’m disappointed to live in a country that kills over 5 million animals a year for lack of loving homes. Maybe it’s naïveté or self-imposed blinders, but I do not believe that it’s the “Westminster Kennel Club Show type” breeders that are contributing much to our homeless dog population. They are not the real reason why there are so many dogs in shelters. I fault poor spay/neuter education and lack of low cost spay/neuter, puppy mills, and so-called “backyard” breeders. Perhaps this is how I can reconcile rescuing matted Schnauzers from the shelter and then watching show Schnauzers strut around a ring at Westminster.
How to truly really reconcile the two worlds? There might not be a way to do it. I want my doggie biscuit and to eat it too (if Pearl doesn’t get it first). If I were to choose, my heart is really in rescue. If everyone who loves a breed and bought their first dog went to a breed rescue to get their second dog, we’d have millions of additional dogs adopted per year.
You don’t have to ditch your favorite breed to adopt a dog – breed rescues have plenty of dogs that came from breeders that, for whatever reason, found themselves homeless, and shelters are full of purebred dogs. There are plenty of homeless Mixed Breeds in shelters that look like one of their parent breeds, and they are smart and adorable too. Did you know that the “plain brown dog” and black dogs are basically doomed at most shelters? How about considering your favorite pure breed dog and a Heinz 57 mutt? Most dogs are happy to have a companion.
Dogs are $65 at my local shelter, even the purest of purebreds. That’s a deal you can’t beat for a new best friend! Spend the rest of the money on a nice doggie bed, fancy bowls, yummy treats and high quality dog food – or, better yet, donate the rest to your favorite breed rescue. They could use it.