October may be the month of Halloween for black cats, but for abandoned dogs, it is ‘Adopt a Shelter Dog Month.’

Eight years ago, my family bought a Bichon Frise from an online breeder. We drove three hours to reach the breeder’s home. She was nice and informative, but I was distracted by the room at the end of a long hallway in her house. The sounds of scratching and desperate whimpering escaped from behind the locked door. When I asked the breeder what was making the noises, she told me that it was the mother of the dog I was buying. She explained that if the mom saw me taking her puppy, she would get anxious and cause trouble. I was only eight years old, but even then, there was something that felt unsettling about taking a child away from its mother.

This was our first time purchasing a pet and we were pretty uneducated about the process. Here are some things I wish we had known beforehand:

  1. Buying dogs from pet stores or online breeders means that there is a great chance that you are buying from a puppy mill. Puppy mills inhumanely mass produce approximately 50,000 puppies a year. Female dogs, known as “brood bitches,” are cramped into cages and spend their lives repeatedly giving birth to puppies who are then sold. After the mother is six or seven years old and can no longer produce puppies, she is abandoned or killed. Puppy mill dogs do not always fit into the cages they are forced to live in. Many puppies are born with abnormalities due to horrific living conditions and inbreeding. It is estimated that there are over 5,000 licensed puppy milled in the United States, but thousands of more breeding facilities that are unlicensed. This heartless practice will continue as long as it has support from consumers.
  2. Four to five million unwanted shelter animals are killed each year. By adopting a shelter animal, a life is being spared. 2.7 million cats and dogs from the shelter are euthanized each year because they are unwanted. Adopting also makes room in the shelter for other abandoned animals in need of a home, so more than one life may be saved from one adoption.
  3. It is a myth that shelter animals are unhealthy. Pet stores and breeders claim that purebreds are in better condition, but this is just a sales tactic. But for people who still prefer purebreds, twenty-five percent of all shelter dogs are purebred. And for people who believe shelter dogs are unruly, most of them are not in the shelter because they were not a good pet. Animals are usually given up because of other causes, such as a move or divorce.
  4. Buying from the shelter is cheaper than buying from a pet store or breeder. Vaccinations, microchipping and spaying or neutering is often included in the adoption fee when purchasing from a shelter.

Remember, having a pet is a huge responsibility. Many animals end up in shelters because people think they can handle taking care of a pet, when they cannot. I love my dog, but I will not be supporting breeders or pet stores again and I strongly advise anyone looking for a furry friend to adopt from a shelter or rescue group.

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