How and Where to Find Your New BFF (of the Canine Variety)

When my spritely Papillon, Sydney, came into my life, I was a 19-year-old college sophomore to whom nobody should have entrusted a puppy. Ever. And yet, there she was. She was mine. The breeder very happily sent her home with me (with a hefty $600 price tag on her impossibly tiny head).

“DO NOT WANT, GET ME OUT.” “For the love of God just hold still and let me Instagram this moment.” (That’s just the kind of parent I am)

Sydney and I have been through a lot together: three different New York apartments, college (and everything that came with it), a semester abroad for me / a semester at my mom’s house for her, a college graduation, a cross-country move, and the subsequent three different LA apartments that accompanied said move. For a 19-year-old who probably should not have owned a puppy and a puppy who had no choice but to be owned by a 19-year-old, I’d say we did a pretty decent job!

Seven years later, this past June, my boyfriend and I welcomed a second dog into our home: an off-the-charts-bonkers Siberian Husky mix named Avery whom we rescued from a local shelter. Even though she came to us saddled with phobias we couldn’t even begin to translate into humanspeak (fear of mirrors, fear of stairs, fear of every single sound effect in Grand Theft Auto), working with her has been one of the most rewarding experiences we’ve ever had. Seriously, I think every single dog on the Pacific coast heard me squeal with glee when she finally sat on command.

The great pet-ownership debate generally revolves around the morally weighty “Breeder Puppy vs. Rescue” question. That’s what most people ask me about right off the bat: “I’m thinking of getting a dog. Did you get yours from a breeder or a shelter? What would you recommend?” Well, now that I have owned both a breeder puppy and a rescue pooch, I have to say that I don’t think there’s a clear “right” answer here. There are advantages to both! But if you’re unsure of which route to take, here are a few pros and cons I’ve gathered over the years about each adoption option:

Pros – Adoption

Obviously, #1: You are saving a life! Name a feeling that is better than that feeling. See? You can’t.

There’s a chance your new BFF might come home with some basic training knowledge, depending upon his history. We really struck gold in this department: Avery came to us completely potty trained.

It’s incredibly cost-efficient. It was $90 out the door for Avery, which included shots and her spaying fee. When we took her to the vet for her first checkup, the office visit was free of charge because she was a rescue! All we paid for was one additional booster shot and heartworm prevention meds. I jokingly/lovingly refer to Avery as our “discount Husky.” This is why.

Cons – Adoption

There is really only one major downside to adoption, which is the mirror image of the one major upside to breeder acquisition: because you don’t know this dog’s history, you don’t know everything about his personality. Now, if you get a puppy from a shelter, you’re in better shape than if you, say, adopted a 3-year-old dog. But more likely than not, you won’t know what sets this dog off. You don’t know what her nervous ticks are. Those things won’t reveal themselves during that first euphoric visit at the shelter as you loudly proclaim, “YES, THIS IS DEFINITELY MY DOG!” By the time her bad habits rear their ugly head, you will likely have bonded with your new buddy too much for any of them to be deal breakers. But even after you enroll the dog in obedience classes, you must display the patience of a thousand Buddhas. An adult dog whose origins are a mystery to you, and who already has ingrained habits, will take longer to train than a brand new puppy. That’s just science! So be prepared to wait a while for that first, magical, “Sit! GOOD GIRL!”

Pros – Breeder Puppies

So, here is the one significant pro about purebreds: you (mostly) know what you’re getting with this puppy. You’ve met its parents, or have at least seen lots of pictures of them winning blue ribbons at dog shows. You’ve researched the breed. This dog is a highly impressionable eight weeks old when he comes home to you; he’s a perfectly blank slate! Yes, you have to train the puppy. ASAP. But puppies are people-pleasers and generally learn pretty quickly if you work with them consistently. In my personal experience, I think getting a puppy from a breeder is a wise choice if you either a) have a family or b) are considering starting a family sometime in the near future. Dogs with kids are unpredictable. Kids like to scream and pull tails and put tutus and tiaras on dogs (or so I’ve heard). At least with this blank slate of a puppy, you have a chance of getting it to behave appropriately around your children with early obedience training. So, if family is a major factor in your decision-making process, that might outweigh some of the cons I’m about to rattle off about purebred puppies.

Cons – Breeder Puppies

They’re disturbingly expensive, and I’m not just talking about the price you pay for the puppy herself (though that can get really pricey too). Purebred puppies typically cost upwards of $500. I’ve even seen some of those crazy designer hybrids going for like 2k! (Bich-Poo, anyone?) Then, remember that the puppy is going to need to another round of shots at the vet (sans that sweet rescue discount!), and will eventually have to be spayed or neutered. You could be looking at $1,500 minimum just to get your puppy physically up to speed! Woof.

And then, there’s training the little bugger. Even if the breeder worked with the puppies every day, chances are he won’t know to go potty outside all the time when you bring him home. This takes insane amounts of dedication. I am not proud to say that it took me several years (yes, count ‘em, years) to get Sydney fully potty trained. Why? Maybe because I was a college student with a wackadoo schedule that the dog couldn’t even begin to predict. Nothing was consistent, and dogs need consistency if they’re going to fully commit to housebreaking. Otherwise, one can just imagine the internal struggle: “Hmm, she’s not home. She should probably be home. Is it a good idea to pee on the floor now? Anyone? Anyone? Bueller? Bueller? Okay, I’m peeing now.”

Another thing I learned the hard way: Purebred dogs have some really bizarre health issues that can unexpectedly crop up due to centuries of inbreeding and things like that (creeptacular, no?). Even if the breeder is highly reputable, these things can absolutely still happen. When Sydney was five, she suddenly started going blind and nobody could figure out what was happening. It turned out that she had a very severe case of glaucoma, and after spending exorbitant amounts of money at a veterinary opthamologist, we concluded that the illness was probably caused by nothing but genetics. There was nothing we could have done.* Therefore, because of things like this, I highly recommend getting pet insurance for your purebred puppy! I had it at one point, thought it was too expensive, and cancelled it. Now, I wish I’d held onto it, knowing what I know now about Sydney’s health. I signed up for a new plan last year that will hopefully cover any crazy unforeseen future issues!

*Sydney is in fact totally blind now, but she can hardly tell the difference! Dogs can teach us a whole heck of a lot about adaptability. Dogs pull it together and get on with life. It’s pretty admirable! I’m super proud of her, to say the least.

Addendum: Breeder pups

Not all brand-spanking new puppies are purebreds. There is indeed such a thing as a backyard breeder: for example, a neighbor whose beagle ran away and got pregnant and now has six puppies to give away. You might find out about these puppies on Craigslist, at a local vet’s office, or just through word of mouth. Backyard breeders are generally discouraged, though, because the American Kennel Club looks down on the practice (I mean, it’s usually people who didn’t get their dogs spayed and let them just go get preggo, so obviously that’s a big issue). However, those puppies are the same ones who might wind up in a shelter if people don’t take them home right away. So if you hear of someone locally who has a few puppies to spare, it might not be the worst idea to check them out. That way, you get that impressionable 8-week-old puppy you’ve been searching for, you save a lot of money, and you rescue a pooch that might eventually land in a shelter. These “breeders” are under the radar though, so it might take you longer to find this kind of situation. I personally have never found a puppy this way, but I know it’s an avenue that exists!

Do not let the perfect pose deceive you. You’ve seen America’s Next Top Model. You know how many takes wind up in the trash. Avery, you wanna be on top?

So, here’s the thing: if you don’t have a family situation that warrants a more predictable dog, I would strongly recommend heading over to PetFinder.com and finding the peanut butter to your jelly at a local shelter. I think if I had it to do over again, I probably would have gotten both my dogs at shelters. But then again, Sydney was and still is the perfect dog for me. I wouldn’t change a thing about her! So perhaps the moral to the story is this: in the end, the perfect dog for you is the one that best suits you and your lifestyle. As long as you’ve thought long and hard about your needs and don’t jump the gun, the right puppy is out there for you!

Here are a few helpful, awesome links that have assisted me throughout my pet-parenthood:

http://PetFinder.com  This is how we found Avery! It lets you sort through shelter pets in your area by size, breed, age, etc, so you get exactly what you’re looking for!

http://www.akc.org/ For purebred puppy searches and breed information. Any reputable breeder will be registered with the American Kennel Club. So if you’re looking for, say, American Eskimo Dog breeders in the Chicago area, you can find them on this site!

http://www.andreaarden.com/ Andrea is a New York-based dog trainer with whom I briefly worked back East. She’s very well known and highly knowledgeable! Even if you’re not in the NY area, her blog is full of great pointers for all kinds of behavior problems.

http://www.karmadogtraininglosangeles.com/  A really fantastic LA-based group of dog trainers who are currently working with our discount husky. If you’re in Southern California, you might want to check these guys out! They have great rates for both group sessions and private sessions, and also do board-and-train if you want to go on vacation and come home to a well-behaved dog!

http://www.petinsurance.com/ VPI Pet Insurance is the plan most vets recommend and has some really reasonable rates, even if you only want it for emergency situations. You won’t use it all the time, but you’ll be glad you have it the day your puppy eats a pair of underwear and you receive that inevitable mind-boggling vet bill! **

**Yes, puppies eat underwear. All the time. Or they try to. Dirty laundry = heaven on Earth. At the very least, they will humiliate you when you have friends over by trotting out of the bedroom with a pair of racy unmentionables pulled fresh from the hamper. This is a true story.

Happy puppy-hunting, boys and girls!

Photo by Michelle White / Additional Photos by Liz Kerin

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