Welcome to Pet Detective, a new column where The Globe’s Amberly McAteer will find answers to the health and behaviour problems of our four-legged friends. Send your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org (All questions will be published anonymously.)
The question: I am ready for a dog – I can’t wait to have a little guy around the apartment, but I’m torn between between going to a rescue or going to a breeder and getting a puppy. My gut is to go to a puppy, because I would really like to have a dog for its entire life, but I know many dogs need good homes. What’s your advice?
The answer: The first thing you need to know about dog ownership is that, much like parenting, there are no shortage of strong opinions, raised eyebrows and rolled eyeballs. There are judgey-judgers at every dog-park corner, ready to tsk your choices. Rubber ball or tennis ball, raw food or kibble, harness or head-collar, crate or no crate: Every dog owner is an expert, and whatever your decision, you will be judged by others who went another route.
Since my joyous six-year-old Boxer is a rescue dog, I urge everyone I know who’s looking for a dog to search this site, a giant database of adoptable dogs from humane societies and rescue groups. My pooch is perfect, and so intelligent I often accuse her of being a human in a dog suit. I love her more than I ever thought possible, despite not having her since she was a pup. In fact, I’d argue our bond is stronger, because of the way her previous owners treated her.
There are far too many dogs – dozens in Toronto alone – who spend their little lives in shelter cages, sleeping on cement floors and waiting for people like you. I was surprised by the good portion of shelter pups that have no serious behavioural issues, and many are puppies, if that’s your thing. (Personally, I wanted an adult dog – Ruby’s sweet disposition had already matured, so no real behavioural surprises were to come. And a puppy is infinitely more work than an adult dog.)
I wanted to duke it out with the most pro-purebred expert I could find. So I called Mike Macbeth, an international dog-show judge and a lifetime member of the Canadian Kennel Club who has been breeding Dandie Dinmont Terriers – “one of the oldest breed of terrier there is!” – for 40 years.
I expected a good ol’ fashion dogfight.
From the moment she answers the phone, she’s passionate - wired and feisty, like a Jack Russell chasing squirrels.
“We the dog lovers of the world have done a terrible job of educating the public,” she yells. “When a person chooses the wrong breed, when a person gets a puppy from two people who have just decided to put their dogs together in a backyard and make money, the dog is the one who ultimately suffers.”
She says that responsible, educated, experienced people are a different breed than those you find online. She insists she does not make money on her pooches because she shows them, breeds with caution and is exceedingly picky about where her dogs are homed.
Before you think about where your dog is coming from, she advises spending serious time researching which breed is best for your lifestyle. Do not buy into the myth that small dogs are better suited for small spaces – compare a zippy terrier to a sluggish St. Bernard and you’ll soon realize the opposite is true, in many cases.
“It cannot be an emotional decision – it must be a logical one. Never, ever take your kids to a pet store and get a dog.” My best friend, for instance, fell for a puggle in a pet-store window, with his big, brown doe eyes and floppy ears. But sure enough, his high energy proved to be too much for my friend’s lifestyle, and he now enjoys his days in the countryside with a relative.
In this age, where anything can be found on the Internet – last-minute cottage rentals, cheap baseball tickets, “missed connections” and even relationships – it might be tempting to turn to Kijiji for a dog. Except, of course, a dog is not a material goodie.
“Hey now, I got my dog from some sketchy house I found on Kijiji,” a smug, camouflage-short-donning, aviator-sporting dude told me last week at the park, “and he turned out just fine.”
I walked away – and okay, I may have tsked.
While it’s true that dogs from puppy mills and basement breeders can still be great companions, you’d be feeding an ugly cycle of careless people making a quick buck from living, loving animals, without knowing anything about blood lines nor temperament nor health. You’ll quickly notice those Kijiji sellers don’t care who you are – and that alone should give you pause.
Both Macbeth and I implore you to first research the best breed for you (this diagnostic website is my favourite), then avoid classified sites like Kijiji when searching for your new pup. This site, like an eHarmony for dogs, is where I happened to find my perfect match. And if you haven’t considered ‘the underground railway,’ please do.
Then brace yourself for a heart-melting, life-changing friendship.