What That Pet Store Puppy Represents

I am a great believer in found families and I’m not a great believer in blood.

Joss Whedon


A few weeks ago I was chatting online with a friend of mine.  He wanted to know what I thought about a certain “breed”of designer dog.  His wife wanted one for the family, and she had fallen in love with a friend’s new puppy, and they wanted one, too.  He told me that the puppy was from a well-respected “breeder”.  They got the information on a breeder website….as in, “We breed schoodles, morkies and shih-poos…”.  As soon as I saw that, flags went up.  This wasn’t a breeder – this was a puppy mill.

I tried to explain to him that respectable breeders didn’t advertise online.  Nor did they specialize in more than one breed, let alone claim to be breeders of dogs that aren’t even a breed.  Unfortunately, it all fell on deaf ears.  They proceeded to purchase a puppy.  I don’t believe they even set foot in a shelter.  Rather than rescuing a new family member, they attempted to purchase a designer label.  But at what cost?

Puppy Mills

We all know the horror behind-the-scenes of a puppy mill.  We’ve seen the numerous dogs who were rescued.  I’ve worked with dogs who were saved from years spent in a tiny 2′x2′ crate, giving birth to litter after litter in squalid conditions.  These dogs are no more than livestock, there as a commodity, conditions be damned.  Each one of those viable puppies is worth between $800-$1000.  Unfortunately, those chasing after the supposed prestige that comes with having a purebred dog usually don’t want to pay purebred prices.  So they buy a knockoff.  Unfortunately, just like knockoff Prada, someone always pays the price, usually behind the scenes.  Child labor in sweatshops or abused and neglected animals. Both victims of the “designer” label.



If you buy from a real breeder, you should feel as if you are applying for the CIA.  Background checks may be involved.  These are their lives’ work!  A breeder’s dogs are more like a family dog/work of art/live’s mission all rolled into one.  They will never let ou pick a dog from their litter – they interview you to find out which one of their puppies’ personalities will fit best in your household.  In other words, they have dogs, not investments. They aren’t a money making device!  Breeders typically don’t breed their dogs more than a handful of times in the dogs entire life!  According to Animal Rescue Corps., dogs in a mill have a much different schedule:

“Females are bred repeatedly, usually twice a year, every year, until they can no longer produce puppies. This is incredibly stressful on their bodies but they are viewed as moneymaking machines, as disposable property, not as individuals with inherent worth. Female dogs are commonly bred before it is safe to do so because the earlier they start, the more puppies they will produce in a lifetime. Puppy mill breeding dogs are often given hormones and steroids to try and increase the number of puppies they produce. These drugs can cause extreme pain and serious side effects – all in an attempt to increase the number of puppies for profit.”

But at least you got your cute puppy.

Designer Puppies

I just got a new niece. Her mother is Chinese, and her father is a mix of Finnish and Irish.  The baby is beautiful.  However, I am intelligent enough to know that she is one of a kind. I can’t recreate her, no matter how hard I try, even with parents of the same ancestry.  She will always be unique, from her looks to her personality.  My own children don’t even look like they’re related to each other, and their personalities are about as polar as they can be.

River and Eric at their favorite ice-cream shop.

River and Eric.  Or as my husband and I call them, Machete and The Professor.

So why are you trying to recreate your neighbor’s adorable puppy, who happens to be a something-poo?  Your inability to realize that you can’t recreate a living being is disturbing to me.  I can understand having a type…. I personally prefer Am-Staffs (or pitties). I also love Shepherds.

Yes, Orion.  Papillons too.

Yes, Orion. Papillons too.

But here’s the thing:  I can rattle off why I love those breeds:  I love how fun-loving and goofy pitties are.  How they are desperate to have a rollicking good time and want nothing more than a good snuggle, followed by more fun.  I love how Shepherds are always so desperate to learn something new, and how absurdly stoic they can be.  I love how Papillions are such lively little creatures who are really too big on the inside for those tiny little bodies.  I love how they are just as rugged of a dog as a Coonhound or a Lab.  I understand that each dog in a specific breed will always have its own personality, it generally falls within a certain area.  If you’re going with a purebred, finding out breed standard for that specific breed is a very good start to having a wonderful companion rather than a chore, or even worse, an owner surrender to the local shelter.

In other words, I love these dogs based on more than how I think they look. When I asked my friend why they were heading towards the designer “breed” they had in mind, the response was, “he’s cute”.  Seriously, they’re basing living the next 10-15 years with a dog on nothing more than “he’s cute”.  Temperament is merely an afterthought.  As is exercise requirements and how much Piloting the dog will need.  It is imperative to come up with a list of wants vs. needs when choosing a new dog, whether it be from a shelter or a breeder!

Remember that a mutt (which is what your designer dog is) is a dog that can not be reliably bred to have a certain standard.  In other words, if I were breeding Golden Retrievers, I can with a high degree of certainty state that the next litter will contain pups who will grow to be a certain size, with a very predictable temperament (fun, easy going, eager to please, and friendly).  Same with Poodles:  I can reliably breed very intelligent and active dogs of a certain “look” who, while easy to train, want to know why they should be listening to you and not following their own orders.  (For that reason, I generally steer families with small children away from poodles.)  Now, let’s breed a Golden and a Poodle together.  What do you get?  Just about any mix of all these traits.  Anywhere from a dog who looks exactly like a Golden but acts just like a Poodle (and vice versa), to a complete blending of the two looks and temperaments.  In other words, a mutt.

Mutts are awesome, but just like every other dog, they must be judged on an individual basis before you decide to buy/adopt. Judge the dog on who they are, not what they appear to be.

You Blew Your Chance to Save A Life

Seriously, Robin.  Don't be a douche.

Seriously, Robin. Don’t be a douche.

Let’s not forget the biggest reason to adopt rather than shop. Or rather the 2.7 million reasons to adopt.  That’s the number of dogs and cats euthanized each year.  Yeah, sure, you can argue that you can only rescue one,and what’s “one” in the face of such a large number?

"Just one" is the most important number Boise can think of.  He only has a 1/600 chance of making it alive out any shelter.  Check out Boise, who's up for adoption, at the Cuyahoga County Animal Shelter.
“Just one” is the most important number this little guy can think of. He hopes it’s his, because as a pittie, he only has a 1/600 chance of making it alive out any shelter.

To be truthful, I had high hopes of convincing my friend not to shop for a puppy, especially not from a place that hit every single hallmark for being a puppy mill. I’d like to say this hasn’t changed how I view my friend, but there are only so many matted, filthy dogs I can help rehabilitate before it becomes personal.  Only so many dogs I can work with who are afraid of everything, who’ve never been outside their breeding box in the 2, 3 or even 8 years they’ve been on this planet, before I become judgmental and angry, even with longtime friends.  There’s a finite number to the dogs I can say goodbye to, and take them for their last long walk and few moments of fetch, before their time is up before it gets personal.

Yes.  It is personal.

Keep calm and pilot on



Kerry Stack
Darwin Dogs
Dog Training in Cleveland, Ohio


Rescue – Not Just for the Dogs


“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me:
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.” – Emma Lazarus


Before you get any further, realize that this is going to be a polarizing article.  I’m not here to make friends, I’m not here to write about the “feels good” topics of puppies nor stories of bonding with your dog.  Today I write for a completely different reason, and I truly hope you understand why.

There are an (estimated) 7.6 million cats and dogs who are homeless (approximately 3.9 million dogs and 3.4 million cats.).  Nowhere to go, and since nobody wants them, they end up in shelters.  Of that 7.6 million, 2.7 million of these animals are killed, simply because they are the criminals whose only crime was having no place to go.  Most are harmless.  Some are innocent puppies and kittens.  All are scared.  None deserve death for the crimes perpetrated against them by some humans: not providing for them, not caring for them, and abandoning them.  They literally have nowhere else to go.

We’ve heard of their plight, and have offered assistance to them; not just domestically, but abroad.  Russia, South Korea, among so many others.

Stray dogs from the Sochi Olympics.

Stray dogs from the Sochi Olympics.

Dogs being saved by Americans from South Korean meat market.

Dogs being saved by Americans from South Korean meat market.

It doesn’t matter where the dog is from; all we see is an animal in need, and animal struggling to survive.  An innocent who needs our help.  I love how passionate animal rescuers are about this.  We go the extra mile (or thousand) to bring these animals to sanctuary here in the USA.  We make generous donations to fund these rescue missions.  We make room in our already-crowded shelters for them.  Somehow we make it work. Dog is dog is a dog is a dog, as Gertrude Stein might have written.  It doesn’t matter where that dog is from; it matters that it’s a living being in danger and in need.  We open our already full hearts and let them in.

Which is why I’m so confused.

In his very first month as POTUS, Donald Trump issued an executive order which, as the New York Times worded it,

 ”…indefinitely barred Syrian refugees from entering the United States, suspended all refugee admissions for 120 days and blocked citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries, refugees or otherwise, from entering the United States for 90 days: Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.”


You may be Republican or Democratic.  You may be neither, preferring another party altogether.  What you cannot be is untouched by the repercussions that this will have.  Homelessness isn’t something that is country specific.  It’s not something that only applies to pets.  It’s a human issue, too.  And it ends just as tragically for humans as it does for companion animals.

The body of 3-year-old Aylan Kurdi, found washed ashore near the Turkish resort of Bodrum. The boats carrying the boy's family to the Greek island of Kos capsized. His 5-year-old brother and mother also lost their lives. DHA/AP

The body of 3-year-old Aylan Kurdi, found washed ashore near the Turkish resort of Bodrum. The boats carrying the boy’s family to the Greek island of Kos capsized. His 5-year-old brother and mother also lost their lives.

Are you shocked? Are you angry?  Are you upset that I’d post such a picture?


Because those of us who are active in rescue need to be active in all forms of rescue.  If we can’t be pro-active, we need at least not hinder those who are seeking asylum.  Because innocent victims of war, famine and poverty can be human, too.  And because if the thought of dogs suffering in China makes you more upset than the thought of a child huddled in a bombed-out town, I seriously question whether you are human yourself.

The argument that some immigrants and refugees may be dangerous is also moot.  I’ve rescued many, many dogs. And guess what?  Some of them were dangerous.  But not a lot. Not even a fraction.  I was more than willing to risk the (very) few dangerous ones to save so many other lives.  And yes, there was always the risk of getting  bit, but it was worth it.  More than anything I’ve ever done.

So by now I’m sure I’ve lost a few of you.  Maybe a lot of you.  But this isn’t a political post.  It’s a humanitarian post.  We are all connected, regardless of where we came from.  So many times on the Darwin Dogs’ Facebook page I’ve asked my followers what is your favorite breed of dog, and the overwhelming response is always “mutts” or “mixed breeds”.  It’s the diversity in the dog that makes it so wonderfully unique, so strong, so much healthier.

Boots and Bee Photography - by Brittany Graham

Boots and Bee Photography – by Brittany Graham

We need our diversity in this wonderful United States of America. It keeps us strong and healthy.  It bonds us together and is what built this great nation.  Accept the unique, the strange, the *gasp* differences between us as something to be celebrated rather than vilified and feared. That quote at the top of this article, the one we all know it from the Statue of Liberty?  Most of us didn’t know it was written by a woman named Emma Lazarus.  How fitting the name, “Lazarus”, to come back from death.  They are just words until we take action to make them a reality.

In closing, remember the compassion that drives us to rescue.  Remember why we do it: to end suffering.  Let’s just remember that suffering isn’t something that is limited only to animals, and let it be proven that dogs don’t have the monopoly on love.  There’s the saying about trying to be the person my dog thinks you are.  Even above that, try to be the person your dog would be:  color blind and full of only acceptance and love, no matter what your circumstances or where you came from.


Kerry Stack
Darwin Dogs
Dog Training Rescuing in Cleveland, Ohio