The number of animals killed in shelters decreased dramatically over the last 50 years. In 1973, animal shelters killed approximately 14 million dogs and cats. In 2019, the ASPCA estimated shelters killed 920,000 dogs and cats. Shelter Animals Count data showed killing dropped 39% after the pandemic. If we extrapolate from the 2019 ASPCA data, this suggests shelters killed around 560,000 dogs and cats in 2021.
The dramatic decrease in shelter killing is primarily due to widespread spay/neuter and adoption campaigns. Spay/neuter reduces the number of animals coming into shelters. Adoption campaigns increase the number of animals leaving shelters alive.
Earlier this year, I wrote a blog about a group advocating for shelters to breed animals. The Functional Dog Collaborative is a coalition of breeders, anti-pit bull dog trainers, mass transporters and high kill shelters. What do all these individuals have in common? They have no respect for life and put their personal interests ahead of the needs of animals.
Subsequently, this group conducted a six and a half hour “Learning Lab” at the 2022 Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) Expo. This presentation, “Family dogs for inclusive community: Alternative to puppy mills”, contained documents called “Shelter Messaging and Policies”, “Overpopulation, or too many challenging dogs” and “Determining your community’s dog replacement needs.” Additionally, the presentation included two of the The Functional Dog Collaborative’s “Position Statements” that I previously analyzed on my Facebook page.
What ideas does this group propose? How would those ideas affect shelter animals? If this group got its way, what would the future look like?
Puppy Mill Prevention Propaganda
The Functional Dog Collaborative’s Shelter Messaging and Policies document argues a pet shortage exists, but real world data disproves this claim. As I wrote in my last blog, a pet shortage does not exist nationally as both dog and cat adoptions share of the national pet acquisition market has not decreased over the last decade. In fact, more recent American Pets Products Survey data from 2021-2022 shows the dog adoption market share (40% if just counting dogs adopted from shelters and rescues and 44% if also counting people adopting stray dogs they found) is actually higher than a decade ago. Even in New England where The Functional Dog Collaborative claims the “pet shortage” is greatest, the adoption percentage of the dog acquisition market (26%) is still greater than the breeder, pet store and online sellers percentage of the pet acquisition market (24%). The New England cat market share data shows adoption having an even greater advantage over breeders (39% verses 8%). Furthermore, if a pet shortage really existed, prices of animals would skyrocket, puppy mills would greatly expand and shelter intake would increase as more of those animals breed. In reality, none of this occurred. Thus, a pet shortage does not exist.
The shelter breeding pushers argue they must create more dogs to stop puppy mills, but data shows puppy mills are on the decline. The anti-puppy mill group, Bailing Out Benji, shared data showing a 30% decrease in U.S. Department of Agriculture licensed breeders (i.e. puppy mills) and brokers (middle men who facilitate puppy mill sales) from 2008 to 2021. In fact, Bailing Out Benji stated the following:
While there is a small fluctuation each year in federal and state licensees, the overall trend is showing that more commercial dog and cat breeders are not only going out of business, but many of the worst puppy mills have either been shut down or downsized greatly.
Furthermore, Omaha World provided data showing half of Nebraska’s commercial breeders closed down:
Nebraska Department of Agriculture records show that half of the state’s commercial dog and cat breeders have left the business over the past seven years. The decline was particularly sharp between June 30, 2018, when there were 216 state-licensed breeders, and the same date this year, when the number was down to 138.
Bailing Out Benji quotes two Nebraska commercial breeders stating anti-puppy mill laws and competition from shelters and rescues are major reasons behind the closing of puppy mills:
Rising overhead costs, laws limiting pet store sales and competition from animal rescue organizations.
Midwest breeders were hurt by a California law that banned pet stores from selling commercially bred puppies, kittens and rabbits.
In fact, Bailing Out Benji quotes the IBIS World Dog and Pet Breeders Industry’s explanation for the decline in puppy mills (i.e. anti-puppy mills laws):
The Dog and Pet Breeders industry has been subject to a moderate level of revenue volatility over the past five years. Recent efforts to regulate the industry and fight against puppy mills have contributed to strong revenue declines.
Furthermore, the IBIS World Dog and Pet Breeders Industry stated “Adopt, Don’t Shop” campaigns have caused pet stores to stop selling puppy mill sourced animals and to instead offer rescue animals:
Clearly, shelters do not need to breed animals to stop puppy mills. Instead, laws banning pet stores from selling puppy mill sourced animals and “Adopt, Don’t Shop” public campaigns kill the cruel puppy mill industry.
Breed Animals Even When Your Shelter is Full and Killing Pets
The Functional Dog Collaborative’s “Shelter Messaging and Policies” and “Overpopulation, or too many challenging dogs” documents tell many shelters to breed animals. The organization states shelters should breed animals, via helping others do so, when “true overpopulation doesn’t exist.” In fact, The Functional Dog Collaborative says shelters should breed animals even if they “are still working really hard to save animals.” In order to convince shelters to breed animals, The Functional Dog Collaborative tells shelters to do so in the following circumstances:
- When the shelter is still killing large numbers of other species, such as cats
- When the shelter is still killing all animals in the summer time only
- When the shelter is struggling to “save more difficult animals”
- When the shelter has lots of puppies, but they are adopted quickly
The Functional Dog Collaborative narrowly defines the circumstances when shelters should not breed. For example, it says shelters shouldn’t breed if the community has “a wide variety of dogs available for adoption nearly all the time” and gives the following indicators:
A wide variety, of all sizes, breeds, and ages, including lots of small & fluffy dogs, and puppies of many different sizes/breeds.
A wide variety of purebred dogs of many breeds and sizes, including a significant percentage of dogs in the AKC top 30 most popular breeds. They are the most common in your community, whether you are seeing those dogs in your shelter or not
Easy, family friendly dogs that are great for first time pet owners, who have other pets & kids.
Furthermore, The Functional Dog Collaborative tells shelters to breed animals in the following circumstances:
- When those facilities are killing healthy, friendly dogs/puppies for time and space as long as these organizations aren’t doing so for most of the year
- When those shelters transport out certain types of dogs (specific breeds, sizes, ages, health or behaviors) for most of the year
In fact, The Functional Dog Collaborative’s guidance only tells shelters not to breed animals when:
- They are killing healthy, friendly dogs/puppies for time and space during most of the year
- They can’t find homes for “small & fluffy dogs, and easy family friendly dogs”
- They rely on “unrestricted transport” to save “all dogs and puppies”, including “healthy, friendly family dogs”
The Functional Dog Collaborative instructs shelters to breed animals when they are full in the following situations:
Kennels may be full, but it’s nearly all the same type of dog. In most areas, it’s pittie types. In some areas there may be just too many of something else, such as chihuahuas or large hounds
Many or most dogs have significant medical or behavioral issues, such as needs to be the only dog, needs experienced owner, or no kids.
Many or most dogs have restrictions on who can adopt them, which volunteers or fosters are allowed to care for them, and/or behavior plans needed. Appropriate adopters and fosters who are successful with the pets are hard to find.
To illustrate its complete disdain for rescue animals, The Functional Dog Collaborative states some shelters are full with dogs having “significant medical or behavior challenges” that “aren’t matches for the general public looking for an easy/normal family dog.” In other words, the pro-breeding group denigrates treatable dogs by stating they are not “normal” and are unsuitable for most people.
To summarize, The Functional Dog Collaborative wants shelters to breed when people “find it difficult to adopt” the following dogs:
Small & fluffy dogs, puppies of various sizes & breeds
Starter dogs/family friendly dogs – easy pets who can live with first time dog owners, families with kids, people with other pets, people who don’t have experience managing dogs with issues
If someone can’t buy one of these dogs at “an affordable cost” or “with financing” or has to wait for the time a “responsible breeder” requires today, shelters should breed according to The Functional Dog Collaborative.
As you see from the above, The Functional Dog Collaborative wants nearly all shelters, including those that kill and transport out many dogs, to breed animals by helping others in their communities do so.
Massive Breeding Operations Wanted
The Functional Dog Collaborative’s “Determining your community’s dog replacement needs” document illustrates how many dogs this organization seeks to breed. This document uses a formula to estimate how may dogs people acquire each year in a state. Below are the number of dogs several states should produce annually according to this guidance compared to the number of unclaimed dogs those state’s shelters take in a year:
- New Jersey: 111,762 dogs needed verses 12,599 unclaimed dogs in New Jersey shelters (2020): 99,162 potential newly created dogs from breeding
- Virginia: 167,228 dogs needed verses 66,795 unclaimed dogs in Virginia shelters and rescues (2021): 100,433 potential newly created dogs from breeding
While The Functional Dog Collaborative’s guidance states shelters should reduce these figures by the number of puppies produced from “ethical sources” in the area, I’m skeptical whether many shelters would do so. First, history shows us most shelters, especially those that have little respect for life, rarely do extra work. Second, shelters would have a financial interest to breed and sell more popular animals. Third, many breeders would be reluctant to share confidential data about their business even if shelters sought it. Thus, I’d expect shelters who want to produce puppies inside their shelters or with their breeder partners would create as many as possible to maximize their profits.
In reality, The Functional Dog Collaborative guidance could urge shelters to produce more puppies than the numbers above. Since the organization deems many shelter dogs unworthy of a home with most families, large numbers of the dogs shelters take in wouldn’t count in these calculations of how many dogs shelters and communities should produce.
The Functional Dog Collaborative’s support for commercial breeders (i.e. puppy mills) with supposed better care standards shows how massive breeding would be. In The Functional Dog Collaborative’s “Shelter Messaging and Policies” document, the organization recommends shelters urge puppy mills to pursue a Purdue University certification program. This is extremely disturbing as these “certification” efforts are simply a marketing tool for puppy mills to dupe the public into thinking their operations are humane. Simply put, producing puppies in kennels or factory farms are cruel and barbaric. However, this is a small price to pay for The Functional Dog Collaborative which is trying to kill rescue animals and bring back a world where almost all people buy animals from breeders.
Destroying the System That Decreased Shelter Killing
The Functional Dog Collaborative’s “Shelter Messaging and Policies” guide tells shelters to favor breeding over adoption. Animal shelters successfully used “Adopt, Don’t Shop” campaigns to persuade the public to save lives. However, The Functional Dog Collaborative’s guide tries to convince shelters to end “Adopt, Don’t Shop” campaigns:
Stop using language that implies -or explicitly states- that adoption is the only acceptable option for acquiring pets, such as “Adopt, don’t shop”.
Ensure that your organization is not using generalized language such as “when you buy, shelter pets die”.
In fact, The Functional Dog Collaborative wants to change the “Adopt, Don’t Shop” campaign to “breed local/buy local” in an apparent attack on competition from domestic and international transported rescue dogs:
Reinforce the importance of providing local dogs, locally. Change messaging to actively encourage and support “breed local/buy local”.
To make matters worse, The Functional Dog Collaborative tells the public to breed dogs so their “friends and family can find good dogs.”:
Actively message your community that “good family dogs having some puppies” is how we ensure that people can have dogs from an ethical source
Shift your messaging from “your dog having babies is irresponsible and kills other dogs” to “your successful family dog having babies is a neighborly service to ensure that your friends and family can find good dogs”.
Instead of using veterinarians to increase adoptions, the Functional Dog Collaborative wants shelters use those veterinarians to promote breeding.
Include specific outreach to private practice veterinarians in your community in your messaging
The Functional Dog Collaborative also wants to tear down the country’s spay/neuter infrastructure. Specifically, the organization states the following:
Stop advocating for universal spay/neuter for every animal, without exception.
Ensure that you have eliminated all messaging and storytelling that says or implies that intact animals and/or accidental litters are inherently irresponsible.
Furthermore, the pro-breeding organization tells shelters to do the following:
- Focus spay/neuter on animals that are being killed in shelters (i.e. pit bulls, feral cats)
- Stop advocating for spay/neuter on most young animals
If that was not bad enough, The Functional Dog Collaborative instructs shelters to convince the public to breed their animals and not sterilize them immediately:
Encourage people with healthy, behaviorally sound dogs to have a litter or two before bringing the dog in for spay/neuter.
Actively counsel people asking about scheduling a spay or neuter with your organization about whether their dog should be passing on their great genes and having a litter or two before surgery! Where’s the bar for who should be reproducing? At a minimum, animals who have been successfully living with a family, are demonstrating good behavior as a family pet, and are not experiencing known health issues. Preference is a pre-breeding exam to better evaluate.
Shelters Increase Breeding
The Functional Dog Collaborative tells shelters to do the following:
- “Provide resources to people who are already breeding locally”
- “Provide resources to people who are seeking puppies and dogs” to help them buy those animals from breeders
When we look at this organization’s specific recommendations, it becomes apparent it is trying to recreate a world where people don’t adopt many animals and instead buy pets from breeders. First, The Functional Dog Collaborative wants shelters to “Help your community understand the ideal pet that should have a litter before being spayed or neutered.” Second, The Functional Dog Collaborative wants shelters to actively help not just “breeders”, but even the worst of the backyard breeders, by providing the following:
Routine vaccinations & parasite control for breeding animals & litters
Classes on best practices for breeding and raising litters
Socialization opportunities: they don’t have kids at home, people in wheelchairs, men with beards: you might provide this under the expertise of your behavior department
If you find that an owner cannot manage the care and raising of a litter, can your organization offer temporary foster care until the puppies are weaned, then mom goes back to her family?
In other words, The Functional Dog Collaborative wants shelters to use their own veterinary, employee and volunteer resources to support breeders, including those who treat animals poorly to make a buck.
Most disturbing, “The Functional Dog Collaborative” wants shelters to sell these breeders’ animals and “coach” the breeders on finding customers:
Offer for the shelter to place the puppies in homes or consider coaching on best practices to the mom’s owner in making placements.
HSUS Makes Lame Excuses for Shelter Breeding Session
After facing severe backlash about its shelter breeding “Learning Lab”, HSUS wrote a “position” document defending its conference presentation on shelter breeding. HSUS claimed it just wanted to have “thoughtful conversations about industry best practices and about current and future challenges – some controversial – faced by local organizations and pet owners.” In response to the public outrage, HSUS also stated none of the speakers worked for HSUS and HSUS didn’t create the presentations. While that is true, that is the case for almost all presentations at conferences. The fact of the matter is HSUS provided shelter breeding zealots a “daylong session” at its conference to sell this pet killing idea.
HSUS attempted to deceive the public into thinking the conference presenters didn’t call for shelter breeding. While the conference presentation didn’t explicitly state shelters should breed animals within their physical facilities, it did say shelters should do everything possible to help breeders, including abusive ones, produce more animals. This includes the following:
- Using the shelter’s behavior department to make bred puppies more adoptable
- Using shelter resources to teach people about breeding animals
- Providing foster homes for breeder puppies
- Teaching breeders on how to find buyers for their puppies
- Finding buyers for the breeders’ puppies
- Ending successful “Adopt, Don’t Shop” marketing campaigns and starting “Breed Local, Buy Local” breeder advertising efforts
The HSUS “position” document used politically deceptive language to help shelter breeders make their case. Specifically, HSUS parroted the arguments from the high kill shelters, such as the high kill Dakin Humane Society and Massachusetts SPCA, who want to breed animals (via third party sources):
they also left space for local shelters to express their concerns that even with robust transport programs, they feel they are not able to meet the demand for adoption and are watching as community members seek out other ways to obtain dogs, including through Internet sites that are keeping puppy mills in business.
whether animal welfare organizations should play a role in ensuring every person who wants a dog can find one from a humane source
while also identifying communities where, due to a lack of dogs at local shelters and rescues, people may be opting to purchase puppies from pet stores or Internet sales that are actually supporting puppy mills.
While HSUS didn’t say the shelters wanted to breed animals, it used the presenters coded language that advocates for shelter breeding. For example, statements, such as shelters that are “not able to meet the demand for adoption”, “ensuring every person who wants a dog can find one from a humane source” and “while also identifying communities where, due to a lack of dogs at local shelters and rescues, people may be opting to purchase puppies from pet stores or Internet sales” are code language for shelters to breed animals.
HSUS stated it opposes shelters breeding animals and supports large scale spay/neuter, but its specific positions are more ambiguous. For example, HSUS supports providing “wellness care” to breeder animals. Additionally, HSUS left the door open for shelter breeding in the future by stating we should be “talking about hard issues” (i.e. shelter breeding) and “support safe and open dialogue that welcomes all viewpoints as a means to reach our collective goal to help pets and stop puppy mills” (i.e. shelter breeders claimed goal). Thus, HSUS opposition to shelter breeding is a weak response to public outrage and appears temporary (i.e. could reverse if it becomes politically palatable).
Shelter Breeding is a Catastrophic Threat to Companion Animals
The Functional Dog Collaborative’s anti-spay/neuter ideas will lead to a massive increase in unwanted dogs. Given dogs can reproduce twice a year and have large litters, these animals can quickly grow their populations exponentially. For example, one spay/neuter group estimates a single female dog can produce 508 puppies over a seven year period. Similarly, The Functional Dog Collaborative believes breeding just 4% of female dogs can create millions of puppies for Americans. In reality, once the social stigma against having intact dogs and breeding ends, many more dogs will be intact and breed intentionally and unintentionally. Thus, we will end up in a 1970s world where animal shelters are overwhelmed with dogs.
The promotion of bred verses adopted dogs will decrease demand for this increased number of homeless dogs. Once the social stigma of “buying” dogs ends, people will be less inclined to adopt a dog in need of a home. As Nathan Winograd recently wrote about, The Functional Dog Collaborative’s attempts to normalize breeding and buying bred animals will return us to the 1970s world where shelters were filled with homeless animals and the public did not adopt most of them. Thus, the Functional Dog Collaborative would return us to an era where shelters kill massive numbers of dogs and people buy most of their animals from breeders.
Nathan Winograd eloquently explained how shelter breeding programs will increase rather than decrease the puppy mill business. First, shelter breeding programs (through their third party partner breeders) will incentivize puppy mills to incorporate as not for profits and breed their own “functional” mixed breed dogs. Second, shelter breeding will cause lawmakers to question pet store bans on the sale of bred animals, which have been highly effective at actually closing cruel puppy mills. For example, if shelters are selling bred animals, why couldn’t pet stores? Third, high kill and regressive shelters will hardly do a better job at getting backyard breeders to treat their animals well given these organizations’ horrific track records with their own animals. As a result, The Functional Dog Collaborative’s shelter breeding idea will increase rather than decrease cruel puppy mill operations.
The Functional Dog Collaborative breeding scheme would destroy animal shelters from within. Shelters and breeders have long competed for pet acquisition market share. However, The Functional Dog Collaborative would have shelters help their competitors and in turn destroy the shelters’ own homeless pets. This is akin to a vegan restaurant encouraging its customers to go to a place selling veal, foie gras and shark fin soup. Similarly, this would be like an anti-smoking organization telling people to buy cigarettes or an environmental group to tell its supporters to give money to polluters. Frankly, The Functional Dog Collaborative’s efforts look like a deliberate attempt to destroy animal shelters and rescues to enrich breeders.
While shelter breeding is an absurd idea, it is a very real threat. First, The Functional Dog Collaborative has many influential members, such as the former Executive Director of PetSmart Charities, an ex-director of behavior at the ASPCA and a PhD veterinarian with great influence in academic circles. Second, powerful animal welfare organizations, such as HSUS, Austin Pets Alive and Maddie’s Fund and Humane Network gave The Functional Dog Collaborative platforms to sell their shelter breeding idea. Third, shelters have a strong financial interest to breed animals (directly or via third parties) rather than rescue them. Thus, shelter breeding could become the norm if its proponents successfully sell their false narrative.
At the end of the day, shelter breeding represents the most severe threat shelter animals have faced in 50 years. As advocates, we must fight this idea tooth and nail. If we don’t prevail, we will return to the 1970s’ world where shelters will kill many millions of healthy and treatable pets. Our society has come too far to allow that to happen again.