Is Adopt, Don’t Shop Outdated?

The Adopt, Don’t Shop campaign has garnered much controversy, but is it warranted? Read on to learn about its origin, its problems, and how the campaign can move forward.

Is Adopt, Don’t Shop Outdated?

You’ve likely seen or heard the slogan Adopt, Don’t Shop before, perhaps on a car’s bumper sticker, from the neighborhood know-it-all, or an animal documentary. Adopt, Don’t Shop has aided multiple animal welfare purposes over the years, but its meaning is crystal clear: adopting an animal is good, but shopping for one is not. However, with better awareness about puppy mills, shelters, and trustworthy breeders, does Adopt, Don’t Shop hold up to its original purpose? 

Origin of Adopt, Don’t Shop

Let’s look back to the mid-1980s with the original Adopt, Don’t Shop campaign. The campaign began with the Last Chance for Animals (LCA), a non-profit organization dedicated to stopping animal exploitation. The non-profit wanted to bring awareness to puppy mills to stop the mass production of designer dog breeds, which took away a forever home from millions of dogs housed in shelter and rescue groups. 

The campaign wanted to educate potential owners about the dangers of buying a dog from pet stores or backyard breeders and persuade them to adopt from a deserving shelter or rescue. With graphic pictures and powerful rhetoric, the campaign became an animal rights motto. 

The problem is the slogan is too simple and too broad. It doesn’t specifically say don’t buy from puppy mills. Instead, it indirectly shames buying a dog, even if a reputable breeder bred the dog. While the intentions are good, the slogan’s phrasing pits buying and adopting against each other, deflecting the conversion from the real issue of puppy mills and pointing it toward dividing dog owners. 

This division was supposed to create a larger conversation about where and how the dog was bred. However, over time, the conversion has become blurred and hostile, turning into a discussion of ethics rather than dealing with the issue of puppy mills head-on. 

The Problem With Puppy Mills and Backyard Breeders 

Puppy mills are commercialized breeding facilities that mass produce dogs and sell them to stores or directly to customers through internet ads. An estimated 4.3 million puppies are born in puppy mills each year. Sadly, only half reach 12 weeks old. 

In most states, puppy mills can legally operate and keep dogs in cramped and crowded conditions. These conditions can cause dogs to develop medical illnesses like musculoskeletal disorders, blood disorders, and eye problems. These conditions are costly to treat and, in some cases, cause the dog to have a lesser quality of life. 

Backyard breeders are different in the sense that they are not commercialized. They may only breed their family dog a few times, but they do so without proper breeding knowledge. Backyard breeding may cause dogs to have genetic defects and severe medical illnesses, which can decrease the dog’s health and happiness. 

Sadly, puppy mills and backyard breeders only exist because purebred and designer mix-breeds are sought after. Purebreds and designer breeds are often seen as unique or trendy, and as with anything that’s deemed popular, people want them, and some will go to any lengths to get the dog of their dreams quickly and at a lower price. 

Is Adopting the Solution to Ending Puppy Mills?

The Adopt, Don’t Shop campaign attempted to push people to avoid shady breeders by advocating for adopting dogs in need rather than purebreds or designer breeds. However, the reality is not everyone can or should adopt a dog from a shelter or rescue.

While not all shelter dogs are reactive, many are traumatized by their experiences. They likely need specialized attention and training from experienced dog owners to adapt to and enjoy their surroundings. Depending on their temperament, some dogs may need to live in a child-free, cat-free, or single-dog home. 

Shelter and rescue organizations are also known for their lengthy application process, often involving a residential home visit, multiple interviews, and references from vets or trainers. This process is needed since 60% of adopted pets are no longer in their adoptive homes six months after their original adoption. 

However, the realities of adoption limit the applicant pool, leaving first-time dog owners, applicants with other dogs or cats, and apartment dwellers to look for other ways to obtain a dog. Adopting animals in need can be a solution to decreasing puppy mills, but it’s not a reliable one.

What Is The Solution?

What should be amplified in the slogan but isn’t is research. Researching the breeder, organization, or store should be at the forefront of any animal rights campaign. Focusing on research discourages people from buying a dog on a whim from a shady organization or breeder. 

It’s important to note that many fake breeder listings exist on the web and are aimed to trick an unsuspecting dog owner. To aid you in your search, we’ve provided four reputable kennel registries: 

These registries list knowledgeable and legitimate breeders. However, you should still read testimonials and visit them in person to see if they're the right fit for you. 

The Next Steps

While it’s no secret that the current motto is controversial, it’s still used in many animal rights campaigns and welfare programs. With state crackdowns on puppy mill facilities and more verification for reputable breeders, the Adopt, Don’t Shop motto is no longer an accurate representation of its purpose, if it ever was. While catchy and widely known, it does little to address or solve the current problem. 

The next animal rights slogan could be Informed Choices Make Happier Pets or Smart Hearts Choose Smart Starts. Whatever the slogan may be, it should address the current problem and provide a solution without bashing any dog owner. That way, the message doesn’t get lost in its wording but is amplified by its chosen phrasing.  

Let us know in the comments if you agree with the current message of Adopt, Don't Shop. Plus, if you have any ideas for a new slogan or how it could be implemented, let us know!