Whether you acquire your dog from rescue or a breeder or some other path, you need to be unwaveringly committed to keeping that dog for the duration of its life. If you cannot be absolutely certain that you will be able to care for this dog for the next 17 years, you have no business getting a dog.
Every one of us has heard this countless times, and probably said something similar ourselves. The problem is that while the intent—trying to get people to understand that a pet is a serious long-term commitment and not something to attempt lightly—is excellent, the specifics are often quite wrong and significantly harmful:
- Pretty much no honest person can genuinely make this commitment. Who knows what bizarre twists and turns life may take. You may end up dead, ill, homeless, whatever. By requiring animal owners to make this eternal vow, we eliminate nearly all homes except those that are dishonest enough to pretend that they can promise the future.
- Millions of nice pets end up languishing in yards, kennels, and crates for years because the owners are ashamed to be derided and despised if they admit they cannot live up to this ideal.
- Many animals end up dumped somewhere to suffer simply because the person could not face the shame of rehoming their dog or walking into a shelter.
The real message ought to be that when you acquire an animal, you assume absolute responsibility for the welfare of that animal, whatever that means. In most cases that will mean keeping the animal for a lifetime, but in some cases doing what is best for the animal will mean not keeping it but instead making certain that it goes somewhere else where it will be handled responsibly and with care. In some cases it may even mean stepping up and making the hard decision to euthanize a particular animal. A person’s life may change and they can no longer provide a good home for a pet, a particular pet may not fit into a particular home, a pet may be too much for an individual to handle, a pet may simply be nasty. People should not enter into pet ownership lightly, but they also should not feel like there is no escape or they will never try.
Before I get a huge number of hostile comments, let me be absolutely clear that I am not in any way diminishing the magnitude of the responsibility of getting a pet. I am not countenancing the casual acquisition and disposal of pets. There are few undertaking I consider more sacred and serious than the decision to become responsible for the welfare of an animal. And I think we absolutely should be doing everything we can as a community to encourage and increase retention, including making very certain that people understand what they are getting into. But I do not think terrifying and shaming people is the best way to accomplish this goal.