My kingdom for a dog.
January 21, 2014 8:12 AM   Subscribe

We are looking to adopt a dog and finding it impossible. We are considering breeders. We are not happy about that--and are actually embarrassed--but here we are. One, are there alternatives we haven't considered? Two, how do you find a non-revolting dog breeder?

Here are the facts:

1. Our dog died suddenly four months ago. We were and are devastated, so if people could maybe not look down their noses at us for considering a breeder, that would be swell. She was a shelter dog. We'd prefer a shelter dog. We aren't 'dog breed' people.

2. We're in the northeast and have been going to shelters constantly. The dogs are mainly pitbulls, or are too old for our family, or too small to go hiking with.

3. The main (no-kill) shelter we've been going to opens at noon. There are always five to ten people outside waiting to descend on a handful of dogs. There is no chance to get the 'right' dog because the right dog for us is probably the right dog for half the people there. The kill shelters are mainly pitbulls (I know people vigilantly defend them, and I know they are largely lovely dogs, but we are not interested and don't want to derail on that point.)

4. We had a very bad experience using Petfinder, along the lines of this person and we will not be returning to Petfinder or any unvetted rescue group. We will not have someone inspect our home or refuse to give us the dog we want for some unpredictable or arbitrary reason like our disinterest in crating or anything else. We're responsible, caring pet owners. We cared for our dog for ten years. We are professional people who can secure glowing references. We love animals.

If you can recommend any rescues that have reasonable, humane standards that are respectful of prospective pet owners, (which means, we're not going to be disqualified for being anti-crate or having jobs or whatever) by all means please pass those on to me. We're in Western Ma. but are willing to travel to deal with competent, reasonable people.

I am not interested in defenses of rescue group policies.

For the record, I have in absolute seriousness considered getting in my car and making my way south through kill shelter after kill shelter until I found my dog, but I feel like the time and the emotional cost would just be too much for me right now.

So anyway, here we are, narrowing down dog breeds, trying to figure out how one goes to a breeder and gets a dog and doesn't contribute to genetic failures, puppy farms, or any other doggy misery WHATSOEVER. We don't even *want* a breed. We just want a mutt, like our previous girl. But this is absolutely insane.

So: how the hell do you find a reputable breeder?

The breed we are considering, after a lot of research, is a Belgian Sheepdog. Interested in other dogs also, with similar traits (smart, medium-small to medium-large, loyal to family, happy to hike, happy in a big yard, not too skittish.) I don't want to confuse the issue by making it a thread about breeds, but if someone has a lightning bolt of an idea, I'm interested.

This previous question touched on some of the issues of dog adoption in the northeast.

Would deeply appreciate no finger waggling on this topic.
posted by A Terrible Llama to Pets & Animals (61 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
We live in the Northeast but in Canada, near Toronto. I've had issues like this with finding dogs through shelters/rescues/etc, and when we started looking some months back I liked some local rescues on Facebook. Next thing I knew I was seeing post after post of adoptable dogs, and we found our boy through one of those rescues. I know Facebook is evil and all, but it might be worth looking into.

Obviously YMMV. You can often find breed specific rescues, but it takes a lot of work to get the right dog through those. When looking at breed specific rescues in the states, years ago, I found that as soon as a dog was available it would be adopted. I almost had to campaign with them for a chance. Of course I ended up finding a dog at a shelter that time anyway.
posted by routergirl at 8:25 AM on January 21, 2014 [3 favorites]

No finger wagging from me. Having a dog that fits into your family and life is even more important for the dog than for you. And I am sorry for your loss.

I own two purebred dogs. They are a hunting breed (Vizsla and German Shorthair)* and in my experience hunting/working breeders are more reliably not puppymills because they stake their reputation on the quality and lineage of the dogs.

The way we found our breeders was to find some on the internet and ask them who they thought was good. My wife is also involved in NAVHDA - and we got some good recommendations from there.

I imagine for a working breed you would do something similar - find some breeders on the internet, and some groups that help train and maintain/rescue the breed and get some recommendations.

*pic in profile
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 8:28 AM on January 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

trying to figure out how one goes to a breeder and gets a dog and doesn't contribute to genetic failures, puppy farms, or any other doggy misery WHATSOEVER.

If I wanted a reputable breeder I'd look for breeders listed with a breed club - these are the organizations that manage conformation and working events - basically the methods that breeders use to show that their dogs are of good stock. It's not a guarantee that there's no doggy misery WHATSOEVER (I don't think any breeder in the world could guarantee that), but it's a start. For Belgian Sheepdogs there is a directory here for the Belgian Sheepdog Club of America but there may be other local and national organizations. I like the looks of this one because it focuses on the working aspects of the dog, not just the conformation.

I just want to clarify that you know that from a breeder you're going to buy a puppy, not an adult dog. Dealing with a few-week-old puppy is a very different endeavor than adopting an adult dog.
posted by muddgirl at 8:30 AM on January 21, 2014

Question, when you say pit bulls, do you mean actual pit bulls or all bully breeds? I'm not asking to give you a hard time, I just know someone who has a lovely looking dog up for adoption in central MA but he is an American Bulldog.

There are these online rescue groups for breeds (here is one for Belgian Sheepdogs), I'd highly recommend them, a bunch of my friends in the northeast have gotten lovely dogs through the rescue groups, people volunteer to drive them up from the South.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 8:31 AM on January 21, 2014 [2 favorites]

Best answer: You screen the breeder and then you meet the breeder. Ideally, get recommendations, like anything else.

You screen with the questions you care about. For example: how often their bitches breed, how they socialise their animals, how long they have been breeding, who they are registered with, do they have references etc.

These questions should help you determine whether you're dealing with a benign amateur, an amateur who does not care much for the welfare of the animals, a benign professional breeder, or a breeder who does not care much for the animals.

Then select down to the ones who fit. Arrange to meet them. What you're really looking at, assuming you are happy with your screening question answers, is the health and behaviour of the dogs. I.e. look at mum and interact with her. If possible, look at dad and interact with him. Look at how the pups interact with mum and with you.

If this is a professional breeder, you should take the opportunity to look at lineage. You're paying for lineage so this shouldn't be an issue for them.

Know your breed, too. In particular, do your research on what common breeding problems are. Know what the pros and cons of the breed are.
posted by MuffinMan at 8:32 AM on January 21, 2014 [4 favorites]

Not sure where you are, but the SPCA in my county, Westchester NY often has dogs for adoption that meet your criteria. Here is a link to their current cast of characters..

The North Shore Animal League, based on LI, has a lot of reasonable cute doggies for adoption. I have no idea of their criteria, but I adopted a cat from there many years ago and it was a pretty painless process.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 8:37 AM on January 21, 2014 [2 favorites]

We found the breeder of our labrador via the recommendation of duck hunters and studying field trial results. It's a little easier to find ethical breeders for hunting dogs because the dogs are being bred for work rather than looks and a breeder who wants to build a reputation for hunting dogs needs to put in a ton of work proving their dogs' abilities at field trials. Note that we also had to answer a fairly long questionnaire from the breeder of our dog before our dog was even born, that's one of the many differences between an ethical breeder and a backyard breeder.

For a non-hunting breed, I would start attending dog shows and get to know who is breeding the breeds you are interested in, there's likely only a handful in your region. It's a small, gossipy club, you'll probably be able to figure out who's who fairly quickly.

I just want to clarify that you know that from a breeder you're going to buy a puppy, not an adult dog.
This is not always true. Ethical breeders take back their dogs if the owner does not want them and there might be an opportunity to adopt one of those adult dogs in need of a new home. For example, the breeder of my lab had a pair of two year olds, both waiting for non-hunting homes because both dogs had shown a distinct preference for laying about in the sun rather than fetching dead birds. Both would be ideal family dogs. If I were to ever get a lab again (hahaha, no), I would go back to her and adopt one of these hunting school washouts.
posted by jamaro at 8:38 AM on January 21, 2014 [3 favorites]

Massachusetts approved shelter/rescues. I'd make some phone calls before going to a breeder, not for any finger-wagging reasons but just because your dog is probably out there.

For what it's worth I live on the Appalachian Trail and my chihuahua has hiked McAfee's Knob with me.

(On postview I don't know where I got MA from ... hope it helps.)
posted by headnsouth at 8:39 AM on January 21, 2014

I'm not going to make you feel bad for wanting a purebred dog. I fell in love with a particular breed of cat and have had three over my life. Do know, however, that a reputable breeder will likely have long waiting lists for dogs; possibly much *much* longer than it might take for an appropriate shelter dog to become available.

As for how to locate a reputable breeder - go to shows. A reputable breeder should be focusing on a breeding program to improve the bloodlines while conforming to the standards of the breed. Breeding is an Expensive hobby (cats at least, I imagine dogs are moreso), with show registrations, travel, hotels, PLUS fees being paid to other breeders for stud fees or whatnot. I almost think a good rule of thumb is that a good breeder breaks even, if not loses money through their breeding program. So go to shows, see the dogs and talk to the breeders. Talk to breeders about other breeders. Look at their dogs and ask questions about their breeding program.

Also - just as an aside - you don't necessarily sidestep crazy rules about "you must this and that" when you get a purebred animal. All of my cats came only after extensive interviews and with agreements I had to sign saying that I would or would not do certain things. No home visits, but they were all out of state; had they been nearer I'm sure I would have been hosting one or three crazy cat ladies.
posted by lilnublet at 8:41 AM on January 21, 2014 [2 favorites]

have you asked your vet? our vet's facebook page often features pets for adoption from a variety of sources.
posted by nadawi at 8:41 AM on January 21, 2014 [8 favorites]

After months of the typical northeast adoption odyssey (we are in NYC), we had a surprisingly quick and painless experience adopting our wonderful older hound mix from Eleventh Hour in New Jersey.
posted by deeaytch at 8:45 AM on January 21, 2014

One thing to do is to put the word out to your own friends and colleagues that you're looking. When I was actively looking to adopt a dog, I let my friends know and got a surprising number of email forwards. There's a fairly large, informal network of animal people who try to find homes for dogs before they end up in the shelter system and if you can tap into that you may find it has a greater variety of dogs than the shelters themselves, since obviously the shelters are getting the less desirable dogs that don't find homes through these networks.
posted by jacquilynne at 8:46 AM on January 21, 2014 [6 favorites]

A good breeder will have as many, if not more, restrictions than a rescue group -- this is how you know they're legit.

We adopted one of our dogs from Bideawee in Manhattan, and it was a very smooth process. We were interested in a few of the dogs from the website, sent in an application in advance so they could call our references, and we were "pre-approved;" went in over the weekend, liked a pup, had our other dog play off leash for 20 mins or so to make sure they meshed, signed some papers and away we went with a new dog!

A friend adopted a dog from Best Friends' super adoption in White Plains, again, very smooth process. Application on site, called references right there, and left with a dog. Best Friends is a great resource, and I've volunteered at several of their adoption events (usually a local rescue group that gets extra funding/support from BF).

North Shore Animal League is also good.
posted by melissasaurus at 8:46 AM on January 21, 2014 [2 favorites]

FWIW, I've had both good and crappy experiences with Petfinder. One idiotic rescue organization refused, for ridiculous reasons, to allow my wife and me to adopt a dog we'd settled on. We, too, had lost our previous dog suddenly and at a young age (cancer), so the rejection really stung. But not long after that lousy experience, we located another dog via Petfinder, with another shelter that was happy to see us. It is kinda Wild West in there, but if you really prefer a mutt then I wouldn't write it off. The dog we actually got after being refused the other is not a consolation prize. We love her.
posted by jon1270 at 8:46 AM on January 21, 2014 [4 favorites]

I feel for you. We almost gave up with Petfinder after reading the holier than thou applications and requirements. Good luck with breeders on that score though, the people that really care about dogs just don't trust strangers.
Before you rule out Petfinder keep in mind that they are a clearing house for a variety of organizations.
I was feeling exactly as you are and was ready to head off on an adoption road trip. We ended getting our dog through Petfinder from a group called Mutts4rescue. My only issue was they post every dog's location as Portsmouth Rhode Island but really the dogs are located all over the country in foster homes. We were hesitant to get a dog sight unseen but the woman who had our dog was really helpful in sending pictures and video and I have to say that our dog was exactly as described and we are crazy about her. Part of the fee pays for an amazing transport service called Rescue Road Trips. They pick the dogs up and deliver them to people in the northeast.
I was 100% pleased with every part of the process once I got past the application. I think vet references are the biggest part, no one knows like your vet what kind of owner you will be.
I'm sorry that you lost your dog and I wish you luck in finding another.
posted by InkaLomax at 8:47 AM on January 21, 2014 [4 favorites]

I may have missed this if it was mentioned above, but you can contact rescue organizations not necessarily to get a rescue dog, but to ask them their opinion on legit vs non-legit breeders in your area. I know plenty of people involved in rescue and though they would love to have you adopt a rescue dog, they would rather have you adopt from an ethical, humane breeder than a backyard breeder.

I'm sure they will be more than happy to give you a list/their opinion of good breeders in your area. Not only will they tell you about what to look for in a breeder and their dogs, but they are often very familiar (unfortunately) with the bad breeders out there (as that's often where the rescue dogs come from) so they can tell you who to stay clear from.
posted by canda at 9:02 AM on January 21, 2014 [2 favorites]

I would look for a breeder with a history of healthy pups, especially one that does not sacrifice animal health in favor of ridiculous "breed standards". The Frenchie breeder I got my ex-puppy from (allergies, sob) has had natural mating and natural births for all her litters, which is very rare among the breed. And yet many of the offspring could never be show dogs because they don't conform perfectly to "breed standards". They are happy, thriving animals with few of the health issues that plague the breed.

tl;dr "breed standards" is not always the best way to choose a healthy dog.

I will ask my dog people friends for specific breeder info!
posted by elizardbits at 9:03 AM on January 21, 2014 [3 favorites]

I have gotten one golden retriever from a reputable breeder and one from a rescue found through Petfinder. Both were good and easy experiences. I'm sorry you're having trouble! The breeders are one my family has used for decades. It's clean, the puppies are socialized prior to being sold, are started on mild basic training, aren't taken from their mothers until at least 8 weeks, they don't churn out litters, they don't just breed their own dogs with each other to avoid in-breeding, and are picky about who their dogs go to. But it's expensive.

One thought I had was to talk to your vet. Often people will tell the vet when they need to rehome their animal and you might find a good dog that way.
posted by cecic at 9:11 AM on January 21, 2014

We had some of the same issues (Southern Ontario, so similarish area). We had 'specific' requirements in that we wanted a curly-haired, larger dog (I can't stand toy dogs, fiance wanted a low-shedder). Looked at humane societies within a 4 hour drive for about a year, and nothing came up. (We've since discovered that there are breed-specific waiting lists we weren't aware of, but we have our wonder-pup now).

Eventually decided we were in a good place to get a puppy (fiance works from home, we were financially stable), and did a lot of research on breeders (and breeds). From the start, we wanted to ensure that we weren't supporting any backyard breeder shenanigans, so kijiji and craigslist are straight out. Good breeders won't need to advertise on there.

Look for links on the breed's society pages, then carefully look over the breeder site. You link a post that has a lot of info on how to do that. Then, call and visit. You can usually get a gut feeling if they're responsible or not. They should be happy to field visits, unless they have a very new litter that they don't want exposed to strangers.

We decided on our breeder because they breed service dogs, and donate a few a year, in addition to part of our fee going to other charities. We followed up on their claim by going to the service dog society they donate to and confirming their contributions. The vet they go to also loves them, and has nothing but good things to say.

Now that we have our pup (the breeder was only 20 minutes from our home), we constantly get stopped on the street asking if our poodle is from them....most of the poodles in the city are from there and we've met several other owners of their dogs.

Mal (the pup) is AMAZING. We did not know a puppy could be this well behaved. He was (mostly) potty and crate trained, and after about a week, was perfectly happy to sleep through the night. He already had a soft mouth developed, and the first time we turned on the vacuum, he just laid down on the floor and watched it. Concrete weirded him out the first night, and he still prefers to pee on snow, but his temperament is rock-solid and he LOVES people.

Now at 12 weeks (Only 12 weeks!) he has Sit, Stay, Target, and a few other cute tricks well on the way. Hasn't chewed anything partially due to vigilance (if we don't have eyes on him, he's in his playpen) and partially due to lucking out on his personality.

Also, Belgians are awesome too. My parents have a great Tervuren from a breeder in Southern Ontario. She was pretty nice, but I don't really remember much of that process in particular. Definitely recommend them if you want the fluffiest 'collie mix' that people think he is. He's an absolute sweetheart of a dog.
posted by aggyface at 9:16 AM on January 21, 2014

Another vote for North Shore Animal League, if you want to make your way all the way down to Long Island.

As for breed-specific rescues, my family adopted our goofball from Long Island Golden Retriever Rescue. They were great, and I think they are affiliated with some other rescues organizations as well, so they might be a starting off point for you.
posted by inertia at 9:18 AM on January 21, 2014

Have you looked on craigslist? You'll probably find a lot of posts there from down-on-their-luck folks who need to give up their dogs who would be overjoyed if they were able to place their pets in a loving, caring, responsible home.
posted by kitty teeth at 9:18 AM on January 21, 2014 [3 favorites]

Not sure how it works where you are, but here in Austin, the kill shelter has an adoption area (with lots of pit bulls/mixes) as well as a non-adoption area for found/surrendered dogs. Technically, the dogs in the non-adoption area are not yet up for adoption (i.e. awaiting owner reclaim, behavior and medical check ups to see if they are adoptable).

My last adopted dog came from the non-adoption area. The moment I saw her, I knew I wanted her. I asked the adoption desk about the dog in kennel number "128763" and they told me she was on a 3 day hold period for her owners to reclaim her. But if I wanted to put a hold on her, I could get her in the event her owners did not show up and she passed the behavioral/medical exams.

The waiting seemed endless at the time but that is how I became the human of the sweetest dog in the world.

So ask if you can get your name on a dog prior to them getting to the adoption area…worked for me!
posted by murrey at 9:21 AM on January 21, 2014

Best answer: I got my dog (pictured here pretending to be a baked potato) from a wonderful breeder. I found her by looking for breed-specific clubs in my region, looking at their breeder lists, and emailing/calling around.

Interestingly, and this is something that I wouldn't have considered before but now makes a lot of sense, I got my best information from breeders who were not actively having litters. I got a lot of replies along the lines of "unfortunately we have taken a hiatus from breeding for a few years--actually, if I were you I'd check with [name]. Her dogs are always wonderful and she is actually where we got our last puppy!"

In the end, I got my dog from the breeder that other breeders recommended as being the best breeder in the area, which I think is probably about the best you can do when you're doing your research from outside the dog world.
posted by phunniemee at 9:26 AM on January 21, 2014 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I'm sorry to hear about your dog and about the bad experience with the rescue group. That sounds awful.I think lots of rescue organizations are terrible and judgmental and occasionally for-profit/even exploitative, and the problem with Petfinder is that it just lumps them all together, without doing any filtering. The truth is you have to vet your rescue organizations in the same way you'd vet a breeder. If you've given up on that, I totally get it (and I don't judge you at all) but for what it's worth, we're in Massachusetts, and my friend recently got a dog through Big Fluffy Dog Rescue. It took about a month. It says on their website that they do home visits, but I don't remember her mentioning that, and she lives in an apartment and doesn't use a crate, so I don't think it the process could have been too demanding.

Good luck! I'm sure you'll find a dog to love.
posted by pretentious illiterate at 9:27 AM on January 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

Be aware with a reputable breeder they will be checking you out too, as the reputable breeders want their pups to go to good homes. There will also most likely be a wait as a good breeder does not pump out litters for profit so you will go on a wait list, you then will most likely not get a choice of the litter, depending on how many other people are on the list. This is actually what you want, any breeder that doesn't have a wait list or has lots of readily available puppies is a puppy mill with a fancy name. The best way to find a responsible breeder is to start with breed specific clubs and do pretty much what phunniemee.

Your local shelter that you say has a lot of people waiting might also have a facebook page or website. A surprising number of shelters now a days will actually foster out dogs, I know our local ones do so you won't see the dogs at the shelter only on the websites/facebook page and arrange a time to see them, so that might be worth checking out.

If you know what sort of breed you want then check out breed specific rescues, you might not be able to get a puppy but you'd be surprised the number of people that get rid of a purebred dog once it is past the cute puppy stage.
posted by wwax at 9:30 AM on January 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

We adopted a retired racing greyhound. It seemed like a good balance between adopting from a shelter (I'm in Philly and the shelters I found were filled with a mix of pitbulls and old chihuahuas) and buying from a breeder.

When you adopt a retired racer, you get all of their racing information, their pedigree, papers, vet history, etc. The organization we adopted from in New Jersey didn't turn up their nose at us (first-time dog owner, both partners working) but they did make us swear to crate our pup at least initially because the crate is the only familiar home retired racers have ever had.

My greyhound is wonderful. She is a nice size, loves to zoom around our backyard, and sacks out on the couch most of the day. The first month was really, really hard as she learned to be a pet and I learned to be a dog owner, but since then she has been a joy. She likes to cuddle, is very friendly with all people, and is used to being handled (e.g., she has no problem with me brushing her teeth or giving her a bath.)

Feel free to MeMail me if you want more greyhound information. I'm new to the dog world, but so far, so good.
posted by coppermoss at 9:44 AM on January 21, 2014 [2 favorites]

I'll second Craigslist. I got my dog on Craigslist during a time in my life when no rescue organization would touch me (because I was in college). We've been together for 10 years!
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 9:54 AM on January 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

We had good luck with a breed specific rescue - beagles in our case.
posted by COD at 10:04 AM on January 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

Seconding Eleventh Hour rescue in NJ. Easily and painlessly adopted a wonderful dog from them at one of their weekend adoption drives. They did not impose any crazy conditions and were easy to work with.
posted by smokyjoe at 10:11 AM on January 21, 2014

So sorry :(

Are you in the NYC area? We got our mutt at the Adopt-A-Lab event at Darien (CT) Global Pet Foods a few years ago- they run a small dog rescue event, bussing in dogs rescued from pet stores (that weren't sold and were sent to be euthanized). I know you want a medium-sized dog and they had some of those too, although you wouldn't think so from the name of the event!

Ours is a mix but they originally said he was a purebred and would be 6-8 pounds, he ended up being twice that size. We hit pay dirt with the guy (written as he's jammed between me and the armrest of this chair!) So it seems like adoption events are the way to go. Hope you find the perfect dog for your family!
posted by anad487 at 10:22 AM on January 21, 2014

Step one is going to be figuring out a breed, or a couple-few breeds. Do this by going to dog shows -- this should normally be free to you, AKC or UKC are both fine or ARBA for rare breeds -- and talking to breeders/exhibitors. Ask them about their breed. Talk to them about what you want out of a dog and what you plan to do with a dog -- ie, that you want a pet with characteristics X, Y, Z that's good for long hikes, as opposed to "I want a pet to do schutzhund with" or "I want a dog to retrieve ducks I kill." Ask what other breeds you might consider; folks tend to be reasonably knowledgeable about other breeds in the group or otherwise similar dogs.

Once you have a breed, figuring out whether a breeder is ethical isn't that hard.

Look for health tests up the wazoo and back several generations. You want the breeder to be able to tell you that the mated pair have clean hips, eyes, and ideally hearts, elbows, knees, etc, as well as being free from any breed-specific worries like collie eye... and so were the mated dogs' parents. And their grandparents. And their great-grandparents.

Look for a health guarantee for at least two years.

Look for a requirement that if you can't keep the dog for any reason, you have to send it back to the breeder.

Look for a breeder who can give you a one-sentence version of what goals they're breeding towards (in our case, "Performance, soundness, and historically correct type and temperament")


Look for people breeding more than at very most two breeds AS A GIANT SCREAMING RED FLAG TO NEVER EVER DEAL WITH THOSE PEOPLE

Look for people who say that they always have a litter available AS A GIANT SCREAMING RED FLAG TO NEVER EVER DEAL WITH THOSE PEOPLE

Look for people breeding "designer" mixes like X-a-doodles AS A GIANT SCREAMING RED FLAG TO NEVER EVER DEAL WITH THOSE PEOPLE

And, sorry, but...

We will not have someone inspect our home or refuse to give us the dog we want for some unpredictable or arbitrary reason like our disinterest in crating or anything else.

This is going to be a real problem. One of the easiest ways to spot an ethical breeder is a highly intrusive purchase process.

Now, not many are going to actually inspect your house (because most breeders deal with people from quite a distance away), but any breeder worth talking to is going to give you a long and intrusive questionnaire. Biscotti's asks about your experience with dogs, what you're looking for in a dog (and what you want to avoid), why you thought of the vallhund, where you live (ie in an apt, townhouse, or house), where the dog will live, if you have a house or townhouse, whether the yard is fenced, what you plan to feed the dog, how you plan to train the dog, and it goes on and on.

Some of these have dealbreaker answers. Dog gonna live outside? No puppy for you. You really like jerk-and-shout training or use shock collars etc? No puppy for you. You use an invisible fence? Almost certainly no puppy for you. But most of them are just trying to get a sense of who these people are or to start as points of conversation during the purchase process (ie let's talk about what makes good food and why you shouldn't be scared of buying high-quality dog food*).

However, I will tell you that biscotti does occasionally get contacted by people who are offended by the intrusiveness of the questionnaire. I remember one family where the wife contacted her and seemed nice enough if a bit clueless (which is tolerable), but then the husband fired back this irate email about how what they feed their dog is none of our business and blah blah fuck you blah. What happens in these circumstances is that she replies "Sorry to hear that" and then sends an email to basically all the vallhund breeders in North America to the effect of "Here's someone not to send a dog to." And then goes back to the list of interest people that's longer than I am tall.

*A: It's better for the dog. B: It's not really that much more expensive because it's all food instead of 50\% food and 50\% sawdust and other filler. C: Because it's all food instead of half nonfood, almost all the food turns into more dog + energy, and not much turns into poop.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:23 AM on January 21, 2014 [6 favorites]

Does Petfinder not index kill shelters in your area? We had similar problems with breed rescues and smaller shelters (our property is not completely encircled by a 6' fence and we would not even be considered as potential dog owners unless it was) but we found that the bigger city-run shelters in our area were all on Petfinder and were much less discriminating. It took a lot of scouring and a few near-misses (in one case one of the aforementioned rescues swooped in and "adopted" a dog we had expressed interest in right out from under us) but we eventually ended up with the best dog in the world. She's a (now 1.5yo) German Shepherd cut with Cocker Spaniel and sounds like just the kind of dog you're looking for: 60 pounds, very smart, energetic but not constantly insane, great to take on hikes or to the beach.

We (actually my partner, really, she was the one who did all the work) got her by vigilantly watching Petfinder search results for shepherd breeds over a wide region, and rushing to the shelter when we saw a likely match come up. In this case, a municipal shelter 3 hours' drive away had taken in a pregnant dog whose whole litter of 6 pups went up for adoption at once. We picked one out, paid the adoption fee, and that was that. It was a lucky break, but we'd been watching for a couple months and seeing, as you are, mostly pits and chihuahuas. I know you say you've sworn off Petfinder, but maybe reconsider it as a tool to cast a wider net among the kill shelters you dread trawling in person.

If you go the breeder route, maybe consider a McNab Dog.
posted by contraption at 10:23 AM on January 21, 2014

Have you looked at your local/state classified ads?

We got our amazing mutt from a classified ad. She's a collie/shepherd mix and was part of an oops litter. When we went to meet her we could tell that the family she was from were genuine animal lovers, not a puppy mill. Just like with people, accidents happen.
posted by MadMadam at 10:24 AM on January 21, 2014

I should note too that Belgians -- or other dogs commonly used for schutzhund -- are pretty serious dogs and that you should expect an ethical breeder to be, if anything, more intrusive than a vallhund or Cavalier breeder
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:24 AM on January 21, 2014

There are lot of really good, responsible breeders in the world. Not as many as there are shitty backyard breeders, but they are out there. Not to worry. Once you've decided on the breed you want, find the web site for that breed's parent club. There should be a listing of breeders there--these tend to be the serious people who are breeding only to improve their own lines. Then within that group, look for breeders whose dogs are excelling in the work they were bred to do; for instance, if you're looking at herding breeds like Border Collies, Aussies, Shelties, etc., then look for a lot of the offspring to have extensive titling in agility and/or herding. Not just novice titles, but championships. This is basic evidence that the line has decent structure and temperament and that people who know what they're doing are going to this breeder for their puppies. Then start talking to people. Google "what to look for in a breeder"--there's a ton of good information out there so no need to repeat it all here. Many of them do have older dogs that they've taken back so it's not only a matter of getting a puppy--although if it's a puppy you want, be prepared to wait.
posted by HotToddy at 10:25 AM on January 21, 2014

nthing rescue agencies and also getting a breeder through a word of mouth.

nthing facebook. Have you put out a "calling all dogs" post? You never know who of your friends might know someone who needs a dog adopted.

I work with a woman who breeds her dog as a hobby. She does it once every 12-16 months, when she's got enough confirmed people to place the dogs. She loves these dogs so she is a little protective of who gets them. So be prepared for some digging on the breeder's behalf, and be prepared to wait.

Finally if you are too tired to drive around looking through the kill shelters... may I suggest some more time to grieve your beloved pet so that the process of finding a new dog is a happy one and not angry/frustrated/resentful.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 10:40 AM on January 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

I used to volunteer at the Animal Rescue League in Boston. Yes, a lot of dogs are pits or pit mixes (as is mine) but, leaving that aside, there are plenty of dogs that aren't, and I know that they used to periodically get shipments of puppies from more southernly states. Yes, there is a lot more competition for these dogs, but I also know that you could talk to them about what you are looking for and get put on a waiting list for new dogs that meet what you are looking for. It's been awhile since I've worked there, but you can talk to various shelters see if that is a possibility.
posted by katers890 at 10:53 AM on January 21, 2014

Seconding the idea that I'd be pretty concerned about a breeder that didn't have similar restrictions to most rescues.

Having volunteered with a rescue and done my share of home inspections, I can tell you that the inspections and rules that you find so disrespectful are absolutely vital to making sure the dog doesn't show back up in 3 months (or wind up in a shelter).

If you really want a dog from a rescue and don't want to be scrutinized, your best option may be to spend some time volunteering for the rescue you're interested in (on the order of months, not weeks). That's not to say they won't expect certain things of your house, but they might take your word for it once you've established that you're not just some random person off the street.
posted by toomuchpete at 11:07 AM on January 21, 2014

Response by poster: Thanks everyone.

I'm sure you'll find a dog to love.

Honestly, it's kind of seeming unlikely.

Special thank yous to the people who seemed to understand how deeply sad and frustrated we are.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 11:29 AM on January 21, 2014

While we're in different regions, (I'm in South Florida), my experiences and frustrations with going to the pound are remarkably similar to yours, so I thought I'd share my relatively recent experiences.

I too, was frustrated with the dog pounds, and was in the process of looking at breeders (ick), when I adopted my dog, a chocolate lab mix, through Justin Bartlett Animal Rescue in South Florida. While I spoke and coordinated directly with the animal rescue people, I actually picked him up at a PetSmart where they were having an adoption event. No home visits, just a brief interview and paperwork. As their dogs were fostered, they were well kept, mostly trained (sit, "drop it!", etc.)

It was a bit on the pricier side (about $350 with all fees) than getting one directly from Animal Control, but as you noted, 90% of the dogs at the pound are pit bulls, which our HOA will not let us have.

Obviously we're in different regions, but given the wide selection of dogs (only one pit bull) at the event I attended, and given my similar experiences at my local dog pounds, perhaps you'll have luck with a PetSmart local to you.

It's worth a shot, if your preference is to rescue than to buy.
posted by Debaser626 at 12:08 PM on January 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

A couple of my friends found their glorious mutts (ahem, I mean mixed-breed dogs with some guesswork) through breed-specific rescues. They scouted out the nicely-organized and reasonable-peopled rescue groups for a few breeds in the ballpark of the type of dog they wanted, then made it clear that while they of course loooved [breed] they didn't care how much their dog looked like a true [breed], mixes were fine.
posted by desuetude at 12:12 PM on January 21, 2014

I'm so sorry you're having such a difficult time with this. I agree that telling EVERYONE you know you're looking for a dog is a good method - someone will know of someone who is looking to rehome their dog. Then, you can talk to the owner and get a good sense of whether the dog is a good match for you.

I also second the idea of talking to your vet, who may know about dogs that need a new home. And, your vet presumably knows that you take good care of dogs and won't need to check you out at all.
posted by insectosaurus at 12:18 PM on January 21, 2014

Ug, I hear you on some of the rescue organizations on Petfinder.... I'm a vet and got the run around from THREE of them when trying to adopt a dog. I think you just have to be able to laugh it off, and know that their unreasonable demands are not about you, it really is a good resource. If you are willing to wait, I have a family member in upstate NY who successfully adopted a great dog from an organization that trains dogs in prison.
posted by Nickel Pickle at 1:08 PM on January 21, 2014

We got our second dog from a reputable breeder after our first shelter dog died. We decided on the breed then on the breeder. A good breeder breeds to standards and only breeds proven champions while screening for genetic problems. A good breeder will require you to come to their property to meet them and your prospective dog. A good breeder will require you to spay/neuter your pet. There are good breeders out there, don't give up!
posted by Requiax at 1:11 PM on January 21, 2014

My friends adopted an incredible dog from these folks. Looks like they have a couple good looking mutts right now. I don't think they had to jump through hoops as they drove up there from RI.
posted by Saddy Dumpington at 1:46 PM on January 21, 2014

I'll chip in with a positive anecdote from Craigslist. I got my cattle dog mutt mix from a vet tech that does high-kill shelter rescues. At any given time, she has a project dog that's been plucked from a local (Detroit area, so no shortage of dogs here) high-kill shelter. We talked for a while and it was a great experience. Obviously, there are a lot of backyard breeders and sketchy situations on Craigslist, but if you aren't against adopting a non-puppy, there are usually a lot of young (and old, and anything in between) dogs on there from families who are relocating or can't handle what the puppy turned into. It may not be the fastest route, but there are quality dogs and people there if you're willing to wade in.

Seconding also "liking" rescues and shelters on Facebook. There's a shelter in my state with great volunteers who post pictures of their available dogs and the dogs waiting to be claimed every week. It's unfortunately a high-kill city shelter, but they move so many more dogs through with this advertising network on FB than they would otherwise.

I completely understand how you feel about the demands some rescue groups place on their adopters. I would eventually like a specific breed, an Alaskan Malamute, and I've looked up several rescues across many states and I can't imagine any of these actually letting me have a dog. I've never had a fenced in yard, and these usually require 6+ feet, but I've always had extremely active herding dogs that I'm committed to socializing, training, and providing plenty of exercise. A yard does not equate exercise and a lack of a yard doesn't mean I'm going to just let the dog off leash to wander around. That said, I would probably submit to a home check if I really wanted a particular dog. There are rescues out there that don't have such crazy requirements and just want to make sure you're prepared for a dog.
posted by rawralphadawg at 2:30 PM on January 21, 2014

Meet the breeder. I got a dog from one after meeting the breeder. The breeder had a small family farm, and I saw how she interacted with the dogs, and as a result I am confident that the animals there are all treated okay.
posted by J. Wilson at 2:52 PM on January 21, 2014

Best answer: What a frustrating experience. I came in to support your inclination towards a Belgian, and hopefully help you find one.

I have volunteered at a shelter for years, and always thought when I was ready for my own dog, I would adopt. But then life happened...along came my co-worker, a lover and owner of two purebred Belgian Sheepdogs (Groenendaels) that she breeds occasionally every few years. Four years ago she gave us her favorite of the most recent litter, and she is the most wonderful dog. It is a really wonderful breed (smart, great for hiking, great with kids). The breeder lives in southern California but is in touch with other breeders personally around the country, and I'm confident she could make a great recommendation. I would be happy to connect you with her if you'd like.
posted by reksb at 3:02 PM on January 21, 2014

Rescues can be batty about their application process.

Another approach, if you have the energy and the time, is to volunteer at your local shelter or one nearby. While you're volunteering, you can let the folks at the shelter know you're looking for a dog and let them know what you are looking for in a dog. If you're there, you'll know what dogs are coming in and know the selection, the shelter staff with be familiar with you, and you'll have a chance to get to know some of the dogs through your volunteer work.

I agree that looking at breed-specific rescues is a good route to take as well.
posted by backwords at 3:04 PM on January 21, 2014

Do you guys have local Petsmart stores that host rescues & their animals on the weekends? I'm in rescue in Tucson, AZ, and there usually 3-4 rescues with animals at most Petsmarts here on the weekends. You could walk around and talk to the rescues about their application process and see if they seemed reasonable, and see what kinds of breed they specialize in.

I've only worked in rescue in Tucson so it's so hard for me to relate to these questions about not being able to locate a dog, because we are almost drowning in them here. The county shelter is full, the rescues are full, the foster homes are overflowing.

Do you have any vacation time coming up? Anyone that you could visit out in the western US for two weeks? You could take a dog adoption vacation! Come to Tucson and I'll send you home with a truckload of dogs. My rescue does have a lot of bully mixes because that's our reality in AZ, but we also have non-bully puppies available and right now these two sweeties - Vixen, Jude - who are good-sized and not too old.
posted by Squeak Attack at 3:31 PM on January 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'm in Rhode Island and I adopted my little guy from PAWS of New England, and had a decent experience with them. A friend of mine was fostering for them at the time. She now fosters for Critter Cavalry. I can vouch that this pup is a cutie: Miami. I have another friend who adopted their two dogs through the Providence Animal Rescue League.

I know that you might be frustrated with Petfinder and snooty rescue staff people, but give some of the Rhode Island rescue organizations a shot.

Message me if you would like a contact (or need a reference!).
posted by LouMac at 5:23 PM on January 21, 2014

I know nothing about the world of pet rescue or shelters, but your post brought to mind an article I read in my local paper last year about local pet rescue groups taking animals from our overrun shelters (I am in Texas) to New England for adoption. In the article I linked to, the groups were taking them to New Hampshire, but I wonder if some of the people or groups mentioned in the article could point you to places in your state where similar operations were going on. Perhaps this is something you already know about, but it was a news to me.
posted by megancita at 5:56 PM on January 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

Sorry for your loss. I started looking for a new dog 4 months after the passing of my 14 year old Aussie.

First I decided on the breed, like you have. And then I went to the American Kennel Club site and started looking for breeders close to me. None of them responded to my emails so I just started searching on the internet for breeders. I spoke with a few but none had puppies or had long waiting lists since they only bred once per year. I stayed away from any breeders in the mid-west and south-east. I wanted to go to the breeders house to check them out. I was not going to buy a dog without seeing where that dog came from. Especially when paying big bucks.

All that work and I ended up stumbling across a picture of a cairn puppy on the internet. That was the breed I wanted and he was in Portland OR. Perfect. The rescue group is one of the rescue groups you would hate. It was easier to buy a house than get my dog from them. Home safety visit, vet reference, 30 page application, numerous phone interviews. It took a month of paperwork and then I had to wait until he was 10 weeks old because they thought that leaving his litter at 8 weeks was to soon, something about fear periods. Who knows what the heck that means. But of course I eventually was able to bring him home. And right after, I ran into three local breeders.

Would I go through this again for a dog? I am not sure I would. But they are committed to him for life. If I should die or be unable to care for him they will take him back without question. He also wears a tag with their contact info if he should get lost. That is worth something to me since I am older. So this time it was worth it. Next time - maybe not.

You will find your perfect dog. From beginning to end it took me 3 months to find my perfect pup.
posted by cairnoflore at 10:09 PM on January 21, 2014

I just Googled "dogs for adoption Washington State" and got about a hundred shelters, most of whom have photos of the dogs they have for adoption.

If it were me, I'd start with Craigslist - because I have three friends who have met their best buddy that way - and then, try the same Google I did, defining whatever area you're willing to cover in your state.

And I'm sorry about your sweet dog. Hope you find a new friend very soon - sometimes it takes some time to find the right match, so don't be discouraged - you'll know when you meet each other.
posted by aryma at 12:43 AM on January 22, 2014

I totally get what you mean about rescue groups being totally crazy up here in the north east - we simply don't have a ton of strays or surrendered dogs, so people can get as nuts as they want to. It's honestly easier to foster to adopt a child than get an animal from some of those groups, a fact which just makes me sick.

If you want to give rescues one last change, I would do a search for groups that bring dogs up from the South - I know a couple people who did this (in the Boston area) and the groups were very reasonable, and my friends ended up with dogs they love.

If you do go the breeder route, I would look at the AKC website and find breeders that are registered through them. You can also search for reviews or lineages of show dogs once you know for sure which breed you want.
posted by fermezporte at 7:37 AM on January 22, 2014

Response by poster: The breeder lives in southern California but is in touch with other breeders personally around the country, and I'm confident she could make a great recommendation. I would be happy to connect you with her if you'd like.

Thank you Reksb - I sent you a MeMail.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 9:09 AM on January 22, 2014

I'm sorry for your loss. Nthing Craigslist. We found a great (albeit older) dog on Craigslist that met what we wanted when we searched the shelters for quite a while to no avail.

There is a lot of bad of word-of-mouth about dogs on Craigslist, but that seems to be mostly for *listing* dogs on Craigslist. Don't know how much effect that has had on Craigslist listings in your area.

Best of luck. I know you're not confident, but I think you'll find a great dog somehow.
posted by freezer cake at 1:10 PM on January 22, 2014

Response by poster: Our new dog is spending her first night with us tonight. We found a breeder who helped us find another breeder; both were very up front and transparent about their breeding process and genetic screening and lines and frequency of litters, both had all of their bona fides in order.(And yes I'm certain they were 100% legit and not puppy mill evil freakshows.)

I exchanged a bunch of emails with them and talked on the phone. I knew they were feeling me out on the phone and judging me and my qualifications, but it was somehow both subtle and frank, and they probably Googled me and my husband (I Googled them so I'm cool with that), maybe they Google mapped my house -- who knows? read my Twitter account?--but it was respectful exchange among a bunch of functional people who care about and like dogs. It didn't feel intrusive, it felt reasonable. It was a lot like one of those job interviews that you know is a job interview but it's somehow not expressly stated.

We never met in person and I never filled out an application; they were many states away. There is a contract, but nothing freaky, just that we have to give her an official AKC name within particular parameters. She'll still have her 'common' name. As we are total commoners.

Not even in the same ballpark as dealing with rescues. The rescues were impossible and awful.

Anyway, the important thing here though is we have a dog! And so happy! Thank you everyone!
posted by A Terrible Llama at 4:15 PM on February 6, 2014 [5 favorites]

fantastic! please post a picture!!
posted by nadawi at 6:38 PM on February 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: The new kid...
posted by A Terrible Llama at 3:17 AM on February 7, 2014 [3 favorites]

Hurray for you! :-)
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 3:19 PM on February 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

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