A primary goal of the Functional Dog Collaborative (FDC) is supporting breeders in breeding healthier and more behaviorally resilient dogs. We believe collaboration with animal shelters is an important part of that work. However, we find SPCA Tampa Bay’s “For All Dogs” program, a partnership between the shelter and a puppy broker and pet store chain, concerning.

The “For All Dogs” program will bring retired breeding dogs and “imperfect” puppies to the shelter via the new partnership. In clarifying the goals of the new program, SPCA Tampa Bay CEO Martha Boden has explained that bringing in dogs frequently sought by the public – smaller, younger, purebred or designer-mix dogs – will help attract potential adopters to the shelter who might not otherwise have come. Speaking to The Gabber Newspaper, she commented, “If someone has a pug in their mind as their ideal dog, and then they see a pug advertised through our website through this transfer program, that brings that person to our campus and gets them excited about the work we do.” (So far, program placements have included Havanese, Yorkshire terriers, and doodles.)

The struggle to compete with pet stores to bring adopters to shelters is part of a larger problem which has not been publicly discussed by the animal welfare community. The United States currently depends on high volume, kennel-based breeders to supply replacements for the roughly 8 million dogs who die a year as part of population turnover. We cannot depend on shelters to supply these dogs. Shelters are not producers of dogs; they serve as adoption centers for dogs who need homes.

Ideally, the US infrastructure for producing dogs would rely on breeders who are maintaining the parents in homes as companions, health testing, socializing puppies, and placing puppies in appropriate homes after meeting the new owners. The creation of such an infrastructure would benefit shelters: puppies born with the safety net of a breeder who would take them back at any time are much less likely to require the assistance of a shelter – and if they did end up there, well-socialized, healthy dogs are likely to be easy to place.

The FDC asks the different stakeholders in this complex problem to come together to address the issues with where dogs come from in the United States. We hope to engage with others in a conversation about what this infrastructure might look like, and how to get there. The FDC supports collaboration between breeders and shelters, and we hope that SPCA Tampa Bay’s new collaboration can become a step towards building bridges with breeders who do not plan to use shelters to rehome retired breeding animals or “imperfect” puppies. The FDC very much hopes to work with other groups to imagine and build a new infrastructure around an animal welfare-centric approach to breeding, and invites potential collaborators to reach out.