Functional Puppies

Shelter Messaging and Policies – Ethical Dog Replacement Options for Communities

STAGE ONE: Shift From The Old Ways

Questions to Consider:

Work through these questions with your internal stakeholders; staff, volunteers, and board members.

  • How many new dogs does your community need each year, for population replacement? Here’s how to figure that out.
  • Beyond adopting, what does your organization consider good/ethical ways to acquire a dog? Here are consumer oriented resources on what to look for in a responsible breeder. This link leads to infographics and blogs from The Functional Dog Collaborative. Find a shareable resource from HSUS here.
  • How close is your organization to meeting the need for replacement dogs in your community each year? How close is your community to meeting that need, with all the ethical sources you’ve defined?
  • What is your organization recommending to people who are looking for a dog/puppy when they can’t find one at your organization?
    • How easy is it to get ethically sourced dogs/pups in your community – if the family wants or needs a small and fluffy type dog, or a first-time pet, or a family pet good with kids/other animals?
    • Are people able to get those pets at an affordable cost, or with financing? How many people are not able to afford the cost of ethically sourced puppies/dogs in your community?
    • Are people able to find those pets in a reasonable time frame? Most people are not able/willing to wait 6-24 months for a puppy to be born (current wait time for many responsible breeders).
  • Are there any sheltering organizations in, or near, your community that need help who you haven’t reached out to yet?
  • What breeding is happening in your community now? How well is that working? For example, in many communities, private homes are selling puppies at well under 8 weeks of age, and those pups often grow up into dogs who have a hard time succeeding as family pets.
  • How is your organization interacting with people who want their dog to have a litter so their friends/ family can get puppies from their loved pet?

What information or support are you providing to help them be successful in ensuring puppies get off to the best possible start? Or are people on their own to figure that out?

Messaging, Policy & Programming Considerations:


  • Ensure you are actively referring potential adopters to all other rescues & shelters in your area, if your organization doesn’t have a dog that they feel is a good match.
  • 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.” Puppy mills are absolutely not okay! But most breeders are not puppy mills.
  • Stop advocating for universal spay/neuter for every animal, without exception.
  • Stop messaging that intact animals and litters are inherently irresponsible.


Evaluate internal policies, and modify or eliminate those that are no longer relevant now that your area has passed the time of overpopulation. Examples can include:

  • Not allowing intact animals access to services such as vaccine clinics, temporary crisis housing assistance, pet food aid, or pet training classes.
  • Not allowing people who have intact animals at home to adopt a neutered pet from your organization
  • Requiring early age spay/neuter of behaviorally and medically healthy large breed dogs, except where required by state and/or local ordinances.


Spay/neuter Programming

  • Prioritize animals whose intact status puts them at risk (eg due to housing rules, or hormone induced behavior).
  • Focus your surgery efforts on animals who are still at high risk in your community, and are still experiencing true overpopulation. This often includes feral/community cats, and specific types of dogs that make up a high percentage of shelter intake.
  • Stop advocating for spay/neuter for pediatric animals for the public (unless they are in a category at high risk of overpopulation).
  • If you have the ability to foster (or transfer) pregnant moms, and place the puppies, stop spaying healthy pregnant dogs in your care.



We recognize that communities around the US experience different levels of overpopulation. On the following pages,we have outlined a series of questions to examine in your own community, along with recommendations for messaging and programmatic changes around ethical dog replacement options. Your organization can use any of this information from any stage, at any time! These stages are just suggestions.


Move on to the next stages!