lab puppies in play house

Shelter Messaging and Policies – Ethical Dog Replacement Options for Communities

STAGE TWO: Support What is Already Happening

Questions to Consider:


How does your organization interact with different segments of your community about acquiring dogs, such as: social media, donors, adopters, participants of public S/N, vaccine clinics, or other assistance programs, etc.?

How does your organization feel about the following issues:

  • How can your organization provide resources to people who are already breeding dogs locally, to prevent or reduce the negative impact of puppy mill resurgence?
  • How can your organization provide resources to people who are seeking puppies and dogs to provide humane alternatives?
  • How can you support the breeding and buying already happening, to create better outcomes?
  • How can your organization be supportive and inclusive to different segments of your community?

How should new efforts and messaging be applied to these different segments of your community?

Breeding is happening in your community. Either animal welfare participates in creating the solution, or the free market will do it alone. The market may create solutions we don’t consider humane; puppy mills are a very effective, and profitable, way to fill the desire to have dogs. Our only choice is whether animal welfare participates in the solution, or if we’re willing to accept the alternative.

If your organization decides that the best ethical source for family dogs in the future is “humane breeders”– do the math:

  • How many humane breeders will it take to produce population replacement for your community? (see the Stage 1 exercise here for population replacement)

How many humane breeders currently exist in your community? How many dogs are they producing currently? How big is the gap for what is needed ?

  • If the current level of humane breeders can’t produce enough to meet the population
    replacement, how many more would be needed? How will that be solved? Who will solve it? What time frame is needed to do that?
  • If your organization’s approved humane sources aren’t able to fill the need for population replacement, the community will need to expand options.

two dogs cuddlingWill your strategy be to try to decrease demand?
Many organizations feel that if the need for sheltering is no longer there, we should “put ourselves out of business”. What would that look like? Promote or launch a dog sharing program? Message about patience or given up the idea of owning a dog?


Messaging & Programming Recommendations:

  • If one strategy is to try to decrease demand, consider creating support systems and messaging around responsible dog sharing programs. More information about these here.
  • Give prospective adopters a realistic understanding of the availability of shelter/rescue dogs in your community. If they are looking for a specific breed/type of dog (i.e., a Yorkie puppy), they will need to find a humane breeder.
  • Provide information for people in your community about the difference between puppy mills and humane breeders and how to seek an ethical breeder. Consider these resources from the Functional Dog Collaborative and HSUS as options.
  • Begin outreach to local breeders & breed clubs, in an effort to strengthen relationships and understand their perspective. Consider creating a list of “approved” ethical breeders that your organization can use as a referral.
  • Continue language that focuses spay/neuter efforts on at-risk animals, not all animals.
  • Ensure that you have eliminated all messaging and storytelling that says or implies that intact animals and all litters are inherently irresponsible.
  • Unless there are significant medical or behavioral concerns with a specific animal, find foster homes for all pregnant dogs, and raise the offspring for adoption placement.

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 stage or go back to the first!