The Breeder Misconception
There's a mantra that's been going around and gaining popularity in recent years: Adopt, Don't Shop. You can see the appeal - thousands upon thousands of poor souls are indeed lost in shelters, forlornly waiting for families to belong to. The root causes of this problem are swathed in a lack of information, which makes it easy to point the finger at a more known quantity: breeders. The issue here is that since reputable breeders are not one of the sources of this problem, leveling the finger of blame at them won't help to solve it, and indeed does a lot of harm.
The majority of the dogs in shelters are mixed breeds. Why it matters: We need to have a clear understanding between what constitutes a reputable breeder and...everyone else. The fact that the majority of the dogs in shelters are mixed breeds is proof that most of these souls come from backyard breeders, puppy mills, "accidental" encounters or a similar situation. Please note that someone who mates their dog for "fun," for "their kids to have an experience" or for "money" is NOT a breeder, let alone a reputable one. Backyard breeders and many designer dog breeders fall under these categories, as do all puppy mills. How can you spot a reputable breeder? A reputable breeder:
1) is in it for the love of their breed. Money doesn't factor into it; in fact, when all of the expenses of having and raising a healthy litter are accounted for, that $1000 or $1500 that you pay for a puppy is gone - not into the breeder's pocket, but to covering all of the inherent costs involved in preserving their chosen breed.
2) conducts health tests and is hyper aware of temperament; their goal is to strengthen bloodlines with the healthiest, soundest dogs possible.
3) will "inspect" you carefully. Since a reputable breeder is not in it for the money, they inspect their potential puppy buyers carefully. They want their babies to go to good homes and families, and will do everything they can to ensure this.
4) will put you under contract. Yes, reputable breeders have contracts for you to sign; again, they will do everything they can to ensure their pups go to the best homes.
5) will match the breed and often a particular puppy to the specific environment and lifestyle of those who are looking to adopt. Reputable breeders want their puppies and their puppies' people to be as good a fit as possible. Border collies, for example, are very active and therefore should be with active people. A reputable Samoyed breeder would not put one of their puppies in an apartment home, whereas a Chow could fit into an apartment life quite comfortably if taken on daily walks. A reputable breeder with an alpha personality puppy would not place that puppy in a home with young children. Most puppies raised by reputable breeders go to pet homes, and breeders want to get the right match.
6) will take their dogs back. And here is a major crux of why reputable breeders are not part of the shelter dog problem. If for some reason you are not able to keep the dog you bought from them, a reputable breeder will take their baby back. They do not want their little ones to end up in shelters.
There are over 300 pure dog breeds out there. Many of them are ancient, going back thousands of years. Some are on the verge of extinction. All of them are beautiful, with their own breed purpose, quirks and overall characteristics. Not all of them are the right breed for everyone, and that is how it should be. A border collie is for herding, or for families with very active lifestyles. A Pyrenean Mastiff is for livestock guarding, or for those who like to chill and go on the occasional (not too strenuous) adventure. A Tibetan Spaniel is for those who want a family member who is precocious, independent-minded, "cat-like" and full of love (on their own terms, of course). All of these pure breeds are precious, a part of our history, and should be preserved, protected and continued. By reputable breeders and informed buyers.
In no way am I trying to discourage anyone from adopting a shelter baby. These precious souls need homes and families, too, and if you're able to open up your house and heart to them, please, please do. But consider how they most likely would have ended up on the streets, in the shelter, in foster care... Chances are, the people who abandoned them did not do their research first - about the reality of having a dog in the first place, about what type of dog would best suit them, or where and whom to get a dog from.
That is the root of the shelter dog issue. The bottom line? Research is key.