Adopt Don't Shop

Choose Wisely

As an English major, diction is very important to me. A choice of words is a choice of worlds. Without exposure to Dog World, there can be confusion about the meaning of the language used. I will try to clarify some of Dog World jargon with both the dictionary definitions (denotation) and the connotation (the idea or feeling that a word invokes in addition to its literal or primary meaning). Often the connotation does not match up with the assumed denotation - for example; we know that even if the literal definitions are the same, there is a genuine difference between a butt dial and a booty call.

There is controversy among breeders about the use and meaning of the word ADOPT when acquiring a dog. Part of the reason is the prevelance of the phrase Adopt Don’t Shop and the propaganda levied against all breeders, ethical or not. Taking the phrase at face value, I very much support the idea of families considering rescued dogs as future family members. I also completely agree that shopping at a pet store to buy a puppy is immoral and indefensible.

I understand the motivation of the general public to use the word adopt. The denotation of adopting is: to choose or acquire by one’s own selection; or, to take responsibility for raising as one's own, specifically by a formal legal act. To me, that definition matches the choice to purchase from a breeder (though the dictionary does note the word is used “especially” for pets from animal rescue organizations, then we get into the tangle of the definition of the word especially...).

As for the connotation, I understand the reluctance to use the term purchase because buying a dog is not emotionally the same as purchasing other goods and services. The term adopt is meant to be tactful; they recognize this is a unique living soul, not an item interchangeable with another, and acknowledge the significance of the request and responsibility. It is a solemn, meaningful decision to make this living creature a part of their family, not just everyday commerce, and choosing the word to adopt is meant with a positive connotation to reflect that perception.

However, using the word adopt instead of purchase gives credence to the Adopt Don’t Shop cause. Sometimes people will send an inquiry to a breeder to adopt one of their puppies, intending the word to be understood with the above connotation. Some breeders will reject requests like this immediately, insisting that only the terms BUY or PURCHASE are acceptable. To some breeders, adoption is a term only applicable to rescued dogs without a home. By definition, any dog produced by an ethical breeder will never be without a home and someone to care for them. The breeder will always provide a haven for any dog they produce, so to say that a puppy has been adopted insinuates that the puppy needed to be saved from a bad situation. Therefore the word has negative connotations which breeders do not want to be associated with their program or the puppies they produce.

The suspicion from breeders of using the word adopt is a knee-jerk reaction to being vilified by animal rights organizations. There is concern that people feel pressure to use the term adopt and believe in the negative connotation of “shopping” for a puppy from a breeder. The worry is if an individual describes themselves as adopting a puppy, will they accidentally be communicating to others that they don’t support breeders, or even the idea of responsible breeding, and think people should only ever adopt a rescue. They may be ashamed to admit they purchased their puppy from a breeder rather than share that information proudly. Or worse, they may purposefully misrepresent the puppy's origin (I rescued them from a puppy mill), condemn all breeders (or perhaps say their breeder was a rare exception), and actively campaign and persuade others to outlaw breeding dogs in any form.

Personally, I understand why someone would use the term adopt when they want to buy a puppy from a breeder. I won’t be upset if someone asks about adopting a puppy from me, but I will send them this blog to discuss and clarify those definitions. I also understand the concern from breeders about the moral and legal implications of Adopt Don’t Shop ideology. I hope you will use this information to challenge the negative beliefs about breeding that compel people to disapprove of buying a dog from an ethical breeder. The connotation of words are constantly changing, so I will inevitably be back in the future to update my interpretation of these words. But I hope this clarification can help breeders and puppy seekers understand each other a little better.