Intro to dogs: Man’s unwanted best friends

We live in one of the most dog-friendly areas of the world. According to, a website developed in the 1990s to help dog owners find pet-friendly hotels and attractions, Vancouver is the second most dog-friendly city in North America (first place going to Chicago). The city of Vancouver states, in its online pamphlet Rex in the City: A Dog’s Guide to Living in the City of Vancouver, more than 100,000 dogs live in the city.

Before you rush off to your local shelter or start searching for dog breeders, to add to that number, you need to pause and think about what welcoming a dog into your home means, or else you might inadvertently contribute to the ever-growing problem of homeless dogs.

Christina Micarelli is a co-founder of 4 Paws Dog Rescue in southern New Jersey. The 26-year-old dog-lover is also on her way to becoming a certified dog trainer. “After working in the shelter for many years,” she said, “it is heartbreaking to see how many perfectly good dogs find themselves sitting in a kennel hoping to be adopted because of no fault of their own.”

Every year, thousands of unwanted pets end up in shelters throughout North America. In 2013, the BC SPCA rescued “24,636 injured, homeless, neglected and abused animals.” According to the most recent data available from the Canadian Federation of Humane Societies, over 53,000 dogs were taken in by shelters in Canada in 2012.

“Dogs are surrendered to the shelter by their owners every day for reasons like financial instability, pet restrictions, allergies and life changing events, like a new baby being born or a new job,” Micarelli said. “That’s why I always encourage people to think about it for a while before actually bringing home a dog.”

All dogs, regardless of their breed, age or gender, are going to require a few basic things: food, exercise, mental stimulation (i.e. training), veterinary trips and some sort of grooming. “The most important thing to consider before getting a dog is, ‘Do I have the time and the financial resources for this commitment,’” said Kevin Moriarty, a dog trainer from Longmeadow, Massachusetts. Moriarty has been working with dogs in some fashion – from teaming up with search and rescue organizations to helping new owners through puppyhood – for over 30 years. “People greatly underestimate the huge amount of time and interaction a dog needs from puppyhood through the next 12-14 years,” he said.

“Dogs also get surrendered for behavioural problems,” Moriarty said. “That’s why, aside from food and vet bills, stuff like that, you have to be prepared for training. That’s a huge component of having a dog that again, for some reason, people overlook.”

If you still think you’re ready to have a dog in your life, one question remains: Should you get a puppy from a breeder or adopt a dog from a shelter?

“I am a huge advocate for adopting dogs instead of buying from breeders,” said Micarelli. “When you adopt a dog, you are saving two lives, the life of the dog you adopted as well as opening a kennel for a dog that may have been put down otherwise.”

There are many shelters where healthy animals are euthanized because they don’t have enough room. According to the Canadian Federation of Humane Societies, 16 per cent of dogs taken in by shelters are euthanized. In the United States, it is estimated that three per cent of dogs and cats taken into shelters are euthanized every year, about 2.7 million animals.

Even purebred dogs, like a German Shepherd or a Yorkshire Terrier, can be found in shelters and through special rescue groups.

“I hear that so often from people,” Micarelli said, “but many pure bred dogs end up in shelters and there are several breed-specific rescues around. With a little bit of research, you could adopt or rescue the exact dog you are looking for.”

According to, after compiling data from sites such as the American Humane Society, Born Free USA (an animal advocacy group), and Pet Finder, it is estimated that approximately 25 per cent of dogs in shelters are purebred dogs.

“Both [options] are always a gamble,” Moriarty said. “You can do all your research and spend a ton of money with a breeder and still have problems. You can adopt a dog and not know anything about his past, good, bad, or ugly. With a rescue or adoption, you are doing a great thing by giving the dog a better life and with some training, you can also end up with a great dog.”

• • •
This is part one in a series on dog ownership. The next installment of Intro to Dogs: A beginner’s guide to responsible dog ownership, will cover everything you need to know about finding a healthy, responsible breeder.

Taylor Lima

New England native relocated to British Columbia. For the past 12 years, my hobbies have revolved around animals, from 4-H club to teaching horseback riding lessons, to apprenticing under a dog trainer with more than 20 years experience. When I realized veterinary school wasn't a good fit for me, I decided to write about the things I love, instead.


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    Reply October 12, 2014


    The numbers are staggering. It breaks my heart to learn that approximately 2.7 million animals are euthanized each year in the US and that the BCSPCA rescued 24, 636 animals in 2013. Thankfully, there are people like Christina Micarelli of 4 Paws Dog Rescue, that make it their mission to help our four-legged friends that have fallen on hard times.

  • […] a new dog into your family – and you’re sure you’d rather get a puppy from a breeder than adopt a dog from a shelter – then the next step is to figure out what breed of dog is right for […]

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