Last week was my first Thanksgiving since Savannah left, and I was hungry for any way to bring canine energy into my home. When I learned there was a dog show on TV, I gave in, and curled up in the easy chair with a hot cup of tea.
I generally avoid watching that sort of thing at all costs, as it’s just too frustrating to see so much time, money, and marketing devoted to promoting an industry that turns the lives of dogs into a business, and supports breeders who intentionally bring more puppies into a world that can’t find safe homes for those who are already here. With millions of animals killed each year in pounds and shelters to make room for millions more, there’s a clear case for opening our hearts and homes to the dogs most at risk of becoming the next casualty of overpopulation, regardless of breed.

And yet, it’s also important to adopt an individual who is likely to feel comfortable participating in our routines and lifestyle choices, and whose temperament is well suited to our own. Does that mean we should only adopt a dog whose ancestry suggests he’s likely to have physical and emotional characteristics that are well matched to ours? Not at all. Without a doubt, my next canine soul mate may bear no resemblance whatsoever to any breed the American Kennel Club has ever heard of. We’ve all had our hearts stolen by dogs of every size, shape, and color, never mind lineage, heritage, or family tree. Some of the most wonderful pairings are the most serendipitous, especially when the canine seems to be the one doing the choosing.

Still, many of us are drawn to the traits common to a particular breed, and feel particularly at home with the feistiness of a Terrier, or the sweet, mellow sensitivity of a Dane, or the dreamy-eyed devotion of a Spaniel. The good news is that it still doesn’t mean we need to buy from a breeder, because the bad news is that an AKC pedigree is no guarantee against homelessness. Fortunately, breed rescue organizations exist for most every breed imaginable, from Afghan Hound to Yorkshire Terrier and everything in between, and they’re readily accessible via the internet. (Believe it or not, even the American Kennel Club includes a list of breed rescue organizations on its website. Of course, they include no less than three links to breeders in the short paragraph leading to the rescue groups—but those are easy enough to skip.)

Does adopting through a breed rescue mean you’re missing a chance to save a pup in the local pound? Not necessarily. Many of these organizations work with local pounds and shelters, and provide foster homes and permanent placement for dogs who appear to belong to the breed they care for. For example, Great Dane Rescue of Northern California routinely takes dogs who appear to be Danes from area pounds and shelters, and provides medical care, socialization, foster homes, or whatever is needed, then carefully screens prospective adoptive families. In doing so, they make space available at the pound for other dogs in need.

So whether you’re willing to follow your heart and find your next beloved without regard to identifiable breed, or prefer to fall in love with a Poodle or a Pomeranian, you can do so through adoption, and avoid funding an industry that relies on the buying and selling of lives. It’s as easy as googling “Poodle rescue” or “Giant Schnauzer rescue” or “Wirehaired Pointing Griffon rescue.” As long as we treasure them for what’s in their hearts more than the length of their hair or the shape of their ears, I think we’ll do okay.

As for that dog show—I can’t remember who won the blue ribbon. But I can tell you that the real star was the little Terrier who broke ranks from the formality of it all, and in the heat of the “Best in Show” competition dropped into a play bow, tail waving madly in the air, and barked a gleeful invitation to the judge to Come play with me! He reassured everyone that amid all those fancy hairdos and the fuss about form, the dogs know what really matters.