What is the real message behind National Puppy Day?

Many people will spend their day Wednesday watching puppy videos or posting photos of their dogs online, but the day also helps puppies who need a home.

Rachel Denny Clow/Corpus Christi Caller-Times/AP
Alana Pacheco plays with her puppies, Rosco and Pepe, in the surf near Bob Hall Pier on Friday, in Corpus Christi, Texas. On this National Puppy Day, Tuesday, March 23, animal rights advocates urge the American public to look to shelters for thier next canine companion.

National Puppy Day is March 23, giving all dog-enthusiasts a valid excuse to fawn over cute online puppy photos. 

But National Puppy Day is about more than just watching adorable puppy videos. Since it was established in 2006, National Puppy Day is designed to persuade dog owners to “adopt instead of shop.” 

“The tragedy of puppy mills is that they don’t care about the animals more than a commodity to be sold,” says the National Puppy Day website. “National Puppy Day encourages you to always consider adoption first and don’t forget the importance of spaying and neutering to reduce the overpopulation of unwanted pets and unnecessary suffering.” 

Many prospective owners go to breeders or pet stores to find their dog because they are looking for a certain breed or age. And while not all breeding businesses operate as “puppy mills” with deplorable conditions and the sole aim of breeding as many puppies for profit as possible, National Puppy Day aims to spread awareness about how many dogs are euthanized or left to live in shelters each year in the United States. 

According to the ASPCA, 3.9 million dogs enter US animal shelters each year. And of these dogs, 1.4 million dogs are adopted out the animal shelters, 1.2 million are euthanized and the remaining dogs are eventually returned to their owners.  

“Maybe not a lot of people are aware that shelters and rescues are filled with puppies,” Guinnevere Shuster, photographer and social media coordinator at the Humane Society of Utah, tells CNN. “Even if you’re looking for a younger dog, the chances are you can find one that needs a home at a shelter or rescue.”

Especially considering that dogs in the US continue to be in high demand. The Humane Society of the United States suggests in a 2015-2016 survey that 44 percent of all US households – 54.4 million – own at least one dog. 

To accurately celebrate the 10th anniversary of National Puppy Day, its founder Colleen Paige urges dog lovers across the US to think before buying a puppy. Instead of encouraging the horrible business of puppy mills, Ms. Paige encourages potential dog owners to visit local shelters, rescues or pure breed rescue organizations. Because even if potential owners want a specific breed, it doesn't have to reinforce the puppy mill industry.

"People need to do their homework if they want to buy a pure breed puppy from a breeder," writes Paige. "Better yet, there are many pure breed puppies and young adult dogs that are orphaned for one reason or another and there are plenty of pure breed rescues that you can visit to give one or more of them a forever home."

But the prevalence of puppy mills is not consistent throughout the US. And while regional stereotypes are not accurate either, the South tends to have far more strays than the North.

In a story for The Christian Science Monitor, Peter Zheutlin took a closer look at this is discrepancy, and found that it exists for several reasons. 

“First and foremost, they tell me, there is no strong culture of spaying and neutering dogs in many parts of the region,” Zheutlin explains. “Another reason is that in many parts of the South dogs aren’t seen as companion animals, as they are in the North, but more as property.

“And there’s a lot of backyard breeding, people hoping to make a few dollars peddling puppies,” adds Zheutlin. “If they can’t sell the puppies, they abandon them. Finding litters of live puppies left by the roadside is not uncommon. It’s a deeply rooted and complex cultural and social problem.” 

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