When we first tried to add a dog to our family two years ago, we contacted every rescue organization in our area. It was at the beginning of the pandemic (which coincided with the purchase of our first home), and there were no dogs available anywhere.
The rescue organizations were able to be choosy, and they set the bar high for families with young children. We felt this was unfair and discriminatory. We’re obviously good at taking care of people; why couldn’t we handle a dog?
Fast forward to when we brought our puppy home from a breeder when he was 8 weeks old. We got Truman from a woman who breeds dogs with a temperament ideal for families like ours; he was socialized with children from birth until we brought him home. The situation was as ideal as it gets, and even then, it was not ideal.
Our first month with Truman was harder than bringing home a new baby. I had to vigilantly monitor him every moment he was out of his crate, both for house training and behavioral reasons. He clashed with our young sons (it was mostly the fault of the boys, but a constant issue nevertheless). One son begged us to take him back to the breeder every day. Doing so was never an option on the table, though the thought was enticing on occasion.
We brought in a trainer, who helped us as much with kid training as he did with dog training. He constantly remarked that we were extremely lucky to have a dog with the temperament that we did. Most dogs faced with the antics like that of our kids would have snapped, not just lightly nipped like Truman had, he said.
Eventually, our kids and Truman grew used to each other. And now, Truman is such a beloved member of the family that it’s hard to remember those early, rough days. But we’re thankful we brought home a dog that was patient and calm enough to handle a mad house with soon to be a half-dozen small kids.
Which brings us to Meghan Markle and the questionable example she recently set.
While promoting her new podcast recently, the duchess of Sussex discussed the recent canine addition to the home she shares with Prince Harry and their two children — 3-year-old Archie and 1-year-old Lilibet. The Washington Post approvingly explained, “They wanted to specifically adopt a dog who had an abused and traumatized past.”
I asked Andrew Guindon, a certified dog trainer and owner of Total Dog Care in Ottawa, Canada, what he thought about the royals’ decision. His initial reaction: “Not all well intentioned celebrities should be emulated.”
Guindon went on to write, “These dogs almost certainly missed out on critical learning from their biological mother and from early human interactions, so without thousands of dollars to work with a behaviorist (in the absence of really solid experience and knowledge) and thousands of hours budgeted to bonding and training directly, it is not at all unreasonable to view this as a well-intentioned gesture that carries significant risks.”
Markle’s declaration that she would adopt an abused dog is reminiscent of the Biden family’s decision to do the same. Ultimately, the fate of “Major” Biden, the first rescue dog in the White House, was a sad one: after numerous behavioral issues, he was rehomed with “friends of the Bidens.”
Unfortunately, in many circles, there is a stigma associated with acquiring a dog by any means other than a shelter. “Adopt, don’t shop” is the mantra. This idea is perpetuated not only by people passionate about saving dogs, but also by well-meaning celebrities and public figures like Biden and Markle. For some, this is a way to signal virtue to the general public.
But the reality is that sometimes adopting a dog isn’t the right thing to do, both for the dog and the family. This is especially true for those with young children and demanding lives.
Parents should push back on this narrative and unashamedly bring home the dog that’s right for their family, even if that means it comes from a breeder instead of a rescue. This is an idea the “adopt, don’t shop” crowd will shout you down for. But it’s something that parents of young children need to hear, and it should be normalized to say, “My kid’s safety comes first.”
The Bidens and their rescue dog learned that lesson the hard way. It seems certain the Sussexes will as well.
Bethany Mandel is a contributing writer for Deseret News. She is a home-schooling mother of five and a widely published writer on politics, culture and Judaism. She is an editor for the children’s book series “Heroes of Liberty.”