Happy holidays! A lot of people add dogs to their families this time of year so I thought it appropriate to launch a series on puppies. I am starting with how to find a puppy because this is something I am passionate about. Like it or not, dogs are a commodity in our country and as soon as we accept that and educate the consumers the better this place will get for dogs.
There are so many ways to go about getting a dog these days, it is easy to see why people jump to what is easiest (not necessarily what is most ethical). Here are your options, with my opnions on each.
You can buy a puppy from a commercial breeder. Commercial breeders often sell puppies to pet stores, but as more and more cities ban this option (and for good reason, in my humble opinion), commercial breeders are finding the magic of the internet to be to their advantage. All one need to do is google their desired breed and they will find a multitude of websites where all they need to do is enter their Paypal account and click BUY NOW. I am going to risk tomatoes being thrown at my head here, but as I’ve said before I do not fear conflict or produce, so here it is: if you buy a puppy from a store or off a website you are buying a puppy from a commercial breeder, and the non-PC term for commercial breeder is PUPPY MILL. Puppy mills are factory farms for dogs. They are USDA-licensed facilities that mass-produce puppies for profit. Some are more horrific than others, but in general if you saw the conditions the dogs live in you would not approve (if you have a heart). They are legal because dog breeding is considered an agricultural business. When the pet shop in the mall assures you that their puppies come from “licensed breeders” to make you feel better, they are not lying, but that should make you RUN in the other direction, not feel better. When a website assures you that they are licensed, inspected, blah-dee-blah, they are not lying either but that doesn’t mean much!
You can buy a puppy from a non-commercial breeder. Not sure if the breeder you found is commercial? Here are some hints: commercial breeders have A LOT of dogs and almost always have a litter available. Non-commercial breeders might have quite a few dogs, but they have litters occasionally, and their litters are typically whelped inside their home, not in a kennel facility. They are typically not licensed because they don’t produce enough dogs to have to be licensed. Now, not all of these people are reputable. Many people just decide to breed their dog for fun or as a hobby or it may happen by accident. In my personal and humble I-train-them-I-don’t-breed-them opinion, a “good” breeder meets the following criteria, at a minimum:
- A good breeder keeps track of and takes care of every single puppy she brings onto this earth. She knows where they live, how they’re doing, and takes them back if something doesn’t work out. If all breeders did only this, we would have no dogs in shelters. None.
- A good breeder will interview the snot out of you. You SHOULD have to jump through hoops to prove yourself worthy of one of her puppies because after all, she puts her heart and soul into those puppies and she wants to make sure you will take good care of the one you get. She will talk to you a lot and she may ask to see your home. That is a reasonable request, it means she cares.
- A good breeder will make you sign a contract. This contract will involve the first bullet point and will also involve the breeding rights of your pet. This is how good breeders not only make sure their dogs never wind up in shelters, it is how they make sure none of their dogs produce dogs that go to shelters either.
- A good breeder makes sure her dogs are healthy by doing health tests on all of her breeding animals, and she might insist that you do health tests on your non-breeding animal, to be sure she isn’t producing any health problems. She will inform you of common health issues in the breed, and she won’t hide the warts in her own breeding history (no line of dogs is problem-free, if she says hers is, she is lying).
I add another personal caveat for myself when I buy a puppy, which is that I feel dogs should be what I call “purpose-bred.” With so many unwanted dogs on the earth, I don’t think it’s ok to produce more without a purpose in mind. I have my own opinions on what counts as a purpose and what doesn’t, but I fear I would offend far too many people with those opinions for that to be discussed here.
Finding a breeder like this isn’t the easiest thing to do, which is a big problem! Start by deciding what breed you want, then visit that breed’s parent club website. You can find those sites by going to a larger kennel club’s site (like the American Kennel Club or the United Kennel Club) and then start talking to people in your area. If you have a great trainer or veterinarian you might ask them, too. Keep looking! Understand that this might take a long time, and that once you find your breeder (I searched for three years before I found Idgie’s breeder) you might have to wait another long chunk of time before you have a puppy in your hands (I then waited another year for a puppy). Be patient! Talk to lots of people.
Finally, you can rescue a puppy. That’s right, Virginia, you CAN get a great puppy from a shelter or rescue organization. I will write a later blog about adopting an adult dog, but this is puppy week, so here’s the rundown. There are a lot of “puppy-only” rescue organizations out there right now and they’re not all legitimate, so be careful and again, talk to a lot of people. Getting a rescue puppy is basically a gamble, but tomorrow I will write about selecting a puppy, so no worries. Just call around, see who has puppies, and don’t be afraid to drive around to a lot of shelters and have a look. I know a lot of people who have absolutely amazing dogs that they adopted from shelters, so don’t believe any hogwash about shelter dogs being defective in some way. Most often, they were dumped in a shelter because a person screwed up, not because they are damaged goods. My friend Jill has had three amazing rescue puppies, check out her story here.
Now you know how to look for and hopefully find a puppy. Tomorrow, how the heck do you choose?