“How much is that doggie in the window?” Doesn’t that automatically make you sing that little melody?
Not quite so cute when it comes to puppy mills and stores that sell them.
Recently, in local news, there has been an outcry over the opening of a new location of a chain pet store in St. Louis that sells live puppies.
And in many of the comments on social media, the picket signs, and everywhere you look, you’ll see the same slogan: “Adopt, don’t shop!”
It’s a good policy… for some people, some of the time.
There is a popular argument that there’s no reason for anyone ever to go to a breeder. Adopt, don’t shop! After all, you can find any kind of pet you could possibly dream of in a shelter! And the thing is… that’s not entirely true. If you’re looking for a good dog, you’ll find one. You’ll find friendly dogs, active dogs, calm dogs, puppies, dogs already known to be good with cats and children, dog park-appropriate dogs, dogs who love water, dogs who don’t have separation anxiety, housebroken dogs, cuddly dogs, lazy dogs, smart dogs, and so forth.
What you won’t find very often are purebred or designer-breed puppies.
Also difficult? Puppies that come with any kind of guarantee that they’ll be any specific size at all. Unless both parents are known, which is rare in rescue, there’s little point in making a guess beyond a pretty broad range. How big will these puppies be? Well, bigger than they are now and smaller than a VW bus.
There are a lot of reasons to rescue. Pet overpopulation is a real problem and adoption saves lives. Even with a well-bred purebred, there are no real guarantees in terms of health or temperament. Anyone who has siblings knows that just having the same parents doesn’t mean you have the same personality. There are animals out there who need homes and if you’ve got a home that needs an animal, the kind and charitable thing to do is to go choose one of those.
But it’s important to remember that there are options beyond shelter or puppy mill. It’s simplistic to believe that, if you’re not “part of the solution,” your only other option is to be “part of the problem.” Adopting a shelter dog, who will almost always be a dog of an unknown breed, is not for everyone. Maybe you’re looking for a specific size, temperament, coat type, or a dog bred to do a specific job. Maybe it’s just aesthetic reasons or because your favorite celebrity has one. The point is, for whatever reason, let’s say you’ve decided to go the purebred or designer mix route. You’ve done your reading and decided that there’s a specific breed that will be a good fit for your household and lifestyle and that you’re prepared to meet the needs and challenges that might come with it. That’s awesome! But do it responsibly.
First and most obvious? Don’t buy puppies at a pet store. Just don’t. Responsible breeders don’t sell their puppies to pet stores to be sold on to any member of the public who can come up with the money. Period. That’s not something you do to an animal you love and value. Sure, the puppies look clean and healthy in their online photos and may look clean and healthy in person. But puppies don’t come out of thin air. Somewhere, there’s a mama dog. Personally, the mama dogs have my heart. I’ve fostered dozens and dozens of puppy mill mamas. I’ve loved the wonky haircuts they’ve needed after their numerous mats were cut out. I’ve held them all night long after their spays, made delicate and difficult by years spent churning out litter after litter. I’ve loved them from afar for months and months when no human in their lives ever gave them any reason to believe that people could be trusted to be kind and I’ve celebrated when their fear started to ease. Puppy mills are very real things and there are very real consequences for the dogs that grow up there. The mama dogs may be out of sight, but they still matter.
That’s why, if you’re looking to buy a puppy from a responsible breeder, the first thing you should look for is your puppy’s mother. You should be allowed to meet her and see where she spends most of her time. Is she healthy? Well-groomed? Clean? How does she react to people, especially the breeder? Does she go to them eagerly, as you would expect a pet would to their person? Is she well-socialized and living what you would consider a good life for a dog? Keep an eye out for red flags:
- Are there more animals than the breeder can responsibly care for?
- Are there many different breeds of dog? A careful, responsible breeder doing it for love of the breed should specialize and be an expert in one or two breeds, not nine.
- Do they advertise fancy colors or patterns that aren’t typical for the breed? That may be a sign that they’re breeding for appearance, sometimes (depending on the breed) at the expense of health.
- Do they sell puppies “no questions asked” to anyone who can pay?
- Are they unable to provide veterinary records showing puppy shots and deworming (no, “I gave them the shots myself” is not legit. A good breeder will take them to a real vet)?
- Are they advertising or selling puppies under 8 weeks of age?
These are all signs you might want to pay close attention to the rest of your breeder’s operation and decide carefully if you want to support them.
How do you go about finding those good breeders, then? The quickest way is to look up your local breed club or check out The AKC. Just Google [your breed] club [your city] and see what pops up! They will often have a listing on their website and they may have meetings or a contact you can use to ask questions. Your veterinarian may also have recommendations or may be able to direct you to someone else who knows more. Some dog parks and dog bars have breed meetup nights and, if your preferred breed is a popular one, you may be able to find one to attend and meet other like-minded individuals.
If you’re a gregarious type, just ask around to see where people got their dogs and if they have any recommendations. Plus, bonus, you get to play with a bunch of your favorite breed of dog! Keep in mind that going the responsible route takes some doing and some patience, which is why even people who know better will still sometimes impulse-buy a pet store puppy.
A well-bred puppy is- and should be- expensive. A very good breeder will often have a waiting list and will have some, if not all, of the puppies in the litter spoken for before they’re born. In general, buying a puppy from a responsible breeder is not something you can decide to do on Friday and then be on your way home with a puppy on Saturday. It’s a big decision and a relationship you’re forming, which, ideally, will benefit you and your beloved new dog for the rest of their lives. So weigh your options. Consider rescue as a first choice. And if you go with a breeder, it’s worth the extra effort to find a good one.
Here at 4-Legged Kids we are Switzerland on this subject! We LOVE rescue and support them with our mission and every service we provide allows us to donate a meal to one of our chosen rescue groups. Read more about our GIVING program.
But…we also love our breeds and want to make sure you are making wise decisions when you add a new member to your family! If you are heading out of town or looking for daytime walking relief for your new doggo just take a look at our services.
Janie founded 4-Legged Kids, Inc in St. Louis, Missouri, in 1997 and provides education through her PetBizHIVE podcast and her PetBizMBA membership and courses. She is a Certified Professional Animal Care Operator, Fear Free certified and a Certified Professional Pet Sitter. Learn more about the Founder, Janie Budnick.