This chapter shows you the options you have in finding a dog. If you already know the breed of dog you want, the explanation of the differences in breeding operations will help you to decide where and how you want to urchase a puppy. However, you may feel it is preferable not to purchase a dog when there are so many homeless dogs already. You also may not want to participate in the economic circle of pet stores after learning the disturbing facts about where and how they procure puppies (pages 27-29). Instead of getting a purebred puppy, you may want to explore alternative ways of having a dog join your home: buying from a private breeder, getting a pooch from an animal shelter or from one of the volunteer organizations for specific breeds, or adopting a dog directly from a person.
In Chapter Two you will find: Wholesale breeders (also known as “puppy mills”) and the pet stores that sell the pups Private breeders (who raise show dogs and sell the “pet-quality” dogs to individuals) “Backyard” breeders—uninformed owners of one or two dogs Genetic testing of parents—? “Second-chance” dogs—a puppy, “near-puppy” or an adult dog Animal shelters—making the most of the system Breed-rescues—finding the breed you want and saving a life
Wholesale Breeders, AKA “Puppy Mills”
According to the Humane Society of the United States, there are about 4,000 puppy mills, most of which operate in the Midwest, although there are also a significant number in Pennsylvania. Many of the farms were previously pig or chicken farms. Many of the volume dog breeders have attitudes that reflect those barnyard origins—which would explain why there is no “quality of life” for the moms and pups and no attempt to breed for genetic health. Mother dogs churn out litter after litter—mating pairs are kept together so there is no time for the mother to recover and rest between pregnancies—and they are bred nonstop, often inbred with dogs related to them. There is minimal veterinary care, poorquality food and little, if any, interaction with humans. The dogs often live stacked in crowded wire cages on top of each other, with urine and feces falling down onto the dogs below them. Dogs are killed when they become critically ill or too worn out to keep producing constant, plentiful litters. It is common practice at some kennels to feed the bodies of deceased dogs to the survivors. Puppies from mills are raised in an environment without enough human handling and stimulation. They are taken away from the litter at far too young an age for proper development, and they lose important socialization time. These barely weaned puppies are emotionally frightened and often physically sickened by their dispersal and journeys to pet stores across the country—and once there, they will go into small wire and glass cages to await purchase. When people talk about laws to improve conditions for breeding bitches and young pups at puppy mills, what they don’t seem to understand is that these “dog factories” are governed by the rules and regulations of the USDA, the same as the wholesale pig or chicken operations that used to occupy these farms. The government acknowledges that it lacks the necessary number of inspectors to oversee puppy farms—just a handful of employees for the hundreds of thousands of puppies born yearly—but in any case the USDA regulations they are enforcing were originally intended to apply to animals destined to be killed and consumed. Another issue with puppies from wholesale producers is the complexity of transporting thousands of tiny puppies across a vast country so that they reach pet stores when they are still only eight weeks old. Optimally, puppies should remain with their litters until they reach that age. However, to be most saleable, pups need to be in the retail destinations while they are still very young—which means they’ll have missed the essential developmental period of six to eight weeks when they should be interacting with their littermates, learning how to behave with other dogs throughout their lives (see page 72 for more on this). Consumer demand pushes these tiny pups out of the nest, which is just dandy for the farmers because the less time the “stock” spends at the farm, the less expense for the producers and the greater the profit per unit. Remember, just because they have the cute word “puppy” in front of their description, these are just businesses like any other. Whether making widgets or eggs, they are looking for the greatest profit margin. What buyers don’t consider when they “oooh” and “aaah” over the puppies in a pet store’s window is what went into getting “their” puppy into that cage: the complexity of getting the right puppy to the right pet store across a vast nation is almost a canine version of a troop movement. There are numerous logistics involved in filling the requests of individual pet stores (which might need one or a dozen puppies of different breeds) and then transporting thousands of these little dogs. The process is streamlined because puppy farmers do not deal directly with pet stores: there are middlemen, the puppy brokers who organize and disperse the truckloads of puppies that constantly arrive at their holding facilities. These brokers organize birth documents (their phone number appears as the “breeder” on the AKC registration form of most pet-store puppies—which is why those buyers can never reach their dog’s actual breeder) and then the broker coordinates transportation. The Hunte Corporation is the dominant puppy broker in the country, but they do not speak to the press or public—why should they be put on the defensive and hassle with questions since their business keeps humming with strong supply and demand (which is to say, every single person who buys a pet store puppy)? To give an idea of the volume of puppies being processed just at Hunte, the corporation employs seven full-time veterinarians to fill out health certificates for interstate transportation of the puppies. Another example of the staggering volume of these operations is what was known as the “Missouri Five” puppy-mill auction held in Montgomery City, Missouri, on November 19, 2000. Rescue volunteers for several breed-rescue groups went there to buy the freedom of dogs by posing as commercial breeders looking to acquire breeding stock. Volunteers from the local Weimaraner rescue went to the liquidation sale of one commercial breeding facility that had more than 3,000 registered dogs. Many of the dogs were closely related; many of the breeding bitches had been born at the mill and bred nonstop for five years. Each dog cost $75 to buy out. Most were so unaccustomed to being with people that it took years to socialize them enough to be adopted into normal homes.
PET STORES AND YOUR PART IN THE EQUATION
Puppies from “the mills” are the end product of an assembly-line mass production of dogs: 300,000 to 400,000 puppies a year are sold to pet stores, which are the only sales outlet for these operations. People opposed to commercial dog breeding say that if you are a softhearted person you should never set foot inside a pet store, because you’ll feel sorry for the dogs and think they’re so cute that you’ll just have to take one home. People mistakenly think they are “saving a puppy’s life” by buying it, when what they are actually doing is personally supporting puppy mills and encouraging and extending the suffering of the puppy’s mother by perpetuating the cycle of mass puppy production. It is bad for a puppy’s health and emotional well-being to be stuck in a tiny area behind glass. It is lonely and traumatic to be alone in a shop window with people banging on the glass. It is equally unhealthy to be one of twenty-five puppies in one glass room, a central problem being that the most aggressive puppies eat too much while others get no food at all. I do understand the convenience of being able to go to a store and buy the exact kind of dog you want, right when you want it—sort of like going into a car dealership and wanting the model, color and options on a car that you can drive right out of the showroom. As you probably know, that’s not always easy, even with a car. Impulse buying is a common phenomenon, and impatience about getting what we want, when we want it, is something we should probably guard against in general. Even when you’re shopping for a new sofa you go around to a few stores; once you see one you like, you’ll probably have to wait months before they can deliver it. Surely you should be willing to do at least that much where buying a dog is concerned? No matter how enthusiastic you or other family members may be, take a deep breath and realize that a dog is not an object you’re collecting, but a living, feeling being who will become part of your family for years to come. You owe it to yourself and to the little critter to invest the time and make the effort to make a careful decision. If you are disturbed by what you’ve learned about puppy mills and wonder how wholesale “dog farming” continues, the answer turns out to be quite simple: supply and demand. Business is driven by economics: puppy mills are profitable because the markup is gigantic on an “in-demand commodity.” There would be nothing more to make a fuss about if people were to buy puppies from private breeders instead of supporting the system that puts puppies in pet-store windows.
QUESTIONABLE CLAIMS MADE BY PET STORES
♦ “Our Puppies Come from Good, Reputable Breeders.”
It cannot be true when a pet store assures you that its puppies are from “good” breeders, because responsible breeders belong to the nationally recognized organization of their breed. And the fact is that all members of those groups sign an agreement when they join vowing that they will never sell a puppy to a pet store. Good breeders would never subject their offspring to a pet-store setting and the unpredictability of where their puppies can wind up. This should tell you everything you need to know about the relationship between commercial breeders and pet stores.
♦ “We Buy Only from USDA-licensed Brokers.”
This is a pointless claim since the USDA is the department of agriculture, a government agency that oversees livestock—generally that are destined for the dinner table. As mentioned before, there is an insufficient number of inspectors, but in any case their criteria for evaluating a facility are not applicable to pets. USDA rules and licenses have nothing to do with conscientious breeding practices for companion animals, nor with humane and beneficial puppy-rearing techniques.
♦ “Health Guaranteed”
This sounds like a reassuring promise to offer: that if anything should be physically wrong with the puppy they will pay for its care or replace it. However, there are now “doggie lemon laws” in twenty states that have laws or regulations that allow consumers to be reimbursed for vet bills or receive a full refund for a puppy that was sick when purchased, so this promise is pretty much required by law. Instead of offering to “swap” a defective puppy like it’s a piece of equipment, what pet stores should be doing is avoiding puppies unless they have certifiable proof that the breeding parents were free of genetic defects or are not carriers of them. You want genetic testing before breeding—not a guarantee after the fact for problems that could have been prevented.
♦ “I’ll Bring the Puppy to Your Door.”
Avoid anyone offering to “bring a puppy to your door direct from the breeder.” This is some version of a middleman who has found a way to bypass the pet store to bring you a “puppy mill” puppy, keeping the substantial profit for himself but denying you the recourse and backup of buying from an established retail outlet.