Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Pet Store Puppies

(Contributed by Lori Whitwam)

Every so often, a client will bring a new puppy to our clinic and announce that they “rescued” it from a pet store. They mean that the conditions in the store were unpleasant and unhealthy, the puppies were overcrowded, dirty, or perhaps even sickly. In their minds, they’ve “saved” that puppy from spending one more moment in such an environment, and I certainly understand that feeling. I’ve done it myself. From 1988 to 1991, I “rescued” three cocker spaniel puppies from pet stores near where I lived in Indiana. Largely because of them, I learned about pet stores, puppy mills, and the whole ugly pets-for-profit industry. In my clueless, kindhearted but well-meaning way I had helped support that industry. Instead of “rescuing” my three dogs, all of which I loved dearly, I had actually rewarded the unethical breeders and everyone along the line who made a buck, and sentenced many more yet-unborn puppies to the same fate.

Wow, how did I get from falling for a cute face in a pet shop window to supporting an industry that exploits animals?

Every single national breed club for purebred dogs states in their Code of Ethics that responsible breeders do not ever sell puppies to pet stores, or offer them as prizes in auctions or raffles. Why? Because an ethical breeder assumes lifelong responsibility for every puppy they breed. They also want to carefully screen potential families, and select a puppy that will fit their lifestyle, or even tell them that this breed is not the one for them. They can’t do that if they hand a puppy over to a store that has to sell it to anyone who pays for it.

So, then, where do puppies in pet stores come from? Other than the stores that offer space to rescue groups to showcase homeless dogs and puppies, they either come from large breeding facilities called puppy mills, or occasionally from local breeders who keep dogs to breed for profit. Puppy mills keep large numbers of breeding females in horrible conditions, breed them as often as possible, and don’t waste money (profit) on things like health testing, genetic screening, proper nutrition, selective breeding, or veterinary care. Puppies are a commodity, not a family member. I won’t go into the specifics of the horrors of these facilities here. I will provide some links at the end of this blog for those seeking more information. Local breeders who sell to pet stores are no better; they just operate on a much smaller scale.

“But the breeder that someone recommended to me charges twice as much for puppies as the pet store does.” This may well be true, but what are you getting? A good breeder’s dogs see the inside of a show or obedience ring, or an agility course, or a hunting trial, or something other than a kennel or back yard. They invest in their dogs, through training, socialization, health screening, nutrition, and other important factors. They breed carefully, infrequently, with dogs chosen to make a puppy even better than either parent. They know their breed, and will be a valuable resource for you. They offer health guarantees, and if for any reason you’re unable to keep the puppy (even when it’s an adult), they will take it back and either keep it or find it a new home. A pet store is essentially done with you once your payment goes through. They might give you a partial refund if the puppy is sickly and you want to give it back, but what do you think they’re going to do with it? They didn’t breed the puppy, don’t personally know who did, and can offer you absolutely no useful information.

“But this puppy has AKC papers! He’s pedigreed!” Every dog has a pedigree. So does the stray cat that keeps sneaking into your garage. So do you. It only means a family tree, a genetic lineage. As for AKC (or other registration) papers, every well-bred dog has them, but countless poorly bred dogs do, too. All they mean is the breeder took a few minutes to fill out the proper paperwork. It says nothing about health, quality, temperament, or anything else, or even if the information provided is true! Unless the breeder is audited (a rare occurrence), who would ever know? In pet stores, large quantities of puppies are moved in and out, and paperwork often arrives jumbled, and is matched with the “right” dog. Is your Bichon really a toy poodle? Is it even a mix, since the puppy mill had a little breeding mishap?

“But look at that face! He’s so cute! I have to get him out of that awful place!” Newsflash: All puppies are cute. And while you may buy him and adore him, you are not “rescuing” him. By buying that puppy, you are financially rewarding the store owner, the distributor who got all the puppies from the puppy mill, and encouraging the puppy mill to produce more puppies (because they sure sell well!), and sentencing the breeding dogs to churn out even more litters. The cycle will never be broken as long as we continue to fall for those cute little faces and pay these people to keep doing what they’re doing. Every time a pet store sells a puppy, fewer ethical breeders produce puppies since they won’t breed if they aren’t sure of an appropriate home waiting for their litters. Rescue groups aren’t able to place a puppy from an accidental or abandoned litter, and more dogs are euthanized at animal shelters because there is nobody to adopt them.

I just don’t go into any store that sells puppies. It’s that simple. Not only am I then not tempted (and heartbroken) by those little bundles of fluff, I never, ever purchase a single collar or treat or toy there. I refuse to give these places one cent of my money.

Stop Puppy Mills

The Humane Society of the United States Puppy Mill Facts Page

Prisoners of Greed