Do home­work be­fore pick­ing your next pup

Austin American-Statesman - - LIFE & ARTS - sbeck­ham@states­man.com; 4453826

In the dog days of this sum­mer, there’s plenty of at­ten­tion on pure­bred pups. Last week, the Austin An­i­mal Ad­vi­sory Com­mis­sion voted to ask the Austin City Coun­cil to ban sales of dogs and cats in stores be­cause of con­cerns that such an­i­mals come from “puppy mill” op­er­a­tions. Also last week, the Pet­land store at South­park Mead­ows, which had been pick­eted by pro­test­ers who said its dogs came from puppy mills, an­nounced it was clos­ing. (Pet­land, which would have been the only store af­fected by the pro­posed ban, main­tained that it bought only from breed­ers who met USDA stan­dards.) Mean­while, Congress is look­ing at a law that will tighten reg­u­la­tion on large dog breed­ers.

The con­cern comes from the re­ports we’ve all seen about how an­i­mals suf­fer at so-called puppy mill op­er­a­tions. The Amer­i­can So­ci­ety for the Pre­ven­tion of Cru­elty to An­i­mals de­fines a puppy mill as any “large-scale com­mer­cial dog breed­ing op­er­a­tion where profit is given pri­or­ity

over the well-be­ing of the dogs.” Puppy mills think only about vol­ume when they breed, says M.A. Crist of the Depart­ment of Small An­i­mal Clin­i­cal Ser­vices at Texas A&M Uni­ver­sity’s Col­lege of Vet­eri­nary Medicine. That in­dis­crim­i­nate breed­ing makes the an­i­mals more prone to hered­i­tary health and be­hav­ior prob­lems, Crist says. The dogs are kept in dirty, crowded, in­hu­mane con­di­tions, which leads to ail­ments like par­vovirus, ken­nel cough, mange and fleas, ac­cord­ing to the ASPCA. Those con­di­tions also cre­ate pup­pies that aren’t well-so­cial­ized, Crist says. For ex­am­ple, pup­pies re­moved from their mother and lit­ter­mates too early might have bit­ing prob­lems.

Austin’s shel­ters and res­cue groups have lots of lov­ing dogs that need homes (see box at right). But if you do de­cide to buy a dog from a breeder, do­ing your home­work ahead of time can head off heart­break later. Crist and Marissa Gabrysch, spokes­woman for the Austin Bet­ter Busi­ness Bureau, gave us these rec­om­men­da­tions:

Ask your vet­eri­nar­ian for a breeder re­fer­ral, Crist says. You also can get re­fer­rals from breed clubs or res­cue groups, or even by vis­it­ing a dog show. An­other good way to eval­u­ate a breeder is by talk­ing with past buy­ers, Gabrysch says. Ask these dog own­ers whether their pet is happy and healthy, and ask about their ex­pe­ri­ence with the breeder. A trust­wor­thy breeder will be happy to pro­vide these re­fer­rals, Crist says.

Check out the breeder’s cre­den­tials and his­tory. The bureau’s web­site can be one re­source. “We have re­ports on over 80 dog breed­ers in the Cen­tral Texas area, but, of course, there are thou­sands out there,” Gabrysch says. You also can ask to see proof of the breeder’s mem­ber­ship with the Amer­i­can Ken­nel Club or the United Ken­nel Club, both of which have ethics codes for breed­ers. Rep­utable breed­ers likely will be in­volved with breed clubs, Crist says.

A good breeder prob­a­bly only spe­cial­izes in a cou­ple of breeds, Crist says. “They usu­ally do not have pup­pies al­ways avail­able but have a list of in­ter­ested peo­ple for the next lit­ter,” she says.

One red flag is if the breeder won’t let you ob­serve the pup­pies be­fore you pur­chase. “It’s im­por­tant to see how a puppy has been taken care of be­fore mak­ing the pur­chase,” Gabrysch says. The pup­pies you meet should seem happy, healthy and not shy, Crist says. “Also, if they won’t al­low you to tour the ken­nels, it might be a sign the liv­ing con­di­tions are not up to par,” Gabrysch says. “It’s rea­son­able to request to see the par­ents of the puppy,” to see whether they’re healthy and what they’re like, Gabrysch says.

Ask the breeder ques­tions, Gabrysch says. How large will the dog grow? What are pos­si­ble health con­cerns that might arise later? How does the breed in­ter­act with chil­dren or with other dogs? If the breeder doesn’t know the an­swers, go some­where else.

“Breed­ers that are pas­sion­ate about their breed will share the breed-spe­cific ge­netic prob­lems that could oc­cur and pro­vide doc­u­men­ta­tion that their lin­eage has been tested to be free from these po­ten­tial in­her­ited prob­lems,” Crist says.

Good breed­ers should ask you ques­tions, too. “It should feel al­most like an in­ter­view both ways,” Gabrysch says. Ques­tions to ex­pect in­clude whether you have chil­dren or other pets and what kind of en­vi­ron­ment the dog would be in. “It should be just as im­por­tant to the breeder that their pup­pies find a good home as it is for you to find a healthy puppy.”

They even might ask you to sign a con­tract promis­ing to re­turn the dog if you ever be­come un­able to care for it, Crist says. “Gen­er­ally, good breed­ers do not sell their pets to just any­one, pet stores or any other means that does not al­low the breeder to have in­ter­ac­tion with the new owner to en­sure the puppy will have a good home and be a good match.”

Deb­o­rah Can­non AMER­I­CAN-STATES­MAN

French bull­dog Ba­bette Juarez, 4 months, was pur­chased through a breeder in Ok­la­homa. A breeder should know about ge­netic ill­nesses.

SARAH bEck­HAM

Pho­tos.com

If you want to buy a pure-bred poo­dle, ask to see the par­ents and the ken­nels.

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