Do homework before picking your next pup
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.”
French bulldog Babette Juarez, 4 months, was purchased through a breeder in Oklahoma. A breeder should know about genetic illnesses.
If you want to buy a pure-bred poodle, ask to see the parents and the kennels.