Watch Tip: Christmas Pets Part 2

Posted on November 27th, 2011 by Anna Nirva

Watch Tip LogoIf someone you know is set on purchasing a new puppy or kitten for Christmas, give guidance. They should watch out for greedy backyard breeders of diseased or parasite-infested puppies and kittens. Backyard breeders and puppy/kitten mills maximize profit by reducing costs of care below humane standards. Insist on viewing the parents: are they healthy, socialized and of good weight? Insist on viewing the nursery area: is it clean, comfortable, and warm? If they make excuses why not—run, don’t walk, in the opposite direction.

Continued from last week:

Responsible breeders can be very different. I’d like to describe a few. I toured what might be termed a “commercial” German Shepherd Dog breeder’s operation in  mid-summer. They show, breed and train dogs, sell their puppies, and they run a boarding kennel and retail dog supply store as well. Trophies and ribbons lined the walls. Their puppies start at $1,000 and the litter of twelve 4-week-old puppies that I played with were all spoken for. This business has never placed a newspaper ad to sell their puppies. I toured the entire place; it was a last-minute unplanned tour for guests at a neighboring relative’s party. Without exception, it was clean, bright, and neutral-smelling throughout the facility. The three whelping rooms each featured one large window along the hall, so the nursing mom and puppies could be watched without disturbance. Each included a high-sided box that the mom could step into to get a bit of privacy if she wanted. One unused whelping room was a foster home for two cats needing homes. All of their owned cats were fixed and they wandered freely around the facility. The non-breeding dogs were kept in large chain link pens inside a large metal outbuilding with cement floors. The entire property was well-kept and orderly. The boarding kennels were full.

“Hobby” breeders are small high-quality operations. Typically they show or compete with their dogs or cats and raise one or two litters per year inside of the home; the baby pets are well-socialized as a result.  They hope to raise and train a champion (or several) and have specific breed-furthering goals in mind. They place their “show quality” pets in show homes and their “pet quality” littermates with qualified families (reservations and references usually required). Because they are love the breed, they check the health of parents and grandparents of their breeding dogs to avoid passing along known congenital disorders. Their enthusiasm for their breed could sweep a customer into participating in some new activities with the new pets.

What are the hallmarks of responsible breeders?

Share these reasonable expectations for good breeding operations with your family or friends who are determined to purchase a puppy from a breeder. If your family or friends don’t get good advice, they could easily end up perpetuating the abject misery of those poor dogs and cats who are trapped in mills, and worse, they might suffer the loss of a baby pet.

  • The litters are in demand, reserved in advance; waiting lists are typical.
  • They require a purchase contract and references before purchasing one of their offspring.
  • They require sterilization contracts for their pet quality offspring.
  • They run health checks on the parents and grandparents to prevent breeding of known defects (for instance, some gene pools contain defective genes for epilepsy or hip dysplasia which you want to avoid).
  • They allow viewing of breeding parents, kennels, nurseries, whelping pens (the sire might not be on site).
  • Many display ribbons and trophies won by their animals, as well as show or competition photos.
  • They provide all recommended new puppy and kitten shots and de-wormers.
  • They require the return of their offspring if they are no longer wanted and find new homes for them.
  • Many run small rescues or donate to rescues for their breeds. You might adopt a returned pet from a breeder like the Obama family did!

If the breed of dog typically has docked tails or ears, such as a Boxer, be sure to specify in advance if “natural” tails or ears are preferred, because some surgeries may be performed on very young puppies.

Use this questionnaire (pdf) to guide questions that can help identify a responsible breeder.

Local breed club members are excellent resources in a search for reputable breeders. Ask your vet for recommendations. Local shelters and rescues can be good sources of information for which breeders to avoid. If you read the classifieds, look for advertised bloodlines and champions to identify more serious breeders who might be more careful to breed only animals that have passed health checks.

RED FLAGS: When you call, explain that you want to view the breeding parents and the nursery. If the response is “no, you might be carrying diseases,” cross them off your list. This is the standard excuse used by a puppy or kitten mill. (Common sense tells you that if they were seriously worried about you spreading dangerous diseases, they would not let you handle a baby pet or even visit.) Definitely pass over those breeders that do not provide the first round of shots and wormer, which indicates a backyard breeder. Those pickup trucks selling puppies at Walmart? Well, if you’ve read this far, I know you’ll be suspicious about that! Drive on.

Remember that purebreed rescues are active in all breeds and some will have baby pure- or part-bred pets from time to time. Your friend or family member might be surprised at how rewarding the adoption process can be!

    2 Responses to “Watch Tip: Christmas Pets Part 2”

    1. Trish says:

      I know there will always be people who will insist on purchasing their pets, and if that is the case, I would much rather they go to a responsible breeder…I still hope that anyone that wishes for a particular breed of dog will first check with the many breed rescues around the country. Thank you for this useful watch tip.

    2. Jerry Dunham says:

      In my experience, local breed clubs are the best way to locate knowledgeable people in a particular breed, if you’re investigating a breed you’ve not been involved with before. As part of your research, attend a few club meetings. Most clubs welcome outsiders, and you don’t have to join to attend. Many of the better breeders will be club members, so you’ll be able to meet them and develop an opinion regarding their care and affection for their dogs. Club members will also usually know (and often have strong opinions about) local breeders who are not club members. You can also learn from club members about health issues specific to the breed, and how they deal with nutrition requirements.

      A few vets will be knowledgeable regarding local breeders, but most just know the ones in their practice, unless they are personally involved with the breed you have interest in. Local shelters can be a good resource, but mostly if they’re small. Larger shelters seldom know about any but the very worst breeders.

      Whatever you decide to do, do your homework and don’t rush the process. You’ll likely be living with this animal for a decade or more. You can’t guarantee a perfect fit for your situation, but you can greatly increase the odds with a bit of effort.

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