2009-04-01 / Columnists

Pets, Pets, Pets

by Joanne Anderson

There is one absolute in dogdom: Never buy a puppy from a pet store. Don't even go in. Follow Dionne Warwick's advice and "Walk On By". Here are 10 reasons why:

#1) No responsible breeder on earth sells puppies to stores. Despite what the store manager tells you about local suppliers or "top notch" puppies, breeders who care about canine welfare would never be so removed in the placement of pups they brought into this world. Responsible breeders screen for genetic flaws, educate and interview potential owners, selling with contracts stating they will take their pups back, if need be, for the lifetime of their dogs. Actually the price of a well bred dog from verified documented champion lines can be less than a poor quality pet store pup.

Employees at pet stores know zilch about individual breeds, but they know tons about commissions and the hard sell. Theyleave naive customers in a room with an endearing puppy in their arms. Even if the buyers change their minds the next day, all they can get is store credit for the $1000+ pup purchased impulsively.

#2) Pup's genetic background is an unknown. When you buy from a store, you are spending a bundle on a pup whose parents you know nothing about. Since the poor parents are probably puppy mill stock, mostly from the Amish, Mid West, or Eastern Europe, you have no proof the pup is cleared of genetic defects with OFA x-rays of hips and elbows, tests for clotting disorders, screenings for PRA (a type of blindness). Responsible breeders do these and other costly tests because they care about their pups, and about improving their breed in the future. Stores care only about the big bucks. No store tracks liver failure or any defects to breed them out of bloodlines.

#3) Pup's health is not guaranteed despite what your over-priced receipt says. Chances are your store pup and his parents have missed out on routine medical care. At the crowded puppy mills, pups are exposed to assorted diseases when raised alongside hundreds of others, taken from their mothers much too early and shipped all over the US. Toy breed infants often succumb to hypoglycemia in transit. Puppies with pneumonia or chronic URIs languish in the back of the store, coughing out of sight. A few survive; some are sent back to brokers for refunds (where they're most likely euthanized) when they grow too big for the store to make a profit.

Your guarantee works like a trade-in, but you didn't buy a Buick. Typical scenarios: The family gets attached to the pup that presents with a communicable or genetic ailment. When the family finds out how much treatment will cost, they take the dog back to have their guarantee honored. Store offers a "healthy" pup as a substitute- the original one gets shipped back to the puppy mill, and we all know what that means; or the store tells the family the pup will outgrow the defect (oddly, around the same time the warranty is up).

#4) Pups miss out on crucial early socialization. Experiences during the first 12 weeks of a pup's life are critical to shaping social skills. Pups need to be desensitized to all sorts of people, settings, and noises. Canine behaviorists emphasize that pups separated from their littermates before 8 weeks old do not learn proper pooch body language or etiquette and often exhibit behavior problems later. Pet store pups are deprived of positive interactions. Store puppies only have a small saleable window of "cuteness" so brokers pull them from their Moms at merely a few weeks old.

#5) Housebreaking is harder. A pup from a good breeder is often well on his way to being housebroken before placed in a home. Since pet store pups have been forced to sleep and eliminate in the same tiny cage, they are often harder to crate train or housebreak. Also because maturing store pups must stand on wire indefinitely, many have leg deformities.

#6) Pedigree papers are not always what they appear to be. Often pet store pups are poor representations of their breed. Their size and conformation are far from the accepted standard. With the disclaimer "to the best of my knowledge" lots of stores or puppy millers print their own pedigree papers, without registration numbers or birthdates of ancestors. These can be fictitious. Even AKC papers are only proof that the parents or pseudoparents (remember you never met "the parents") are registered as purebreds. AKC papers are not a health or physique guarantee. Reputable breeders usually put titles, performance and show, on their dogs. They can show n' tell the family tree. Theyknow the grandparents' temperaments and their cause of death.

#7) Puppy mill mother dogs are considered nothing more than breeding machines. The worst abuses of puppy mills are hidden from the public. A single factory dog farm might have hundreds cramped in substandard conditions. Brood bitches are usually bred at their first heat and every heat after that until they can't reproduce any more. Thenthey are killed or dumped. Some millers, like our plain and simple Amish friends, perform their own C sections without anesthesia. Dogs are debarked (to help keep their whereabouts secret) by ramming steel rods down their throats.

#8) Puppy mills deal in volume and minimize expenses to maximize profits. Matted dogs in puppy mills are kept in inhumane cages. Millers skimp on hygiene and nutrition. Teeth rot without dental or veterinary care. Dogs lose limbs because cramped conditions spark fights or legs are caught in wire mesh. Many live their whole miserable lives never touching grass or seeing the sunshine. The "state of the art" Mennonite miller shown on the Mar. 27 ABC's Nightline bragged about his absurd giant hamster wheel to exercise his dogs.

#9) Buying a pet store puppy out of sympathy perpetuates the atrocities. You might be saving that pathetic pup that has been lingering at the mall but you are also opening up a cage for the next pup victim. (See the "Pet Store Pup" poem online Beacon Aug. 23, 2007)

#10) Puppy mills breed misery. If all people would refuse to patronize these businesses, the law of supply and demand would score in favor of compassion. When folks stop buying pet store pups, the stores will stop selling puppies, and eventually the irresponsible breeders and millers will go out of business. Better yet, boycott these pet stores completely. Don't even go in to buy a biscuit or a pooper scooper.

• Picture Correction from last week: Due to a photo switcheroo, "Ralph" the Oyster Bay Shelter Maine Coon poster cat was mistakenly featured as "Oscar", the Rhode Island nursing home angel of death cat. See the real Oscar archived at Beacon online.

• For Adoption: This week the poster dogs (with unusual names given to them by former owners) represent 2 town shelters. "Benelli" #109 is a 1 year old exuberant chocolate Lab at Oyster Bay Town Shelter (677-5784) Miller Pl. Syosset while "Arrow"# 2072 is a more mature female Shepherd mix at Hempstead Town

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