Massachusetts-based veterinarian Lorna Grande, DVM, knows first hand the risks of buying puppies from disreputable breeders, pet shops, and puppy mills.After serving on the board of directors of several animal shelters and working as a humane educator for a large SPCA, Grande set out to create PupQuest, an educational website to help consumers make smarter decisions when searching for a puppy. With the help of Liz MacHaffie, who holds a Masters of Science in Clinical Animal Behavior, Grande created an invaluable resource to help puppy seekers stay safe, buy responsibly and make educated choices. We talked to Grande about the risks of buying a puppy and what you should keep in mind.
THK: When you are buying from a reputable breeder, what are you really paying for?Lorna Grande: That is a very good question, one that all consumers should ask themselves BEFORE they buy a puppy. There are two main areas to focus on: physical health and behavioral health (personality). One of the things you pay a breeder for is their effort to minimize the likelihood that your puppy will end up with genetic problems found in the breed. A simple example is hip dysplasia in German Shepherds. To pay money for a German Shepherd puppy without proof that parents' and grandparents' hips are normal is foolish. The dog you paid a lot of money for will probably have a lifetime of pain and you will have lots of avoidable veterinary expenses. You also want to be sure the breeder provides proof that your individual puppy was examined by a licensed veterinarian. Assuring your puppy will grow into a dog with a stable personality is not just all about how you raise them. Many people are misguided about this. Your puppy’s relatives and how it is raised in the first few weeks of life—long before it comes home with—can have significant impact on his future temperament. The puppies must be properly socialized early in life. Puppies raised devoid of lots of positive, diverse human contact and interactions in the real world in the first few weeks are missing fundamentals you may not be able to make up for when you get them home. Undoing negative experiences is sometimes harder than people think. Again, we are talking about purchasing a puppy from a breeder. Reputable breeders work hard to positively socialize their pups from a young age so you will have a great dog in the future. Of course, you have to be sure you don’t mess it up once the puppy comes home with you. That’s a conversation for another time! This is why the number one PupQuest recommendation is to always visit where the puppy was born and raised. Never buy a puppy sight-unseen online. You should meet the mother of your puppy and she should be friendly, outgoing and not shy or over protective. Where do the puppies spend most of their time? In a kennel removed from people or in the home where they can become accustomed to daily life? Reputable breeders want to meet you in person and interview you in the same way you should want to interview them. Beware, online breeders are catching on so some pretend to only sell to qualified buyers. If they trade a credit card for a puppy shipped to you, does that make you qualified?
THK: Would you expect reputable breeders to conduct health screenings of the puppies they sell? What would you consider absolute essential?Lorna Grande: Absolutely, that is what you are paying for! If health screenings have not been done that is a red flag that this is not a reputable breeder and you should walk away. On PupQuest we have a health-screening page. There, you can find links to different databases that list tests that should be done for each breed. For some breeds, there are ways to confirm online that the parents of your potential pup have passed these tests. Routine care should be done by a licensed veterinarian. Be careful! Many breeders cut corners by buying vaccines and worming medications online and giving them to their puppies themselves. Again, a red flag that this breeder is cutting corners.
THK: Could you describe how puppy mills operate? Aside from being incredibly cruel, how can they also affect the future health/life of the puppy you buy?Lorna Grande: There is no particular definition of puppy mill. On PupQuest, we call them puppy farms. Generally puppy farms are large, commercial, wholesale “breeders” that sell to pet shops or directly to consumers online. When people talk to clerks at pet shops or email with a "breeder" online, they somehow don’t connect the dots back to a puppy farm/mill because the person they are talking to doesn’t seem like a bad person. I think their vision of puppy mills is so terrible we can’t believe this particular individual would be affiliated with that industry. We think this disconnect contributes to why puppy farms/mills still have so many customers even though there is so much clear information out there educating consumers and warning them not to get dogs from puppy mills/farms. The simplest way to explain how puppy farms operate is to remind you that most are regulated by the USDA, the United States Department of Agriculture. Without getting into the controversy of farm animals, I don’t believe most people who buy a puppy intend to get a puppy raised in the same way livestock are raised. Pigs and chickens raised for food were not intended to be social family pets. Puppies raised in crowded filthy conditions, devoid of positive, regular human interaction are not being raised humanely or with any regard for what is needed psychologically and behaviorally to grow into a healthy, stable, family pet.