All the pets in our household, even those from my childhood, had come from the shelter until, as an “empty nester,” I became obsessed with the idea of adopting a Shih tzu. Actually, my obsession didn’t start as a desire for a specific breed. I wanted a small, quiet dog who didn’t shed, didn’t need a huge backyard, and would be easy to travel with and one that I could bond deeply with. The Shih tzu breed fit all of my needs and when I saw how completely adorable they were, well, I was sold. Literally. I had never owned a pure bred dog before and though I had no interest in breeding, it became my mission to have a pure Shih tzu.
Months after finding my perfect little canine companion I began to worry that I might have purchased him from a puppy mill. My dog was clean and healthy and came with papers that I assumed were AKC papers, but on closer inspection were not. Other small details began to nag at me and the more I learned about how puppy mills operated the more suspicious I became. I was completely inexperienced in the world of pure breeds, and I let my obsession lead me blindly into making an emotional decision without asking the important questions.
I cherished my furry guy and was thankful for him, but I felt terribly guilty to think I may have supported one of those horrific places with my money. At the time there wasn’t yet that much information about puppy mills, but that was no excuse. I should have done more research about locating and buying a pure breed dog and I didn’t.
Today I’m still not certain if my dog was born in a puppy mill, but I know that it’s a mistake I’ll never make again. If you’re looking for your first pure-bred dog and are not sure how to avoid making a puppy mill purchase, take a look at the following guidelines before you fall in love with that adorable face:
- · See the puppy’s home and meet his mother. Reputable breeders encourage home visits. Often both parents will be on site for you to meet.
- · Ask the breeder for references and call them. Ask if the puppies they purchased had any health problems and if the adoption process went smoothly.
- · If you can’t visit the kennel, find out how many different types of dogs the organization breeds and how many litters they care for at once. An operation that deals with many different breeds and many litters at a time may not be giving all of their dogs proper care and attention.
- · Get a written health guarantee. A verbal agreement is useless no matter how reputable you think a breeder is. A guarantee with a minimum of 10 days to cover contagious or hereditary illnesses is standard.
- · Ask to see proof that the breeder is USDA certified. A USDA seal is not a foolproof guarantee that a breeding facility does not violate the Animal Welfare Act, but it is one more step the consumer can take to avoid doing business with a disreputable breeder.
Pure-bred dogs are costly, and it’s tempting to do business with the breeder that charges the least amount of money for the puppy of your dreams. But dogs bred in puppy mills are often sickly and suffer from hereditary diseases due to poor breeding practices. If that low-cost puppy comes from a mill there’s a good chance that you will incur veterinarian bills that far exceed any savings you enjoyed. Of course, as an animal lover your expenses are secondary to the abusive conditions and neglect dogs suffer in a breeding mill.
If you suspect you’ve encountered a puppy mill, contact your local shelter or SPCA. By putting a puppy mill out of business you’ll be rescuing dozens,maybe hundreds, of innocent lives.