Pitfalls of buying a dog from a puppy store

MIAMI - Last week, I shared with you the story of my brief stint as a puppy mill "pet vet", getting fired for refusing to sign health certificates for puppies with congenital problems. The article has led to some interesting discussions, both online and around the water cooler at Sabal Chase Animal Clinic.  This week, I thought I might share some of the most common complaints I hear from folks who buy their puppies from pet stores.

"I was told all their puppies were born in loving homes run by responsible breeders.  Why does my puppy seem so nervous?"

There really is no nice way to say this, so I'll give it to you straight.  Responsible breeders would rather be tarred and feathered than be associated with a puppy store.  Such an association would cost them their credibility and their reputations.  I have known breeders who give away hard-to-place puppies for free, or keep them as their own pets.  A puppy store associate who tells you otherwise is either lying to you, or has been lied to by someone further up the food chain.  

Responsible breeders do not sell to puppy stores.  Period.  Dogs born in puppy mills are far more likely to develop anxiety, fear aggression, and behavioral problems.  They are more likely to bite and/or attack.  This is why your puppy seems so nervous.

"My puppy has papers!  As soon as they arrive from the breeder, I'm going to go back to the store and pick them up."

I'm not going to put any lipstick on this one either.  You will never see your puppy's "papers."  That is because your puppy does not have papers.  

When animal care professionals talk about "papers," they are referring to American Kennel Club registration.  As I mentioned before, responsible breeders do not sell to puppy stores, and breeders are the ones who start the process for obtaining papers.  I have lost track of the number of clients who have chased puppy stores for weeks or months looking their pet's papers, only to be given one long, complicated story after another as to why the papers were lost, destroyed, or never provided by the breeder.  Eventually the client gives up.  The practice is as common as dirt.

In recent years, several new "kennel clubs" have popped up, and are providing papers for puppy store dogs.  These organizations are not taken seriously in show, breeding or veterinary circles.  My little dachshund, Grendel, is a genetic train wreck.  We represent her fourth home.  Ground zero was a puppy mill.  She has a half-inch overbite, a malformed lower jaw, a barely functional liver, back problems, knee problems, neck problems, allergies, and kidney stones.  She also has papers.  They are worthless.

"What do you mean she's only three months old?  She's seven months old!  Look at the date of birth on the sale certificate!"

Tiny dogs are all the rage, especially in Miami.  It's a common practice for pet stores to make a puppy look older on paper, thus making the buyer believe that the puppy is nearly finished growing.  Grendel's age was misrepresented by nearly three months.  They actually used whiteout to change to date of birth on her sale papers.  I am always surprised by the number of twelve pound "teacups" and mid-sized "miniatures" I meet.  I guess I shouldn't be.

"She was imported all the way from South America!  She can't possibly have all these problems!"

In an effort to circumvent the United States' pesky animal welfare laws, many puppy mills have simply moved their operations overseas.  The year we bought Sabal Chase Animal Clinic, I was approached by an honest broker with a sincere interest in providing his clients with quality puppies at mid-range prices.  He was genuinely confused by the kinds of problems I was finding when I examined his puppies.  His suppliers assured him that the dogs were kept and born into loving, stable homes and socialized from an early age.

They stressed repeatedly that they were not running a puppy mill, yet my findings told a different story.  I believe to this day that this broker - and many others like him - are deliberately kept in the dark as to the true origins of their puppies.  Photos were provided, yet trips to visit the facility could never be arranged.  The broker was out of business in less than a year.

"Is it just me, or does she seem kind of big for a Chihuahua?"

No, it isn't just you.  Breed identification is in inexact science at best - and puppy stores know it.  Your Chihuahua is probably a rat terrier or miniature pinscher mix.   In the world of puppy stores, a boxer mix is an American bulldog, a German shepherd is a Belgian Malinois mix, and Shih-tzus and Lhasa-apsos are one and the same.  If I'm wrong, show me the dog's papers and prove it.

Oh wait -- that's right -- you won't get the papers until next week.

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