Monday, September 20, 2010

But Where Do They Come From?

Jen posed the question of questions in a comment on The Shocking Truth last night.  The answer is multi-faceted, and too long to cover in a comment reply, so I'll turn it into a post.

They come from where you think they come from, mostly.  Probably.  Being in this job for the fifth year, I can't make assumptions about anything anymore, because I've found out after years of prejudice myself that it just isn't always how you think.

Years ago, when I first started working at the store, we had a supplier in PA (not Lancaster) who was a USDA certified commercial breeder.  When I say commercial, that means he bred more dogs than most people see in their lifetime.  I won't say his name, I will refer to him by N.  I specify commercial and not puppy mill for a reason:  He was not the images you see of PA Amish puppy mill breeders.  He wasn't even Amish.  His facility was large, clean, and the dogs had kennel runs, not oversize hamster cages.  He was only a three hour drive away from our store, so we personally drove to his facility to pick out our own dogs on his property, and drove them in our own vehicles back to the store.  We (I) personally saw the conditions of the dogs and their living space.  I personally, out of a morbid curiosity, checked into him in an on-line search when I first started working at the store.  What I found was that in 10 years he had one infraction during an inspection:  A bowl in his kennel was dirty.  One.  Infraction.  For One.  Dirty bowl.

As far as commercial breeders go, this guy was in a class by himself.  I swear in the five years I have worked there the worst communicable disease a puppy of his came in with was ringworm.  His dogs were always vaccinated before we got them, with kennel cough, parvo, and a five-way combo vaccine at the proper intervals.  Were his dogs always sound?  No, of course not.  Most of the time any obvious problems were already on their records from his vet.  And a couple of times we had beagles and beagle mixes that developed cherry eye while in our kennel, we took them back to him and he had his vet perform the corrective surgery for us - free of charge  except for the cost of the gas to get them there - and then we brought them back.

Did I agree with his style of breeding dogs?  I most certainly did not.  But if someone was going to breed dogs for profit, I'd rather see it done his way than the way it's usually done.  And the way breeding dogs for profit is usually done is not always by puppy mills.

Some of the puppies we get from local breeders who only breed one or two litters a year.. They come in, typically, in conditions that range from middling to really bad.  We got Bassets from a lady 20 minutes away once, and when Dr. W. was looking them over, we found ticks in their ears, covered with fleas, ear mites, ear infections, suspicious spots of hair loss, they were dirty and you could see every one of their bones.  She said to me, "These dogs didn't come from where you usually get dogs, did they?"  I said, "No.  N. would not have let a dog out of his kennel like this."  She said, "I can tell.  They really weren't very well taken care of."
They're usually wormy, have no shot history, and take a lot of work to get in a condition to be sold.  

I can think of three small local breeders of one breed off of the top of my head who took as good care of their dogs and put as much money and effort into their puppies as N. did.  Just three.  One bred Chow-Chows, one bred Jack Russells, and another guy bred field trial champion bloodline Beagles (and when I say bloodline I mean sire and dam were champions, not some obscure name 9 places back in a pedigree).  I never met the lady who bred the Jack Russells, but she would never give us their registration papers because she said she wanted to give people less incentive to breed them.  The Chow-Chow breeder is a regular customer in our store.  The guy with the Beagles only comes in when he wants to sell his pet quality puppies, but when his puppies are in our store he comes in every day to see them.  He lives at the opposite end of the state, so that's quite a hike.

The owner of the store is a giant softee.  He really is.  Otherwise, he wouldn't take the poorly dogs at all.  He does it with entire litters of accident puppies people want to get rid of fast, too.  Those are usually the ones in the worst condition of all, and I always half want to strangle and beat him for taking in dogs with no shot history.  (UM PARVO RISK, HELLO?!)  But he does it because he knows that at least he can do this for them, and he feels badly for them being in the situations that they're in.  It's hard to be mad at compassion. He really doesn't make any money from the accident puppies.  They're typically a true 57 mix, or mix of Insert Purebred Here and Next Door Neighbor's Dog.. Maybe.  And we have to put so much into them to get them into any condition to be sold that by the time he's sold them, he's only making money on the supplies we sell the dog with.

For awhile we were getting puppies from a lady who owned a pet store in a neighboring state, and her dogs did come from Amish puppy mills, and they were always sick with something and took a lot of work.  We eventually stopped dealing with her because she was just a pain in the ass every way and more.  And when they're from the Amish, there's really no denying it.  When the breeder card says a name like *Abbediah Zook and someone asks you, "These aren't Amish dogs are they," you can't exactly lie about it.

Unfortunately, between the new PA puppy mill legislation and the economy, most of our good breeders are no longer breeding.  The Chow-Chow guy had both of his females fixed and cited the economy as the main reason he's not breeding anymore.  I haven't seen any of the JRT lady's puppies in months, and I can only assume she's in the same boat.  N. elected to shut his kennel down at the first of the year rather than deal with the state of PA and the SPCA harassing him continually.  And the SPCA truly was harassing him.  They wanted his dogs, bad.  That whole situation really pissed me off, because of all the people to go after, N. was probably the least worthy of their attentions, but they came after him like a pack of sharks on a bleeding tuna. The only thing I can think of is that they wanted to obtain his dogs any way they could because they saw dollars signs all over them.  There really was no other reason for it.  They cited him for one of his dogs having periodontal disease, no lie.  They were that desperate.  I figure because he kept his dogs in such good condition, they wouldn't have to put any money into them to adopt them out, and everyone loves puppies.  A load of cute, healthy puppies with vaccination histories doesn't usually fall into the SPCA's lap.  It would be pure profit for the SPCA.  I can see why they'd be itching to get them.

For the record, let me just say.. I'm not usually down on the SPCA, but what they did to N. was really uncalled for.  How many pet dogs have periodontal disease in the US?  Really?  Seriously?

The PA legislation was just effed in so many ways.  It didn't just take down puppy mills.  A co-worker of mine got her Dogue De Bourdeaux from a breeder in PA who had to stop breeding because of a gut-punch combo of the economy with the new legislation right smack in the middle of it.  She even had to turn down her invitation to Westminster this year because of it.  Yes, that's right.  A breeder of Westminster quality show dogs was shut down by the PA puppy mill legislation.  They really threw the baby out with the bathwater on that one, congrats PA.  And really, did it end anything?  In PA, sort of.  For the most part, they're just going to move to Missouri, Ohio, Kansas.  It will just jump from state to state.

And now, we have to buy our dogs from other places.  We tried a broker called Lambriar for awhile.  They weren't up to the standards we were used to.  Now we're trying another place, and it's not working out.  The puppies aren't coming in from breeders with Amish-sounding names, but I don't know how much that actually means.  I do know that although they all have shot histories when they get here, they are all coming in with kennel cough right now.  (Hence the reason for the kennel overhaul cleaning P. and I had to do on Sunday.)  I had my first dog in my kennel die a couple of months ago because sometimes before this 1 pound Chihuahua puppy got to us, some idiot decided it would be a great idea to perform surgery to repair a small umbilical hernia.  I am not a happy kennel manager right now.

The chances of us finding another breeder like N. are zil.  He was one of a kind.  I'm sure there's another one somewhere, but within driving distance?  No.

Right now, we're up in the air about where to go now.  There's been talk of teaming up with a local rescue that we already do a lot of work with to adopt their dogs out of our kennel.  Or possibly just becoming our own brokers using the classified ads of our local paper.  There's a broker here who does that, about 10 minutes from our store in fact, and she sells them to places like Lambriar out of her house, but her dogs are always atrocious.  Which again, just underlies the fact that you don't always know for sure that dogs from brokers who find their ways to puppy stores are from puppy mills.  This lady goes around buying puppies from people out of the paper to sell to places like Lambriar, and I don't know if the people who sell the dogs to her realize that's what happens to them.

Anyway, some food for thought about where they come from.  This is already pretty long, so the issue of instant gratification of a long-term commitment will have to wait until another night when my son isn't sick and my dog isn't as obsessed with the cat litter box.  (Ew.)

I hope you guys read fast.  I'm long-winded.

*I just made Abbediah Zook up off the top of my head as an example.  So if there really is an Abbediah Zook out there somewhere who makes his living as a carpenter or something, I humbly apologize to all the powers of Karma, I make no reference to any real person with that name.  Not that any Abbediah Zook is likely to know that I'm talking about him on-line, but I like to cover my bases.


  1. Thank you for taking the time to write that up. I feel I gained a lot from it.

    I'm so glad that even though I'm from the rescue side you are willing and able to help broaden my mind a bit in the case of dog welfare and origin.

    After reading I still have the same concerns.

    I think I use "puppy mill" as a broad term to mean "any place of birth/origin where health, soundness and social training are not weighed as heavily as the profits gained".
    Especially for pet dogs meant to be in a home with people. Shouldn't health and sociability be of the utmost importance? Not so much appearance (not structure, but appearance) and not registration papers or breed. But health and all that entails, and happiness in a social setting and all that entails.
    How are these puppies getting a head start on the two most important things that pet dogs ought to have?!

    I love - truly - the idea that pet stores selling animals can help deflect the burden of shelters and rescues (that use kennels, not foster homes). That would be an incredibly socially responsible partnership! But then profits aren't high, and there is still the question of screening the homes.

    So - even if all the ways stores obtain puppies never change - how are potential homes currently screened? Do they have to fill out any sort of paper work? Contract? Do you check references? Call their vet? Call their neighbors? Ask their intentions?

    Again - thank you so much for the honest posts and explanations. I'm so glad there are people out there like you and your store's manager who have compassion for these dogs!

  2. Oh - about rescue...

    There are serious flaws in rescue too. Please don't think I'm just trying to pick apart the dog sales aspect of obtaining a dog. Its just an area I know next to nothing about.

    I'm a huge supporter of shelters who give a damn. My local shelter (although a kill shelter) is amazing. They have no national affiliations and really care about the dogs and do whatever they can whenever they can to promote their dogs, cats, rabbits and other animals. I love volunteering for them!

    Rescues, well, in my short 5 years of rescue work I've ran into some not so great ones. Some get too concerned about the donation fee and disregard all other aspects of rescue. And the dogs suffer. As they always do when profit is involved. In fact just earlier this year I disassociated myself from a rescue that said to me that I couldn't pull a dog from a home because they already "had stakes" and she was "an easy $250". I was sick. How the hell can you adopt that mentality in rescue. HOW?! It's all about the individual dog, not the profit or self gain.

    So - there are bad eggs in all aspects "dog" - and its never the actual dog. Which is sad.

    I'll have to tell you about my single experience with a pet store someday.. maybe then you'll understand why I'm so passionate about rescue!

  3. The soundness part I think your concerns are valid. The social training, I'm not so clear about. We don't get them until they're at least 8 weeks. When they come in, they're understandably stressed, but these aren't dogs that freeze up at everything new. They might take a day or two to settle, but after that, they act just like every other puppy, and they get out to socialize with people a lot. Sometimes, with the more difficult breeds, I start training them while they're in the store so at least they know "sit" and "leave it" or other basic commands before they go home. It's the continued socialization once they leave that worries me. When they get to us, they're actually surprisingly well adjusted, all things considered. The behavioral aspect I think most people have the problems with is housebreaking - there's no way around it, it's hard to housebreak a dog who has spent the most important weeks of it's life learning that when it eliminates, the mess goes through the floor and immediately gets cleaned up by someone. And no, there is no screening process. We "reserve the right to refuse the sale of any animal in the store" but in the 5 years I've been working there, I think I'm the only person who has ever invoked that right. That bothers me, too. I'm going to save more on that for another post. There has got to be a middle ground between being so stringent in a screening process that good homes are being rejected, and just letting anyone have dogs.

  4. Yeah - the social training part I meant as you understood it. A comprehensive introduction into the human world and how we expect them to live (good with people, dogs, crate trained, housebroken, attentive, unafraid of stuff).

    I mean - even with my most recently adopted dog whom I got at 13 weeks, I had a ton to do and really tried. He's not afraid of anything and he's a happy, friendly guy. He does nibble, a lot, on hands. But thats my fault. I let him do it.
    There was so much to show him and teach him because he came to me scared of being handled and reactive to hands (more than nibbling, nibbles are our compromise. He would break skin at 13wks, hold and trash!)

    I was always a bit confused that if someone wanted to lay down so much money for a puppy, why not go to the breeder that already has a jump start on the social training and health part covered? Convenience? Fear of screening process?

    That would be a good post ;)

  5. That would be a good post. I'm thinking it's 90% instant gratification - they want what they want and they want it NOW - and half ignorance in the literal sense of the word. When people come in looking for something completely off the wall that I know we have no chance of ever getting in the store ("Do you guys ever have Anatolian Shepherds?") I typically give them the local city's kennel club website and tell them to go there and check their breeder referral list. Typically, people had no idea this club even existed, let alone that there's a website where breeders are listed.

    Our dogs usually aren't that expensive. Well, to me they don't seem that expensive, but this is someone who paid 850 for a Labrador from a private breeder. Most of ours range from 397-597 depending on breed and if they're registered or not. The exception being Yorkies that actually look like Yorkies and are the right size. Those will start at 1000. The highest priced dog I can remember us having was a French Bulldog for 3000. I remember thinking, "Yeah right, that dog is going to be here FOREVER," and the next night DJ Jazzy Jeff bought her. Go figure. (True story!)

  6. whoa! Dj Jazzy Jeff of Fresh Prince fame?!?

  7. The very same. Our one claim to fame. lol. Seriously, I wish we did not sell puppies. I really wish we could get the rescue dogs in the store. I think the one main issue in the way of having rescue dogs in the kennel is the owner not being comfortable with having someone else's dogs under his sole responsibility.

  8. "I was always a bit confused that if someone wanted to lay down so much money for a puppy, why not go to the breeder that already has a jump start on the social training and health part covered?"
    I believe it's convinience. I really like your blog, but the more I read I just get more prove that dogs should not be sold in petstores. Petstores attract people who probably should not own the dog in the first place. I can't imaging any person who did very much required research buying a dog from the petstores. The people who would buy a dog in the store are those who want it "now!", want a toy for their kid or think a dig makes a great present for other members of the family or friends.
    And hell , your post is the second reminder today to me that soon the only dog we will be able to get are strays imported from Mexico. We are loosing to animal radicals way too fast, I am not sure where I am going to be buying my next competitive dog, when all the responsible breeders are forsed to shut down.:-( It's time for sane people to team up and fight them hard!