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The Puppymill Tradegy
Sadly, finding a reputable breeder can be quite a chore. You will not find a reputable breeder though a pet store. Pet stores sell puppies that they receive from "backyard breeders," and "puppy mills." These terms get thrown around a lot, and not many people actually know what they are.
A "backyard breeder" can be anyone- your neighbor, coworker, anyone. They have a couple pets and decide to breed them- thinking they'll make a lot of money. Any cretin can breed dogs, but doing it correctly takes quite a bit of time, knowledge, and money. Backyard breeders may adore their pets, but they can't seem to realize that they are only making things difficult for the dogs. Not only does breeding incorrectly put the health of the dogs in jeopardy, but it creates more pets that are at a high risk of having health and temperament problems. These poorly bred dogs are also more likely to end up in shelters or abused, neglected, and running the streets since most backyard breeders don't properly screen potential owners.
A puppy mill is someone who mass breeds dogs. This means that they breed their dogs whenever they come into season, just to get more puppies to get more profits. Their adult dogs are not properly cared for- the majority of the time they are kept in cages (constantly), left standing in feces, not vaccinated, and fed a poor diet which consists of the cheapest possible dog food which they mix with things such as sawdust (as a filler) so that they don't use quite as much food. Of course the sawdust sticks to the dogs teeth like glue, and causes rapid tooth decay. The dogs never see a vet, so they sit in cages filled with feces with rotting teeth, and nurse their puppies in that manner as well. With most of these mills, once the adult females are no longer of use, they are killed. They are not humanely put to sleep- that would cost money. These dogs are either shot, drown, or beaten to death.
By buying a dog from a pet store, you are keeping this process going. I know that in your heart you think you will be saving one, but you're not. You are simply taking one home and making another cage open up at the pet store- that way they can bring in another litter.
A reputable breeder cares about their dogs and the puppies they brought into this world. Before they breed a litter, they have their dogs tested and titled. The tests are for hereditary health problems- joint disorders, eye disorders, as well as other problems known in the breed. If their dog turns out to be carrying a problem, they spay/neuter and give or sell the dog as a pet. They also title the dogs- by competing with other dogs at dog events. This shows that the dog is up to the breed standard- not only in physical looks. Most breeders title in more than just conformation, they participate in agility, hunting trials, etc., they put the dog up against other dogs in what the breed was originally bred to do. Labradors, for example, were originally bred to retrieve game, so they compete with them in this type of activity.
A reputable breeder will also question you thoroughly about how you are going to care for the puppy. They will want to know if you have a fenced in yard- some breeders will not sell to those who do not have a fenced in yard due to the breeds tendency to roam. They may even want to contact your vet to see how you cared for your other pets- if they were vaccinated on time, if they were brought in for dental cleanings, if they always appeared to be well kept. If you are purchasing a breed which requires grooming, they will also want to talk to your current groomer or groomer for your past pet- to see if you brought the dog in on a regular basis or if the dog was a matted mess each time.
Do puppies from breeders cost more than a puppy you get from a pet store or from a backyard breeder? Yes and no. For some breeds, the price will be a little higher from a reputable breeder. This is due to the amount of money that they put into each litter with the testing, proper vaccinations, etc. But they do this to make sure your puppy doesn't have a high risk of having health problems during his life. A pet store or backyard breeder puppy may be cheaper to get, but most likely you are going to end up paying a lot of vet bills for problems that could have been prevented with selective breeding. One big concern is Progressive Retinal Atrophy- this is a hereditary eye condition that causes blindness. Since most dogs do not show signs of this until they are over 5 years old, it is extremely important that all the dogs are tested yearly for eye problems- a reputable breeder does this to assure you don't have a blind 5 year old dog. Another concern is hip dysplasia- reputable breeders screen their dogs for signs of this hereditary problem. This is to assure that your 2 year old German Shepherd isn't crippled from hip problems. Puppy mills and backyard breeders don't check for this problem- and you are taking a very high risk at not only massive vet bills, but having your pet suffer.
What about the new "designer dogs" you keep hearing about? Labradoodles, Schnoodles, etc. are nothing more than mixed breeds. They are not a "designer dog". If they were, then every humane shelter is full of designer dogs... go save a life! These mixes are being publicized as "the next big thing" which is making the breeders of these dogs able to charge extremely high prices for them- over a thousand dollars for a mixed breed puppy. Those who are breeding these dogs usually do not do any of the proper testing or titling, and many of them don't properly screen puppy buyers at all- as long as their payment clears, they can have a puppy.
It's a very sad world when people start looking at dogs as a business- they should be looked at as family members and adored for all the love they give us. Having a pet is a privilege-we all need to treat them that way. If we can eliminate the demand for poorly bred dogs, in turn we may eliminate the amount of dogs that are put to sleep in shelters every day and the dogs who are suffering from hereditary problems that could have been prevented in the first place.