It's Buyer Beware For Canine Buyers
Caveat Emptor is Buyer Beware for Canine Buyers
Hip Dysplasia, Parvo Virus, PETA and puppy mills! Oh my gosh, just typing any of those four descriptives causes major grizzles to go up my back; as they should anyone connected to the dog fancy. The mere mention of any of these words is sure to raise the hackles of most legitimate dog fancier, owner, breeder and/or exhibitor.
For this essay I will only deal with the last entry, puppy mills. The other three explicative's make good fodder for another rainy day of writing. Actually as I write this, it happens to be one of the most beautiful days we have had in South Florida in the last 4 months after another record hurricane season that has just passed us.
For many folk, “puppy mills” conjures thoughts of farms in Arkansas, Oklahoma and other poor agricultural-related states, farms full of dogs breeding indiscriminately, with very little concern for health and well being, never mind pedigrees and accurate record keeping and the like. While these situations do certainly exists throughout the country, however not just in those aforementioned states, “puppy mill-type quality dogs” could just as well be breeding next door in your neighbor’s back yard!
“A puppy mill in my neighborhood?” you may ask.
Let’s define what a puppy mill is.
“The mass producing of puppies for profit without concern for quality” would certainly rank high as a good definition for a puppy mill.
Let’s define the exact opposite of a puppy mill.
“The perpetuating of a breed using the absolute best specimens with the soundest genetics under the healthiest of conditions to achieve a particular goal depending on the breed’s characteristics, temperament or particular endeavors.” Would certainly describe the reasons for breeding any dog, be it a show breeder or those that breed for specific breed related functions. Notice that there was no mention of money or profit in the preceding definition. The fact that the produce of these breedings may be marketed and some income can be generated from their sale is incidental to the main reasons for the activity in the first place.
So, we have established the two extremes of why people breed dogs. The first description assuredly covers all the “for profit puppy mills” and the second will cover the purist of those that perpetuate a breed. If life were simple, then we would only have these two extreme examples to be concerned with, but nothing is simple and neither are the infinite types and reasons that people breed dogs.
So, by establishing the extremes we can also give value to each. A puppy mill, being the absolute worst place on the planet for breeding dogs and the purist breeder for being the absolute best source of properly bred dogs.
Now we can catalog all the other people involved in breeding dogs using the criteria from the 2 examples above. If someone is breeding dogs and they do not have the absolute best specimens of the breed and they do not perform the available clearances for soundness and genetics and making money is the prime reason for producing a litter, then what does that make them?
Using the two extremes of the spectrum from above as the bottom and top of the barometer, it should become easy to assess anyone billing themselves as breeders.
Now, armed with a measuring device, let’s examine some of the credentials used by people breeding dogs.
Registration Papers: a canine governing body or organization that provides accurate records on the ancestry of the breeds they govern usually issues these. These registries depend on an honor system from the breeders that apply for the certificates, that the breedings they are registering are indeed factual, that the sire and dams are the ones listed and that the puppies born are each accounted for. So, we come back to ethical practices by the breeders to maintain the integrity of the breeds that they perpetuate.
Merely having “papers” does not make a good specimen of the breed. “Papers” or registrations may be obtainable as easy as those diplomas that can be ordered from “diploma mills’ for there are as many legitimate registries as there are the nefarious types! So, a dog having “papers” is as worthless as a $10 diploma on someone’s wall! Even AKC papers are worthless if the breeder does not engage in ethical practices!
Titles, certificates, championships and awards: are also worthless as they may also be obtained in the same “diploma mill” way. For all breeds of dogs, there are legitimate organizations that hold trials and competitions, held to determine which dogs have the right stuff to earn the accolades or titles. For those dogs that are being judged on their conformational attributes, dog shows are set up with judges who are authorities on those breeds that they adjudicate. A title or certificate must be earned from a legitimate and recognizable organization for it to have any merit.
Clearances: Once dogs pass the rigors of competition and earn their keep or win their titles in conformation, they are then subjected to a gauntlet or physical tests to determine fitness, soundness and genetic traits. Without these clearances, it becomes a major roll of the dice as to whether a dog will be free or afflicted. Some clearances do not provide a 100% guarantee, however they do increase the odds dramatically in the dog’s favor. Recent DNA test are now available that do determine as near to perfect some genetics quirks within some breeds.
Pedigrees: Having passed the above hurdles, dogs are then matched up for breeding with other dogs that have undergone the same scrutiny. Breeders will now use “pedigrees” of each dog’s ancestors to produce certain desirable qualities that may enhance the breed. Now here is the catch, ALL DOGS HAVE PEDIGREES! Each purebred dog has the same length of pedigree as the next dog, give or take a few. They all go back to the original founders of their breed! A pedigree “six yards long” is as worthless as the paper that it might be printed on. Merely having a pedigree does not make a dog any more valuable than a stray mutt running down the street chasing cars. The value of the pedigree is to determine whom the parents were and if they are recognizable by their merits and contributions to the breed. All purebred dogs have a “named” sire and “named” dam, but that information is totally worthless if those named parents sat in someone’s backyard all their lives and contributed zilch to the breed, other than continuous litters to add to the booming canine population.
Guarantees: Written or verbal guarantees are as valuable as wooden nickels if the person giving them does not intend on backing them up when the circumstances warrant. In certain cases I have heard that just getting someone to answer your phone calls and emails when something goes wrong with your newly acquired dog becomes a major goal. Once again, we come back to how trustworthy and reputable the breeder is.
Physical Breeding Conditions: With all of the above criteria, we are dealing with producible “paper” credentials. All of the above may look great on paper; great pedigrees/papers, great clearances/titles, great guarantees and a great web site to make all of the “greats” look even greater! There are thousands upon thousands of “breeders” across the country and beyond, touting themselves as “great breeders” of every named breed and now with the “designer breeds”, of yet to be named breeds.
With the advent of the computer and Internet, anyone can make up a kennel name, set up a website and be in business in the same day and promote themselves with a savvy and slick web presence as reputable breeders of any breed in existence or even invent their “own” breed, yes with this new and crazy fad of cross breeding, “new” breeds are popping up daily. Imagination is the only limit here, as I just found a breeder in Iowa advertising CockaLabs.
COCKALABS!!!!!!!!! Why in heavens sake would anyone cross a Labrador with a Cocker Spaniel? Talk about cockamamie schemes!!!!!! What a nightmare for the future CockaLab owner when their oversized Cocker Spaniel/undersized Labrador is no longer a cute, fluffy 8-week old puppy and grows into a terrorizing, menacing tyrant!
Oooops, that’s another story, let’s get back to the physical breeding conditions and here is where we also go back to the measuring stick or barometer. I have visited a few “breeders” that actually were pure and out dumps!
I could go one about the nightmarish scenes that replay over and over at thousands of places across the country, we think of these places as the “puppy mills”, but I have also seen back yard breeders with only one dog and one litter put up a good game to surpass those unsightly, horrid places.
There was the lady in Homestead Florida that advertised in the paper, “English lines, champion sired show puppies”. An acquaintance had answered the ad and was very impressed with what the “breeder” had depicted. Great pedigrees, great titles and even a “1-year conditional guarantee” (what’s that all about?), “a must see” was the last entry on the ad. I was coerced into going and evaluating the litter to select out the pick show puppy for my friend.
“After all, with Ch Snowbound Mickey Moose as their sire, they have to be worth looking out?” was the clincher used by my buddy to get me to go down the road and see this litter. Hey, great pedigree 6 yards long and even a 1-year conditional guarantee, how can you beat that?
By the way, what are the conditions for a 1-year guarantee, as long as the dog survives a year, then that’s it?
Well, just getting to see the litter became the task at hand! It seems that the dam had whelped a litter of puppies underneath the lady’s house 6 weeks before and they had yet to emerge from the dark, damp and dank underpinnings of the century-old house. The stench emanating from under the house was enough to send anyone gasping and gagging.
With offers of food and tons of coaxing little faces emerged from several exits, each time they were sent scampering back under by the vicious, crazed and very emaciated mother. It took teamwork from my friend and her kids to get all the puppies out from different areas, while I distracted the dam towards me. After several hours of soothing her fears for her puppies, the dam was calm enough to treat for lacerations, scratches, bite wounds that had been inflicted in fights to keep other dogs from getting to the puppies under the house, sores and skin infections from the muddy soil and extremely poor health due to an improper diet.
The elderly lady that owned the bitch did not seem fazed at the conditions of the puppies nor the dam, as she proclaimed “She’s had five litters underneath that house and she’s raised a total of 28 puppies and now add these 9, that makes 37 puppies all be herself!”
She added, “I’m just getting too old to be crawling around under that house to fetch them out, so I just let her raise them there where they are safe and out of harms way!”
By the way she said that I could surmise that all 6 litters were raised that way and since she was not all embarrassed by the conditions, this must have been the routine to get them out from under the house and even a sales ploy to get people to feel sorry for the puppies and cough up beaucoup bucks and “save” them.
Of course she had no idea that there were 9 puppies in that litter until we came and brought them out. A call to the local animal control later revealed that there had been complaints before from other folk, but that as long as she fed and watered the dog and kept her rabies shots up to date, that she could have the puppies anywhere she wanted.
My friend ended up taking 3 of the puppies, in her words “To save them!” She paid $850 for each!!!!!!! She then called a bunch of her friends and tried her best to convinced several of them to purchase some of the others from the litter.
Six months passed and sure enough there was another ad in the paper advertising “English lines, champion sired show puppies” with the same telephone number as before.
I wonder which fools turned out to “save” that litter? Meanwhile as time went on, my friend had her hands full with 3 rowdy 6-month old banshees that would never see the light of a show ring in their entire lives. All 3 lived to be 12 or 13 years old and suffered from every skin, ear and foot infection described in the Merck Veterinary Manual.
15 years later I ran into my friend again at a dog show that I was at, “Those 3 crazy dogs caused me my marriage, my house, over $30, 000 worth of vet bills and my sanity!”
My friend will remind me occasionally as we run into each other at dogs hows, much to my “I told you so!” each and every time we meet up with one another.
Caveat Emptor indeed, buyer beware for it doesn’t stop with the initial purchase, it actually starts a nightmarish, decade-plus ordeal with even longer lasting ramifications!
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