Finding a Good Breeder
By Christie Keith,
Special to SF Gate Tuesday, June 26, 2007
There are three good ethical sources for family pets. One of them is a humane society or shelter. Another is an animal rescue group, which is an organization dedicated to helping homeless pets. The third is a responsible breeder. After I wrote my last column on a group of dogs rescued from a Midwestern puppy mill, I heard from a lot of people wanting to know how to make sure the dog or cat they were planning to bring into their family did, in fact, come from a responsible breeder and not from a mill. These concerns are well founded. Pet stores routinely assure shoppers that their pets don't come from puppy or kitten mills, and Internet pet store sites certainly won't announce that theirs do. Instead, they use the phrases people find reassuring: "Family raised." "Private breeders." "Raised with love." Despite those marketing slogans, the reality is that nearly all puppies and kittens sold in pet stores and on the Internet are mass- produced in circumstances that range from truly hellish to sterile, lonely and boring. The mothers and fathers of those puppies and kittens spend their entire lives in cages, bored beyond belief, sometimes kept in filth and misery, having litter after litter until they can't produce any more. So how can you know whether a breeder or other seller's claims are true? And even if you could hook the breeder up to a lie detector, how do you know what questions to ask or what the answers should be? The reality is that figuring that out and finding a good breeder can be a frustrating (albeit rewarding) treasure hunt. It can require a lot of homework and an investment of your time. These articles and Web sites are good places to start: Finding a Responsible [Dog] Breeder www.canismajor.com/dog/responbr.html Questions to Ask a [Dog] Breeder www.phouka.com/puppy/bdr_questions.html How to Find a Good Dog Breeder from the Humane Society of the United States http://www.hsus.org/pets/pet_adoption_information/how_to_find_a_good_d <http://www.hsus.org/pets/pet_adoption_information/how_to_find_a_good_d> og_breeder/index.html Tips on Choosing a Cat Breeder http://cathobbyist.com/breederregistry/ChoosingABreeder.php <http://cathobbyist.com/breederregistry/ChoosingABreeder.php> Some people, when reading the undeniably useful and important suggestions on those sites, might feel overwhelmed, and that's understandable. While I still believe they're the best place to start, there are three pieces of advice I can give that can make it much simpler:
1. The Questions What's most important are not the questions you ask the breeder but the ones breeder asks you. Being grilled about your suitability as a pet owner is the single best indicator that you're dealing with a reputable breeder. Why? Ask yourself this: Would you really want to bring a living, breathing creature into your home, to become a part of your family, who was born and raised in the hands of someone who didn't give a damn what happened to that animal? Ethical, caring breeders want to know about your living situation, your past experience with pets, how other family members feel about a new dog or cat and if they can contact your veterinarian. Breeders are likely to want to know how extensive your knowledge of the breed is, and some of them have multipage questionnaires. Those frustrating restrictions and contracts, and those intrusive questions, are your guarantee that the breeder of your pet is an ethical one. Or to put it more bluntly, the easier it is for you to get that puppy or kitten, the less careful the breeder of that puppy and kitten is. Which is also why reputable breeders, those who are committed to improving and preserving their chosen breeds and bringing the healthiest possible puppies and kittens into the world, would never consider letting a third party, such as a pet store, place them in new homes. They care far too much about what happens to those puppies and kittens to let anyone else, let alone a stranger, take that decision out of their hands.
2. The Acid Test If the first test of good breeders is that they be as picky about you as you are about them, the second is the one I call the acid test: If you, for any reason, cannot keep this puppy or kitten down the road, will the breeder take him or her back? There is only one right answer to this question, and that's an unequivocal yes. In fact, good breeders won't just agree to that, they'll require it in their contract. Since animals are living creatures and not household appliances, no breeder, no matter how ethical, can guarantee they'll never have health or behavior problems. But I can guarantee that a breeder who answers no to that question is not someone you'd want to give your money to, or someone you should trust to bring your future pet into the world.
3. The Guarantee Let me be blunt: Any guarantee that requires you to return a sick or defective puppy or kitten in order to get your money back is no guarantee at all. It is actually a way to get out of guaranteeing the pet, because very few people will ever return an animal once they have brought it into their home. Breeders or pet stores that put the bottom line before the human-animal bond use that fact to get out of standing behind the health and fitness of the puppy or kitten they sold. Don't ever buy from breeders with this clause in their contract, because it's not only worthless, it's sadistic. When I bought a puppy who turned out to have severe allergies, her breeder returned my money, contributed toward her vet bills and offered me a replacement puppy. And also, of course, let me keep her - - because who on earth would want to see their lovingly bred puppy or kitten in the hands of someone who'd return it as if it were a defective washing machine? What about rescue groups and shelters? Some people are surprised to find out that they, too, have a few hoops people looking for a pet have to jump through -- things like veterinary references and answering questions about your expectations for the pet's behavior and health needs. Many rescue groups even have questionnaires similar to those used by the best breeders. It's important to realize that all these requirements, even those that may seem intrusive, arose from real situations where animals were placed in inappropriate homes. In an attempt to protect the lives and happiness of the animals in their care, these breeders and rescuers have devised tools to make sure the home is a good one -- and a permanent one. Although many of the requirements will seem excessive to you, it should be of some comfort to realize that you are getting your future pet from someone who really cares about that animal. Especially in the case of breeders, it is reassuring to know that they are so attentive to details. This will probably mean they were also very careful in how they bred the puppies or kittens and how they raised them. It is you who will benefit from this conscientiousness. Even if you recognize the good intentions behind these requirements, it can be tempting to walk away and get a pet somewhere with fewer restrictions. You won't be asked anything more than to flash your credit card at the pet store at the mall or before popping a puppy into your online shopping cart. Which brings us back to where we began, the dogs and cats who are spending their lives in loneliness, boredom and suffering in commercial breeding facilities. Ask yourself if having a clear conscience about where your dog or cat came from isn't worth jumping through a few hoops along the way.
Christie Keith is a contributing editor for Universal Press Syndicate's Pet Connection and past director of the Pet Care Forum on America Online. She lives in San Francisco