How much is that doggie in the window?

When I was a kid, my grandparents bought a dog from the House of Puppies. I never thought twice about it because Angus, as they named him, was a cute, fun puppy. Looking back, I have a few questions. Sadly, I know the answers.

Pet store puppies

Most puppies from pet stores come from puppy mills (the exception being pet supply stores that showcase adoptable dogs from local rescue groups). Puppy mills are large-scale, commercial dog breeding facilities that breed dogs repeatedly. While the puppies are sold to families, their parents suffer in dirty cages for years, often with little to no veterinary care. These places are like factory farms for dogs. A pedigree doesn’t mean a thing–dogs from puppy mills can have pedigrees and be AKC registered. Never buy a dog from a pet store, not even to “save the puppy.” You’ll just be putting money into the wrong hands and increasing demand for more dogs.

Puppy mill

Online dog sales

Buying a puppy online is a recipe for disaster. The dogs likely come from puppy mills too. A “responsible breeder” won’t sell to an unknown person and ship dogs (I put quotes around responsible breeder for reasons I’ll address below). An online purchase is opening the door to scam artists who might take your money and not deliver the “goods.” Puppies might be sick, or “not as advertised.” Many puppies die during transport. Even if  puppies make it to their destination and are healthy, online sales support a shady business that puts money before the dogs’ well-being. Don’t do it!

Backyard breeders

Smaller, non-commercial operations also abound. Maybe it’s because someone wants a litter to show the kids “the miracle of life,” or they have an idea for a “boutique dog” (cockapoo, puggle anyone?). Backyard breeders know nothing about their dogs’ genetics or how to avoid congenital issues with the puppies. Sometimes the litter was a complete accident. They often sell unlicensed puppies online, at flea markets or on Craigslist. Don’t support this irresponsibility.

Responsible breeders

This is the preferred term for people who specialize in specific breeds, selectively breed a limited amount of dogs, and are careful with regard to genetics, screens prospective owners. Responsible breeders will take back their dogs at any time for any reason (thereby keeping dogs out of shelters) and often are involved with breed-specific rescue. Of these four categories, this is the best one. Judging by the number of purebred dogs in shelters, it’s also the rarest.

Adopt don’t shop

Despite some people being relatively responsible with their dog businesses, I can’t endorse buying a dog. Why? Because 2.7 million adoptable cats and dogs are euthanized in the US every year. Almost half the households in the country have at least one dog but only 20% of the dogs were acquired through adoption. Of the 83 million dogs in homes today, 20 million were rescued. That’s great, but it also means if we don’t buy from breeders, we could clear out the shelters overnight! And not until shelters are empty would I even consider endorsing breeders.

Contrary to what a lot of people think, you can get puppies and purebreds (and purebred puppies) at shelters–25% of the dogs in shelters are purebred. And the dogs aren’t bad. They often end up in shelters because they were lost, their owners were moving, had too many other animals, had a baby, developed allergies, or couldn’t afford caring for the dog.

Which dog dies?

When someone adopts a shelter dog, they make room in the shelter for another needy dog. Conversely, when someone buys from a pet store, online, or from a breeder, they essentially let a shelter dog die. For every dog purchased, one isn’t adopted. Yeah, yeah, dogs in shelters “aren’t my problem.” but it sure is nice to help out an animal in need.

dogs at a shelter - photo by Estambar

Ready-made family member

I prefer shelter dogs because I get to meet them, assess their personalities, and adopt one that fits with my life and the other animals I live with. I’ve only adopted adult dogs, which meant I didn’t have to housetrain them, they didn’t destroy my house with chewing like puppies can, and they were already fixed and vaccinated.

When you’re considering a new addition to your family, walk past that window and straight into your local animal shelter.

Tail docking and ear cropping

Heidi Montag reportedly had 10 cosmetic procedures done in a single day. Well, whatever you think of that (or her), at least she was a consenting adult.

Dogs are sometimes subjected to amputations when they’re just puppies. Two procedures affect dogs of one breed or another–and they’re both unnecessary and cruel.

Tail docking

Docking is the process of severing the end of a dog’s spinal cord at the dock (or rump). It’s done when puppies are just a few days old–usually without anesthetic! Historically, people docked the tails of ratters, fighters and bull baiters (less for an opponent to grab). But two wrongs don’t make a right! Sometimes docking is done to increase speed or prevent injuries “in the field.” Again, if you’re not racing dogs or hunting with them, this is a moot issue.

I got my dog from a rescue when he was five years old. He already had his tail removed. Even people who buy puppies from breeders (something I do not condone) generally buy their dogs at eight weeks of age–too late to save their tails. Docking inflicts unnecessary pain on dogs and can cause nerve problems. Several countries, such as Australia, Norway, and Turkey, ban it outright. Besides, dogs communicate by using their tails and need them to send messages. It’s hard for other dogs to read a docked dog’s body language. And tails help a dog balance–leave them on!

Frankie

Frankie is a rat terrier and has naturally upright ears (one was torn in an accident and doesn’t stand up anymore). His tail was cropped, however.

Ear cropping

Cropping is the amputation of part of the ear in an effort to make the ear erect. A vet performs the procedure while the dog is under local anesthesia (although unscrupulous people have been known to try DIY versions, which can lead to blood loss, infection, mutilation, and death).

Cropping was historically done on dogs used for fighting, with the thinking being the ear flaps are something for the opposing animal to sink his teeth into. That’s why you’ll see certain “tough” breeds with cropped ears–Doberman pinschers, boxers, and pit bulls come to mind. Today, though, it’s a cosmetic procedure.

boxer puppy

This sad-looking puppy has her ears taped while they heal from being cropped.

Cropping is usually done when puppies are between two and three months of age. Sadly, instead of learning to socialize and explore the world, these dogs are recuperating from surgery with splints on their ears. They are bandaged up for three weeks and need twice-daily wound cleanings. So instead of bonding with my dog and helping her learn new things, she gets to associate me with pain and fear. No thanks!

Several countries, including Belgium, Germany, and South Africa have banned ear cropping.

Some dogs, like rat terriers and German Shepherds have naturally erect ears. If you love the look of upright, pointy ears, consider adopting a dog with that style of ear already. If looks are more important to you than the well-being of an animal, may I suggest a classic car instead!

If you don’t like the idea of inflicting unnecessary pain on a dog, you probably aren’t a fan of cropping and docking. Spread the word and stop the cruelty!