“You know exactly what you’re getting.”
It’s the most common line people use in defense of buying dogs from breeders; they fear getting a dog of mixed ancestry who might have an unpredictable temperament or could have health problems. Consequently, many people interested in having dogs in their lives drive right past the animal shelter and head for a breeder or pet store to find their new canine family member, and sometimes the results are tragic.
Irresponsible breeders may not pay attention to genetic issues, turning out dogs with significant genetic health problems that may cause issues later in life. Some dog breeds, like pugs, are so overbred that such health problems are simply accepted as a nature of the breed, even though they aren’t at all natural for dogs. In puppy mills, dogs are kept in close, unhealthy quarters, prime breeding ground for parvo and other diseases; once home, a puppy may sicken and die in days or weeks, but the supplier doesn’t care because the profits from the deal have already been realized.
Like other humane organizations, the Humane Society of United States has been working on these issues, trying to make the world safer for dogs and people. In September, the organization sent undercover investigators into the state of Maryland, where they found that nine out of twelve stores known to sell puppies were violating a consumer protection law the state had enacted the year before. According to the law, sellers are supposed to provide information about the origins of their dogs up front on their cages, to allow consumers to make educated decisions, and the investigators found that many stores were not complying.
One chief purpose of the law is to help consumers identify and avoid puppy mills, which is sadly one reason why so many stores may be avoiding their legal responsibilities. As consumer awareness about puppy mills has increased, so has the demand for purebred puppies sourced from breeders behaving more ethically, including those who provide dogs with a healthy, happy life and breed responsibly to avoid creating or perpetuating negative genetic traits. However, such breeders charge more for their dogs (and rarely sell to stores, because they prefer to meet and interview prospective buyers), and thus stores often heavily rely on puppy mills as a source for their pets.
This situation highlights an uncomfortable issue in the United States, a country where many pets are treated like disposable objects, not living beings. Some regions have actually legally changed the language surrounding animal companions and the people they live with, preferring terms like “companion” to “pet” and “guardian” to “owner” to stress the fact that animals, as living beings, aren’t the same thing as items of furniture or jewelry. The very fact that people interested in having dogs in their lives are referred to as “consumers” under the law is a reminder that puppies (and kittens) are considered a commodity that can be bought and sold.
Having a new animal in your life is great, but there are ways to avoid animals who come from abusive backgrounds. For those who feel very strongly that they need purebred animals instead of animals in need of a second chance at life, there are more ethical options available, including breeders who behave highly responsibly and take their work seriously. By not supporting puppy mills, backyard breeders and other unethical people, pet lovers all over can eliminate the incentive to treat puppies like belongings, rather than the living and loving creatures they are.
Photo credit: a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/tintedglass/3942905315/" target="_blank">Katherine.