Purchasing a pet: what that doggie in the window really costs

Purchasing a pet: what that doggie in the window really costsHow often have you or a member of your family gone into the pet store at your local mall to look at the furry bundles in cages or behind windows? Some sleep, others stand and stare back--and then there are the ones that huddle in the back, their eyes huge with fright. Sales clerks are more than willing to let you hold the cute puppy or kitten, and your heart melts. You feel sorry for the animal because you know you could provide a much better home for this little guy--which is exactly the reaction that pet stores count on.

You rationalize that this pup must be from a reputable breeding establishment; after all, it's registered with the American Kennel Club (AKC). In truth, the AKC advises that it "is not itself involved in the sale of dogs and cannot therefore guarantee the health and quality of dogs in its registry," and it basically has no idea where and how these pups were bred and raised.

So before you pay $500 or more, question where this puppy or kitten actually came from. Puppy and kitten mills are major suppliers to pet shops. It has been estimated that there are more than 4,000 puppy mills in the United States, which produce more than half a million puppies a year.

Puppy mills are large-scale commercial breeding facilities that produce many different breeds of dogs. Dogs are bred for profit only, and there is virtually no concern for the health or emotional well-being of these animals. Brood bitches are killed once their reproductive capacity wanes.

On, I read that the mother of the puppy you hold in your arms is probably exhausted, starving and sick, and she has never run on grass in a yard or felt loving arms cuddle her. She has never known kind voices or a full meal or a warm, clean bed to sleep in. The article went on to say that she may die this month from any of a number of ailments. If not, she might wish she did--if she could wish. She will die young--whether from neglect and abuse or from being shot when she no longer produces puppies for sale.

Puppies from these facilities lack socialization, live in squalid, over-crowded conditions, are fed inferior food and often have congenital problems, including hip dysplasia, kidney disease, autoimmune diseases, deafness and behavioral problems, which may not show up for months or years. They are taken from their mothers when they are only 5-6 weeks old, and they're trucked hundreds of miles to a pet store. They are often too young to eat dog food or too sick to care.

"In August 2001, 17 states had enacted laws or issued regulations that allow consumers to receive refunds or reimbursement of veterinary bills when a sick puppy is purchased," writes the Humane Society of the United States.

Often these regulations set limits on how much will be paid toward veterinary bills, and they only apply if a disease or defect is found within a week or two after the sale. Some pet stores will also offer a replacement pup or refund, again within a specific period. Before purchasing a puppy from a pet shop, check the Puppy Lemon Laws in your state at

Please remember: By purchasing a puppy or kitten from a pet shop, you are contributing to more suffering and more deaths of animals at the puppy mills that bred them.

Backyard Breeders

Although not as large an operation as a puppy mill, backyard breeders often possess the same deplorable conditions. Usually they're limited to two or three breeds of dogs. These people often breed solely for the money, advertising in newspapers and selling to pet shops. Puppies and kittens sold through these operations can be infested with fleas, have a wide array of physical problems, and, like the puppy mill animals, have virtually no human contact to socialize them.

One of my cats, Simon, was raised in such conditions. He is now 11 years old and still is very stressed if any attempt is made to pick him up. As with children, negative experiences early in animals' lives are imprinted on them forever.

Responsible Breeders

Should you decide a pet would be a welcome addition to your life, do some research. Read all you can about the breed that interests you, and ascertain if it will fit your lifestyle. If you don't have an active life, for instance, don't purchase a breed that needs a lot of exercise such as hounds, retrievers and shepherds.

After you've decided on a specific breed, attend a dog or cat show, and discuss the breed's qualities with experts. Read dog or feline magazines that provide a list of breeders in your area. Also, contact a local breeders club, and ask for a list of reputable kennels or catteries.

Your next step is to contact these facilities. Some may have puppies or kittens available immediately, or you may have to wail If you decide you don't want to breed or show your pet--and if you're willing to take in a full-grown dog or cat, not a puppy or kitten--breeders often have older animals for whom they would like to find a good home. This has been the case with three of the Newfoundlands I've adopted, who've been wonderful, healthy pets.

Reputable breeders will be concerned about the quality of the home where they're sending their pups or kittens. They will also be able to educate and build a relationship with the puppy or kitten buyers. Most will also be willing to take back the pet if the buyer cannot keep it for some reason. Many breeders also "use spay/neuter contracts or limited registration to prevent the casual breeding of their pups or kittens. Finally, the facilities should be clean, and the animals healthy and playful.

Rescue Organizations

Each year, thousands of purebred dogs and cats are given up for one reason or another. Rescue groups, whose members care for the animals until they're adopted, take many of these animals in. These organizations exist all over the United States. If you're interested in a specific breed and don't necessarily want a puppy or kitten, check out doggrp.html or rescue.html on the Internet.

One wonderful rescue group, which I wrote about in my book Protect Your Pet, is Greyhound Rescue, Inc., an organization dedicated to rescuing and finding homes for these loving, docile animals. Too often, greyhounds have been abused and have spent most of their lives muzzled in pens at the racetrack. After their racing days are over--between the ages of 3 1/2 to 4 years old--these animals are usually killed. The average life span for a Greyhound raised as a companion animal is 13 years. Personally, I know of three couples who have adopted Greyhounds that were used in racing. These folks have told me they plan to adopt more, given the personality and the great pleasure that these animals have brought into their lives. The Greyhound Rescue, Inc., Internet site,, can provide further information on these beautiful dogs.

Shelters and Pounds

Over the years, I have been in contact with a number of shelters and pounds across the United States, most run by very caring people. The problem is overcrowding, and unless it's a no-kill shelter, animals can only be kept for a week or two before they are euthanized.

Dogs and cats have been dropped off because the owners can't afford to keep them, or their pet has had a litter, and homes cannot be found for the pups or kittens. Many such animals are found abandoned by the roadside, sick and injured. These loving creatures deserve a good home, and they can provide their new owners with years of love.

Feeding Your New Pet

When acquiring a pet from a shelter, pound or breeder, you will be advised what food fire puppy or dog has been fed. For the first two weeks, try to keep your pet on this diet before you gradually start the change to one of the quality, human-grade pet foods such as Pet Guard; the Natura line; and Halo, Purely For Pets. A homemade diet is the best choice, but many people don't have lime to cook for their pets. In addition:

* Don't feed your pet commercial foods that contain meat meal, bone meal and meat by-products because these are poor protein sources.

* Avoid feeding your pet junk foods or foods that are highly spiced. These can lead to digestive upsets.

* Puppies under the age of 1 year should be fed two meals per day. Older dogs can generally be fed once per day, although in the case of large and giant breeds, two meals, morning and evening, is easier on their systems.

* Treats should consist of dog biscuits made with whole grains.

* Make sure that your pet always has a flesh source of water.

Ann Martin is a leading authority on commercial pet foods and related animal-health concerns. She is the author of the revised and updated edition of Food Pets Die For (NewSage Press, 2003) as well as Protect Your Pet (NewSage Press, 2001).