Gimme Shelter

June 19, 2012

My favorite appointments to see, of course, are those with new puppies and kittens.  These can be long appointments, with much to discuss, but they are an opportunity to educate new pet owners, forge a bond with clients, and smell some seriously wonderful puppy breath! Sadly, sometimes these appointments contain an awkward moment, when the client who purchased a new puppy at the pet store asks “Do you think Fluffy came from a puppy mill?”

The answer to that question, although difficult for clients to hear, is an emphatic “YES”. All puppies purchased in American pet stores come from puppy mills. Many puppies purchased online from breeders in faraway states also come from puppy mills. The sad reality is that, while there are numerous responsible dog and cat breeders who care deeply about the quality and genetics of their breeds, there are many more unscrupulous breeders who care more about the quantity of litters produced and the income these litters can generate. These breeders abuse breeding females by forcing them to have multiple litters per year, keep animals in substandard to downright horrific conditions, and propagate avoidable genetic defects by emphasizing quantity over quality. Enough said.Fortunately, thanks to increased public awareness of this critical issue (thank you Oprah!), many animal lovers have gotten the message that pet stores are the pits! The veterinary community also needs to better educate the public that buying a pet over the internet may be an equally poor a choice as buying one in a pet store. Without being able to meet the breeder, see how the animals are housed, view the parents of your potential puppy, and spend time getting to know the fluffy creature who will spend the next decade in your home, you are taking a huge risk!

I encourage my clients, friends and family to adopt from shelters and rescue groups, since there are millions of unwanted cats, dogs and other critters who desperately need homes. Kittens, puppies and purebreds of all varieties can be found through these channels. Websites such as have made it incredibly easy to search rescues and shelters by breed, sex, age and size (my two dogs were adopted from rescue groups on this site!)

Many pet owners are devoted to certain breeds, and the veterinary community absolutely respects the choice to adopt a puppy or kitten through a breeder. There are a plethora of amazing breeders who are completely devoted to certain breeds. How do you find one of these responsible breeders?  Use the American Kennel Club or Humane Society of the United States websites.  Ask your veterinarian. If you see a good-looking, well-mannered dog at the dog park, ask the owner where they adopted their dog. But make sure to thoroughly “vet” the breeder! No responsible breeder would adopt out one of their “babies” without meeting prospective owners; some even require references from veterinarians. If a breeder wants to thoroughly investigate you before you adopt, that’s a breeder who cares deeply about where his/her puppies grow up.  And that’s a breeder worth your time.