If you’ve been keeping up with your animal news, you may have heard of puppy mills, commercial breeding farms where dogs are raised for profit with little regard to their welfare or upbringing. According to the website of The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, there are at least 10,000 puppy mills currently operating in the US — more than double the amount reported in the 1990s. And puppies with severe health problems or disabilities, who need special care, are often sold online when the breeder can’t get a pet store to purchase one.
Sites like The Wrong Puppy, Dogtime, the above-mentioned The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, and The Humane Society all have extensive information regarding puppy mills, the proper way to care for a puppy and identifying scams. Also, many suggest that puppies ought not be bought but instead adopted. However, if you are planning to buy a specific breed of puppy, the following is a list of six ways to avoid buying from a puppy mill:
Verify That There Is Actually a Dog
Before you go about purchasing a specific dog, you’ll need to verify that the one you want actually exists. Of course, the best way to do this is to visit the breeding site and meet your puppy before buying it, but if this is impossible, then you’ll need to examine photos closely. Many breeders use stock photos or pictures of other breeders’ puppies online — look for watermarks (or clumsily scratched out watermarks, even). Ask for additional photos of the dog with specific items that you request in the pictures (a local newspaper, a toothbrush, as examples — the more unique the better.) If the seller sends you pictures of the dog’s parents, says his/her camera is broken, etc., then the dog likely does not exist. Other warning signs: if the dog is being sold at a super low price; the seller requests payment to a third-party “shipper”; insists you use a money-transfer service like Western Union or Money Gram (like cash, the money is unrecoverable if it’s a scam.)
Make Sure There’s Certification
The AKC (American Kennel Club) is the accepted registry for kennel puppies in the United States. (Do not trust papers from the America’s Pet Registry, Continental Kennel Club and others who are less particular about puppy-raising standards.) Still, though the AKC is more stringent than other organizations when it comes to identifying reputable breeders, it still depends largely on the honor system. In fact, the ASPCA warns that “being AKC-registered means nothing more than your puppy’s parents both had AKC papers. While there are some AKC regulations, they do not restrict puppy mills from producing AKC-registered dogs. The fact is, many AKC-registered dogs are born in puppy mills.”
Whenever possible, check the references on your breeder. Websites like The Better Business Bureau often have records of consumer complaints, as well as a number of other whistle-blower sites. Ask your breeder for written references, then immediately call and confirm them. Make sure that they are earnest and approving, not vague, or too yielding.
Check The Site
This is an important step for avoiding puppy mill patronage: investigate the physical whereabouts of the site as much as possible. Make sure the breeder has a real address, not just a P.O. box for mailing purposes. Google the address and get a satellite view of the area. Call a local realtor if you must, as well. For reference, the site should be clean,well-kept, and have large, open yard for puppies to roam in. If the site is overrun with dogs or there are cages present, your potential pet is probably not being looked after very well. Same thing goes for if the seller’s website claims to breed more than one or two kinds of dogs or is selling a large number of them. As always, check Sitejabber because a number of folks have reported bad experiences.
Have a Conversation With The Breeder
Have a conversation with the breeder about your puppy (over the phone) — don’t deal with brokers. If a seller doesn’t want to speak to you over the phone for whatever reasons or states the phone is out of service, stay away. A reputable breeder should be able to tell you about recent vaccinations; “breed standards”; the puppy’s habits, favorite foods and activities; verbal cues; and proper care. The breeder should not seem vague or uneducated about these topics; he/she should be eager even to speak with you on the phone multiple times to ensure that you are a responsible would-be owner.
Work Out Details of the Contract
Lastly, if you think that your puppy is 1) real and 2) healthy, you’ll need to acquire a guarantee and a firm contract from your seller. TheWrongPuppy.org has an example of a bad warranty on its site. A guarantee should cover returns and refunds for an ill puppy at the time of purchase. It should not require an unreasonably short amount of time for a veterinary check-up — say, 48 hours. The guarantee should not cover “genetic” defects for only less than a year, as defects usually appear after a few years. In a contract, an exact price, method of transportation and place of pick-up should be covered. Hint: shipping a puppy at a young age is probably a red flag, and animals that are transported by air have to be picked up at the airport, not delivered to your home.