Where Do Puppies Come From?
Who wouldn’t love a job that entailed meeting new puppies nearly every week? Especially when they are dearly loved, being taken around and introduced to the world by their proud families.
I always ask for the story of how they found each other. One day, as I smooched and admired a baby of well-mixed parentage, asking where she had come from, I was memorably enlightened by the six year old girl of the family who, with a pitying look, informed me, “Of course she had to have a mom AND a dad, and they…” Now, I usually phrase the question, “where did you get her?” At the most fundamental level, the origins of all us mammals are pretty much the same. The stories that fascinate me begin with who raised this puppy, and where, and why, and how she got here. No two tales are alike!
And yet, in the last five years or so, I keep hearing one story, with varying details, that I’ve learned to dread for what it presages for the happy family and its newest member.
The basic elements involve an internet search for a puppy of that breed leading to a breeder, usually, but not always, somewhere in the Midwest; the breeder selecting a puppy that was “perfect” for their family; and a trip to pick her up. How hard the trip was on the puppy, because she was so sick when they got her home, but she’s better now… Sometimes the puppy was shipped by air, and the family had to go to DIA to get her.
Disappointment, because they were not allowed to go to the kennel, meet the parents and select their puppy from the litter. The breeder had said no. Regretfully, and with a plausible excuse – their vet told them not to let visitors in to their puppy nursery, “to protect their health” — the breeder said a firm “no.”
But he would be happy to meet the buyers off-site, or he just “happened” to have a friend or family member traveling to a town near where the buyer lived and could deliver the puppy. “But it wasn’t a puppy mill,” the new parents would say. “Their website is gorgeous, and we got to see photos of both parents and one of the grandparents. And of course, the puppies are AKC!”
But in most of these cases, it was a puppy mill. The photos on the websites are staged, and the purported parents of their puppy are stock photos, tricks by which big commercial breeders masquerade as loving hobby breeders, raising puppies in their living rooms, frolicking with their kids. Places you would want your puppy to have come from, where you could picture your puppy’s canine mom being comforted by her loving human family after her puppies were sold.
Puppy mills have been around a long time, and most people know to avoid supporting their unsavory practices by not buying puppies from some pet stores. That market declining, due to buyer awareness, coinciding with the rise of the internet created profitable new opportunities for the mills to sell direct to individual buyers, aided by a loophole in the USDA regulations that exempted online sellers from oversight.
This month, that loophole has been closed, and commercial breeders who sell puppies via the internet will be subject to inspection and regulation by the USDA. Animal welfare groups celebrate this as a major victory, and it is. But, in the context of inadequate budgets for enforcement, how much will actually change is the salient question.
So, when I meet a new puppy who shares this story, my heart constricts for a moment. I know that the sickness, the fearfulness and training challenges are most likely not just from the stress of the trip to her new home, but long shadows cast by her dark origins over her future well-being, and I see worry, expense and heartbreak ahead for her family.
Still, I’m glad this puppy now has a loving home. Love is always good, even when it brings sorrow. But if knowledge may increase joy and postpone heartbreak it’s worth some effort.
In the next column, I’ll share what I’ve learned about the other major sources of puppies today, shelters and rescue groups, and non-commercial breeders, to shed some light on how they embody, or not, the beginnings we would want for each puppy.
Laurie Raymond has spent 55 of her 66 years living, working and playing with animals of all kinds. For the last 9 years she’s been the owner of High Tails Dog & Cat Outfitters in Glenwood Springs.
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