Where do puppies come from? — part 2 | PostIndependent.com

Where do puppies come from? — part 2

After last month’s column about puppy mills’ widespread Internet fraud, several readers told me the info had saved them from falling for the scam.

Are the hallmarks of a good breeder obvious enough to be recognized by the average puppy-seeker? Yes. But first, be aware the price of the puppy is not one of them. In the case of two puppies, each with a thousand dollar price tag, the mill puppy represents a small investment, mostly in marketing, with a huge profit margin, while the puppy from a good breeder only partially offsets her investment in the dogs’ health and the breed’s improvement.

The screenings and clearances for her potential breeding stock, to be as sure as possible that they won’t perpetuate known genetic defects in the breed, cost a lot in money and time. The good breeder also tests her prospects in competitions to determine physical excellence and ability to perform whatever work the breed was created for. Meanwhile, the dog lives as a family member, bringing her “companionable” virtues under scrutiny. If she fails to measure up, an ethical breeder will drop that dog from her breeding program.

One obvious hallmark of a good breeder is that he does other things with his dogs besides propagating them. They will have championships, obedience and sport titles, certifications for service work, and be proudly displayed in the community for their accomplishments. The breeder supports clubs and working or sporting associations that set and maintain standards of excellence. Because of all this, good breeders seldom raise more than one breed, in which they are deeply involved.

Good breeders are honest about the breed’s qualities, and how their own dogs manifest them. They won’t try to persuade you to buy a puppy — in fact, they will dissuade you from a mismatch. Once you pay your $1,000 to a mill, the pedigree and registration form are the same as you get from a good breeder. But from the mill, it’s just paper that lets you pay an additional fee for the status of having a registered purebred dog. From a good breeder, you’ll learn about the dogs in the pedigree: what the letters before and after their names mean, and personal anecdotes about some of them. You’ll get a written agreement that will be honored if something goes wrong, and most breeders will go far beyond their obligations in the best interest of the puppy.

Good breeders won’t deliver a puppy too young, or before they meet you and ascertain that you’ll provide a good home for their precious pup. Unlike the mills, they are proud of all their dogs and love to show them off. Aside from the activities specific to the purebred world, the same markers apply to breeders of deliberate crosses, or “designer dogs.” The signs that breeding is a labor of love are apparent, if you look for them.

Beware of kennels with multiple breeds that don’t screen you before accepting your check, where you can’t visit in person, and where nothing but breeding takes place. Not all commercial kennels are squalid hell-holes, but they are all agribusinesses, run for a profit and without sentiment. The business objectives are to keep costs as low as possible and maximize return on investment. The cleanest of them use legal strategies to avoid consumer dissatisfaction costs, and breeding stock is kept productive, with low inputs for their care, and ruthless culling of under-producers — the old and ill.

There are passionate controversies among good and ethical breeders regarding organizations, like the AKC, and the impacts of their gate-keeping on the well-being of breeds, and dogs in general. While these critiques drive the hobby toward improvement, commercial breeding never concerns itself with them, considering them irrelevant to the industry. The best reason to buy a purpose-bred dog is self-knowledge: that predictability is important to your choice of a canine companion. Good breeders are the best sources of dogs to fulfill this need. How important that consideration should be is up to each to decide.

The question of whether it can be ethical to breed dogs when so many are destroyed for lack of homes remains troubling. The rescue option is the last one I’ll take up to answer the question of where puppies come from. Stay tuned.

— Laurie Raymond has spent 55 of her 66 years living, working and playing with animals of all kinds. For the last nine years she’s been the owner of High Tails Dog & Cat Outfitters in Glenwood Springs. Her column appears monthly.

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