By Kristina N. Lotz
“How much is that doggy in the window?” used to be a common phrase across America. For most people, getting a puppy meant going to the locally owned pet store to pick one out. No one ever thought about where the puppies came from and the condition of that place, or about dogs sitting in shelters.
Today, a war is raging on whether or not pet stores should be legally allowed to sell puppies. According to the Best Friends Society, twenty states have passed some type of legislation that either bans puppy selling altogether or creates standards for selling puppies, including requiring pet stores to document which city and state the puppy has come from. In some states, like California, citywide bans have come into effect in Aliso Viejo, Burbank, Dana Point, Huntington Beach, Laguna Beach, Los Angeles, and West Hollywood, among others. Not everyone agrees with the bans however.
The deplorable conditions of puppy mills have made animal welfare groups, reputable breeders, shelters, and a large part of the general public, angry at pet stores that may obtain their puppies from these mills. According to the ASPCA website, a puppy mill is a “large-scale commercial dog breeding operation where profit is given priority over the well-being of the dogs.”
Many people believe that if pet stores are no longer allowed to sell puppies, puppy mills will go out of business. However, the internet has provided another way for these “mass breeders” to sell their pups directly to dog lovers, without the need for the pet stores. Because of this, advocates in some states have worked on getting online puppy sales banned as well.
Besides supporting puppy mill bans, advocates argue that dogs from pet stores are unhealthy, unsocialized, and often have genetic defects.
Lorna Grande DVM, creator of PupQuest, an online guide about where to get a dog, believes that dogs from pet stores are more likely to have health issues because puppy mills and backyard breeders do not screen dogs as well.
“Wholesale breeding of puppies guarantees that the ‘quality’ of the merchandise will be poor. Large commercial dog breeders do not and cannot screen their breeding stock for genetic, inherited problems,” Grande explains.
“Proper critical socialization of masses of pups is impossible. Reputable breeders screen dogs before breeding them to minimize the risk for serious, expensive painful abnormalities such as hip dysplasia, cardiac diseases and blindness. As I always ask, ‘What are you paying for?’ You pay a [reputable] breeder for their expertise, medical screening and proper socialization of their pups.”
“I can tell you about my experience with dogs from the pet store in regards to potty training (we do a lot of that),” says Carol Hibner Saunders, owner of Primo PetCare in Auburn, Wash. “Every [puppy] we got from [the local pet store] has been horrible to potty train. We still have issues with several of them after they are a year old too.”
One of the main reasons for this is because the dogs are kept in what is essentially a crate, and are “taught” to eliminate in it. So, when the new owner takes it home and tries to crate train, the puppy already thinks it’s okay to go to the bathroom where she sleeps; something that is actually against a dog’s nature.
“I am against buying a puppy in a pet store because it is most often an impulse buy,” explains Pamela Korcek. “Impulse buys can easily lead to buyer’s regret, with an animal being re-homed soon after, or even abandoned.”
In addition, advocates for the ban believe that if pet stores did not sell puppies, more would be adopted from rescues or shelters. “Millions of puppies and kittens are bred in commercial facilities in the U.S. every year, while millions of dogs and cats are euthanized in U.S. shelters every year,” says Elizabeth Oreck, National Manager, Puppy Mills Initatives, Best Friends Animal Society.
“These are not all defective, unadoptable animals, but a surplus of pets caused by the fact that there simply are not enough homes for them. It makes no sense to continue manufacturing dogs and cats when so many are being killed for lack of space.”
Oreck is quick to point out that these laws will not affect those who have their heart set on a purebred. “It is important to note that these ordinances do not affect responsible hobby breeders, who are still available as a source of purebred animals for those who are not able to find the purebred of their choice through shelters, purebred rescue groups or online databases such as Petfinder. In fact, the ordinances can actually help increase business for the breeders in those communities, which is preferable to importing business from outside the community — if not the state.”
Due to the negativity surrounding this debate, those against the bans wished to remain anonymous when quoted.
“America was founded on... democracy, freedom, and the ideals of free enterprise,” one owner of a pet product manufacturing company said. “Pet stores should be allowed to sell what they want. This is America; they have the freedom to sell puppies. Why get in the way of business?”
As mentioned above, the internet has given puppy mill and “backyard breeders” another way of selling puppies, so banning them from pet stores may not have the effect the advocates for the ban ultimately hope for — the closing down of the large-scale breeders.
Some opposed to the ban cite the fact that pet stores sell a variety of other animals, including kittens, that also come from large-scale breeders, so why are dogs different? Others do not sell dogs from big mid-west puppy mills, but get them from local breeders; they have met the owners, visited their homes, and seen the conditions.
Matt, a pet store owner, has an interesting tale. He started out owning a pet store that did not sell puppies. All of his personal dogs were adopted, and they had rescue kittens in the store for people to adopt. Once, he asked the shelter worker if they wanted him to try and rehome some dogs as well.
The shelter worker told him that any dog they gave to a pet store would be one that would already get placed fast. In short, the dogs that are “highly adoptable” don’t need help, and the others are not suitable for a pet store environment.
This same pet store owner than bought an existing pet store as a new location. It sold puppies. When he was in the store with the old owner, a family came in to purchase a boxer puppy.
“I was of course a little horrified but didn't want to make a scene in the store that was about to be mine, and the family looked like as good as a family could get for the little boxer puppy they wanted,” explains Matt. “I couldn't figure out why the heck this family was about to spend $500 on a dog when they could get on Petfinder and get a boxer for even less money, or even for free on Craigslist!”
Originally Matt had planned to stop selling the puppies, which come from local breeders that he has met and are not shipped from other states from unknown breeders. But, “When I boiled it down, I realized that everyone was different and had different tolerances, living situations, financial resources, goals for their new pet... and a pet from the shelter or rehome situation didn't meet their needs. It wasn't my place to say,” he explains.
Matt had seen firsthand what can happen if a rescue dog was placed in the wrong home with undisclosed issues. Not only did the dog end up getting rehomed again, the marriage ended as well. Sometimes, a rescue dog is just not an option.
Pet lovers often cite that, for them, buying a dog at a pet store is easier than dealing with breeders, who are sometimes labeled as “overprotective,” asking potential owners to fill out papers, sign contracts, and outlining what the new owners can and cannot do with their dogs.
“I went to a breeder who wanted $1200 for a puppy,” said a pet owner. “Then, she proceeded to tell me I had to get it spayed, that I couldn’t do this or that with it, and I had to sign a five page contract. If I am paying $1200 for something, I should be able to make these decisions myself.”
“Several of my dogs over my lifetime have come from pet stores. All of them were happy, healthy dogs that my family loved,” explains another pet owner.”
What are your thoughts on banning the sale of puppies in pet stores? Let us know in the comments.