I think there is a lot of confusion over the definition of the two subjects of this article among the general population. My goal with this article is to hopefully clear up some of the issues.
The first topic I will write about today will be puppy mills. As a responsible breeder, I abhor puppy mills and anything remotely close to them. PETA would define anyone that breeds dogs for profit as a puppy mill. I believe a better definition would be anyone who breeds dogs for profit without regard to their well-being or care. A puppy mill has horrible conditions where dogs are kept in small, dirty cages without ever seeing the light of day. In my mind’s eye, I see dirty, matted, scared dogs cowering in the corner being bred several times a year and never having any human interaction. Puppy mills never get their dogs or puppies vet checked because they don’t care about the health of their animals. Puppy mill puppies are almost always sold to a broker or a middle man who then transports them, sometimes across the country in awful conditions, to be sold in big cities at pet stores to unsuspecting people banking on the fact that all they will see is a cute puppy. If you sell a puppy to a middle man, what incentive do you have to produce a happy, healthy puppy? You do not have to deal with the issues that come up, so why bother trying? If people knew the conditions that puppies were raised in, they would never support the puppy mill that produced the puppy by purchasing it. However, people can’t see that and people still unknowingly support puppy mills and keep the cycle going by supporting these unethical people. Many times puppies sold in pet stores get sick in the first few days or weeks with a high number of them generating hundreds or even thousands of dollars in vet bills. Unfortunately, veterinarians cannot always undo the harm done by poor breeding, bad environments, improper preventative care, and genetic defects as a result of breeding unhealthy dogs that are not cleared for breeding. Many times, these puppies die in spite of the vet care and money spent trying to save them. Money spent on a poor quality pet shop puppy is sometimes astronomical. As a general rule, I always recommend people to never purchase from a pet store unless you can go to the breeders home and see their facility and meet the parents. Another awful practice of pet stores is fabricating registration papers. Any registry but AKC (even those can be illegitimate, although it is more difficult) will issue multiple papers without proof of parentage. If you will notice, many large puppy mill type operations convert all their dogs to ACA for several reasons that will be discussed in a future article. Stay away from a breeder that only produces ACA, CKC, APRI or other obscurely registered dogs; it screams puppy mill.
Pet shops are not the only sellers of puppy mill puppies. There are far too many private, backyard, or illegal ‘breeders’ that don’t care properly for their puppies or simply do not know what they are doing. Responsible breeding involves much more than mating two dogs and producing puppies. Puppies are a huge responsibility and the process should not be taken lightly. In 2009 in Pennsylvania, new dog laws took effect shutting down many of the huge puppy mills in the state. Unbelievably, there were kennels with as many as 800 dogs or more that were operating legally in PA for decades. Some kennel owners refused to comply and held on for as long as they could till the state shut them down. Others voluntarily surrendered their licenses but continued breeding illegally. I think this has happened more than anyone realizes. A lot of the huge kennel owners were also land/farm owners with family members and friends that also owned farms. Many dogs were stashed here and there in friends and relatives barns and backyards, uncared for, but still being bred and sold illegally by finding loopholes in the law. I caution people to make SURE your breeder is state licensed and go to their home or facility to see where your puppy comes from. Many times, people will show you a cute litter of puppies in their home, but you will never see where it was actually raised.
An ethical, responsible breeder will do research on the lines of the prospective breeding prospects making sure they are healthy and not related. A good breeder will vet check all breeding dogs twice yearly and get them cleared for breeding. Females should be bred a maximum of once a year and then when they are 5 to 6 years old, be retired from breeding to loving pet homes to finish out their life. Unethcial breeders cannot do this because then people would see the condition of their breeding dogs and report them. There are many different protocols that good breeders use but ALL good breeders care for their dogs and puppies ethically and at the very least, get them vet checked once a year. A good, clean facility is also a must and happy, friendly puppies are the product of good socialization. If you request references from your potential breeder, you should have a list within a few days. Vet information should also be provided upon request. Your breeder should be able to respond to emails or phone calls within a reasonable amount of time and should be knowledgeable about their breed. Questions should be able to be answered quickly about parents, registries, health, age, availability of puppies, etc. A good breeder knows their dogs and puppies and shouldn’t have to get back to you with most requested information. You should be able to meet the parents when you arrive and see the facility first hand.
In reality, if you do a little research and ask plenty of questions, you should be able to find a good breeder. Go with your gut feeling about a person; it is usually dependable. Buying a puppy is a huge commitment and you should never feel pressured in any way to make a hurried decision. A good breeder wants you to be sure of your decision and will encourage you to take your time in deciding. So many breeders will lie and tell you someone else is interested in the puppy you inquired about and if you don’t purchase it quickly, it might not be there, when in reality, there is no one else even inquiring about a puppy. I’ve heard breeders say this numerous times and laugh at how they take advantage of people.
The breeding program of a good breeder should be their main work, not something on the side. If someone is putting all their time and energy into their breeding program, they are more likely to do a better job. It is a full time job if it is done correctly. You couldn’t do it without some profit because it is you work and you need to make a living. It costs to have the facility that is required by the state and you may have payments to make for that as well. In reality, if you want to do it and do it right, dog breeding costs a lot and has to be your main job or it cannot be done well. PETA’s definition is a little extreme. I don’t know of anyone that would put in the hours of work that it takes to run a kennel and not make some profit from it. That is like saying you will work your main job for free and just take money for small side jobs. I don’t believe that profit should be the main focus of breeding. Producing quality, happy, healthy puppies for people and bettering the breed you are producing should be the main focus for any breeder. If that gets lost, then that is when priorities start getting mixed up.
Remember, ask as many questions as you can, talk personally with your breeder, and if possible, go see the facility. Ask for references, talk to people that have actually been there and go by your instincts. A puppy purchased from an ethical breeder can bring many years of joy and happiness to you and your family. Nothing can replace that.