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Counterpoints: Dogs Can Be Bred Humanely for Sale


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Soon after I joined our industry nearly 20 years ago, I came to know a number of storeowners for whom selling puppies was a part of their business. Most of those I knew took steps to ensure that the breeders they bought from treated their puppies well, visiting their facilities and carefully inspecting puppies on arrival at their stores. It was hard for many of them to obtain exhaustive information on the background of every dog they handled. Even those who could vouch personally for every dog found that neither puppy buyers nor local anti-puppy-sales activists were impressed. As a result, I had many discussions with storeowners in which we wished that some sort of certification of breeders could be established. Too complicated, too difficult and too expensive was the conclusion every time.

We never thought it would happen. 

But it is happening now with the Canine Care Certified Program, which began with a group of breeders in the Midwest recognizing that they have an obligation to raise dogs in ways that meet both their physical and behavioral welfare needs. The program is based on the Standards of Care, which were developed by expert researchers led by Dr. Candace Croney at the Center for Animal Welfare Science at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind. Scientific studies at Purdue formed the basis of the standards, which cover not only physical health and safety, but also an in-depth list of aspects of breeding including social and behavioral health, outdoor access, exercise and housing. The criteria include limits on how many litters breeding pairs are allowed to have in a year and what happens to them in retirement. Validus, an independent certification company specializing in socially responsible animal welfare practices, inspects and certifies breeding facilities.

This advance is important because the trade in purebred or crossbreeds can’t be wished away and will go on regardless of whether pet stores sell puppies or not. Many dog owners have specific wants when it comes to dogs. One of Purdue’s studies showed that more than 50 percent of people surveyed believe that the most important characteristics in obtaining a dog are physical and behavioral health and compatibility with the owner’s lifestyle. The same survey showed that about 90 percent of people believe that dogs could be bred ethically and responsibly. This indicates that many consumers can, ultimately, be influenced to obtain dogs that are certified. 

Not Enough Real Rescues

Another impossible wish is that the demand for dogs can be met completely by rescues, but there are not nearly enough. In fact, many of the dogs that shelters now offer for adoption were purchased from brokers who obtain dogs from breeders of dubious quality in the U.S., Latin America or Asia. Dubbed “rescues,” these dogs are a key source of revenue for the shelters that nevertheless qualify for nonprofit status. More information on this topic can be found in the 2016 book “The Dog Merchants” by Kim Kavin.

Rolling Out and Auditing Breeders

This year has seen the beginning of efforts to roll the program out both to breeders and retailers. The Center for Canine Welfare (CCW), which administers the program and is not affiliated with Purdue, was incorporated as a nonprofit last year and recently hired its first full-time manager. By this summer, there were about 60 pet stores participating and 30 breeders either certified or with certification in the works. Validus had trained seven auditors to evaluate breeders working to implement the Standards of Care and is planning to add more.

These numbers will surely increase dramatically. CCW is working directly with regional breeder associations and two of the largest puppy distributors, and is exhibiting at breeder association shows. Retailers that handle puppies are working as a sponsor to many of their breeders in two ways. One way is on the internet, with materials to help retailers and breeders already available. A web portal that assists breeders in participating has been launched at caninecarecertified.com. However, many breeders are Amish, do not use the internet and are being contacted directly by retailers. 

From Store to New Puppy Owner

Stores have access to marketing materials including window clings to place on displays in which certified dogs are housed. Puppy buyers receive a letter from the certified breeder with the dog’s microchip number as well as the breeder’s certification number. Each breeder will have a sticker unique to it bearing that number, which will be attached to the dog’s paperwork. 

All this takes money. The industry owes thanks to the World Pet Association (WPA), host of SuperZoo and other industry events, which, since 2014, has been investing dollars to help launch Canine Care Certified Program and introduce it to breeders. Even so, the industry has had no involvement in the development of the standards or the certification process, which are based solely on scientific studies with the goal of determining the needs of the animals.   

One phase of commercial breeding that the study has not covered yet is transportation. The trip from breeder to store can be traumatic, even though many breeders and brokers take great care to minimize the stress puppies experience. Would any reader care to offer a grant for a study to establish these standards, too? 


Barry Berman is president and co-founder of NexPet, a co-op for independent retailers, and Grandma Mae’s Country Naturals pet food company. He is also vice chairman of World Pet Association. Contact him at barry@nexpet.com.

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