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To Buy or Not to Buy?


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Nothing seems to ignite more controversy in the pet industry than discussing the breeding and buying of pets. Some pet stores that sell pets have come under fire because their stock might be coming from “puppy mills” or unethical breeders. Many in animal welfare urge the slogan “adopt; don’t shop.” 

I have a friend who is a wonderful poodle breeder. She loves the breed, she breeds for the right reasons, and she happens to own a pet store. If you visit her shop, you might see some poodles for sale. Should we condemn her store because she sells dogs? How about the store where the owner specifically picks local breeders he personally knows and has inspected their operations? Should we picket his store and see if we can put him out of business? I don’t think so; but I doubt many in the animal rescue world would agree. 

I don’t think anyone in the pet industry is truly against someone buying a dog. What most people are against are puppy mills and unethical breeders. In some areas of the country, local government agencies have decided to go after puppy mills by prohibiting pet stores from selling pets. Sounds great on paper; but in reality, what happens is that the buyer just leaves their local store and heads to the internet. The puppy mills do not go away because of a pet store ban; they just change their marketing techniques. There have been several cases where rescue organizations were found to be completely bogus and just fronts for puppy mills. There have also been several cases where puppy mills have employed people and their homes, and then put out a Craigslist listing. People visit the house and think they’re dealing with a nice couple when really they’re just a front for the mill.

In a perfect world, if a person has made the decision to add a pet to their family and a rescue or a shelter doesn’t offer what they are looking for, they should look for a reputable breeder. The person should research the breed, visit the breeder, understand what is and isn’t being done with the puppies prior to their leaving the mom, and ensure both parents are friendly and have undergone extensive health screenings. A good breeder won’t just sell you a puppy—a good breeder ensures you are the right home for the puppy and should always be willing to take that animal back if things don’t work out. 

Unfortunately, this rarely happens. People fall in love with a cute face; they don’t know that they should ask about health or socialization practices. They get dogs from accidental breedings or made-up breeds with false papers making them sound as if they are a recognized dog breed. Also, people are impatient. They want a puppy now, not two years from now when the perfect puppy for them might be born. 

Stores that choose to sell pets must have some success; otherwise I don’t think anyone would take on the negative connotation that comes with selling pets in a store. For various reasons, our industry does need dogs available for purchase. The question is: Can that be accomplished responsibly and ethically in a pet store? 

Canine Care Certified is a voluntary program that sets rigorous standards for professional breeders. The program was developed based on research that was conducted by Purdue University’s Center for Animal Welfare Science and led by the center’s director, Dr. Candace Croney. Administered by nonprofit organization Center for Canine Welfare, the program is a very interesting program because it not only sets standards on care, but it also addresses environment and behavior, and even sets breeding limits. Canine Care Certified also has independent auditing that eliminates the possibilities of someone “faking” their way to certification. 

Ultimately, however, even with the Canine Care Certified endorsement, those pets are still coming from commercial breeding operations and everything in my gut screams “No!” But in saying “no,” am I just forcing those individuals who are bound and determined to buy a dog into looking for a dog where there is no oversight, like on Craigslist? If stores that sell pets start to demand that all their breeders are Canine Care Certified, that’s a good start, right? I suppose that would mean only the cream of the crop commercial breeders would be supplying stores. Will that mean the downfall of true puppy mills?

If we look at the amount of stores that sold pets 20 years ago compared to today, it’s just a fraction of what it used to be, but commercial breeding operations are at an all-time high. In 2012, there were 2,356 licensed breeders compared to 2,654 today, according to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). Those numbers do not include the unlicensed breeders, which are suspected to be in the thousands and on the rise. So, I’m not sure the majority of business for commercial breeders is coming from pet stores. 

If you sell pets or not, education is still the key. Let your customers know how to pick a good breeder and help them with that. Host “meet the breed” type events where consumers can meet a good breeder and the breed. Make sure you spread the word about the deceptive practices that puppy mills use. 


B.C. Henschen, a certified pet care technician and an accredited pet trainer, is a partner in Platinum Paws, a full-service pet salon and premium pet food store in Carmel, Ind. His knowledge of the pet food industry makes Platinum Paws the go-to store for pet owners who want more for their pet than a bag off a shelf. 

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