What's wrong with buying from a pet shop?

I was at a shopping centre today with a friend, and as we pushed our prams past a pet shop, my friend asked "is that one ok?"  

I've been pretty vocal about disliking two pet shops close to me - one of which has just closed (yay!) - but maybe I haven't been clear about why. My friend and I stopped and looked at the puppies in the window, with our own little ones in their pusher, and I thought that that scene pretty much summed up the first reason to dislike pet shops. 

1) If I'm not prepared to put my baby in a glass box, why is it ok to do that to a puppy? 

Puppies should be with their mothers and litter mates in a warm, clean environment. By the time they are old enough to roll around and play with their littermates, they are learning valuable lessons - they learn bite inhibition and social skills playing with others, they get antibodies and nutritional balance by nursing from their mother and their mother will be working on toilet training too.

Removing puppies from their mother and their littermates robs them of opportunities to learn at an important developmental stage. It increases risks of the dog growing up to be anxious, snappy, sick and poorly house broken. In turn, these problems increase the chance of the puppy being dumped at a shelter before its two years old. 

The laws in Victoria currently prohibit puppies from being sold before 8 weeks of age. But pet shops want tiny, cute puppies, not big, half grown things, so they use a loophole - they get puppies at an early age and put them in their glass boxes to lure people into the shop, and put up a sign with the date the puppy will be "available". Ok, the puppy won't be sold before 8 weeks, but it's not with its mother either. 

Photo taken 27/11/15 - making these puppies still under age, but already removed from their mother.

Photo taken 27/11/15 - making these puppies still under age, but already removed from their mother.

Ask your pet store for the age of the puppies in their store. 

2) If I'm going to make sure my baby is well cared for when he's away from me, why is it ok to put a puppy in a glass box? 

Even if the puppy is old enough to be away from its mother, the glass box is a terrible idea. The puppy is unable to move around freely, is unable to get away from its excrement, may run out of/spill its water, may be upset by people tapping on the glass.  

Look at puppies in a pet store - they often stretch out against the glass to sleep. Are they trying to get away from the lights? From wee soaked shredded paper? Trying to reach out to people for the body warmth they shared with their mother and siblings? 

This little one did have siblings to play with, but nowhere to get away from the wet and dirty patches, so the toilet training instinct was being over ruled. 

This little one did have siblings to play with, but nowhere to get away from the wet and dirty patches, so the toilet training instinct was being over ruled. 

3) To have my baby, I had a host of health care services available to me. Doesn't the mother of your dog deserve the same? 

Pet shops need a constant supply of cute puppies to sit in those glass boxes. Breed registration bodies restrict the number of litters any one female can produce in a period of time, to ensure appropriate recovery time. Not for profit breeders usually have a limited number of breeding animals, living on suburban blocks with local council registration limits. Most registered breeders are trying to produce dogs of a particular breed, and aren't interested in producing "designer dogs" for the pet shop market. This means either pet shops have to get puppies from a very large pool of registered breeders (nearly impossible) or from a puppy farm.

Puppy farms are notorious for poor treatment of their breeding animals - locked in cages, minimal food, no health care, no socialization, stimulation, training or love. Females are kept constantly pregnant, and a puppy farmer will happily remove puppies as soon as possible to bring the female back into season quickly. No recovery time to build up fat reserves spent on gestation or lactation, no extra food - both cost money. Males are treated appallingly - it's quite common to see males rescued from puppy farm to be minus an eye, either due to injury in cramped, poorly maintained cages, or untreated infections. 

One puppy farm recently in the media had dead and decaying dog carcasses scattered all over its property - because it's dogs were not given basic health care to keep them alive. Why pay for a vet bill and keep feeding a retired dog that can no longer produce puppies for sale? 

Ask your pet shop where the puppies come from. 

4) If the priority in having a human baby is to have a healthy baby, shouldn't it be just as important to have healthy puppies? 

Today, pregnant women go to great lengths to try and have healthy babies. We take vitamins, stop drinking alcohol and stop eating risky foods, we go through a wide range of tests and seek medical care for our birthing processes. 

In dogs, we can do the same to try and get healthy puppies. Ethical breeders test potential parents for hip dysplasia and cataracts, amongst many other things. If a bloodline of dogs starts regularly developing sarcomas (more common is cross-breeds), diabetes (common in cross bred terriers), epilepsy or another illness, a responsible breeder will stop breeding those dogs and seek out healthier breeding stock. A breeder who sells to pet shops won't even know if their puppies are highly likely to develop diseases, so they just keep churning out ticking time bombs that will cost their owners mega bucks in vet fees. Or the puppies get dumped at a pound (see the table below).

Here's hoping these little guys find great homes that will do whatever it takes. 

Here's hoping these little guys find great homes that will do whatever it takes. 

4) If new mums get support to help them raise a human baby, shouldn't new puppy owners get support too? 

When the Wee Monster and I came home from hospital, I had three home visits from specialist midwives and MCH nurses. I was given 24/7 support help desk phone numbers. I was given a series of appointments to meet with the MCHN and invited to join a new Mother's group. Eight months later, those supports are still there, in the form of a weekly playgroup meeting and our recent eight month check up with the nurse. 

Meanwhile, 8 months after a pet shop puppy is born, what's happening? Not only has the average female in a puppy farm probably had another litter without a single vet check up, but there's no support for the puppy's human family either. 

Some pet shops will arrange a single free vet check up of the puppy after its taken home, but the timing of these visits seems to manage to be before any serious problems emerge, far more often than not. Some pet shops will encourage new owners to attend a puppy school, but it's left up to the owners to find a convenient time and place. If I miss a MCHN appointment or if I'd missed the early sessions of Mother's Group, someone would have rung me up to check on things. No pet shop is going to follow through like that.

Responsible breeders approach filling this lack in different ways. Some are very picky about the homes they select and make sure their puppies will be with breed experienced people. Some offer a discount, paid after being sent a copy of a puppy school graduation certificate. Many breeders will check in with their puppy buyers, not just for a few months, but for many years. The breeder is always just a phone call away for advice and "silly" questions. People who own different litter mates are encouraged to stay in touch, even if only through the annual birthday wishes they extend to the dogs on FB. Play dates between litter mates are encouraged. All of these things help puppy buyers deal with the exuberance and energy of a new puppy, with any health problems that arise (although this is much rarer than with pet store puppies), and make it far less likely that puppies will end up in the pound before they turn two. 

The common reasons for companion animals being surrendered to the RSPCA overwhelmingly relate to common issues with pet shop bought puppies, from a paper by Hugh Wirth. Click the image to read the full paper.

The common reasons for companion animals being surrendered to the RSPCA overwhelmingly relate to common issues with pet shop bought puppies, from a paper by Hugh Wirth. Click the image to read the full paper.

So, I said to my friend, as we pushed out strollers away from the pet shop, it's not about one pet shop being better or worse at supplying puppies. It's about the fact that for every puppy in a pet shop, there are a whole host of issues, cruelties and problems being created behind the scenes. How do you know you're buying from a responsible breeder? Because a responsible breeder doesn't have a "behind the scenes" - they can show you the parents, the living conditions, the health check paperwork, the registration paperwork and the pedigree records. Ok, they might not have a puppy ready and waiting for a buyer to take home on demand, but they're also pretty confident that they don't have any puppies sitting in a pound either. 

We often wait years to have human babies, to make sure we can give them a healthy, happy secure home. Surely, if a new puppy is going to be part of the family, we should be prepared to wait for the right circumstances for them too.