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Friday Focus: Making Rescue Less Necessary (or How to Avoid Internet Puppy Mills)

The question this week was How do you define rescue? Plenty of people provided excellent definitions in the comments section. And others admitted to having fallen short of the ideal.

So the more I thought about it, the more I thought about how defining the term isn’t useful. This site is about education, not recrimination. If the term “rescue” is getting trendy, all the better. Whatever gets the job done of saving dogs’ lives.

I fervently wish people would adopt rather than buy, but people shouldn’t feel guilty about their past choices or their mistakes (says the queen of guilt; hey, we’re all works in progress). What’s important is how you treat the dog you have now.

That said, some people deserve recrimination — as in criminal prosecution — and those are the ones who operate puppy mills.  The word is getting out about not buying dogs from pet stores — my friend Mary at Dancing Dog Blog had an excellent post about that topic earlier this week — but buying dogs on line is a far greater problem, one that’s not as much discussed as it should be. It’s debatable whether the site that inspired the original Friday Focus question was a puppy mill front; what’s not debatable is that many, many online sellers are.

Online purveyors are shifty: Changing web addresses when they’re found out (assuming they’re found out), pulling-bait-and-switches, or just taking your money without sending any “product.” I’m not sure which is worse — actually receiving a puppy mill graduate who might be seriously ill and break your heart as well as your bank account, or wiring money to Nigeria and getting no dog at all.

So here’s the education portion of this post:

How to recognize puppy mill purveyors on the Internet

  • No reputable breeder would sell puppies on a site that sells other items like clothing.
  • Reputable breeders focus on one breed, at most two, so they become familiar with breed characteristics, and especially with breed health problems. Be wary of sites featuring more than one type of puppy and especially lots of small designer breeds like “Shih-Poos.”
  • Reputable breeders won’t always have puppies available. At puppy mills, dams are kept bare-pawed and pregnant in cages, reproducing as often as they’re able to. A good breeder will only allow each mother to produce one litter a year, at most two. When you deal with an honest breeder, there’s a good chance you’ll have to wait for your puppy.
  • A reputable breeder will not sell you a puppy without meeting you or, at minimum, without first asking you for lots of references — and taking the time to check them. If they inquire about your first pet, it’s because they want to know if you’re capable of caring for the dog they’re entrusting you with.
  • A reputable breeder won’t try to manipulate your emotions with soft and fuzzy ad copy (or, ahem, religion).

One last point that’s a bit more open to debate (feel free to weigh in, reputable breeders)

  • Many reputable breeders don’t sell puppies on the internet directly to buyers, period. Good breeders tend to advertise in breed group publications, through the AKC or UKC sites…. or not at all. Many of the best breeders are known through word of mouth or through other personal referrals.
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27 Comments

  1. Posted July 16, 2010 at 10:24 am | Permalink

    “Many reputable breeders don’t sell puppies on the internet directly to buyers, period. ”

    I think this is changing. I know breeders (and I deal with an odd, non AKC/CKC registered breed, mind you) who do everything correct and by the book, but who only advertise directly. I will probably be doing a bit of both myself with my one “boutique” litter, as the market for some dogs is so dispersed as they can be relatively unknown in a local area, and the chance of me meeting all the buyers is sadly quite low. In some breeds it’s almost like a zoo trying to keep the good DNA from going extinct, and they’ll use any tool possible to ensure the dogs get out there to good, knowledgeable homes.

    • Edie Jarolim
      Posted July 16, 2010 at 10:47 am | Permalink

      Thanks for your input, Ron. That’s why I put the last point aside — I didn’t have as much current information as I would like.

      • Posted July 16, 2010 at 11:02 am | Permalink

        That would be a very good development. Who doesn’t start their first orientation about a breed on google these days. More dedicated breeders would surface before puppy mills on these searches, as content is king.

    • Posted July 16, 2010 at 11:07 am | Permalink

      Ron, I wonder if you and I are dealing with the same breed. Is it a herding breed?

  2. Posted July 16, 2010 at 10:36 am | Permalink

    What makes it so hard to fight them is because they have the beste salesforce on this planet: puppies.

    Even people who “know” get week in their knees when they meet a puppy and start to find excuses. Like calling it a “rescue” (your original idea for the subject).

    The puppy mill people and the industry behind them is right among us through the use of social media. They not only use websites, but also Twitter, Facebook and you name it. See this article Dogs playing on both sides of the fence.

    Especially in Denmark this is a problem. Where illegal sales is going on from Eastern European puppy mills from mobile vans/cars after making appointments through social media. Pet stores dont sell puppies anymore in Denmark, but the problem didn’t go away, puppy mills will find new channels to sell.

    Only if we change our own mindset and only either adopt or buy from breeders as you describe, the problem will go away.

    • Edie Jarolim
      Posted July 16, 2010 at 10:52 am | Permalink

      Yes, you’re right, social media like Twitter and Facebook are definitely a puppy mill conduit in addition to websites. And thanks for providing the link to Mel’s post. It was in the back of my mind — apparently too far in back! — to mention it.

  3. Posted July 16, 2010 at 11:09 am | Permalink

    My rescue dog is from a breed with only about 5000 individuals worldwide. We are blessed with some excellent breeders who screen potential puppy-buyers carefully, work hard to ensure genetic diversity is maintained, and health test their dogs for the few problems that are common in the breed.

    For reasons of practical geography, most of these breeders do sell over the Internet, in some cases to people that did not reach them by word of mouth (though word of mouth is obviously pretty powerful in such a small breed). These breeders generally maintain waiting lists since they breed so infrequently — the breeder I would want to get a puppy from if I were to buy a puppy hasn’t had a litter in over a year.

    This is not to say that my breed doesn’t have irresponsible breeders. Alas, they are out there too. We even have a busted puppy mill (which we hope will stay out of business) and a thriving borderline puppy mill (which we cannot find a legal way to shut down).

    Clearly, the warning to be wary with online puppy sellers is important. I see entirely too many dogs come through our rescue (did I mention I volunteer for the breed rescue?) from irresponsible breeders, and many of those are surrendered by uneducated consumers who went for a cute photo on a website. That said, there are situations where accepting credit cards and advertising on the Internet doesn’t indicate a problem with the breeder.

    Here’s what I suggest for people dealing with a situation where they must troll the Internet for a puppy (some of this is already in the post above, of course):

    1. Contact the breed rescue and ask for a list of recommended breeders.
    2. Take advantage of word of mouth when available.
    3. Check the breeder out carefully. Ask for references, including people who already have dogs from this breeder. Check the lineage of the dogs and make sure they are the types of dogs who ought to be bred. Find out what health checks the breeder does. If they are not doing a health check that is relevant to the breed, ask them why. Arrange to visit and meet all the dogs the breeder has, including the dam and the sire (if he is not someone else’s dog). It’s worth the extra cost, even if it means traveling a long distance. You can also send a representative to check things out for you. If the breeder won’t let you check out their setup, find a different breeder.
    4. Avoid any breeder who does not check on you. A responsible breeder wants to make sure every puppy he or she places thrives. That means picking good puppy buyers. If the breeder doesn’t take the time to check on you, they are most likely more concerned about their bottom line than the welfare of the puppies and the breed.
    5. Find out what kind of early socialization the breeder provides. Ideally, the puppy will see several different environments and meet outside people before the litter is sold.
    6. Avoid any breeder who wants to sell you a puppy before the puppy is 8 weeks old. Some people are OK with 7 weeks, but I personally recommend against it.

    One final note: If you are going to buy a puppy, research the breed carefully. While individuals vary, breed traits do tend to come through in many dogs, so make sure those are the traits you want.

    Edie, I hope you don’t mind how long this has gotten!

    • Edie Jarolim
      Posted July 16, 2010 at 11:14 am | Permalink

      Thanks for this — and I’m glad for the length. The more information the better, and this is extremely useful.

  4. Posted July 16, 2010 at 9:50 pm | Permalink

    I think that you’re preaching to the choir here, your readers are smarter than that. What person in their right mind would even consider buying a puppy, sight unseen, from a person advertising on the internet?

    • Edie Jarolim
      Posted July 17, 2010 at 4:53 am | Permalink

      Hey Karen, you never know; sometimes the google gods happen to land someone on a site that raises their consciousness of an issue. And here’s a great article I just came across on the preaching to the choir on Dog Star Daily: http://www.dogstardaily.com/blogs/preaching-choir

      • Posted July 17, 2010 at 7:21 am | Permalink

        When you follow the link at the bottom of the dogstardaily post to the “skepticblog” you find a great quote “So the next time I appear to be preaching to the choir, know that it is by design, and also know that there’s a good chance it might be really valuable to someone with less experience than you”.

        So true. Reminds me of the time I was a dog dummy myself.

  5. Posted July 17, 2010 at 1:50 am | Permalink

    Hey, thanks so much for the mention and for the focus here. Love the sense of evolving conversations!

    There are so many outlets for puppy mill sales. And yes, while it’s true pet stores are not the number one sellers in this equation, they are constant visual reminders that pets lives are somehow of less value that they can be sold like shoes in a mall.

    But I digress – it’s good breeders guidelines people need to save them from the kooks on the internets. Thanks for providing that and it’s great that you have all these good commenters with expertise in this topic – esp thesophisticateddog’s #4 and 5! – very helpful!

    • Edie Jarolim
      Posted July 17, 2010 at 5:00 am | Permalink

      You’re very welcome — and you’re right. The visuals of pet stores and the messages they send about the lives of pets are a very powerful force for evil. The privacy (well, such as it is these days) of the internet is a different type of evil, it affords people the ability to do really dumb stuff without the feedback of their peers.

      I agree that the information in the comments section about buying from good breeders is invaluable.

      • Posted July 17, 2010 at 3:46 pm | Permalink

        Yes, as is the info you provided. The internet is being used as an incredibly powerful driver of puppy mill sales. 500,000+ dogs sold from pet stores a year in the US is comparatively less astounding than what’s possible on the web.

        Good breeders may want to consider forming an association, not connected to the AKC (please, they are handing out papers to puppy mills dogs for the fee), that oversees breeders on the internet and confers a secure “seal of approval” that functions so it can’t be duplicated, can be shut down at the association, and has to be renewed every year. With underwriting, paying jobs doing good work could result and it could be huge help to the general public.

  6. Rebecca Boren
    Posted July 17, 2010 at 11:35 am | Permalink

    But getting back to the topic of what makes a dog a rescued dog…And assuming we care– I do think some definition is useful to avoid exploiting the idea of saving dogs when the dogs who actually need saving continue to die. I have always figured that any dog who comes from a rescue group (be it breed specific or cause specific — here in Tucson we have one rescue that specializes in collecting dogs abandoned on the local Indian reservations) is a rescue. So is any dog one adopts from a shelter or pound — call it an institutional setting in some ways equivalent to an orphanage for humans — particularly one that kills ‘unwanted’ dogs. At minimum, any dog who is at risk being killed for the crime of homelessness meets my definition of a rescue.
    Dog breeders and pet stores that sell puppies for profit are not rescuing dogs. The stores are just creating demand at the wholesale level. But I will give a breeder a pass who has, as all responsible breeders should, taken back a dog he or she produced and sold in the first place and wants to place that pooch as a rescue.
    Still, I thought it was a real abuse of the term when I found the fido who is now curled up at my feet (who shall be otherwise unidentified) advertised as a rescue on a breed club Web site. He was not a rescue — he was an 8-month-old puppy the breeder had not been able to sell. She was looking for someone to adopt him before the next batch of puppies came along.
    Which brings me to another bottom line. When it came right down to it, I was a lot less worried about defining terms that in getting a dog out of a commercial setting and into a real home. There will always be times when those of us who love dogs let our hearts rule our heads when we see a dog who needs a loving home. My plea would just be to, please, avoid deliberately walking into a situation where your actions encourage irresponsible breeding. For me, that means not even going into pet stores that sell puppies.
    PS If you are interested in acquiring a dog from a breed Web site, word of mouth in the breed community is often an excellent way of checking out a breeder you are considering. This may not be true of the wildly popular breeds — like yellow labs — but those who love and support less common breeds tend to make up a pretty small world. They know each other. If the folks at a local or national breed club do not know the breeder you are considering, consider that a major red flag. Aand act accordingly.

    • Edie Jarolim
      Posted July 17, 2010 at 11:43 am | Permalink

      Hi Rebecca, and welcome back. I should have clarified by providing a link to my original post where a lot of people weighed in with similar comments to yours. I am going to do that immediately after I hit the reply button!

      The reason that I dropped rescue as a topic was that several well intended people admitted to having made mistakes/bad decisions in the comments section of that post. So I figured a reminder of how to avoid making those mistakes in the future would be more useful than further recriminations — except to the puppy mill owners.

  7. Rebecca Boren
    Posted July 17, 2010 at 11:48 am | Permalink

    PS I am curious about the prevalence of the 8-week standard for taking a puppy home. That’s what I grew up with. But when I purchased my first smooth fox terrier puppy nearly 20 years ago, the breeder was sending all her pups to new homes at 6 to 8 weeks — and this was a distinguished contributor to the breed. She told me, and presented journal articles to support the idea , that puppies are outgoing and happy to adjust to new people and homes at 6 to 8 weeks. But that later — particularly at 12 weeks– many puppies go through a very shy period, which makes a move more traumatic than it has to be. Any thoughts from the experts? Has the pendulum swung back?

  8. Posted July 17, 2010 at 1:18 pm | Permalink

    Edie – Great post! I agree. Your list is an excellent one in my opinion.

    For me, the issue (at least for me) is not about making people feel guilty. I want to educate people on the dangers of buying from an online merchant, puppy mill, backyard breeder, etc. I have no issue with reputable breeders – there are some really good ones out there. I tend to be quite passionate about it, but I’m not a purist – at least I hope I’m not! 🙂

    I just want people to know where their puppy comes from and what the breeder did to socialize their litter of puppies. People need to be willing to dig deeper before buying a puppy.

    I agree with Kenzo. Sometimes preaching to the choir is intended for the sole purpose of educating someone new to the choir or someone not even in the choir. If the choir spreads the word then it’s a good thing and well worth it.

    My former puppy mill breeding dog, Daisy, was kept pregnant so often that my vet told me she could have had a tummy tuck, and this is when I first got her at (estimated) 4 years of age. A reputable breeder would never treat their dog in this fashion.

    As for this week’s Friday Focus question re: a particular website selling Yorkies, I will just say this – just because a facility is “clean” does not eliminate it from being a puppy mill. I recently interacted with a local pet store owner on this very subject. She claimed she wasn’t selling puppy mill dogs because she had visited the facility herself and it was “very clean.” Clean maybe. Not a puppy mill? Nope. It was one. The place she was getting her puppies from had 491 breeding pairs. Yes, I said “PAIRS”. It also has numerous USDA violations (none of them serious) and is a broker for smaller backyard breeders, many of whom had more serious USDA violations.

    The sad truth is these people are clever and understand that their industry is a dying one. They know they need to be careful so they don’t come under scrutiny. Posting wonderful tips on how to train a puppy or introduce a new puppy into your home is a way to make themselves look more legitimate. Sadly, it works. I am not saying the website you mentioned wasn’t a good breeder, but there is more to being a good breeder than a clean facility. Perhaps we need to provide people with a list of questions they can ask a breeder (in person) to ensure that the breeder does have the dog’s best interest in mind. I recognize that some legit breeders are turning to the internet – it makes sense, but starting with the list you provided should help to eliminate the ones looking to make a quick buck.

    Thanks for writing a really great and thoughtful post. I loved reading it and reading the debate that followed.

    • Edie Jarolim
      Posted July 17, 2010 at 2:42 pm | Permalink

      Thank *you* for your contribution to this discussion. Irith/TheSophDog (a few comments up) has a lot of good suggestions about finding a reputable breeder. I’ve got a few more; a new post one of these days…

      • Posted July 18, 2010 at 5:21 am | Permalink

        I look forward to your new post! I’ll check out Soph Dog’s comments. May need to write about it myself someday! 🙂

  9. Clare
    Posted July 17, 2010 at 7:24 pm | Permalink

    Without the arsenal of great checklists and lyrical observations, I would not be able to continue the conversation with my acquaintance who sparked the previous conversation (she sparked by sending me the treacly website from which she was “adopting” her pup).

    Rebecca, great insights as always. In California there has been talk percolating for years over legislation mandating that a puppy not leave its mother until 10 weeks. Don’t know what’s happened lately.

    Kenzo, you are well qualified to talk about rescue and purebreds, and should not be bashful that you were the latter. I had never heard of your breed, so I looked you up online and discovered that you friends almost died out more than once, including in the 20th century. You are large and noble (with potentially too-human style thought process) and I’m glad you’re here to weigh in.

    Ron, you’re killin’ me with your coyness? What breed? Okay, I know that you and SophDog may need to be elusive due to abuse of the breeds you save.

  10. Posted July 18, 2010 at 4:52 pm | Permalink

    Excellent points and you are right, you never know who might land on this site and really need this information. The more research I do about puppy mills, the more upset I get. I know I’m oversimplifying things, but I can’ t fully accept that it’s legal to operate these anywhere at all. In the meantime, so many wonderful groups are doing what they can to help these dogs and puppies. And spreading the word, like you!

    • Edie Jarolim
      Posted July 18, 2010 at 5:51 pm | Permalink

      Thanks, Peggy. I think a key problem is a lack of inspection — and lack of harsh punishment for infractions. Many puppy mill owners get slaps on the wrist: minimal fines, warnings, etc. So even when they don’t strictly follow the laws, which are lax to begin with, there are few repercussions.

  11. Posted July 18, 2010 at 8:46 pm | Permalink

    I hate puppy mills. And backyard breeders really get under my skin. However, I have no problem with responsible breeders.

    What is a responsible breeder? Someone who truly cares about the breed and their dogs. One MAJOR hallmark of this, to me, is when the breeder will take any of their puppies back at any time of their life and rehome them, if the original owners can’t keep them. If every breeder did this, the need for shelters would be almost eliminated. It’s amazing. And it’s a practice I highly recommend people looking for puppies search for.

    Online selling is becoming more common by reputable breeders. And puppy mills are wisening up, and doing things like posting photos of the “nurseries in which the puppies are raised” (obviously not the case in a puppy mill). I always say that if you are buying a puppy, unless you or someone you trust has physically visited the facility, you cannot trust that it is not a puppy mill. It is much easier to weed out back yard breeders than puppy mills, because BYBs are simply not savy enough to go to the manipulative extents that mills are. Unfortunately, people believe the pictures they see on the internet far too easily, and, as you said, get weak in the knees at the sight of puppies. This is a problem I am truly passionate about, but I don’t know what to do about it beyond trying to educate as many as possible. Unfortunately, I usually meet them after the puppy is home.

    • Posted July 18, 2010 at 8:53 pm | Permalink

      Shoot, I meant to add that I think the arrogance of many, many rescue groups who look down on people who want a puppy and condemn all breeders in the same stroke drives a lot of people to go to BYBs or puppy mills. Rescues tend to be over-zealous in their inspections (judgements) of people. One I know has extensive paperwork, and then a phone interview, and then a home visit before allowing for the adoption of any cat. It takes weeks. I understand processes being in place, anyone responsible wants to know where the animal is going, but there’s a line. And many people, who start out trying to rescue, turn to a BYB or puppy mill who won’t ask questions because they’re so sick of being judged. I know one woman who was approved to adopt two human children internationally at two different times, but who could not get approved to adopt a dog. Instead, she turned to two breeders and got two puppies. I am not sure the details of the types of breeder, but this story just epitomizes what rescues have become to me.

      I love the idea of rescues. But I think the high-and-mighty attitude undoes a lot of the good a rescue could do. As such, if I were to ever want to “rescue” a dog, I would be heading to a shelter rather than a rescue. I just don’t need the judgement in my life. Many people skip that step, and go straight to the solution with the fewest questions possible, which unfortunately is horrible for the dogs involved.

    • Edie Jarolim
      Posted July 19, 2010 at 7:11 am | Permalink

      Eileen, thanks for taking the time to comment. Just a couple of things. So-called backyard breeders are often conduits for puppy mills, faux-homey, nonprofessional fronts for the larger operations.

      As for rescue groups vs shelters — generalizations don’t apply. Some breed rescues are very reasonable about getting dogs into good homes; others aren’t. It’s the same with shelters. Some have the funds and facilities to be able to screen more thoroughly (and some abuse that advantage by being unreasonable); others just want to get animals out the door. And remember that breed rescues almost always get their dogs from shelters of some variety, so it’s impossible to separate those systems.

      • Posted July 19, 2010 at 11:13 pm | Permalink

        All true. I make the distinction between puppy mill and BYB by myself classifying a BYB as someone who has no link to a larger operation but just wants a litter or two “for fun” without doing any research. Or possibly even litters every year, because having puppies around is so darn cute! But never researching the parents, etc. If they’re associated with a mill, I don’t call them BYBs. HOWEVER, you’re right, they often are interconnected. My own personal terminology is not universal and should not be assumed as such 😛

        Second, it is true, that is not always the case with rescues vs. shelters. In my neck of the woods, I have found it to be so. I have yet to deal with a reasonable rescue (not breed rescues, more generic rescues who are privately funded and often pull “death row dogs” of any type), and I have yet to deal with an unreasonable shelter. But that is a very narrow sample. Mostly, I have been very, very frustrated by my experiences with rescues, and I’m fed up with them! And as a person passionate about dogs, I can only imagine how this makes people who are more apathetic towards the issue feel. It upsets me. Because I feel like the ones I have seen could be doing so much more good if they would be more reasonable, and instead are often doing more harm than good.

        While the dogs in shelters and rescues come from the same places, or are passed between, their adoption processes are separate. Which is why I appraise them separately. Not for the quality of dog, but for the quality of people and process.

        Of course, no generalization is 100%. Which is why I started by saying “many, many rescues” …but then I forgot to keep that up. I’m not someone who gets upset by generalizations (i.e. “women are weaker than men” is not going to get my hackles up by itself…it’s true for most people because of biology, though certainly not all), so I tend to use them. Sorry if any offense was passed. I certainly did not intend to condemn all rescues out there.

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  1. […] The Basics « Friday Focus: Making Rescue Less Necessary (or How to Avoid Internet Puppy Mills) […]

  2. By Revisiting the choir: You never know who’ll join on October 1, 2010 at 11:16 am

    […] going to let you read through the responses to that comment because this post isn’t so much about generally speaking to an audience of converts but about […]

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