It all started with a casual request from a fellow dog Twitterer for me to submit a photo of my pup for her site. I’m always happy to share Frankie’s cute mug with others, and it looked like she ran a nice, small dog supply business. Sure, I said.
After submitting the photo, I clicked on the site to see who Frankie was going to be spending time with, electronically speaking. One picture grabbed my attention: Two adorable puppies, with a hyperlink that said: “Pups for adoption at [XXX] pet boutique.”
Hmmm. I associate adoption with rescue groups, not pet boutiques. Sure enough, when I clicked on the site, which had a homey look and midwestern address, there it was. Along with pet clothing, totes, and other accessories, they were selling puppies: Shih-Tzus, Maltese, Bichon-Poos, Shih-Poos, Yorkies, Akitas (Akitas? Don’t they know how large those grow?)…
Among the directions: “Please click on your breed preference in the left hand menu bar for current babies waiting for their new homes.”
Among the claims: “All puppies are raised in a home environment.”
A link to more cute pictures, with the statement, in full-on puppy persona, “We would like nothing better than to meet you and shower you with unconditional love…. Sometimes money can buy happiness.” Another click led to a blog where people could share inspirational stories all about their favorite pets, growing up on a farm with dogs, etc.
God was invoked in several places.
But there’s nothing godly — or even remotely good — about being a front for a puppy mill. Puppy mills don’t always sell their live, mistreated wares through pet stores, as most TV and print exposes suggest. Just as often — maybe more so, these days — they’re sold over the internet on faux mom ‘n’ pop sites like the one I was looking at.
I wrote the owner of the original pet supply site that had requested Frankie’s picture:
You can tell me to mind my own business, but the link to the cute dogs for “adoption” sets off alarm bells in me. I’m afraid they’re likely to come from puppy mills. You seem like a nice person based on our Twitter exchanges and I wouldn’t want to see you inadvertently promoting something like this.
When I didn’t hear back, I thought, “Oh crap.” Maybe she knew about the link, but didn’t care. Maybe she was getting a cut, and I’d tipped her off to my suspicions. The original site would go down, and another, slightly different one would spring up in its place a few days later.
Then this morning, I got an email:
Thank you for the information. I appreciate you taking the time to say something. Being inexperienced with this I guess I’m not sure how to spot the puppy mills unless they are talked about on the news. Can you tell me which sites look suspicious?
So I directed her to the link that I had the problem with, and told her I’d address her question in more detail on my blog, so more people can know…
How to tell a reputable breeder from a puppy mill purveyor on the internet
- Most reputable breeders don’t sell puppies on the internet, 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.
- 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. No instant gratification: 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.
- A reputable breeder won’t try to manipulate your emotions with soft and fuzzy ad copy. 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.
As for why I don’t link to the original site as an example of what I’m talking about, it’s simple: I don’t want to get sued for libel. I have no proof for my accusations, just very well-grounded suspicions. Also, as I mentioned earlier, if I brought it to public attention, the site would likely be pulled down, to reappear with another web address, in another homey reincarnation, a few days later.