Thursday, 4 September 2014

Where's Mum?

Responsible breeder bred puppies

There was a debate in parliament today about puppy farming: There has been a campaign, headed up by Marc Abraham MRCVS and some dog welfare charities including Dog's Trust and Blue Cross aimed at stopping puppies and kittens being bred and sold by what is commonly called "puppy farmers".

The word farm conjurers up images of green fields and fresh air.  Not so when it comes to puppy farms, also called puppy mills or even backyard breeders.  Think more along the lines of battery farming.  The parent dogs are usually kept in small crates in barns, with crates piled on top of each other, the crates underneath getting covered in mess from the crates above.    The dogs are only brought out of crates in order to be mated and are then put back,  the puppies may well be born in these crates and spend the first weeks of their lives there.

So although Snoopy from the Peanuts cartoons may have fond memories of the Daisy Hill Puppy Farm, most of these puppies they don't have the best start in life and if they live past the first few weeks they are taken from mum early and sold on to pet shops, or they are advertised on the internet and you meet the breeder at a service station on a motorway or in a lay-by somewhere.   Occasionally you will go to the home of the breeder and see the puppies, but usually mum is in such a state the "she's on a walk as she doesn't like strangers" or "she will be upset to see the puppy go so she's with a friend".   This "breeder" is often a dealer, they have brought a litter of puppies from a puppy farmer and are passing them off as their own, or they may be associates of the puppy farmer where the profits are split.

Which brings us to the question of where do I get a dog, puppy, cat or kitten from?
As dogs are my area of specialty I'm going to talk about them more than cats. 
There are a lot of rescue centres up and down the country rehoming abandoned pets.  They can range from very reputable to ones that may not be much better than a puppy farm anyway.  But if you do go to a rescue centre expect to have your entire life looked in to, you will usually have home visits before you can adopt a pet, some places will come out to you 2 or 3 times.  You will be expected to fill in a questionnaire and be asked about your contingency plans for holidays and emergencies.

After all that you may be placed on a waiting list until the rescue thinks they have a dog that is suitable for your life style, or you may even be turned down as the criteria for adopting from that particular place hasn't been met (many won't home to people who are at work all day or who have young children).  What won't happen is you turn up in the morning and are walking away with your new best friend at lunchtime.

The other option is to buy directly from a breeder. But the trick is knowing which breeder to buy from.  Do not be put off if you come away from the breeder thinking that they don't think you are good enough to have one of their offspring.  You should be happy that they are concerned enough about the welfare of the animals they breed that they are being thorough in finding the best homes possible.  You may have to go through some of the same processes as you would in getting a rescue pet.This tends to apply to breeders of pedigree animals, cat breeders can be especially picky. 

You may find that the occasional or accidental breeder isn't giving you as many hoops to jump through, they may have had a roaming romeo mate with their female and now they have a litter of babies to rehome. They will still want as good a home as possible but they tend to be charging very little or offering the babies free.  This is the way most of us got our pets in the 1960's - 80s, dogs and cats had more freedom to roam then and there were more accidental litters, if you wanted a pet you always knew someone who's dog or cat had some babies.

Today if you want a new puppy you have to find someone who is breeding the type you want, pedigree or designer cross breed you will still need to track down the puppies. Some are advertised on websites such as preloved or gumtree but for a pedigree dog the kennel club should be your first point of contact as they have a "find a puppy" section on their website.  Champdogs is also used a lot by pedigree breeders to advertise their litters.

As I have said, expect some hard questioning, don't be afraid to ask questions of your own.  Find out about health tests, see certificates, pedigree dogs may be registered with the kennel club and have papers, but they may not be and the price will reflect this.  Ask why they aren't registered there may be a good reason for this but it also may be that they have bred the same bitch twice in one year and only one litter can be registered or there has been a close family mating.

To be sure you are getting the puppy that has had the best start it possibly can have see them in their environment, this may be the kitchen or it may be an outdoor kennel.  A lot of professional dog people will have the litter bred in the house and once the puppies are mobile move them outside.  Ask what basic handling and socialisation the puppies have had.  A really good breeder will have used the Puppy Plan or something similar and have a progress chart for you.  Another thing a good breeder will give you is a folder with all the paperwork you will need including information on your chosen breed, how to look after and train your puppy.  You may receive a contract from the breeder which outlines their and your responsibilities for the puppy, usually you have to give the puppy back to the breeder at any point in its lifetime if you are unable to look after it.  You will also be told if the puppy has had any vaccinations or parasite treatment and when, some breeders will also give 4 weeks free insurance
 Being able to see mum and the other litter mates is  a big advantage, there may be a rare occasion where mum isn't available, for instance if she rejected the puppies or she died as a complication of birth.  The puppies will have a good relationship with their surrogate, usually the breeder will have hand fed and raised them, there may be a substitute adult dog helping to care for the puppies too.

Many breeders have the extended family of their puppies about, ask if any are available.  You should be able to gain a good idea of how your puppy will turn out by seeing its relatives.

Most of all, if anything makes you worry, walk away.  Do not feed in to the puppy farm business by buying a puppy because you feel sorry for it.