There are many options for adding an animal to your household, including purchasing from a responsible breeder, getting an animal from a rescue organization, and adopting from a local shelter. This article is part of a series providing information on each of the above options, as well as an overview of how to select the right animal for your home. (Note: I do not recommend buying an animal from a pet store as animals in pet stores are basically guaranteed to come from puppy mills or other inhumane breeding operations, regardless of what the staff at the store may claim. The best way to put animal mills out of business is to deprive them of profits.)
Today’s topic is adopting from a breeder.
In the last two installments of this article, which covered adopting from shelters and rescue organizations, there were links to many different shelters and rescue organizations. This installment, which focuses on breeders, does not contain many links. Instead, it provides some tools to help you decide whether a given breeder is likely to provide you with a healthy pet that is suitable for your home.
Below is a list of criteria to help ensure that you are buying an animal from a responsible breeder.
A responsible breeder:
- Treats animals humanely.
- Waits until animals are fully grown before breeding them.
- Thoroughly understands the genetics (and common genetic defects) of the animals he or she is breeding.
- Performs appropriate medical tests on both parent animals to avoid passing on genetic defects whenever possible.
- Breeds with the intention of improving the line of animals being bred.
- Does not breed animals in back-to-back heats.
- Has both the parents and offspring cared for by a veterinarian.
- Interviews and/or provides a detailed questionnaire to prospective buyers.
- Turns down buyers who are not good prospective homes.
- Carefully matches animals with buyers based on temperament, activity needs, etc., rather than allowing buyers to choose solely based on superficial criteria such as color.
- On request, provides prospective buyers with contact information for previous buyers (who have agreed to share their information for this purpose).
- Allows prospective buyers to visit the breeding operation and meet both parents (in some cases, the stud animal lives elsewhere so you can only meet the dam; in that case, the breeder should be willing to provide contact information for the stud’s owner)
- Does not allow animals to go home with buyers until they are an appropriate age.*
- Keeps in touch with buyers throughout the animal’s life.
- Will take back any animal he or she bred, at any point in its life, if the buyer decides to give it up.
- Never allows the animals he or she has bred to be sold in pet stores.
* Here are appropriate ages for a few species: Kittens should be at least 7 weeks old before they are taken away from their mothers. Puppies should be about 8 to 10 weeks old. Gerbils should be at least five weeks old, and are best adopted at about 8 to 10 weeks old. Foals are generally about one year old when first sold. Even Iguanas should be a few weeks old before being separated from their mothers, since they acquire important immunity by living in close contact with adults during that period. To determine appropriate ages for other species, consult an expert or do your own research on the topic.
If the breeder you are considering does not meet all of the criteria listed above, I recommend that you look for a different breeder.
Puppy mills, kitten mills, and even Premarin (a.k.a. PMU) horse farms often masquerade as responsible breeders. This is easier in the Internet age, since an animal mill can choose a very pleasant sounding name, “borrow” or buy photographs of happy animals, and create a very appealing, if fictional, image of a veritable animal haven. There is no substitute for seeing a facility in person. If a breeder makes excuses as to why you (or someone acting as your agent) cannot visit, I recommend that you find another breeder.
Also, if you are considering a breeder who sells registered, purebred animals, make sure to call the organization that registers the animals to make sure the breeder is legitimate. Papers can be faked.
The bottom line is that the best way to ensure you are buying your animal from a responsible breeder is to do your research. Buying an animal from a fly-by-night breeder or pet store may cost less (though even that’s not always true), but the animal is much more likely to have a poor temperament or behavioral problems, and may wind up costing you thousands or even tens of thousands of dollars in medical bills due to genetic defects or early malnutrition.
If you find the list of criteria above daunting, ask a pet professional to help you find a responsible breeder. Most animal trainers are happy to help clients (or prospective clients) select the right pet.
One final note: Remember that pet stores will often lie and tell you the animals in their store are from “legitimate breeders.” Regardless of how convincing – or convinced – the staff are, animals in pets stores do not come from reputable breeders, by definition. As mentioned above, a responsible breeder would never sell animals through a pet store.
The next installment of this series will address choosing the right pet for your family.