Q: In light of what has happened recently with the puppy mill operation in Bradley County, does the BBB have tips on how to buy a dog from a reputable breeder?
A: Taking on a pet is a big responsibility that also offers many rewards. Research has found the benefits of having a pet include helping provide companionship, reducing stress, and may even increase your health and overall well-being. But BBB advises that before you bring a pet home do your research thoroughly.
In 2013, BBB received 595 complaints against dog breeders/brokers nationally. Complaints ranged from health issues to problems with paperwork regarding pure bred puppies.
Many of the complaints are heartbreaking, and involve very sick puppies that often end up dying. Two consumers shared their stories with BBB. One woman was forced to have her puppy euthanized after learning he had distemper. The other became an animal rights advocate after she bought a sick puppy from a broker.
Both said that, in hindsight, they recognized red flags when they first purchased the puppies. Both sellers had excuses for why the women couldn't see the puppies' parents. Both of the sellers also had multiple complaints against them for selling sick puppies.
Be especially wary of purchasing puppies online. As of September 2013, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) formally adopted a rule that helps regulate online breeders. (See: http://bit.ly/1q9FauD). This hopefully will help crack down on the number of puppy mills across the United States, but still more needs to be done.
In the articles earlier this week from the Chattanooga Times Free Press, it was noted that the Commercial Breeder Act, which tightly regulates puppy mills in Tennessee is set to expire at the end of this month. Instead of having it extended, legislators have voted to let it expire, and plans for a new bill to be drawn up and presented are underway. Interesting to note, the Humane Society of the United States estimates that for a puppy mill bust involving 250 animals the cost is around $500,000.
For those looking to add a furry friend to their family, BBB offers the following advice:
• Consider adoption. Local animal shelters have hundreds of dogs and cats in need of a loving home. If you're set on getting a pure bred, look for animal rescue groups in your area that specialize in that breed. Also, decide whether you want a puppy or an older dog that is already trained and obedient.
• Check with BBB. If you choose to go through a breeder, check his or her BBB Business Review.
• Ask to see the parents. Before bringing a puppy home, ask to see his or her parents and the living area where he or she was born and raised. Honest breeders will be happy to show you around. If the seller refuses or makes excuses, walk away. Spend some time interacting with the dog. Has the breeder given the dog the socialization it needs? How long has the person been breeding this kind of dog? Experience does count.
• Ask for references. Ask the breeder for contact information of people who have bought puppies in the past. Try to talk to people who have had their dog a while in order to check for issues that may not be immediately apparent, like genetic problems.
• Avoid buying online. Unless you can visit the breeding facility before the purchase and bring your puppy home personally, do not purchase a puppy from a website. When you have a puppy shipped from another area, you don't know how that puppy has been treated, how healthy or young it is, or whether or not the puppy exists at all.
• Read contracts thoroughly. If the seller offers a health guarantee, make sure it is in writing and read it carefully for limits and proof requirements. Guarantees should cover more than a few weeks or days, since it can take weeks for symptoms to appear in illnesses like parvo and distemper. Genetic issues might not become apparent for years. Be sure to get answers to all your questions such as: are there provisions that will be made to help pay for the vet bills if the dog is sick? Do the parents have any health problems?
• Ask for medical records. Get a written account of all medical care your puppy has received, including vaccinations and antibiotics. Take this record to your vet during the first examination.
• See a veterinarian immediately. Within a few days of bringing your puppy home, schedule a complete physical with your vet to make sure it is in good health.
• Keep your puppy quarantined. If you already have pets, keep them separated from your new puppy until it is given a clean bill of health.
• Be realistic about the time and money the dog will cost. Are you home enough to give the dog the time it needs? Will your budget support the veterinary care, food and "babysitter" costs?
For more information about puppy mills with research and facts visit: http://www.humanesociety.org/news/publications/whitepapers/puppy-mill-research.html.
Note: The Humane Society of the United States is a BBB nationally accredited charity.
Jim Winsett is president of the Better Business Bureau of Chattanooga.