I saw a sad little case of a sad little puppy and a sad little pet owner involved in a sad little situation this week.
A young girl and her mother brought me a puppy they had traveled across two states to purchase. The puppy had an entire list of birth defects none of which would allow him to live more than a few months without major surgeries. Yes, that’s surgeries, plural.
How do these things happen? There is fault to be found on both sides.
First, let’s talk about the things you can control.
When shopping for a puppy or kitten, I’d like for you to make your first consideration where the pet will come from. Keep in mind that when adopting from a humane shelter that you are saving the life of a pet who, if not adopted, will be euthanized, along with about six million animals nationwide this year. Granted, you aren’t likely to get a purebred pet at a shelter, but you can’t begin to put a value on the good feeling you will get. And, purebred pets tend to have more medical and maintenance problems than mixed-breed pets.
If you’re set on a purebreed, consider the many breed-specific rescue organizations across the country. Most of these can be accessed through the Internet, and most are reputable. One downside is that some of these rescued animals have been in abusive circumstances, and may have developmental or behavioral problems.
Suppose you’ve made the decision to purchase a pet from a local or nearby breeder. How do you tell if the breeder is reputable, and what demands do you have the right to make?
As to the latter question, it’s your money, and your 15 years of taking care of this new pet, so you make any demands that make you feel good about your purchase. However, the breeder doesn’t have to agree to all of your demands. Any breeder who rejects reasonable demands should be taken out of consideration.
While I don’t wish to take the romance out of the purchase of a pet, there are some practical considerations:
- is the facility clean, good-smelling and not overcrowded? Are all of the pets on the premises housed comfortably? If not, move on to the next facility on your list.
- don’t take your children with you on the first trip. The first trip is for you to pick a few good candidates. If you see puppies or kittens who are obviously unhealthy or malformed, this is the time to reject those. After you find a clean source for healthy pets, the children can accompany you on the second trip, and they can pick their favorite from a collection of a few healthy pets you’ve pre-chosen.
- insist to the breeder that you may have a full money-back guarantee if your pet’s doctor finds serious disease or defect within 24 hours. As an alternative, the breeder may be asked to pay for the diagnosis and treatment of health issues that are easily healed. And, ensure that you get this examination on schedule. If you put it off you may be so attached to the pet that regardless of what defects are found you are emotionally unable to extract the new pet from your heart. Though I’ve seen this happen countless times, without a doubt the saddest case was a tiny Cocker Spaniel puppy who had been with the new owners for less than 12 hours. Not far into the initial examination we discovered a congenital heart murmur. Though the defect is surgically repairable, it calls for a very expensive surgery. These owners were far too attached to even consider taking the puppy back. Fortunately, surgery was successful and the little guy lived a long and happy life.
- take a quick look over the new pet for yourself. If you see fleas (which you don’t want to take home with you), call your pet’s doctor about what to do. In fact, making an appointment for that first examination before even going home with the new pet is a great idea. In the case of the sad little puppy in the first parzgraph, he was infested with intestinal parasites that could have infected the child and the child’s mother. That’s a danger she wasn’t willing to risk.
- if your new puppy is a pure breed that has the potential to have an adult weight of 50 pounds or more, insist that you see certification from the Orthopaedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) that both parents are free from hip dysplasia. German Shepherds are the classic breed to be afflicted with this genetically-transmitted cause of arthritis. However, many other breeds such as Labrador Retrievers, Collies, Chow-Chows and Great Danes also can be affected. Having OFA certification that the parents have not passed on this trait is your only assurance of minimizing the risk of crippling joint problems later in life.
Your specific situation may call for other, unique requirements. Feel free to ask your pet’s doctor for advice before committing yourself to a new pet. He is trained and experienced to help you with this important family decision.