We all know the question in the children's song: "How much is that doggy in the window?" But the question should be, "Where did that puppy in the window come from?" A significant number of puppies for sale at pet stores in the United States are bred in cruel, overcrowded puppy mills. Before you buy a puppy, know where your new canine family member was born and raised.
Understanding Puppy Mills
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"Puppy mill" is the name given to large-scale, commercial dog breeding operations where profits take priority over animal welfare. In most puppy mills, breeding dogs spend their entire lives in small cages. Female dogs are impregnated as often as possible, and sometimes even given hormones to encourage faster heat cycles. Adult dogs receive very little human socialization, and most never have interaction with other dogs, except to breed.
Health of Puppy Mill Puppies
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The goal of most commercial puppy mills is to make money. Owners rarely put the welfare of the breeding dogs or puppies at the top of the priority list. Because of the focus on profits, many puppies coming out of puppy mills do not get adequate vaccinations, dewormers, flea treatments or nutrition. As a result, many puppies from puppy mills arrive at pet stores, flea markets and other selling locations with illnesses, worms and other parasites. The vast majority of such puppies are weaned from their mothers too early (four to six weeks instead of eight to 10), so their immune systems are not fully developed. Deadly illnesses such as parvovirus and distemper are commonly seen in puppies from puppy mills. In addition, the poor socialization and treatment of these puppies can leave them with psychological and behavioral problems that will make them less than ideal pets.
Puppy Lemon Laws
If you buy a puppy from a pet store and the puppy gets sick or dies, your rights to compensation vary by state. As of June 2010, only 18 states have some form of puppy "lemon laws" to protect buyers. The time frame for reporting is just seven to 20 days from purchase date for illness, and 10 days to two years from purchase date for congenital problems. In the other 32 states, puppy buyers have no legal or financial protection if a puppy gets sick. Existing lemon laws are almost always voided if the puppy is purchased across state lines.
Avoiding Puppy Mills
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If you are looking for a new puppy to add to your family, consider adoption first. Purebred puppies of almost every breed are available through rescue groups and national breed rescue networks. Start your search on Petfinder or Adopt a Pet. You should also check with the specific AKC breed club in your area; many AKC competitors and breeders are also involved in rescue. If you are set on buying a new puppy from a breeder, be sure that you select one who is responsible and concerned about the welfare of the dogs in his care. Often, buyers will have to fill out an application, have a home visit and sign a contract. Puppies from responsible breeders will have at least initial vaccines. Good breeders will also give you an opportunity to meet the parents of the puppy you are considering.