Little Shop of Terror: The Truth About the Puppy in the Window

May 13th, 2011
Posted by | Posted in Awareness 1,389 views

The truth behind that cute little pet shop you visit would give you the opposite of the warm fuzzies the pups give you.

But there’s a cute puppy you just have to take home, the one who is smiling at you behind the Plexiglass plate.  He is wagging his tail, and scratching at the thin barrier that separates you from him.  You can’t resist. You call one of the pet store employees over to ask, how much for this puppy here? The helper takes the puppy out of the pen and brings him over behind the desk and scans him.  You wait anxiously to hear the price tag on happiness and unconditional love. “This puppy here is twelve hundred dollars.”  Wow.  You try to play it cool, but inside you are in shock over the high price tag (and there are some pet store pups that can cost up to three-thousand dollars).  Sure, you love this puppy, but is he worth that much money when you’ll have to pay for vet bills, food, and supplies for another ten years?

Truth be told, the cost of this puppy is more than the green in your pocket.

The fact is, we pay hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars to bring home a sweet pup when the best pets could be free and are in desperate need of forever homes. According to the Humane Society of the United States, 3-4 million dogs and cats are euthanized in America each year, and many more are confined to cages in shelters and rescues. Many of these are purebred dogs that we pay top dollar for from breeders and local pet stores. This crisis is created by owners who do not spay or neuter their pets and by breeders. A combination of economic hardship and a love of animals contribute to this growing problem. Local humane societies, protection agencies, and other organizations urge people to spay or neuter their pets and to adopt animals from animal shelters instead of purchasing them from breeders or pet stores.

According to the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association (APPMA) 2007-2008 National Pet Owners Survey, only ten percent of owned dogs were adopted from shelters or rescue organizations.  This statistic is alarming and saddening.  That leaves ninety percent to breeders, pet stores, and the like.  What’s more, ninety percent of puppies that are sold in pet stores come from commercial breeders, or “puppy mills.”

According to The Humane Society of the United States, there may be as many as 10,000 puppy mills operating across the United States. As you may have seen on the Oprah Show, during their investigative documentary into these questionable breeders, puppy mill factory farms breed thousands of dogs who are kept in cages just large enough for them to fit in. Dogs are underfed and malnourished. They live their lives in cramped rabbit hutches without even being named, and a female dog, after years of puppy bearing, is often killed once she can no longer produce.

But, it doesn’t end there.  The entire process is inhumane and heart-breaking. A female breeding dog will spend her life in isolation. Some will never even walk on grass, producing several litters of puppies a year for many years. Deprived of even the most basic veterinary care, puppy mill dogs can suffer from all sorts of injuries and diseases and go untreated forever.  Puppies are taken from their mothers too early and are shipped across the country, vulnerable to extreme conditions and diseases. Many puppies die on their way.

Thanks to the Oprah documentary and follow-up, shelters adopted out many more dogs than their average, and puppy mills and pet stores have seen a decline in sales. The problem lies in the lack of awareness and education.  A dog from a pet store can be identical to one in a shelter, yet many shelter dogs and puppies as young as eight weeks old end up euthanized due to overcrowding of kennels. A large misconception about rescue dogs or puppies is that they are not purebred, or that they come with unwanted baggage. In fact, on the contrary, an estimated one in every four dogs at local shelters are purebred.  And the truth is, more attention is paid to the behavior of the shelter animal than that of the pet store.  Shelter workers can give you a complete run-down of the dog’s temperament, personality, and health records. Most groups screen potential adopters to make sure the dog or puppy is the “right fit” for the new owner.

If you’re looking to bring home a new dog or puppy, check your local shelters first. Not only will you be saving a precious life, but you will ensure that your hard-earned green is not going to support a puppy mill. There are hundreds of thousands of dogs and puppies anxiously awaiting forever homes in shelters and rescue groups all across the country.  If your heart is set on a specific breed, and you haven’t been able to find Fido in a local shelter, there are hundreds of breed-specific rescue organizations nationwide.

That adorable puppy that won your heart through the pet store window? Chances are high that he may have come from a puppy mill.

If you’ve tried everything and still aren’t happy with the selection of dogs or puppies up for adoption, and you have decided to purchase from a breeder, remember that responsible breeders have only their puppies’ best interests in mind. They will not be concerned with the money you pay for your pooch, but will be more sensitive to placing their pup in a good home.  You’ll notice that a responsible breeder will screen you just as thoroughly as you research them.

Pets end up in shelters each year for many reasons, but one worth looking into is the “Oh, that puppy is cute” problem.  Sure, that black lab pup may be staring at you with her pretty, dark eyes, but will she be the right choice for your small, one-bedroom apartment and busy lifestyle? Research is key. If there is a breed you’ve had your eye on and your heart set on, do your homework.  Make sure you select the right dog for you and your lifestyle.  Dogs are for life, and the better informed you are, the better your life with your new pup will be. The American Kennel Club has a book for purchase entitled, The AKC’s Complete Dog Book, which features descriptions of hundreds of breeds so that you can find pertinent information about the dog you want to bring home.

The great thing about mutts is that they combine the best of multiple breeds in one unique package. Another plus is that mixed breed dogs are less likely to carry the burden of predisposed health issues that have been ingrained into purebred dogs.

Before you shop, adopt. That adorable pup in the pet store may be calling your name, but a very similar little guy could be waiting for you to save him from an inescapable, looming death. With the endless variety of puppies and dogs to choose from across the country, it’s a no-brainer that you’ll undoubtedly find your canine soulmate in a shelter nearby. Dogs don’t have a voice, only a presence. They can’t tell us not to dump them on the street, or to spay or neuter them…they can only love us unconditionally. And it’s not their fault they end up homeless in the first place. We, as people, have full control over their fate.  Through awareness and education, we can help our silent and beloved friends, and help push the rescue revolution in the United States. With your help, we can end this crisis and help the millions of pets who are euthanized each year to find happy, loving homes they so deserve.

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