Is a pet on your Christmas list this year? Or perhaps your child's list?
The first rule of pet shopping at the holidays is this: Don't.
Rushing out to adopt or purchase a cat or dog or other animal in the midst of the Christmas frenzy is a bad idea.
Many shelters refrain from adopting at the holidays for just this reason: they don't want to see those animals back in a few months when they become too rambunctious or simple "aren't cute anymore."
Before welcoming a living thing into your home you want to do your homework: What breed, what age, what temperament would be suitable? What is your living environment like and your routine? Are there other pets? How old are the children? Does anyone have allergies? Do you plan to move anytime soon or if you do could you commit to bringing your pet? (Next to allergies, the number one reason I see people dumping dogs on Craigslist.)
Speaking of Craigslist, the International Fund for Animal Welfare has issued the first-ever wide-scale investigation into Internet dog sales. The conclusion of this exhaustive report which looked Cragslist and half a dozen of the major Internet selling sites including Pennsylvania-based PuppyTrader and the two giants - NextDayPets and PuppyFind, is that more than 60 percent of the sellers are likely connected to puppy mills and that the web sites themselves do little or nothing to ensure the legitimacy of sellers.
In other words, the world wide web is the new wild west for unscrupulous puppy dealers, just like it is for untold numbers of other kinds of scam artists. Puppy mill operators, not unlike sham vacation rentals, can show you pictures of puppies sitting in flower baskets, but you have no idea if that is the real puppy you are buying and whether that puppy and his parents are being properly cared for.
At the same time, the Humane Society of the United States has issued yet another damning investigation of pet stores - this time in the Chicago area - and the results are familiar: virtually all pet sellers - breeders or brokers - were linked to puppy mills. These are substandard commercial breeding facilities that focus on profit above the health and welfare of their animals.
In its investigation, the latest of three probes conducted in large U.S. cities, HSUS showed that in the 12 stores visited, owners repeatedly assured the undercover investigator that puppies did not come from puppy mills, but documents and visits to breeders showed otherwise. In one case, a breeder had one thousand dogs on their property.
The report found some breeders found selling to Chicago-area pet stores had records of repeat violations of the federal Animal Welfare Act. USDA inspection reports contained reports of significant animal care violations, including sick and injured dogs who had not been treated by a vet, underweight animals, puppies with their feet falling through the wire floors, puppies with severe eye deformities, piles of feces, and food contaminated by mold and insects.
“This investigation drives home the heartbreaking lesson that consumers can unwittingly support the vast cruelties of puppy mills if they patronize pet stores in search of a puppy,” said Melanie Kahn, senior director of the Puppy Mills Campaign for HSUS. “Again and again, The Humane Society of the United States finds pet stores won’t tell consumers the truth. The only way to confidently add a pet to the family this holiday season or anytime is to avoid pet stores or internet sites.”
Animal welfare groups have launched weekly protests at stores in the Philadelphia area that sell puppies to raise awareness about the connection between puppy mils and pet stores.
Among the active groups is one targeting "We Love Pets" in Media. The group says the store purchases its puppies from Hunte Corporation, the largest puppy broker in the United States, which buy dogs from commercial breeders in the midwest.
At the same time the HSUS reports it has reached a milestone in its effort to move pet stores away from puppy selling. Today, more than two thousand stories have signed on to the Puppy Friendly Pet Store program agreeing to take a stand against puppy mills and refusing to sell puppies.
So, you might ask, where do I go to find my new companion. With millions of healthy dogs (and cats) destroyed each year, animal welfare groups and rescues say: adopt!
If you are set on a particular breed try Petfinder.org, where rescues and shelters post their available animals. You can search by breed, age, gender and distance from your house.
If you still can't find the purebred you want, talk to your local kennel club. As recently as five years ago, American Kennel Club breeders who belonged to the Pennsylvania Federation of Dog Clubs agreed to abide by federation rules that include not selling to a pet store and keeping a limit on the dogs they had on their property at one time.
Perhaps that policy has changed. In recent years the AKC nationally has ramped up its efforts to court high volume commercial breeders with appearances at conferences and advertising campaigns in their trade publication.
Regardless, get references, always meet the puppy's parents, get all medical and vaccination documentation signed by a licensed veterinarian, familiarize yourself with the Pennsylvania "puppy lemon law," that - while not as strong as some would like - give some measure of protection against those who sell sick and genetically defective dogs.