Why doggies in a window should be a thing of the past
Veterinarians should discourage prospective pet owners from purchasing puppies and kittens from retail stores.
With pet adoption rates skyrocketing during the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic,1 you are likely fielding more questions from pet owners about where to acquire a new furry family member. For me, the answer is abundantly clear: Tell them not to shop at retail pet stores.
Most retail pet stores—not to be confused with national pet superstores that offer pet adoption through legitimate shelters and rescues—purchase dogs and cats from large-scale producers, including puppy mills. No responsible breeders sell to pet stores.
“I think it’s really important to communicate to clients the truth about where [pet stores] are getting that dog or cat from,” says Jane Lohmar, DVM, co-founder of Veterinary Professionals Against Puppy Mills.
To be fair, some pet store dogs and cats are sourced from large-scale breeding facilities that are kept tidy, suggest they socialize dogs and are by all accounts not puppy mills. Still, experts advise against purchasing dogs, cats, or rabbits from pet stores. Unfortunately, it’s nearly impossible to find out where these animals are sourced. Various brokers typically participate in the process, but it’s a difficult trail to follow.
Taking a stand
Nearly a decade ago, fed-up pet owners started an online movement to ban the retail sale of dogs and cats. The first municipality to do so was Albuquerque, New Mexico, in 2006. It took a few years to catch on, but nonprofit organizations devoted to the cause sprouted up, including the Puppy Mill Project and Bailing Out Benji, and eventually some big players joined the fight, including the Humane Society of the United States and Best Friends Animal Society.
Nearly 400 cities have now banned the retail sale of dogs and cats in pet stores, as have several counties and entire states (California, Maine, and Maryland). If it wasn’t for the pandemic slowing down non-essential legislation, several additional states would appear on the list, including New Jersey.
Although state veterinary medical associations differ in their position on the matter, many oppose legislation to limit pet store sales. “Absolutely, the associations don’t represent colleagues I know,” Lohmar says. “If you’re in the trenches, you clearly see those pet store animals and realize just how bad the problem is.”
Adam Christman, DVM, chief veterinary officer at MJH Life Sciences (parent company of dvm360®) and a New Jersey practitioner, agrees. “Even if the legislation doesn’t end [puppy mills], why would our profession demonstrate the perception of support?” he asks. “We were seeing so many sick puppies and kittens coming through. In one New Jersey pet store, 16 out of 24 newly purchased dogs had pneumonia. And aside from health issues, we see so many behavioral problems.”
How it started
Much of today’s gospel regarding how to purchase pets was influenced by the American Kennel Club (AKC), a primary opponent of legislation banning the retail sale of dogs and cats. Ironically, purchasing a dog from a pet store is entirely contradictory to the AKC’s own advice in the 22nd edition of The New Complete Dog Book.2 In the book pet owners are advised to purchase from a responsible breeder, carefully defining “responsible” in several ways that are inconsistent with the pet store purchasing experience.
The AKC’s book advises that prospective owners meet the breeder and find out where the dog was bred, noting that a responsible breeder “will also want to get a look at you, how you behave, and sometimes how the dogs react to you, to see whether or not you are the right fit for one of his or her puppies.” The fact is that individuals who purchase that doggie in the window will never be asked about being a “good fit.” Instead, the question will be, “Will that be cash or credit?”
A red flag breeder, according to the AKC, is one “who will not show you any health-screening results, talk about health issues encountered, or says he or she does not conduct any health or genetic tests because he or she has ‘never had a problem.’” Clearly, pet stores have no clue about the genetic history of the pets they are selling. In fact, it’s safe to be skeptical even about what they are selling. That Cava-poo may have no Cavalier King Charles and or no “poo,” and that is consumer fraud.
Pet stores often claim that their dogs come from US Department of Agriculture (USDA)–inspected facilities. Whereas some mills miraculously have passed state or USDA inspections, many inspection standards are outdated and the time between inspections is often far longer than recommended.
There is also the lemon law argument, in which customers can—in some states under some circumstances—return their purchase (including pets) for a refund. But dogs, cats, and rabbits aren’t like toaster ovens. Supporting lemon laws devalues companion animals and damages the human-animal bond.
I’m perplexed by how many veterinary associations oppose restrictions on pet store sales, arguing that closing off the puppy mill supply at stores will cause more people to flock to the internet to buy puppies. Despite pet stores in many areas being restricted from selling dogs and cats, there is no evidence supporting this claim, and many prospective pet parents already go online anyway.
Where do we go from here?
According to Mark Cushing, founding partner and CEO of the Animal Policy Group, the answer is breeder certification. “We need to bring everyone to the table, the animal rights and animal welfare groups, hobby breeders, shelters and rescues, and the pet store industry,” he says. “We need to certify breeders and get the departments of agriculture out of the picture, and bring in 76 land grant universities, which study breeding, and even animal shelters to inspect. There is a path forward which requires transparency.”
Steve Dale, CABC, writes for veterinary professionals and pet owners, hosts 2 national radio programs, and has appeared on TV shows ranging from Good Morning America to Oprah. He is on the dvm360® Editorial Advisory Board as well as the boards of the Human Animal Bond Association and EveryCat Health Foundation. He appears at conferences around the world. Visit stevedale.tv.
- Are pet adoptions really skyrocketing? JAVMA news. January 6, 2021. https://www.avma.org/javma-news/2021-01-15/are-pet-adoptions-really-skyrocketing. Accessed March 18, 2021.
- American Kennel Club. The New Complete Dog Book, 22nd ed. American Kennel Club; 2017.