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The Problem With Puppy Stores

2011 January 23

Doc Truli Was a Puppy Pusher

a brown fuzzy dog bed packs with sleeping puppies: dapple long-haired dachshund, tan pug, tan and white rat terrier, black and white long haired chihuahua, and black and tan short-haired chihuahua

Heart-stopping cuteness sells puppies!

Years ago, yours Truli was puppy pusher.  Yes, Doc Truli admits, she worked in a pet store that was also a veterinary clinic, grooming parlor, and boarding facility.  She also worked in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.  Arguable, the puppy-mill capital of the American East.  Doc has an insider’s perspective.

Veterinary Applicants Must Work With a Veterinarian

Every veterinary candidate in the US must receive a letter of recommendation from a veterinarian with whom they have worked as part of the veterinary college application process.  The future veterinarian should work in medicine with animals to gain a feel for the profession and decide if the goal is actually suited to the person, hence the requirement to work with a veterinarian.

The clinic in which Dic Truli worked was clean, impeccably designed, with board-certified, capable people working within.  In fact, the veterinarian had graduated first, first! in her graduating class from the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine, arguably the best veterinary university in the United States.  The job opened up in retail puppy and kitten sales.

How to Design a Better Pet Store

The establishment had been co-owned by a veterinarian and a social worker.  The goal was to run a pet store and hospital that were better.  No parvo pups, no mange, no puppy mill puppies.  Just healthy, happy baby animals to join hopeful new families.

The owner sourced the puppies and kittens only from local breeders for the first year.  That practice stopped quickly because the animals were sick much of the time.  A breeder with only 1 or 2 litters per year cannot offer health guarantee or any money replacement if a puppy becomes ill or grows too old to sell while undergoing treatment.

So, the second year in business, the owner of the place travelled across the US and visited the brokers.  Puppy brokerage is big business.  The breeders sell the litters to broker houses.  The brokers have large kennels where 10 or 50 or 500 puppies might be in one kennel facility waiting transport to the store or buyer.  The veterinarians writing health certificates in these broker houses often check the puppies in their kennels, and not in a quiet medical room.  They can miss heart murmurs and other medical abnormalities that could end up causing heartbreak for a family in months to years to come.

A puppy mill is a puppy farm.  The animals’ needs are taken into account insofar as the care they receive increases profits.  Amazingly, dogs can reproduce under abysmal conditions.

Still, clean, well-run brokerages with puppies delivered two-by-two via air transport were the standard when Doc Truli worked in the biz.

We took strict steps to ensure healthier, happier puppies.

Steps to Healthier, Happier Pet Store Puppies

a brown fuzzy dog bed packs with sleeping puppies: dapple long-haired dachshund, tan pug, tan and white rat terrier, black and white long haired chihuahua, and black and tan short-haired chihuahua

Do you see the problem with this pile of puppies?

  • Only two puppies play together at a time, with strict sanitation between groups.
  • Newspaper down in the play area to encourage early paper training.
  • Exercise out of cages.
  • No wire floors in cages.
  • Toys, beds and comfortable furnishings (sanitized of course)
  • Separate air circulation from the public or the hospital to minimize disease spread
  • Veterinarian on premises
  • Should have done, but no one does because it s expensive: 5 to 7 day quarantine before new puppies are mixed with current puppies in “inventory”

So, now can you tell what is wrong with this picture?

Yep, 5 puppies together in the pet store window.  They share air, toys, poop, everything!  One pup has parvo, they all have parvo.  One pup has upper respiratory infection…you get the idea.  But, boy-o-boy, do they ever look cute and happy cuddled up together in that window.

Even with a social-worker who intended to run the perfect pet store, and a veterinarian devoted to the health of animals, the pet store had insurmountable problems that I challenge any pet store to overcome.

Insurmountable Pet Store Flaws

  • Bringing together babies from different houses and families all in one place and mixing their viruses, worms, and bacteria
  • Needing a steady, good supply of puppies and kittens that do not have health problems, preferably from the breeder’s home environment that the buying public would like to imagine
  • Caring for 10-30 babies at the same time, often by providing minimum wage helpers who are college students working part-time or people on some sort of recovery program who believe working with animals will rehabilitate them…problems happen.
  • Keeping the price in line with what the public expects, but still sourcing the puppies at good places and providing individual toys and attention
  • Affording proper medical care

Sourcing Puppies

Many pet stores insist they do not get puppies from puppy mills.  Really?  They can say this with a clear conscience partly because there are variable definitions of what constitutes a puppy mill.  Some people say more than 5 litters a year from the same household.  Some say it has to be cages outside and female breeding animals exposed to the elements.

A puppy mill really is a puppy farm.  The animals’ needs are taken into account insofar as the care they receive increases profits.  Amazingly, dogs can reproduce under abysmal conditions.  Some states have legislated minimum requirements, like a smooth floor over a percentage of the floor of the cage, or a certain number of hours per week outside of a cage.  Seems a shame to have to legislate exercise, doesn’t it?

As an aside note: as a veterinary student in Pennsylvania, Doc Truli learned that the puppy mill farms with the worst dog conditions that also ran dairy cow operations had the most milk quality violations as well.  It seems farmers who give substandard care to one species, do not excel with other species, either.

Broker Brands

The brokers buy puppies from breeders, farms, mills, the newspaper, wherever.  The same broker often will have different quality brands. For example, a labrador puppy with a heart murmur could be sold for $50 as the “mall store” brand and a sibling from the same litter that passes a physical and looks good might be sold for $350 as a “premium puppy.”  By sold, I mean to the pet store, not you.  This is all going on behind the scenes before you ever set eyes on the puppy in a store.

International Puppy Mills

Do you really believe that a woman selling Yorkies for $1,200 from a cute storefront in Miami got them from her brother who is a breeder in Colombia?  If you do, then you are throwing your money away.  She has been in business for 25 year under 5 different aliases and 3 family members’ names and sells Colombian puppy mill puppies in the US.  They die at alarming rates and you are supporting the market for further importation through your ignorance and unbridled selfishness.  As have enough other people for 25 years to keep her family in income.

Outraged Pet Store Owners

Doc Truli has read pet store owners claims that they are better.  That they do not get their puppies from brokers.  Then where?  Provide the pedigree on the day of purchase, not mailed a week later.  Buyrers–check the address on the health certificate (required in many states).  Do you really believe some nice Lake Woebeggon family in Minnesota raised your puppy and just had to sell him or her to a pet store in Manhattan?  Really????

I challenge a pet store selling 5-10 puppies a week, as they must to pay rent in any major US city, to source all of their puppies from reputable breeders.  And by the way–why would any show breeder, or breeder purporting to improve their breed, sell a puppy to a store?  Maybe extra males they can’t show.  You will see many more male than female puppies at pet stores.  The breeders and mills can use one or two males to cover tens of females, after all.  (“Cover” means inseminate or breed with in animal husbandry terminology.)

Health Problems Made Worse By Pet Stores

Crowding, mixing, stressing puppies and kittens brings out disease and spreads disease.  Changing foods from the breeder to the broker to the store to the new home alone is very stressful.  Shipping puppies via airline cargo when they are 8 weeks old.  Trucking puppies for 5-7 days across the country.  These necessary activities make puppies weak and sick.  Almost all pet store puppies arrive at the store in this way.

Parvo virus, distemper viruses, bordetella, fleas, ticks, hookworms, roundworms, ringworm, lice, and parainfluenza are deadly common through the stress and then mixing of babies at the point of destination.

Worse than that, you cannot calculate or ever truly know the psychological trauma of the lonely scary travel.  Doc Truli is constantly amazed by how resilient and happy puppies are anyway, considering what they have gone through.  Just because the little tail wags, does not make it okay to buy our dog babies from brokers and farms.

People Keep Buying Pet Store Puppies

We Need a Law to Keep People From Perpetuating the Problem

Why do people keep buying pet store puppies and kittens?  The obvious reason–you see the cute face, you fall in love, you buy.

  • “I was saving him from that awful place.”
  • “I know it’s wrong but…”
  • “They said they don’t get them from mills.”
  • “The animal shelter judged me and turned me away.”
    • This one breaks my heart.  I knew a family with 4 kids ranging in ages from 4 months to 12 years old.  Their 15 year old dog dies from old age.  They went to the shelter to adopt and the adoption coordinator told the mom she did not have time to care for the three-year-old homeless dog the family wanted to adopt.  The family went to a pet store and bought a puppy-mill lab puppy. Doc Truli has heard these stories over and over.  Shelter volunteers should take heed!
  • “Every breeder I went to just had a runty, shy puppy left.  I went to the store and bought a happy puppy.”
  • “My husband’s away on business.  I wanted my girls to have something to take care of.”
  • “My friend got their puppy there.”

Doc Truli sees a common thread through these “reasons.”  Expediency.  Selfishness.  Entitlement.  Even the family turned away at the shelter — judged and abused by well-meaning volunteers — could have taught their 4 children a lesson by trying harder.  Petition the director, go to a different shelter, wait until homeless dog showed up at the vet’s.

Commit to never buying a pet store puppy or kitten today!  Write it down!  On physical paper.  And tuck that paper into your Bible or a beloved book.  Whenever you pick that book up and see that paper, remember your vow.  Do not perpetuate the problem!

The United States Should Ban Pet Stores, preferably City by City

Local action sticks best.  The power of the vote is strongest when it is closest to home.  West Hollywood, CA, Albuquerque, NM, and South Lake Tahoe, CA, have banned pet stores.  Switzerland made pet stores illegal decades ago.  We should follow suit in the US.

Alternative Adoption Strategy

The glut of dogs, cats, puppies and kittens at American animal shelters should be enough to convince anyone we do not require an industry to populate our homes with puppies and kittens!

Some humane society’s have started offering boutique adoptions.  A store-like environment where you can go and meet potential cats and dogs who are up for true adoption.  Once pet stores are banned, families adopt homeless animals at far higher rates.  Let’s keep this trend going!


What is a Puppy Mill?

Pennsylvania’s Puppy Mill Law

US Cities Banning Pet Stores

Boutique Adoptions

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