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22 January 2009


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I kind of had the feeling that the person who did the choosing of the breeder of Biden's pup picked that breeder because she was "a friend of a friend," or something along those lines. That he picked her on the basis of her reputation among law-enforcement people.

They underestimated the amount of interest their choice would generate in the pet world, imho.


You took the words right out of my head and rearranged them so they sounded better. As usual,

A lot of the criticism really boils down to simple snobbery. Other people just like to criticize.

If it was that hard to get a dog, there wouldn't be any dogs.

Besides, if there's no breeder good enough, no matter how experienced or honest they are, then isn't getting an unknown from a shelter rather, er, risky?

Negativity is not the way to encourage shelter adoption. Duh.

I have two purebreds from a great breeder/judge/now friend but I got one at 2.5 yrs for free in exchange for a good home, the other was supposed to be temporary guest and ended up staying. The third looks like a purebred but he was an SPCA release because he's a Wiener dog from 'working lines' if you know what I mean and they didn't want to put him up for adoption. My two previous dogs were both from the SPCA.

See? No dogs died because of me but then, I'm not the one killing dogs and looking for scapegoats.


First, the number of people able to provide good homes far exceeds the number of puppies produced by good breeders. Since this imbalance is unlikely to disappear we should accept the reality of commercial breeders and focus on improving their operations. We should also hold pet stores more accountable for the health and welfare of the animals they sell. If the pet stores are truly held accountable, their suppliers will have to comply as well.

Second, my family got a puppy a few months ago from a breeder (and we're happy with our choice) but I might have gone in a different direction if I had been more aware of (1) resources like Petfinder and (2) the many genetic problems with purebred (and "designer") dogs.

Gina Spadafori

Since this imbalance is unlikely to disappear we should accept the reality of commercial breeders and focus on improving their operations. Comment by PN NJ — January 22, 2009 @ 7:14 am



and NO.

I will NOT EVER accept "improved" puppy-mills. A "clean" high-volume commercial kennel is still a livestock operation, not a way to care for dogs and produce puppies that will be good pets.

Why should *I* get a healthy, well-socialized, nearly already house-trained 8-week-old pup who already knows how to sit and how to learn just because I know the "secret handshake" Christie mentions?

And why should my next-door neighbor, who doesn't know that secret handshake, end up with a crippled, sick, unsocialized pup who is difficult if not impossible to house-train because the minimum wage kennel staff in your "improved" high-volume puppy mill didn't keep the cages clean enough so that the babies didn't learn that standing in poop isn't normal?

And finally, why should hundreds of thousands of dogs be denied a life of love and companionship, spending their entire lives in "improved" cages cranking out litter after litter until their "value" as "productive lifestock" is over, at which time they're killed, auctioned to other millers or tossed to rescue?

High-volume commercial breeding is not good for pet-owners or pets.

I do NOT accept the widely held view among those of us who fight for our heritage breeds that because we are against the animal-rights extremists march towards pet extinction, we must side with those who treat dogs like livestock. The days of "you're with us or agin' us" are OVER for me.

I also do NOT accept that "ordinary" pet-lovers should have to settle for sick and maladjusted pets because they are not as informed as we are.


Instead of accepting the reality of commercial breeders and improving their conditions, I would offer we could accept the reality of "backyard breeders" and breeders of mixed breed dogs and work on improving their conditions. There are a lot of people who are branded BYB because for various reasons, they aren't up to snuff with the in-crowd. But honestly, if we're talking shortages of pups, I'd rather extend a hand and some education to people who breed dogs they treat as pets than those who regard dogs as a commodity.


Christie, thanks for beautifully articulating a conundrum that's been teasing around the edges of my consciousness for quite some time now.


Philosophically, I don't have a problem with commercial breeding. When I was a kid back in the Neolithic, most dog breeders were out in the country and those with large breeds used a kennel situation much like a boarding place. The dogs seemed happy, healthy and cheery.

The reality of it these days is what bugs me.

I actually don't have a problem with people buying dogs at a pet shop - philosophically.

The reality of it is what bugs me.

So, if commercial (ie, actually making money instead of losing money or breaking even like most breeders I know) breeders were held to standards that would exceed (or at least match) those of a good boarding kennel, I wouldn't have a problem with it.

If pet shops were obligated to provide the name and address of the breeder of the pup, proof of veterinary attention, etc and if pups couldn't be placed in pet shops until the age of say, three months, had some training and socialization and were nearly past the worst fear stage and if the whole litter had to go together and stay together in a roomy playpen situation with clean straw, it would certainly ease my mind.

People who criticize breeders who breed for profit should be equally critical of many shelters and SPCA type facilities, since dogs often stay there for years (such as 'pit bulls' in Toronto, for example). Certainly many private 'rescues' aren't much better than substandard breeders and hoarding situations, based on what I've learned.

So, is 'rescuing' as bad as commercial breeding? Is 'sheltering' as bad? In some cases it's much worse, in others much better.

Dogs are animals, albeit very mysterious and unusual ones. They are a lot like humans. They are extremely adaptable, hence their success at tricking us into looking after them and obsessing over them as we seem to do today.

It's all part of their master plan for world domination - and it's working!

Gina Spadafori

Selma, to be clear: I'm not having a problem with the "profit" but with the scale of the operations and the "livestock" attitude -- and with the fact that breeding stock will never know the lives their offspring will, as part of a family.

That said, I do know breeders of hunting retrievers (typically breeding-training-hunting grounds businesses) that keep a kennel full of dogs. But they breed one litter at a time, and raise that litter in the house with the family. You could raise maybe six litters a year that way, which is a far cry from a high-volume commercial operation. (And they're also selling the pups themselves, not sending them to pet-stores where they'll be sold to anyone whose credit card clears.)

Those kennel dogs aren't just stuffed in runs for life for the purpose of cranking out puppies for sale -- they work for a living, and enjoy what they do. And many of them rotate as house dogs as well.


To me, an important difference is:

you are my pet whom I train and exercise and love and if I make a profit off your litter, yahoo for me.


you are a thing that exists for the purpose of making me money. You will receive no training, exercise or love from me and if you fail to bring me profit, you will meet a horrible end.


Those kennel dogs aren’t just stuffed in runs for life for the purpose of cranking out puppies for sale — they work for a living, and enjoy what they do. And many of them rotate as house dogs as well.

The breeder of my sister's Lab has a strict schedule to ensure that every adult dog spends significant time in the house with the family. And of course, pregnant or new mamas and their litters are in the house.

The result in my sister's case was a fourteen-month old dog that hadn't panned out for show or hunting, who well-socialized, child-proof, and great with their cat, when my sister got her. She's five now, and a joy to be around.

Very different from getting a dog who'd spent a year of her life in a commercial breeding operaion!

Christie Keith

It's not kennel living per se that's the problem. Lots of breeds do really well in an appropriate kennel situation, like foxhounds and sled dogs.

But the idea that high volume commercial breeders run those kind of kennels, or could make the kind of money they need to make to stay in business if they did, is a fantasy.


Hey, I agree with you.

It's the reality of it that's wrong, not the concept.

It seems to me that if these 'people' are making the kind of money we think they are making, they could well afford to improve conditions.

So could their partners in crime at the retail end of things.

So, if I opened a pet shop and followed my own principles, only obtained puppies locally, refused to use middlemen, made no secret of the source, insisted on certain standards from my 'suppliers', kept my puppies clean, happy and socialized and still managed to make some money out of it, would you support it?

(Trust me, the last thing I want to do is clean after puppies all day long like my friends who breed dogs have to do, it's just a what-if question).

My point is that in addition to counselling people to avoid pet shops as is widely done, maybe pet shops should be insisting that the suppliers/breeders to meet certain standards or they won't take their puppies.

Would that help?


PS, I'd screen homes as well, insist on references, if they rent a note from the landlord, etc. It wouldn't be easy to get one of my little guys.


Selma, the problem is that, while you wouldn't use a middleman, you'd be a middleman.

And if you'd be really screening potential buyers, well, sorry, you're not describing a successful consumer retail operation. You'd have all the overhead of having a store, but you wouldn't have the volume of sales moving through to pay for it.

Or you would have that volume, and you wouldn't be able to really screen people.

Or you'd be doing the screening, having high standards for you suppliers AND high standards for your customers, and you'd be charging enough to be profitable and getting the kind of clientele that can pay those prices--and you wouldn't be selling to the average person who wants a nice puppy, but doesn't have the knowledge required to send them looking for a responsible breeder.

There's a reason most responsible breeders never really make a profit.:(

Gina Spadafori

I don't think so, Selma. Because in fact the pet store IS the middleman, between the breeder and the pet-owner.

No caring, reputable breeder wants someone ELSE placing/selling the puppies they raised ... not to mention reputable breeder is there for the life of the dog to advise/support on problems, and take back if need be.

Retailers should not be selling puppies. No condition I could personally think of can make a pet store an optimum situation for a puppy or a puppy buyer.


Selma's puppy shop goes down in flames - O noes!

; )

I can't imagine turning over my puppies to anyone to sell - even if they kept them clean, socialized them, screened buyers, etc. Even if they were my BFF. No one is ever going to be as perfect as me (heh) and can you imagine the very first problem that arises - which it inevitably will. The pet shop owner would be blaming the breeder and vice-versa and the buyer would probably be threatening both with lawsuits.

Pets are a HOME thing to me. Better to keep the joys, as well as the difficulties, at home. One "buck stops with me" person.

H. Houlahan

I've had German shepherd dogs for 18 years.

I can tell you where you can get a fine working dog, if you are a SAR handler or police officer or serious dog hobbyist who wants to do Schutzhund or obedience.

I am completely at a loss about where to get a good, healthy, well-balanced, sane GSD with a pet temperament. The kind of dog Biden was looking for.

I come up helpless against this question time and again. You are right -- if I can't answer that question for a client or friend, it is too damn hard.

I cannot recommend the show-ring wrecks (whether American wrecks or German wrecks.) This is the usual advice of those who know it's a bad idea for someone to try to make "just a pet" out of a dog bred from working lines. So instead of "too much dog," the pet owner ends up with a slinking spook and a stack of vet bills. Better?

So I'm on the verge of concluding (please note, I do not say that I have concluded) that the German shepherd dog genome is not well-suited to selection for pet qualities. It's a working dog or nothing. Trying to "tone down" the drive to work just ends up with shy, skittish, cowardly, insecure, potential-fear-biting animals who still try to take over the household.

That said, Biden could have done a lot better than he did.

The Googles is our friend.

Christie Keith

The Googles is our friend.

True, but knowing how to decipher what you read on the Google is part of the "secret handshake" thing, too. I mean, if Joe Biden believed what he read on Google about Barack Obama, or Hillary Clinton, or even, you know, HIMSELF... he'd lose his mind.


hee hee, yeah that's a problem. No one advertises their puppies as "Unsocialized, unhealthy and too young to be taken from their litter" even if that's the case.

"Standardless Kennels - We've got a credit card machine!"


Not trying to start a war, but it still comes back to the math. The demand for dogs, especially puppies, is large. Purebred breeders and backyard breeders are basically small volume boutiques. How do we bridge the gap in a responsible manner?

Christie Keith

I think one way to look at Selma's hypothetical ethical pet store is to compare it to the way that some of the large national chains make their space available to rescue and adoption groups.

Is providing a central, clean, well-publicized place to find new companion animals a useful and positive thing? Yes.

But the success of the individual adoptions will depend on many variables that are difficult to untangle. Not all rescue groups are equally good at screening homes or evaluating animals, and not all rescue groups are flexible enough to know a good home that falls outside their often rigid guidelines. Not all rescue groups are good at follow-up and support, either.

Another variable is the pet himself, which is related to the ability of the rescue group to evaluate animals, but also to qualities particular to the pet and the person: experience level, lifestyle, available resources, personal tastes, the pet's personality and history, etc.

Obviously, these are still worthwhile and pro-animal events, but they do have their ups and downs.

Now, take that model and apply it to purpose-bred dogs.

In some parts of the country, there are stores that hold breeder fairs. They're usually not pet stores but stores that supply hunters, and they invite hunting dog breeders to set up in their parking lots so their customers can look for a dog. This is about as close to an adoption of that model I can think of, and I think it has pretty much the same pitfalls and advantages, with the exception of the "good deed" factor.

Could something like that work? I don't think it's unethical, but do think it's problematic on a number of levels.

I don't think it's ideal for puppies to be brought to a store, center, fair, or parking lot to be looked at. I don't think it's necessary, either. At this stage, it's the breeder you're evaluating, not the puppies per se. But every time a breeder goes to a pet fair, an expo, or a similar event -- for instance, Scottish Deerhound people often go to Scottish festivals and fairs -- they are in essence doing just that: introducing their adult dogs, their breed, and themselves to potential owners of those dogs. I doubt too many deerhound breeders use the fairs this way, as there are so few people who want a deerhound, but I would imagine those who breed the more popular Scottish breeds find a lot of puppy buyers that way.

But a true retail situation to me is as fraught with problems, and as unworkable, as PetCo going into the animal shelter and adoption business on its own. Puppies are not widgets or gadgets, and treating them like stock is intrinsically flawed, not because it's wrong per se, but because it just won't work.

But if we stop demonizing home breeders, bring "backyard breeders" into the fold, fight like hell to stop repressive legislation, breeding bans, BSL, mandatory S/N, punitive limit laws, and registration and licensing for small, home-based breeders when they rear their heads, and refuse to be shamed, cowed, or forced into the shadows, and in fact, start proudly promoting good, dog-positive, dog owner-positive breeding practices, and standing up proudly for the preservation and improvement of dogs in all their forms and functions including companion dogs, then there won't be a need for pet stores to sell puppies at all.

People can go back to looking in the classifieds of their local newspaper without shame, and breeders can go back to advertising there. Same with the very online classifieds I've fought against allowing live animal ads for years; I still oppose AUCTIONING live animals, but I no longer agree with blanket prohibitions against simple listings of available puppies on things like Craig's List.

Part of the reason internet puppy mills have gained a foothold is that home-based breeders have ceded that ground to them without a fight. It's all part of the same problem. It has the same solution: stand up and speak out.

Christie Keith

Not trying to start a war, but it still comes back to the math. The demand for dogs, especially puppies, is large. Purebred breeders and backyard breeders are basically small volume boutiques. How do we bridge the gap in a responsible manner?

I was already writing my previous comment when this was posted, and part of my response was covered there.

My answer is simple: Stop demonizing small home based breeders. Encourage good breeding practices. Educate conumers. Stop letting the perfect be the enemy of the good. Stop letting your enemies define you. Stop sticking your heads in the sand instead of standing up and fighting repressive and unfair legislation and regulation.

Stop being defensive about shelter dogs and embrace them; they're not "the competition," they're dogs in need of homes and there are plenty of homes to go around. One of the lies that the anti-breeding crowd uses to bludgeon breeders is that there aren't enough homes, but obviously that's a lie. There are more than enough homes, but both shelters and good breeders have done a terrible, horrible job of getting their dogs into them.

If the stigma that's become attached to home-based breeding -- I mean, how in the name of hell did anyone ever get the idea that "puppy mills" and "backyard breeders" were comparable? -- was reduced or turned around, then there would be more dogs being purpose-bred as companions, particularly the very small dogs that are most desired, because more people would be able to breed their dogs and supply that market.

Who needs to be squeezed out is the ONLY entity in this scenario that is producing dogs like widgets instead of future family members, companions, and working dogs: high volume commercial breeders.

Will all bad outcomes be avoided like this? Of course not. But THEY NEVER CAN BE. We live in an imperfect world with imperfect people in it. Greed exists, but so does compassion. The existence of bad breeders doesn't mean all breeders, or breeding itself, are bad any more than the existence of bad shelters means all shelters, or sheltering itself, are bad.

If good breeders advertised themselves proudly and competed head to head with the ones who are something less than good, it would create market pressure for better practices by all. I actually believe under this scenario there ARE enough people who'd like to breed companion dogs to fill the demand for companion dogs, and no one has ever convinced me otherwise.

I mean, the millers and their apologists SAY home-based breeders can't supply the demand for puppies all the time, but offer no proof. Neither do I have proof of my opposite belief, of course, but I think this is a more viable strategy and one infinitely better for dogs and society than tolerating the high volume mass farming of companion animals.


To a certain extent, at least in MY breed, a lot of the popularity of the mills and volume breeders comes down to customer service.

Those big volume breeders LOVE to talk to potential buyers, and they know ALL the right things to say. They sweet talk, agree with everything, ask no questions, require no references, make no judgments. They're sweet, friendly, folksy, and (in far too many cases), pepper their conversations with declarations of their godliness.

It all sounds *so* good to buyers, that talking to an ethical, small volume breeder - one who's juggling the phone after getting home from work, with dinner to cook and five dogs to feed - can come across are brusque, or even rude.

Plus, we're pushy! We ask questions, require stuff of buyers, have long and complex contracts. We're *invasive*.

I don't know the answer. I do know that while crappy, sickly puppy mill bred pups are selling in droves, there are good breeders with litters out of health tested, champion parents who are dropping their prices for lack of buyers.

I think a lot of it comes down to marketing -- volume breeders know how to do it, small hobby breeders don't.

Christie Keith

FrogDogZ, I have to do an interview right now, but I have something to say about that... and it's a problem with shelters and rescue groups, too.

Okay, I'll be back!


Yes, that's kind of what I was trying to do. Think about possibilities, sidestep the animal liberation propaganda and improve life for the dogs and the pet owners.

All breeders got sullied by groups who want to end the breeding of animals. Period. That's why you're right, Christie, we have to stop letting them define the terms.

I don't use 'puppy mill' anymore. I say 'substandard breeder'. It's not a big change but it's less emotional.

The thing is, it isn't illegal to buy and sell dogs - yet. Do we want to make it illegal? Then we are playing into the hands of the liberationists and helping them to fulfil their goal.

We need a sea-change. We need to stop pet limit laws and stop making breeders fearful through these kinds of laws. If somebody wants to breed a couple of litters a year (usually they are looking for dogs for themselves that have potential) and sell a few pups - or even a few dozen - what's the big deal?

Don't let the liberationists tar everybody with the same brush because while they talk about welfare, that's not their goal.



H. Houlahan

FrogDogZ said:

They’re sweet, friendly, folksy, and (in far too many cases), pepper their conversations with declarations of their godliness.

Yeah, that Jehova tells me how to breed dogs thing,what is up with that?

Sorry, I see a Jesus fish on a website that is selling something other than Bibles and nice religious jewelry for my mother-in-law, I clear out. Same with it on the side of a plumber's truck, the window of a greasy spoon, whatever. Or once, the sign over a USED CAR DEALER. I got out of there -- don't wanna be close when the lightning bolt comes through.

And it does seem to be a persistent feature on the websites of many of the direct-to-sucker internet millers.

Many ethical breeders are people of faith. They don't make a big public deal out of it, much less try to use it as a marketing ploy. Maybe something about taking the Lord's name in vain?

Most dangerous dog I ever worked with was a genetically screwed-up golden retriever who specialized in biting neighborhood kids. The owners had a LOT of issues of their own, too, but this was a dog whose parents should have never been introduced, ever. The owners were incredulous when I suggested that the local puppymiller they had bought from might not have been the most knowledgeable dog breeder out there. "But she's a minister's wife!" objected the female owner.


Comment by FrogDogZ — January 22, 2009 @ 10:08 am

As far as salesmanship goes, again it comes down to how the whole transaction is regarded from the seller's perspective. One view:

I train, exercise and love my pet and I want to make the best possible match between her pups and the buyers I have put through the screening process. I desire a relationship with the buyer for the life of the pup and would want to assist in rehoming or take the pup back myself if that ever became necessary.

Another view:

I want to cater to whatever needs I can sense from you that need to be met in order to finalize this transaction. I want to make sure your credit card gets authorized before you leave the store with that pup. I hope to never see you again because if I have to talk to you, that takes away from time I want to spend selling more pups and authorizing more credit cards.

Depending on the seller's desired end-game, the tactics are going to vary. Although the pet breeder sees a benefit in asking probative questions and following up on the answers, that approach is likely to put off at least some buyers. Even if the pet breeder senses that the buyer's comfort level is sinking, he presses on because that's what it takes to do a good job.

The profit-only driven breeder will sense the buyer's comfort level and bring them a La-Z-Boy so they can feel absolutely at ease about opening their wallet.


I don't know why everybody insists on purebred dogs, when you are better served by getting a mixed breed. Especially if it's a family dog. We have had dogs for the last 40 years in this house, and - with one exception - they have been from the local pound. In fact, most have been shepherd mixes - GS/dingo, GS/chow, AS mixes - and have been the best dogs you could want.

I agree that finding a decent breeder shouldn't be that hard. But I also think it's not necessary at all.


Here's a variation on Selma's "pet store as middleman" concept that I've mulled over from time to time:

Since so many members of the public looking for a dog think the place to go is a pet shop (and have trouble locating and assessing other potential sources), how about if we make that pet shop outlet a good resource without getting it into the "puppy selling" business. And how about we do that by having pet shops mainting listings of local breeders that buyers can contact?

The pet store could make its money by charging a nominal fee to breeders who list with them. The breeders still get to have final say over vetting potential buyers. The pet-seeking public mostly has their need for "one stop shopping" fulfilled, and is not required to become an expert on the "how to find a dog breeder" subject (although they still need to exercise their critical thinking during the reciprocal process of breeder/buyer evaluation).

I'm sure there are problems with this idea as well, but I just thought I'd toss it out there for discussion.

Gina Spadafori

I have no problem with that. My friend Pam, who runs a pet-supply/grooming retail business, often suggests service providers (trainers, pet-sitters, etc.) that she has had good experience with or has had customers recommend.

This would be similar, no? In fact, here in Sacramento, it would even be simple: Just keep the annual directory of the Sacramento Council of Dog Clubs near the register, along with a list of rescue groups and shelters. Maybe the dog club bunch could even be convinced that putting "best practice" breeders of Labradoodles, etc. -- and they DO exist -- in the directory would be a good move.

H. Houlahan

Comment by Kirsten:

I don’t know why everybody insists on purebred dogs, when you are better served by getting a mixed breed.

I don't know why some people are so damned sure that they know what is best for everybody.

Glad you like your mutts. Happy when anyone is happy with their dog, and the dog is happy with them. Hey, we are all happy.

Telling people you don't know that they shouldn't want, don't need, and are wrong for having a purpose-bred dog is no less snobby than the decades of show-dog propaganda about the inferiority of mutts.

H. Houlahan

Yeah Pat, you pretty much just described the vanishing breed of small local pet-supply stores that used to be in so many towns. (Usually with a grooming parlor in back.)

Just as with food, there's no substitute for knowing -- in person -- who you are buying from.

Unfortunately, "modern" referrals are usually through internet websites.

Some are breed club or other nonprofit sites that may require some criteria of those who get a listing, but still can't offer a personal reference in the same way as a real person.

Most are puppymill-listing-for-pay sites.



Mainly because your life doesn't match every one else's life. Also if no one bred GSDs then your dogs wouldn't exist either.

I'm glad you had good experiences with your mutt. I love mine too. But you can't just paint everyone (or their motives) with the same brush.


The breeders themselves are a huge part of the problem. I was looking for a standard poodle pup last year, and I scoured the internet looking for a good breeder. I was very disheartened by the requirements that most breeders have for their puppy buyers. I encountered breeders that refused to sell you a pup if you didn't have a gigantic fenced yard, if you had to leave the dog alone while you work (which eliminates 90% of the adult population of the country), or if you had never owned a dog of that same breed before. Basically, if you weren't filthy rich, retired, and possibly psychic, you weren't getting a dog.

I understand that breeders want good homes for their pups, but this is ridiculous. EVERYONE HAS TO WORK DURING THE DAY. Not everyone can afford a house with a gigantic fenced yard--there are plenty of other exercise options. Not everyone can be the absolute 100% perfect specimen of pet-owning perfection. That doesn't mean they won't give the dog a wonderful, loving forever home.

How many people go looking for a good breeder, but get turned down for some silly reason over and over and over? How long do you think they're going to try before they turn to a puppy mill or pet store instead? How would Joe Biden have fared if the good GSD breeders found out that he didn't feed his dogs out of golden dishes or whatever other over-the-top quality they decided was required?

I finally lucked out and found a good breeder who sold me a beautiful pup. He is now a year old, and is happy, healthy, and enjoying life. There are plenty of great homes out there, even if they aren't 100% perfect. Breeders need to learn this.


I wasn't necessarily talking about purebreds. Around here the farmers sometimes (but not often) have oopsie pups that are beautiful. They usually put notices up at the vet clinic(s), which isn't a bad idea since you're targeting people who go to vets. They ask for about $50 a pup because they know most people take better care of things they have to buy. :>)

Re: changing the terms so the enemy isn't framing the argument.

Animal rights - I don't use it anymore, it's misleading and too positive. I've switched to animal liberation - easier for people to understand.

Puppy mill - did that. Substandard breeder.

Pet overpopulation - myth. I refer to a pet retention problem or shelter killing instead.

There are a few more that come up but I can't think of them right now.


Excellent post, Christie. I just have one question, because I feel kind of out of the loop -- did something happen with/to the puppy? Or am I just misreading the statement that Biden "cannot successfully find a good family dog from a responsible breeder"?


Yeah, that Jehova tells me how to breed dogs thing,what is up with that?

Why, that's part of the puppy mill trifecta -- I found a Venn diagram that interprets it perfectly -

We decided it leaves out that other important element, over use of blinky text and animated graphics, but otherwise it's spot on.


I don’t know why everybody insists on purebred dogs, when you are better served by getting a mixed breed.

I would not have been "better served" by getting any mixed breed actually available at any shelter in reasonable travel distance for me.

I agree that finding a decent breeder shouldn’t be that hard. But I also think it’s not necessary at all.

Would you prefer that all dogs came from puppy millers, the laziest, greediest, most ignorant BYBs, and the people who just didn't get their pets fixed before they had an oopsie? Do you think that that would serve the dogs better?

As for the people looking for pets, no, not everyone is best served by a Shepherd mix, a Lab mix, or a pit mix. People are different, live different lives, have different needs.

Gina Spadafori

How many people go looking for a good breeder, but get turned down for some silly reason over and over and over? How long do you think they’re going to try before they turn to a puppy mill or pet store instead? How would Joe Biden have fared if the good GSD breeders found out that he didn’t feed his dogs out of golden dishes or whatever other over-the-top quality they decided was required?

I finally lucked out and found a good breeder who sold me a beautiful pup. He is now a year old, and is happy, healthy, and enjoying life. There are plenty of great homes out there, even if they aren’t 100% perfect. Breeders need to learn this.

Comment by Karen — January 22, 2009

Karen ... you didn't "luck out." You kept looking. There's a difference. Your home is 100 percent perfect, even if your 100 percent perfect isn't the same as someone else's idea of 100 percent perfect.

But yes, many breeders, rescue groups and shelters are over-the-top unreasonable in their demands of buyers/adopters.

These are issues that can be dealt with. For example, when I was running a breed rescue, we had "guidelines" -- fenced yards, etc. But when we saw good people and a good match, we placed the dog. And I can say without hesitation that some of those placements -- one to a woman who lived in an apartment, the other to an couple considered by other groups "too old" to take on any but an elderly pet -- were my BEST placements.

Reputable breeders, rescues, shelters ... we all need to STOP presuming someone who wants a pet is "unworthy until proven otherwise."

We need to work with people, people.


I share Kirsten's concern if one phrases "everyone" as "the general public", not those who are looking for a dog with a specific purpose. And I completely agree with Christie that finding a good dog just shouldn't be this hard.

I had a TERRIBLE time making the jump from the cat world (from 6 years old) to the dog world (at 40) to get Pepper. I hang out here because since I put together the funding for the local dog park, everyone figured I must "know all" about dogs and therefore, can help THEM with the secret handshakes to get a dog.

Terrierman's "dog health" section on his blogroll has made those requests a whole lot easier to deal with, but far more people than I, or the rest of the dog park board, would like, end up throwing up their hands and going to the puppy mills because they just want a family pet and separating the wheat from the chaff just takes way too much effort (and it really does -- I'm just nasty-stubborn, which is why I have a great dog, but if I had known more, I definately would have saved some time and gone in a different direction).

Without good guidelines, well-meaning people are turning to the breeds as brands. My husband's friends are professional men who want a good dog for the family -- to them, that means they want a purebred Lab or Golden because it's a "brand" -- what you get when you want a family dog.

After all we went through to get Pepper, my husband tries to convince them to get a Lab mix from a shelter and goes into the genetics on why that will probably be a better bet. They are convinced they need a purebred because then "they know what they are getting" and "it's meant to be a family dog" etc. Then, once they start having the problems that Retrieverman talks about in his blog, my husband has to bite his tongue so he doesn't say "I told you so! to them -- although when he comes home, I get the full "my friends are idiots because they think they went to the Dog Store and bought X pounds of Dog Brand Y!"

There has to be better marketing for the family pet market and the "breed is brand" myth MUST be exploded. The purpose-bred dog breeders need to take back their turf, but the general public definately needs some help/nudges to make better decisions so that everyone -- "purpose dog" people, "family pet" people and dogs can have happier, more contented lives.


OT but related to Dorene's comment above: Terrierman gets a lot of kudos and credit around here. I stopped reading his site when I couldn't get past his derisive remarks (and photos, if I remember correctly) about overweight women. It sounds like I'm missing a lot of good information, but that just rubbed me the wrong way, personally. Maybe I need to be a bigger (haha) person and take the info and blaze past the rest.


"I agree that finding a decent breeder shouldn’t be that hard. But I also think it’s not necessary at all."

"Comment by Kirsten — January 22, 2009 @ 10:43 am"

Kirsten, I respect your opinion, but I have to tell you that even though I am a long-time animal shelter employee, I totally disagree with you.

Everyone has the right to choose the breed of dog they want to be part of their lives. From what I have seen in my time in animal welfare, I have come to the conclusion that I would rather people responsibly choose the dog they really want and do right by it (give it proper care, training, affection, etc.) than to just take "a pig in a poke" and get rid of it because they are unhappy with it.

Dogs are not interchangeable -- one dog does not equal another. People who aren't particular about which dog they live with, and who are willing to do what it takes to make the relationship work with whatever they have, are few and far between. It's wonderful when this type of person comes along and wants to adopt the dog that nobody else wants, but in most cases, this is just not the way it works.

When we have someone come to the shelter who has their heart set on a Yorkie -- and they may have very legitimate reasons for wanting a Yorkie -- they are hardly going to be happy with -- not to mention be an appropriate home for -- a Pit Bull / Lab mix, just because it's there. And while there may be Yorkies available through rescue groups, adopting a rescue dog can also be difficult for many people. So many other people are already waiting to adopt the dogs that don't have all the baggage -- health, temperament, age, whatever -- that many rescue dogs come with. I hate it when people say "you can find any dog you want in rescue groups." That just isn't true, no more than saying you can find any breed of dog in a shelter.

I have never bought into the "until there are none, adopt one" mentality, because aside from the frightening extreme possible definition of that statement, I just don't believe that dogs are one-size-fits-all. I believe that people are far more likely to make a long-term commitment to the dog they really want.

The thing is, we all need to think of ways to encourage responsible acquisition and ownership, and to discourage people from getting their pets from bad sources. If we can come up with that happy medium, maybe we can reduce the number of homeless animals that are out there in the first place.

I'm glad you love your mixed-breed dogs. I, too, have loved many mixed-breeds in my lifetime. But I have also loved my purebreds, and I firmly believe that there is room in this world for both. It's the people who need to do more serious thinking before they get one or the other.


"I don’t know why everybody insists on purebred dogs, when you are better served by getting a mixed breed." With no disrespect to all the other lovely dogs out there of pure and mixed lineage...

Sometimes all you want is a well-bred German Shepherd and no other dog will do.

Christie Keith

I'm back!

Re: FrogDogZ's comment on how small hobby breeders suck at customer service, and how sometimes the high volume breeders are great at it, reminds me of the situation right now with shelters. Many of them fail to "market" their animals and fail to train their staff members in good customer service, or implement any concept of "customer service" in their operations, because they resist being seen as a "business." It offends them, because they do not operate a "business" as they understand a business; they are more like a cause, a charity, or a church.

And of course, that's true, but it's also completely naive.

Charities do market themselves. So do churches, schools, and causes. If you want to attract people in your doors or to your cause, you have to market to them. That's just reality.

Sitting back and being smug, judging everyone who shows up at your shelter desk, letting your staff reinforce each other with negative messages about how irresponsible and bad most people are... these things drive away potential adopters, antagonize the very members of the community who need to be your donor and volunteer base, and prevent the animals in your facility from getting into a happy forever home.

The same thing is true of breeders.

It's not just that hobby breeders don't know HOW to give good customer service, or that they don't know they're supposed to; they're actively opposed to doing it, take pride in NOT doing it, and positively reward other breeders who refuse to do it.

They've bought the same message that most people suck, most people shouldn't have any dog let alone one of your breed let alone one of YOUR dogs. They make it hard for them to find them, hard for them to squeeze through their screening process, and they're usually not very friendly or welcoming on top of it. Then they run back to the Internet and brag about the idiot they smacked down on the phone or at the pet store.

Just like the shelters, they have to accept reality. It's not just about placing YOUR puppies; it's about protecting your right to own and breed dogs in the first place. If you can do that with a spoonful of sugar instead of vinegar... just as I've suggested for shelters and rescue groups... it costs you nothing but the wilingness to do it and a little practice at different messages and a different tone of voice.

It doesn't mean you let all comers buy your puppies any more than shelters should hand over pets to anyone who asks for one. It just means that there's no reason to make people feel stupid or irresponsible or judged, and plenty of reasons not to.

Shelters and small breeders alike need to think in terms of overall message and support for their "industry," or "cause" if you want a word with less negative connotation. That is what marketing is, and it's not a bad thing and shouldn't be turned into a bad thing.

We market this blog. I market my column. We market the pet feature. Gina markets her books. We both market ideas, even ideas that don't make us a penny, such as our belief in no-kill and food safety reform.

The American Red Cross markets its rescue efforts. Churches, schools, politicians, people selling their houses, the guy next door trying to sell his car, a kid selling his bike on Craig's List, Bad Rap asking for toys and cases of canned pumpkins for pit bulls it's trying to place... all these things are forms of marketing and they are not evil.

If you believe in something and want to spread the word and get other people to believe it too, you must learn to think about what your message is and how to successfully deliver it. There's really no point in being right if you aren't also effective.

Now, I say all this, but I sympathize with everyone who just can't do it. We've all seen pet owners who really shouldn't have pets, and some of us have seen true abuse that's tainted how we view the general pet-owning public. The reason I sympathize so deeply, though, is not that; it's because I keep finding myself drawn back to anger and "being right" in a very different argument -- the one over marriage equality. It fills me with resentment, even rage, to have to try to win people over to the idea that I should be treated the same under the law as they are. I literally shake with it sometimes.

And that is why I am a hideously ineffective advocate for my cause.

My feelings are valid, my position is morally, ethically, and legally unassailable, my anger righteous.

And none of that changes a single mind nor advances my cause one inch.

So I get that it's hard to lay down the idea that you're the one on the ethical high ground and all those other people are mean-spirited idiots. I do get it.

But those of us caught in that struggle also have to realize we have two choices: stand on our tiny mountain shaking our sword in the air, or climb down and talk to the people we're so pissed at, and see if we can't change a few minds.

Anne T

Dear Dog, save me from the well intentioned who think that they know what's best for me, whether it's a mongrel from a shelter, mandatory seat belt usage, trusting the FDA for food safety or getting rid of my cat because it might suffocate my baby!The only mutt I might EVER consider is a lurcher and I deeply resent being told ad infinitum that by loving a particular breed, I am anathema! Arrghhhh!

Alas, getting a quality dog from however you define a good, responsible breeder is as Christie says in her excellent post, a difficult feat, but if you the buyer are committed and persistent, you can break through the safety barrier the breeder has placed around her/his dogs.

Most of the difficulty arises because breeders want to protect their animals from the average impulse buyer/uninformed public. Responsible breeders want to make as certain as possible that their puppy placements are in forever homes, and not thrown out in the trash like everything else in this disposable society of ours. When people stop and ask me questions about my dogs, I tend to pontificate at length on all the reasons one shouldn't get one! I don't want my breed any more popular than it is, as our National Club Rescue and private breed rescues are full of puppy mill rejects bought by people who couldn't deal with the dog once it became a teenager and lost it's fat puppy appeal.

I see this as a two fold problem; how to get a well bred dog if you are looking for a pet/companion and how to protect your dogs from the ignorant, knowing that you "can't fix stupid". It may be American to own a dog, but every American should not own one!

H. Houlahan

The Googles is our friend.

True, but knowing how to decipher what you read on the Google is part of the “secret handshake” thing, too. I mean, if Joe Biden believed what he read on Google about Barack Obama, or Hillary Clinton, or even, you know, HIMSELF… he’d lose his mind.

Comment by Christie Keith — January 22, 2009 @ 9:32 am

True enough, but my understanding is that this particular breeder had been cited for kennel health and welfare violations -- so that's a little more concrete than the rabblings of a right-wing blogger, say.

Before I went to Billings, the wee stat counter on my blog revealed that a LOT of people in Montana were googling my name, and my NESR colleague's name, in conjunction with different other terms. I sure don't blame anyone for being curious about these strangers coming from out of town, and what their agendas might be.

I checked all those google search results myself, and found "Eh, nothing here to be ashamed of or that makes either of us look bad to a reasonable person."

Not that my pronouncements on cave conservation or backyard composting, say, have anything to do with anything in this context.

If someone is a good breeder, I expect to find mostly good stuff about them when I use a search engine. And if there's a disgruntled turned-down buyer or something out there spreading bile, I'll ask the person it's about whassup.


'These are issues that can be dealt with. For example, when I was running a breed rescue, we had “guidelines” — fenced yards, etc. But when we saw good people and a good match, we placed the dog. And I can say without hesitation that some of those placements — one to a woman who lived in an apartment, the other to an couple considered by other groups “too old” to take on any but an elderly pet — were my BEST placements.

Reputable breeders, rescues, shelters … we all need to STOP presuming someone who wants a pet is “unworthy until proven otherwise.”'

Totally agree with you on this, Gina. It's easy for people to get so stuck in absolutes that they forget that each situation is different.

We had a real AR-oriented guy who worked here years ago when I first started, and I would drive him crazy because I never did things "by the book." (Thankfully the management gave me a lot of leeway because they knew I had a lot of years of experience with animals and I had a pretty good idea of what I was talking about.)

One day he read me the riot act because he had heard me discussing keeping cats indoors with a potential adopter. I told the adopter that it's really not fair to let cats outdoors in Tucson because there are so many coyotes in the area. I told them, truthfully, that I had lost three cats to coyotes -- one because of complete ignorance of the problem, and the other two due to letting my guard down and letting them outside because they wanted so badly to go out in the yard, and I felt they were safe in our yard.

This staff person freaked out and told me that he felt I sounded very irresponsible to the adopter. I told him, no -- I sounded HUMAN by telling them about my own experience and what I had learned the hard way, which was a lot more honest than just preaching why they shouldn't do this or that just because I said so. I have never had a cat that wasn't an indoor-only cat since, and I think I conveyed the danger to these people very well.

We often fall into thinking absolutes like a dog needs a fenced yard, and someone with an apartment shouldn't own a certain breed. But often the home with the fenced yard will be the one to stick the dog out in the yard alone without interaction or exercise, while the apartment dog will get regular walks and attention from its owner.

I think it's always better to just listen to the potential home and take time getting to know where they are coming from and how sincere they are about the adoption than it is to just "go by the book."

Christie Keith

I don’t know why everybody insists on purebred dogs, when you are better served by getting a mixed breed.

I don't know why anyone would live in the suburbs, have kids, or eat at McDonald's. I don't know why cilantro has not been banned from the agricultural fields of the planet, nor why wearing Crocs isn't a capital crime.

I don't know why anyone on earth doesn't love Xena: Warrior Princess, why everyone who wants to lose weight doesn't go on Atkins, why people collect stamps, why people believe certain elements of religious dogma, or why anyone would ever join the army.

I can't imagine who watches American Idol, or listens to Celine Dion. It completely bewilders me that NASCAR exists.

Do you see where I'm going here? It's not about me. And it's not about you. People have the right to pursue happiness, and while there are things we don't permit in that pursuit even in a free country, the default is and must always be towards liberty and doing what brings us happiness. That's the foundation of this country.


I'm with you on Xena!!! (and on Celine Dion - ack!)


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