I was in a mall today, and that mall had a pet store. Not just a pet supply store, but one that had that row of cages, separated by windows, with puppies in them. You know the type.
There was a Puggle, and a Morkie, and a Chihuahua, and a Pomeranian (though the people standing next to me thought it wasn't a purebred Pom; I thought it was, but held my tongue). There was a Bernese Mountain Dog, and an English Bulldog. The smaller breeds were all $700, but Berner was $1999, and the English Bulldog had a sign that said "Serious inquiries only."
So, where did these puppies come from?
When I was looking for Doberman breeders, prior to getting Elka, I was in the same mall, same pet store. Innocent me, I asked one of the employees "Do you have lists of local breeders that you can recommend to people?" The employee looked at me, a bit puzzled, and then smiled.
"No," she said. "We truck them in from Kansas."
Prior to getting Elka, I didn't think much about the puppies in pet stores. I was never getting one, so it wasn't a topic that mattered to me. I wish it had earlier. Puppies in pet stores spend their lives in those cages on the walls, which, to my untrained eye, appear smaller than the space that a dog would have were he or she to be in the pound. Puppies in pet stores are, perhaps, taken from their mothers and littermates at 7 weeks old or earlier, so that they arrive at the store still young and cute and puppyish. In New York State, 8 weeks is the minimum age, by law, that a puppy can be sold. At 8 weeks, a puppy has gotten a groundwork in socialization from her mother and littermates, and has learned a thing or two about how hard one can bite in play and have it still be acceptable.
I know when we brought Elka home, she was a little upset on that first night, suddenly without the other warm fuzzy puppies that she'd spent her entire brief life with, but she still had us. Imagine that same puppy's "first night", but in a cage in a truck, driving across the country. I imagine the driver must stop, and give the dogs food and water, or else they don't survive, but that is speculation on my part.
There's also the notion that a breeder, a good breeder, tends to like having an awareness of where their dogs are going. Good breeders do not send their dogs across the country to be sold in a crappy pet store in a mall; good breeders talk to owners, and have contracts, and offer a lifetime of help and advice. Good breeders do health testing, and tend to do sports or conformation with their dogs, so that they have concrete evidence that their dogs offspring will be a betterment of the breed. "Health testing" also means more than just a vet check, I've subsequently learned.
Health testing, in the case of the Doberman breed anyway, is an "alphabet soup" type list: OFA or Penn Hip, which gives scores on hips and elbows, assurance that the dog isn't dysplasic. Any dog who has been OFA'd is searchable on the site: The Orthopedic Foundation For Animals. A dog cannot receive an official OFA score until he or she is 2 years old, which, depending on the dog circles in which you travel, is also the minimum age you should wait before breeding your dog.
CERF, the Canine Eye Registry Foundation, for hereditary eye problems. There's the genetic test for DCM, Dialated Cardiomyopathy, which is a heart disorder which causes congenital heart failure and sudden death. The genetic test is new, and tests only a single marker for this disease, which is inherited and apparently causes the deaths of many Dobermans yearly; unfortunately, a negative on the carrier gene does not currently mean that the dog will not die of DCM. They're working on it.
Von Willebrand Disease is something that many Dobermans carry, and if two carriers are mated, the puppies will be affected. It is a clotting disorder, which can cause a dog to bleed to death from even a small, nonthreatening cut. Last but not least is the checking and regulation of the thyroid; thyroid imbalance can cause skin and coat problems, and also behavioral ones. Considering the statistics I see get bandied about that more dogs die in American every year for behavioral problems, making sure the thyroid is clear seems pretty important.
So, what does this scary list of disorders and tests mean for a breed, any breed? Well, it means breeding is expensive. It means that it costs a lot of money to plan a litter of puppies and then raise them up to be placed in homes. It also means that if one were to cut corners, and not do any health testing, and send their dogs, say, on a truck to New York from Kansas, there would be no culpability on the breeder's part should that puppy have a genetic health problem. I'm sure the pet store itself has a contact regarding health, but that's after the breeder has already been paid. So in addition to being emotionally and behaviorally screwed up, pet store puppies might also be ticking time bombs with regards to health problems.
It's hard to leave that pet store puppy in his or her cage. But it's also hard to think about the sires and dams of all of those puppies, at home in Kansas, making more. Buying pet store puppies supports bad breeders, and there are plenty of breeders trying to make good, and plenty of dogs already in shelters. Take a step back, and leave the store. If everybody did it, there wouldn't be that venue anymore. Some cities have already made it illegal to sell dogs and cats in pet stores, and I'm glad. If it happens enough, I think milling puppies will no longer be a lucrative business for people and they'll turn their attentions elsewhere.