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Avoiding the Pitfalls When Becoming a Pet Parent

Val Cairney July 10, 2020 209

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Hello and welcome to this episode of Val Talk’s Pets.  This episode is all about avoiding the pitfalls when becoming a pet parent

It always interests me how people acquire their pets.  The stories range widely from some that break your heart to some that to be honest have me shake my head. As for me I’ve had a few dogs in my time.  The very first dog in my family growing up was already a member of the household when I was born.  My father found a stray dog running down the middle of the road in our neighbourhood and scooped her up.  She was your typical mutt.  She sort of looked a bit corgi, maybe a bit shepherd but who knows?  What a patient wonderful dog she was.  She died when I was eleven. 

I’ve also had two purebred dogs, Canadian Kennel Club registered.  One was a Samoyed and one was a Rottweiler.  I had it in my head that I was going to show the Samoyed.  I never did.  It was a lofty teenage idea.  My Rotti was an amazing well-bred Rottweiler and when I got him, Rottweilers were not that well known and were almost exclusively being used in police and protection work.  I’ve also had two border collies that were acquired by first dog sitting them as their owners went overseas and then being asked to keep them.  And as I have mentioned in one of my other podcasts, my present husky shepherd was a rescue from a northern Ontario First Nations community. 

So, basically just like most people, I have acquired my dogs over the years in several different ways.  I’ve purchased from a reputable breeder, I’ve been the re-homing home, had a stray and adopted through a human society.  As for cats, all of them but one have been a stray.  One of my cats that I have now I got through a barn cat that had kittens and I said I would take one.  He is the most hilarious cat I ever had.  Stray or not, they all have had individual personalities.  So, let’s explore some of the ways to get a pet, choose a pet and how to watch out for the scams that are floating around.  And there are! 

Purebred Dogs

Let’s begin with purebred dogs. 

Purebred dogs are dogs of a specific breed. Two registered purebreds of the same breed are bred. The breeds physical description and temperament is what is being perpetuated. Generations of that particular pair will have been recorded, screened and selected so that only the healthiest and the best example of the breed will produce future puppies.  The only way to guarantee that you have an actual purebred is to have what is called “papers” for the dog.  “Papers” are a way of identifying that the dog has come from a registered breeder with the governing purebred dog association for your country.  In Canada it is the Canadian Kennel Club.  In the U.S. it the AKC, American Kennel Club, in the U.K. there is  The Kennel Club that handles breed pedigree registrations and in Australia there is the Australian National Kennel Council.  So, each country will have its registration body and what that registration entails and the guidelines will also vary. 

Breeders that are registered have to adhere to the guidelines for the breed and with this often specific testing and proof of, has to be submitted. There is a standard of excellence that breeders uphold and breeders and breed clubs work hard to uphold high standards for the breeds.  One of the breeders I know, will often spend an entire day at the University of Guelph Veterinarian college in Ontario, Canada, having a new litter tested for hips, eyes, etc.  The health status in these areas are important for her for future breeding and to have those certificates as a reputable CKC breeder and for her future pet parents that will come to her for a quality pup of the breed she has.  Many breeders also show their dogs.  Many have their top dogs working towards higher levels in the show world for demonstration of the breed at its best as this contributes to the breed standards and future preservation.

The benefit to getting a purebred dog is to know that the traits and look of the dog will be what you are looking for.  Cost in this case will be significant if you wish to get a purebred.  And with all the cost involved to adhere to the guidelines there is a reason for this cost. 

Now, let’s look at some of the pitfalls.  Certain breeds of dogs have their day in the sun with popularity for different reasons.  Labradors and golden retrievers are always a favourite.  But, just put out a movie with a specific breed and all of a sudden there is an explosion of popularity of that breed.  101 Dalmatians did no favours for the Dalmatian breed.  Dalmatians are a dog that an experienced dog owner should take on.  They are wonderful dogs, but you need to know what you are doing with regards to training and nutrition.  But, everyone had to have their own Pongo and then what happened next was a glut of Dalmatians at shelters and with Dalmatian rescue fosters.    The Obama’s got a Portuguese Waterdog.  Next thing you know, the demand for Portuguese Waterdogs went up exponentially.  How many of those people had even heard of a Portuguese Waterdog before the Obama’s got one?  The questions then remains, did they do their homework to understand the breed or did they just want one because the President had one?  This happens a lot. 

For a while there, everyone was getting a Bernese Mountain Dog.  Then there was the rise in Rottweilers and then German Shepherds went into the rotation again, and oh, Wheaten Terriers!  It’s the dog dejure!  But, as with any specific type of dog, you need to do a lot of research about the breed and the breeders.  When I decided I wanted a Samoyed, I went to as many dog shows as I could and spoke to the Samoyed group who were breeders and showers.  I read information and did a lot of calling to the different breeders asking questions.  When I decided I wanted a Rottweiler, research of the breed and the breeders was tantamount.  I knew, that a badly bred Rottweiler could be a very serious liability so I made sure I did the research to know that the breeder that I decided to go with had the breed’s best interest at the forefront. And one of the best things is that this breeder wanted to interview me before deciding that I would provide the proper environment for one of her puppies.  That to me was top notch! 


Now this brings me to a real issue that we need to explore.  There are the upstanding registered breeders, then there are people who breed a certain breed but are not registered.  I hear this conversation quite frequently.  “We just got a new puppy!”  Oh how wonderful, what kind of dog did you get?  We got a German shepherd!  Lovely!  Where did you get her?  Oh there is a breeder up in X.  Ahh, so she is a purebred?  Oh yes.  Have you got her papers yet?  Oh no, there is no papers, the dogs are purebreds but they are not registered.       Does anyone have the same question going through their head as I do when I hear this?  Isn’t the next question, then how do you know it’s a purebred?  And the next question is, what did you pay for this puppy?  Now, we know the cost of purebreds varies all over the world, but let’s just take a dollar value scenario here.  If a purebred registered Shepherd costs around $1500.00 would you pay the same for a dog that is not registered and has had no advanced testing for health and confirmation?  For me the answer is absolutely not!  And this is my opinion, but as far as I’m concerned if someone says they are selling purebreds I want that confirmation, I want the proof.   If you don’t have it, I will pay you the rate I would pay for a dog at the SPCA shelter.  $400.00.   Why would I pay the same amount to someone selling puppies of a breed that has no proof to substantiate the price they are asking? 

As I said earlier, registered breeders have a lot of cost involved to provide the consumer with quality healthy dogs.  This means that a cost to the consumer is involved and I don’t have a problem with that if I get all the certificates and registration that goes with it.  These breeders that do not register are often called “backyard” breeders and I know that sounds rather derogatory.  And some people do have a registered purebred and for the sake of one litter or a small operation of having puppies once a year they do not go through with registration etc.  That’s fine, as long as they are not expecting to charge the same rate as a registered dog.   But, the scenario becomes rather seedy and diabolical when there is a rise in a breed’s popularity as with the Dalmatians and Portuguese Waterdogs, where poor backyard breeders spring up like crazy just to cash in on the craze.  They charge whatever they can get and there is no registration, no health certificates and no way to trace where these dogs have come from.  And because some people out of lack of knowledge, poor judgement or just having to be a part of the craze pay these crazy amounts, these charlatans get your money and taint the breed.

Do Your Research

So this segues into a way people get dogs and puppies other than contacting a registered breeder and that is through on line methods.  Now we will often go on line to find the registered breeders and also to find who is selling puppies, either a specific breed, cross breeds or mutts.  By all means find your registered breeders here, but for any others, research, Buyer Beware!!  If you decide to go this route, you must be very thorough, very skeptical, extremely picky, full of questions and guarded to not get ripped off.  There are legitimate people selling puppies, but you need to make sure you are finding those people.  There are red flags that many people ignore.  So, let’s make sure you know what these are. 

So, say you are looking for a medium dog, doesn’t have to be a purebred, just a nice medium sized dog that will be good with the kids and doesn’t have any of the characteristics from breeds that are aggressive.  Sounds easy enough.  You go on line and you start researching.  You find someone in a rural area who is selling border collie crosses.  First question.  What is the border collie crossed with?  Remember you didn’t want any aggressive breeds so find out what the other breed or breeds is.  Next question to ask is whether the person owns both the mother and the father?  If not, which one do they own and how did they come to be in the position of selling puppies?  Ask how many males and females they have and you should know what your preference is.  Remember your budget, as spaying costs more than neutering so something to keep in mind.  If there isn’t a good answer to any of your questions so far, red flag! 

What you are trying to ascertain here is whether this is a backyard puppy mill.  Is this a nice family that has decided to let their dog have one litter?  What’s the story?  Why do they have an unfixed dog or dogs? Ask if it would be okay to come see the pups and can you see the parents or at very least the parent they own?  If not, why not?  Red flag!! 

Okay, so say things seem on the up and up and you decide to go see the pups.  Make it clear to this person, you are coming to see the pups only, there is no obligation on your part to go home with one of the pups.  So you drive out to the property where the pups are and first thing you do is assess the surroundings. Are there a bunch of adult dogs running loose?  Can you see kennels?  Are they clean and well built? If not, perhaps the puppies are inside.  If so, the next level of observation begins.  Think of everything you possibly can.  Make a list of things to remember.  If the puppies are inside, can you see all of them? Or do they want to show you only one at a time. Why?  Where are they being contained and in what condition?  Are the puppies clean?  Check for evidence of fleas.  Ask questions.  How long have you been breeding?  How did you come to have this litter?  Where is the mother or father?  Again, ask to see the sire or dame. Ask what they have been feeding the pups.  This is another indicator of level of care.   I mentioned this in my podcast on getting a new puppy.  If the pups are being fed some horrible quality food, this is insight into the care and commitment to healthy dogs this person is not giving. If the answer I was given to this question was one that made my eyebrows raise, I would thank them for their time, and leave.

 If something doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t.  Guard your heart.  Puppies can steal hearts so easily with their little faces, but you have to stay strong.  You can’t save the world here, your mission is to find a healthy, well-tempered family pet.  Stay the course.  If your gut is telling you something isn’t quite right, then it probably isn’t.  Move on!  And remember, you need to have discussed the price before you went to see the pups.  There should be no surprises and again, shelter rate price is a reasonable guage for what you should be paying.  Keep in mind however, that if you got a pup from a shelter it would already be wormed, have its first shots, be microchipped, possibly fixed and definitely no fleas.  Just saying here! 

Other Routes To Go

Another way to get a dog or puppy is through a proper breed rescue organization or other reputable rescue organization.  Just about every breed has a rescue.  This is where mostly purebreds are given over to the rescue organization for various reasons.   The people who volunteer with the organization foster the dog and the organization works to get the pup or dog adopted by a lovely new owner.  Checking with these organizations should be top of your list for finding a dog or pup.  People often think these dogs have been given up to the rescue because of behavioural issues, and sometimes they have but other circumstances do take place that was no fault of the pet.  These organizations will be helpful to make sure you are making the right choice for this to be a forever home for one of their rescues. 

Other rescue organizations exist as well that can be very helpful to get you the pup or dog you are looking for.  Where I live there is the Northern Dog Rescue for example, that brings pups and dogs from northern climes to SPCA centres for adoption.  Before going up for adoption, they are medically checked, deflea’d and bathed, given their vaccinations, fixed and microchipped.  Check your area for organizations like this where you can get a wonderful pup or dog that really needs a home.

Another way people get their pets is by being the person who will take a dog or cat or small animal for that matter that has to be re-homed.  There are many reasons why someone needs to re-home their pet, and this could be a great opportunity to get a pet that has all its medical up to date, trained and ready to be a part of your family.  Usually there is no money involved when re-homing.  This person is in need of a good home for their pet and you could fit that bill, so being asked to pay for the dog or cat or small animal is not a re-homing and therefore a red flag. 

And again, always check you’re your local humane society and other humane societies near you.  There are so many amazing pets at shelters.  I’ll tell you a quick story about a little beagle that was at my local spca.  So this little beagle ended up in the shelter for doing what beagles do.  He liked to howl and he was nose driven so he was a handful keeping in the yard or walking.  Now, we know beagles are very cute so he got adopted.  He was returned for doing what beagles do.  This happened 6 times.  Now, I know what you are thinking as did I, why didn’t the shelter adoption people vet these prospective new owners better to avoid this?  Well that’s a whole other story, but in the meantime our little beagle is back at the shelter. 

Now, there was a man that had beagles in the past that was monitoring the website for this shelter looking for a beagle.  He saw this one go up on the site and he called to inquire and he was told that the one on the site just went out the door adopted.  He was disappointed but the next day he went back on line and low and behold, the beagle is back on the site.  This time, he bolted straight over to the shelter to inquire.  Sure enough, it was the same dog and he was promptly returned first thing in the morning with the explanation that they had made a mistake, this wasn’t the dog for them.  Well it’s amazing how things often work out, because this man met this little guy and immediately paid his adoption fee.  I met him when he was picking up some special treats and toys.  He changed the name of his new companion and last month they celebrated their 5th anniversary together.  He says he couldn’t have asked for a better dog. So what can we take away from this story? 

First, it goes to show that the right pet is out there for you, it just takes patience.  Secondly, this man was an experienced beagle owner so he knew what he was up against with a beagle but obviously the 6 other people did not.  Again, research, do your homework.  Be realistic and honest with what you are looking for.  If this had been done this poor little beagle wouldn’t have had to go through the anxiety of going to 6 homes and being returned.  But, as I said, things work out for a reason and the ending here was what was meant to be. 

Cats & Small Pets

Now let’s talk about cats and small animals for a bit.  There are purebred cats as there are dogs.  You may really want a Siamese or Himalayan.  Some of the more recent trends are to get Savannah or Bengal cats.  I’m not sure about this choice but we can leave that for another day.  There are registered breeders for these cats as well and just like finding a breeder for your dog you would go through the same steps to get a purebred cat.  Do your research, ask questions.  Another way most people get cats and kittens is sadly through finding strays.  As I mentioned earlier, all of my cats have been strays but one.  It just seems to be the nature with cats.  Of course there are quite a few cat rescue organizations that you can adopt from that will make sure the cats have been fixed, vaccinated, de-wormed and microchipped.  Again, your local humane society will also have cats and kittens.

One thing to remember is that kittens come in a cycle so throughout certain months shelters often do not have any kittens, but what a good time to look for a beautiful cat that needs a home.  Cats also need re-homing sometimes and again, this could be an opportunity to make sure a loving cat doesn’t end up in a shelter.  Cats and kittens really do have a hard time.  I can’t tell you how many times I have had people come in who have a horse farm for example, that have found a box of kittens dumped at the end of their drive.  Very sad, very upsetting.  Colonies of feral cats are quite prevalent behind industries, in forests you name it.  Feral cats often cannot be taken in as they rarely adapt to being domesticated.  However, their kittens have a chance so many rescue groups will trap the adults, get them fixed and put them back to the colony. The kittens once they are weaned will go into foster or into the shelter and will easily become domestic companions able to be adopted. 

As for small animals, rabbits, hamsters, guinea pigs, rats etc.  they are usually found in shelters.  Rabbits are the second highest animal surrendered to shelters.  There are good breeders of rabbits, guinea pigs and rats, so they can also be contacted to get a small animal pet.

So let’s recap here.  The ways to acquire a pet range.  You can contact reputable, registered breeders.  You can offer your home to re-home a pet.  You can cautiously go on line to a private seller, you can go to breed rescue groups and you can go to other rescue groups and humane societies.  Or some little lost soul finds you.  I had a chance to sit down with Karolina White   who is a colleague of mine, who is a very experienced pet owner and who I think really demonstrates the variety of ways people acquire pets and how to do it responsibly.  

Don’t Get Scammed!

Well hopefully you have got quite a bit of information about how to safely acquire a pet.  And I think I would be very remiss if I didn’t go over some of the scams and pitfalls that can happen when looking for a pet.  There are some nasty scams out there that really good intentioned people have fallen for.  And that is just the point.  These are people with big hearts, trusting individuals that have been preyed upon.

Let me start with a scam that began a couple of years ago, subsided but has recently started up again.  Let’s see if any of this rings a bell.  In this scam, someone has gone on line and found an unregistered breeder. They say they have breed X for sale and show photos of the puppies.  You communicate with the seller, find out they are not anywhere near where you live but decide to go through with the sale.  You pick a pup and the process begins to ship the dog to you.  Now let’s be clear here, this is NOT the reputable registered breeders that ship dogs to a vetted home, this is a different scenario.  There is no papers involved or if there is, you are informed they will come later.  What happens here, is the person purchasing the pup will send money to the seller for the purchase.  Then they will send more money for the plane fare, then money for a transport crate.  Often more money is asked for to pay for special permits.  What this is for I have no idea.  Anyway, the total really amounts up.  Finally you are given a flight time and you head out to the airport.  The flight comes in and you wait and guess what no dog.  This is when the buyer starts calling the number they have been using to communicate with the seller and it is no longer in service.  There you go!  You have just been scammed.  First things first here, unless the person you are having a dog shipped to you from is a registered breeder with credentials, do not “order” a dog on line.  Just the process of “ordering” on line tells you this is either a scam or if you actually did get the dog, more than likely it came from a puppy mill.  There may be exceptions but this would more than likely be the scenario. 

Another scam is to find on line a call out to save a dog’s life that is usually residing in the southern part of the United States who is at a “kill shelter” meaning that this shelter will euthanize dogs after a certain period of time if they have not been adopted.  The dog they put on line is going to be euthanized in anywhere from 24 hours to 5 days and the plea is put out to save its life.  I hate to tell you this, but this is a scam as well that is manipulated by puppy mill brokers.  Unless you are actually at the shelter, in person, seeing this dog at the shelter, don’t fall for this.  There are legitimate rescues from many geographical areas that work tirelessly to bring dogs to different areas to be adopted properly.  If you are meeting some person is the parking lot of a mall who says they have the dog from the kill shelter for you, you have been scammed.  Yes, you have the dog, but you didn’t save its life from a kill shelter.  The broker manipulated you into buying one of the mill dogs he is trying to move. And at this point, as sad as this sounds, all you did here was create an opening for another puppy mill dog to come in and fill. 

Pet Stores

So that brings us to pet stores.  Many municipalities and cities have made it illegal to sell dogs in pet stores.  I quite support this.  Most often these are again, puppy mill dogs and you would be surprised the range of what puppy milling can be.  There are breed puppy mills and there are cross breed puppy mills and there are mutt puppy mills.  There are certain communities that notoriously puppy mill and in order to pull off the sales, they use a broker, someone to give a good story about how they happen to have a litter of pups, when in fact they don’t own any of these dogs, they are just getting a piece of the action from the miller to lie to the buyer.  These dogs often end up as well in pet stores.  And I am absolutely shocked by the prices these stores put on these dogs.  I’ve seen a cross breed of a Shih Tzu and a Yorkshire terrier in a little cage being sold for $1800.00.  That’s highway robbery!  Are you kidding me!  It’s a cross breed.  Anyway, another topic.  The bottom line here is never buy a dog from a pet store.  As they say don’t shop, adopt.   In my area there is a woman who is working diligently to get our town to make it illegal to sell dogs in a pet store.  There is only one store that does this and she, falling for the little face in the cage, found herself with a very sick dog with Parvo virus and vet bills far exceeding the already over the top price she paid for the dog.

Well as you can see getting a pet can be a bit of a mind field.  If you have your heart set on a specific purebred, then go with a registered breeder and get the proper certificates and registrations.  Do yourself and the breed a big favour by supporting the time and effort that reputable breeders put into preserving the integrity of the breed.  Be very cautious when purchasing on line and the best bet is to go to a rescue organization or local human society.  And don’t forget re-homing. A lovely pet who is confused and just needs some love could be in your home doing everything he can to be a part of your family.

Pet Peeves

Well that brings me to my pet peeves section.

Well where do I start on this one?  I wish there was a way to crack down on scammers and puppy millers. And I wish people would be more conscious of what they are doing?  The only reason puppy millers and scammers are out there is because there is a market.  Stop keeping these guys in business.  People need to be honest with themselves about commitment, budget and ethics.  Animals should not be part of the instant gratification society.  I had a phone message last month that said, yes, I wonder if you sell ferrets.  My daughter wants a ferret.  Seriously?  Does this sound like someone who has put thought and research into this type of pet?  I don’t think so.  It sounds like fulfilling a whim to me.  And with a ferret?  Check out my podcast on small animals to learn about these guys.  Giving a rescue a home be it a dog, a senior dog, a cat a rabbit it doesn’t matter, rescuing and adopting is rewarding and very needed.  And make sure that if you want a specific breed you go to a reputable registered breeder. This helps breeds continue to flourish preserving generations of ethical standards.  The abuse of domestic animals will always be an issue and rise when there is a demand and that demand comes from people who want a certain pet, right now!  The repercussions and long term effects are not considered.  It really comes down to whether you want to be a responsible pet owner or to hell with whatever is going on behind the scenes as long as you get what you want.  Sometimes responsible, loving pet ownership is just a matter of wanting to give that pet your best so arm yourself with the knowledge needed to do just that.  And I will keep saying this, you must research, you must do your homework and you must soul search because as I say, knowing is caring! 

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Val Cairney

Hi everyone, and welcome to Val Talk’s Pets, the forum for pet parents and enthusiasts alike. So, I have been working in the pet industry now for almost 10 years and, on a daily basis, I handle a lot of issues and questions arising from pet parents. I am not a veterinarian but I do have certifications in Canine, Feline, Small Animal, Fish and Herptile and Avian Health and Nutrition from the University of California, Davis Extension, the Vet College.

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