Are you thinking about getting a puppy but aren’t sure where to look?
There’s plenty of places you could go to adopt. You can visit different breeders’ homes to see specific types of puppies, you can visit a local rescue shelter, check out pet stores, or even shop online. Today, it’s most common to adopt from a shelter or buy from a pet store.
Of course, pet stores have a bad stigma attached to them. When you see the puppies in pet stores, they generally look happy and healthy as they bounce around and play in their enclosures. But how healthy are they? Where did they come from? How are their parents treated?
The employees will tell you that their pet store puppies for sale come from “USDA licensed breeders” or just “breeders.” Animal rights activists will tell you that they all come from “puppy mills.” So, who’s right and who’s wrong? Let’s take a closer look.
Where Do Pet Store Puppies Come From?
The term “breeder” has quite a variety of definitions. There are all kinds of breeders from the hobby breeder to the backyard breeder. Some are ethical, and some not so much. However, many states have very specific laws in place which require pet stores and breeders to be licensed, regulated, and inspected.
These same laws also mandate that buyers are provided with health warranties and detailed health histories of the puppies they purchase. Full transparency is extremely important, as is the health and well being of the puppies being sold.
Pet stores are actually the most heavily regulated source of puppies on the market. You can tell because they only source from fully transparent and government regulated breeders, such as USDA licensed breeders.
What Exactly is a USDA Licensed Breeder?
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA for short), is a branch of the federal government that regulates many serious things that we often don’t think about. In a nut shell, they’re in charge of the quality of our food, materials, and resources, as well as how those things get from their initial location, to store, to home. Not only do they regulate these things but they also develop the policies that each industry must follow.
Breeders and kennels, under the Animal Welfare Act (AWA), are included in the many things regulated by the USDA. As of 2015, there were 1,581 USDA licensed breeders, including both Class A and B licenses. USDA licensed breeders are strictly regulated keeping the animals’ health and well being as the main concern.
Failure to comply with the rules and regulations governed by the USDA typically result in a violation citation. Along with a violation, breeders may incur fines, be prohibited from selling puppies within their same state, and in extreme cases, lose their license. All information on pet store breeders is public which means if they’ve received a violation or worse, it’ll be on record and easily accessible.
USDA Breeder Rules and Regulations
USDA breeders must adhere to strict rules and regulations not just from the USDA but also from their state and local governments. Here are some of the rules and regulations they have to follow:
- They must comply with unannounced, surprise inspections at their home and/or kennel
- They are required to provide a “turn-out yard,” which is a large, fenced-in area for the dogs to get exercise.
- Turn-out yards must include exercise and enrichment programs (for both mental and physical stimulation)
- They must keep and maintain detailed documentation and health records for each dog in their kennel
- All dogs must receive regular veterinarian care including wellness, exams, vaccinations, and even dental care
- All dogs must have 24/7 access to quality food and fresh water
- Each dog must have its own secure outdoor area for potty breaks, exercise, and to take in the sun
- High and low temperatures must not exceed 85 degrees or fall below 45 degrees Fahrenheit
- All kennels must have well-equipped grooming rooms to keep the dogs clean
- Adequate shelter from rain and wind must be provided
Everything from the healthcare to the enclosures is so detailed that breeders can receive a violation for even the slightest error or lapse in judgment. Overlooking things such as letting the grass grow too tall or having the tiniest bit of rust on the fences can result in a violation.
Most kennels you see are built with state of the art technology. Even the heating and cooling systems they use aren’t found in the average home. Most kennel owners invest in a radiant heating system that is installed in the floor and provides even heat throughout the facility for maximum comfort. From skylights to special turf, the dogs live in an environment optimized for their health, happiness, and well being.
The Terms and Conditions of Selling a Puppy
For breeders to be able to sell their puppies, they must follow specific guidelines. These guidelines are to ensure that the puppies are ready both mentally and physically to be placed in their new homes.
USDA breeders cannot sell a puppy until it is fully weaned off its mother and is a minimum of eight weeks old. The puppies must be closely monitored for the first few weeks of their lives to ensure that they are forming healthy habits and developing properly. They must be thoroughly examined by a licensed veterinarian and given a clean bill of health, otherwise, they cannot be sold.
Additionally, all puppies must have the proper documentation. That includes their pedigree, parent health history, and current health certificate.
Distribution and Transportation
Once the puppies are eight weeks old and cleared, they can be sold directly to buyers and pet stores or to distributors. Puppy distributors must also be licensed with a USDA Class B license to broker puppies from the breeders to pet stores.
The puppy distributor is also heavily regulated as they take over temporary responsibility for the puppies they distribute as well as the transportation. As soon as the puppies are transported to the distributor’s USDA licensed kennel, they are immediately examined by a licensed veterinarian accompanied by vet techs to ensure optimal health.
The kennels held by licensed distributors are also state of the art, and often bigger and better than that of the breeder. This is because they house multiple breeds of puppies, and must accommodate all the different sizes and needs of each. These facilities usually have very large play areas, well-equipped grooming rooms, and in-house veterinarian offices.
The puppies remain in these kennels between three days up to one week. Once they are cleared for transport by the vet, they are placed in a “mobile kennel” and taken to their respective pet store. Mobile kennels supply the puppies with ample food and fresh water. They also have onboard heating and cooling as well as built-in “wash-outs” that wash any messes into a waste tank. This is to ensure maximum comfort and to keep each enclosure clean.
All mobile kennels have a USDA “T” license and are driven by a licensed CDL driver with a vet tech on board. Upon arrival at the pet store, the puppies are examined again by another licensed veterinarian, cleaned, groomed, and set up in their new temporary home. The entire process from breeder to pet store is made as comfortable as possible to keep the puppies stress-free.
Puppy Lemon Laws
Many states have what are called “puppy lemon laws.” Puppy lemon laws protect buyers by providing health warranties on puppies sold in pet stores. Some states even require that pet stores reimburse up to double the amount paid on vet bills for up to a certain time. Some states also require that pet stores show all USDA records on breeders and distributors on top of providing detailed health and history records.
Even if your state doesn’t require this level of transparency, all the above information can be accessed online for free. Of course, buyers should always make sure to get a puppy’s proper documentation before making a purchase.
Why Do Breeders Get a Bad Rap?
All breeders have a bad rap—including USDA breeders. However, out of the 1,581 current USDA licensed breeders, 1,253 have zero violations, and the other 328 only had minor infractions.
The reasons behind the negative stigma are the animal rights groups such as HSUS and PETA. These groups want total animal liberation from humans, which means no pets, no livestock raised for food, and no saving species in need. They tend to lump together the law-abiding USDA breeders in with unethical and irresponsible breeders, labeling them all as puppy mills to get an emotional reaction from the unknowing public.
In essence, they lie to the public, making people believe that there are thousands of breeders using and abusing animals.
The Purest of Puppy Sources
Pet store puppies and pet store breeders that have USDA licenses are the most regulated and transparent source of puppies available on the market today. It’s important to remember that these pet store owners and breeders are also your neighbors, the mothers and fathers of your children’s friends, members of your church or synagogue, and your local small business.
With all the misinformation out there it’s up to you, the consumer, to do the research and make informed decisions for yourself.