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People seek out purebred dogs and cats for a number of reasons. Previous experience with the breed; predictability of temperament or health; use in hunting, agility, obedience, or other work are just a few.
Many purebred animals are found in animal shelters and rescue organizations. Breed-specific rescues only take in a specific breed, or mixes of that one breed. Once in a while they have puppies and kittens available for adoption, but not usually.
If these avenues are not turning up any animals of your preferred breed, you might then choose to look for a breeder. Not all breeders are alike, so look for specific criteria to satisfy yourself that the breeder is responsible.
Primarily, avoid any commercial breeder that displays the hallmarks of being a puppy mill. They are large-scale commercial breeding operations, usually for dogs (although the term can also be applied for large-scale catteries), where profit is the only thought. The temperament and health of any one animal or their parents is of no concern. The hundreds of animals are bred too often and in substandard, sometimes filthy, accommodations. Most pet store animals are sourced from operations that can be classified as puppy mills.
Generally speaking, these operations are where you will find the least expensive animals because they are merely a commodity to the breeder. When buying puppies or kittens, it's usually true that you get what you pay for. Puppy mill dogs tend to be timid, fearful, and unhealthy throughout their lives, costing you a lot in emotional terms and at the veterinary hospital. You will likely spend less in veterinary bills over the pet's life by purchasing from a responsible breeder.
A good, responsible breeder is one who cares about their animals-and you as their potential family-more than their own profit. A good breeder wants their animals to be placed in the best possible homes. The cost may seem high, but there is a significant investment by breeders in breeding responsible litters. This may include participating in conformation shows (which is where “champions” come from), testing for medical certifications, selectively planning litters that will improve the breed, keeping up with veterinary care needed during breeding and pregnancy, and finding good homes for their animals. Good breeders make little, if any, profit and do it for love of the breed.
While many breeders look like they do the right thing on paper, that may not always true. Be wary of buying from people who only want to breed a litter because they know a friend has a purebred male for their female, or who want to have a litter so that their children can see "the magic of birth just once". They may produce good offspring, and they may not.
Understand that being registered only means the pet has a purebred pedigree from the presiding organization for that animal. Being registered means nothing in terms of their health or temperament.
Do your research before you look at a litter. It is impossible to make rational decisions while surrounded by adorable puppies or kittens!
Purchasing a pet through a reputable breeder takes time. Most reputable breeders have fewer than one to two litters per year. Good breeders also have waiting lists of potential buyers because experienced buyers know that a well-bred pet is worth the wait and cost. You are not likely to decide to buy a purebred animal one week and be able to pick one up the next without resorting to a pet store or puppy mill.
One important hallmark of a good breeder is that if at any time during the pet's life you discover you cannot keep the animal, the breeder will take them back. This willingness means they care deeply about what happens to the animals they decide to bring into the world. A good breeder also tries to determine if you are the right kind of person to live with that breed. Don't be surprised when breeders ask you as many questions as you are asking them.
Once the purchase of a pet is complete, no breeder has the right to micro-manage your pet's diet or health care unless you co-own the animal. Be wary of breeders who seem opposed to you seeking your own veterinary care or have an antagonistic attitude towards veterinarians in general. A breeder may require you to sign a contract stating that you will feed a specific diet or give specific supplements. Some may stipulate which vaccines or parasite prevention to give (or not give) and when. Some may dictate the time frame in which to spay or neuter your pet, or even require/forbid specific anesthetic or drug protocols for the surgery. Some contracts require you to agree to intermittent in-home welfare checks, or to seek the breeder's permission before euthanizing your pet for any reason.
Signing contracts like these is a bad idea, even if they may not be legally enforceable. The pet, and all the decisions related to their care, is legally yours. Your pet is an individual, and their medical decisions should be resolved between you and your veterinarian. Obviously, your breeder will be a good resource for health recommendations for their particular breed; however, insisting that you do something their way rather than what you and your veterinarian think best is inappropriate.
When you are looking for a purebred puppy or kitten, for your own protection, don't buy from anyone who:
You will be living with this pet for many years, and you want the most appropriate animal for that place in your heart: the best temperament, the best health, the best chances, and the least risk. Just because an animal is registered as a purebred does not mean it's a great pet: it's the breeder who makes the difference. Start by buying that puppy or kitten from a breeder who only wants what is best for the animals they're sharing with you.
Phyllis DeGioia, Veterinary Partner and VetzInsight contributed to this article.
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