Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Buyer's Beware: advice for bulldog buyers

There are many sites with huge discourses on who is and isn’t a good breeder and you’ll hear lots of opinions regarding finding a puppy. Without getting off on a soapbox sermon, here are my thoughts (for what they’re worth) on being a smart shopper. You’ll hear lots of things like “don’t buy through the web”, “always visit the breeder”, “get references”, “make sure there is a guarantee” etc. Lots of good advice - follow it whenever possible, but here are some things to keep in mind:

“Never buy through the web” - The web just like any other medium of communication (including face to face) doesn’t stop a liar from lying. Perhaps it makes it easier for a liar to get away with it, but making the blanket statement “never buy from someone who sells on the internet is like saying never trust someone who is from a certain country, or of a certain race. You can’t generalize to that extent in an accurate and fair-minded way. Do be careful though, ask breeders questions, expect to be asked questions, ask for references, ask about their nutrition program, their breeding goals, why they have a particular breed of dog, are these dogs their pets as well?

“Always visit the breeder” – Whenever you can, you should. However keep this in mind – by allowing you to visit, a breeder is allowing you to enter their home, with their dogs, their pets, their family, their children, their property etc. You responded to an ad and the breeder probably doesn’t know you from Adam’s housecat – so don’t be surprised if you are limited to a defined area. Visitors are usually strangers and represent a certain degree of risk for those of us who breed dogs at home. So be understanding of folks who are cautious and don’t be surprised by an interview and a public meeting before an invitation to visit the home. Once there you’ll likely encounter a security system, requests to remove your shoes etc. These are all designed to protect breeder’s puppies both from theft and from germs carried in from outside environments.

“Interview and get references” – you bet. Read everything the breeder has on their web site or in their brochures or ads – look for a consistent storyline, photos of the same dogs at different ages, develop a list of questions and be prepared to answer questions about yourself, your lifestyle, activities, home and facilities and the reasons you want a puppy of a particular breed. A good breeder will tell you about the good and the bad of a breed. They should be able to knowledgably speak to you about both genotype (pedigree and genetic background) and phenotype (physical attributes of each puppy). They’ll be able to give you a reference or two and tell you the name of their vet. They should also explain their sale agreement, their health guarantee, and their reasons for having a particular breed. Make sure you ask about how they handle things and ensure you are comfortable with the breeder’s plan for dealing with unexpected problems, the mechanics of the sale, payment and, if applicable, shipping.

One last thing – a good breeder will not be a high pressure salesman. Any breeder worth their salt is looking for a new home with folks that know they want a new puppy and know what type puppy is well suited to their family – no sales pitch or convincing should be needed. In fact, we are super careful with litters ready for new homes near Christmas time. We don't want a buyer who is all jazzed up about a new puppy for Christmas – we're looking for the family that wants the pup no matter what time of year it is and will love the baby we’ve raised on a hot Wednesday in August just the same as they will in the rush and fun of Christmas.

Puppy Scammers will often use a photo stolen from a reputable breeder’s website. They post the stolen photo on a puppy sale website and then populate their own web site with photos and stories that are either entirely untrue or partially untrue. Sometimes scammers don’t even have the puppy to sell and simply want to take your money. Other times they have puppies, but they aren’t what they claim to be. They’re usually fairly skilled con-men/women and looking for folks who don’t know better than to buy from them. In fairness they are often hard to discern and plenty of folks who are quite smart and trying to be careful have been taken advantage of – in fact, I have had such an experience and lost a $1000 deposit unfortunately given to a con-woman in Texas who claims to be a reputable English Bulldog breeder. Thankfully all I lost was the $1000 and I never got a dog from this woman – had I done so I would likely have regretted having a dog from her as the stories about her and her dogs are really quite horrible. This woman has even prompted an entire website authored by some folks she sold dogs to which is dedicated to outing her and her practices. I reported the woman to the Austin BBB, wrote off the $1000 as an expensive lesson learned, and thankfully, found a wonderful bulldog from a reputable breeder in OK. Okay so enough said – be careful and good luck!

Here’s some ideas:

Make contact by e-mail or phone, ask lots of questions, ask for references, if you live close enough ask to see the puppies in person. If not, ask for photos and /or video of the puppy. If you have any doubts, ask for a photo with a piece of paper included in the photo that includes your name and the date on it to verify that the photo is legit and the puppy you are asking about is truly available and in the sellers possession.

If you get to the point of committing to buy the puppy and want the added confirmation that all is well, call the AKC to verify the breeder is in their records with no reports of trouble. AKC's Phone #: (212) 696-8225, you can also call their local BBB ….whatever just be careful.

There is a balance between due diligence in checking a breeder out and being overly invasive of a breeder’s privacy. Keep in mind the breeder doesn’t know you either and may rightly be hesitant to give you some kinds of info for fear you are a scammer collecting info to use elsewhere.

A note about puppy mills: we’ve all watched a TV show, read a report in the paper or heard something from a friend that informs us that puppy mills exist in the US. It’s a shame they are part of the landscape and certainly not a place from which you want to obtain your new pet. Of course, you’ll want to ensure you understand what puppy mills are and how to avoid purchasing a puppy from such a “business”. Puppy mills are the source of discussion that spans a wide variety of viewpoints. When looking for a new pet, you really have to be careful, find a decent person who loves their dogs and is interested in raising superior pets in an ethical manner. Good animal husbandry is not easy, it’s not is it an occasional thing – it is a way of life, a reflection of the breeder’s values in general and specifically the value they place upon the animals they raise. Thoughtful breeding and careful planning are time consuming and require a good relationship with your veterinarian, knowledge of the breed standard for your dog, and consistently selecting animals for breeding who are superior examples of their breed. I often recommend that folks look for puppy breeders who also raise another species of animals or work with their dogs. For instance a cattle rancher that raises cattle dogs, a horse breeder that raises a favorite complimentary breed, the hunter who raises retrievers etc. This is when you most often find folks who love animals in general and know and appreciate what it takes to raise and maintain good dogs. A good breeder will be able to offer you puppies that are free of known genetic defects, have predictable temperaments, a sound health history, and were bred to be stable, long-term family members. Nothing less deserves your interest, your respect, or your financial support. The Canis Major web site is a good one with balanced information and links to understanding the issues surrounding puppy mills. This site also defines different kinds of dog breeders and includes the following definition of a “hobby breeder” in their list. I freely admit to being all of the things included in the description of a “hobby breeder”.

“Hobby breeder: A breed fancier who has a breed or two (or even three); follows a breeding plan to preserve and protect each breed; produces a limited number of litters each year; breeds only when a litter will enhance the breed and the breeding program; raises the puppies with plenty of environmental stimulation and human contact; has a contract that protects breeder, puppy, and buyer; raises dogs in the house or runs a small, clean kennel; screens breeding stock to eliminate hereditary defects; works with a breed club or kennel club to promote and protect the breed; and cares that each and every puppy is placed in the best home possible."