I had two contrasting experiences with puppies this week, and I’m feeling distinctly unsettled.
On Sunday the five of us went to a flea market in the country. It was a typical flea-market scene: dozens of vendors selling everything from leather belts to used video games to homemade preserves. My girls found some Barbie dolls and costume jewellery; The Spouse and I admired a Tiffany-style lamp (“only $65!”). Most of the stuff, of course, is junk, but it’s fun to look.
In the midst of all the tables sat a man with two cages of puppies, four per cage. He was asking $225 per pup for his “yellow labs.” Naturally the girls fell instantly in love, and even though they knew the answer was “No” a thousand times over, they started to beg (though not very hard).
The man selling them sat on his chair, aloof and unsmiling. He answered when asked what breed and how much, but that was it. The man, the cages, the dogs themselves, smelled strongly of puppy mill. The puppies, of course, were adorable and compelling, but I doubt they were “yellow labs.” At the back of one cage there was an extra-large pup. His head conformation was all wrong, he was bigger and much different than his purported littermates. (All the other pups were almost identical sizes.) Besides, no one sells a purebred yellow lab for $225. I looked at these babies and had a strong desire to grab all eight and run.
Puppy mills are the scourge of the dog world. Dogs are kept locked up small cages, often with wire floors so they never have solid footing under their paws. Females are overbred, often having two or more litters a year. Brothers and sisters are crossbred, no care is given to genetics or bloodlines. Mixes are passed off as purebreds, and pet stores will often buy animals with all sorts of genetic issues and sell them for hundreds of dollars to an unsuspecting public. While technically puppy mills are illegal, those caught often receive a slap-on-the-wrist fine and go right back in business. Dogs confiscated from puppy mills often end up euthanized, and sometimes they are so sick and emaciated it’s the kindest thing.
My oldest worried about the fate of these particular puppies as we walked away. We knew, if they don’t sell, the owner would likely just kill them. And if they do sell, it just encourages more breeding. We hoped we were wrong, we hoped they were just an ordinary litter from an ordinary family… but we’ll never know.
Yesterday we went to our dog park. Playing in the shade of the trees were six Doberman puppies, who immediately rushed Our Best Friend the minute we entered. These pups were gorgeous, frisky, and lively. Their owner sat on a picnic table, and proudly showed us pictures of the mom and dad, both champion show dogs. He lives in a small basement apartment, and is selling the pups for $700 each. He doesn’t have the head for the paperwork, he said, but if someone wanted it they could have the pups with pedigree papers for $1,400. He had reams of papers with him of the parents and grandparents, showdogs and champions for three generations. He could have been lying– but I don’t think he was. You can’t fake that kind of devotion.
The contrast between these dogs and their owner, and the pups at the flea market, was huge. One look at these dogs, and even a dog ignoramus like me could see the breeding in them. They are house trained and well-socialized at twelve weeks. The owner’s pride and love was incredibly evident. He’s under pressure to sell, as he’s moving across country shortly, but the dogs are in no danger of being dumped. “If they don’t sell by then,” he told us, “I’ll just have to take them with me.”
He tried hard to sell me, but I don’t have $700, and Our Best Friend is dog enough for us at the moment. I’m not worried about them, though; I have no doubt he’ll settle for nothing less than caring, loving owners, while those country “labs” could end up with anyone, or at your local pet store. More has to be done, better legislation passed, to end the overbreeding and cruelty that allows puppy mills to thrive. Meanwhile, if you want an amazing Doberman puppy… just let me know.