The three sisters and their parents had originally wanted a rescued dog, but they had then decided that they’d prefer a pedigree pup, because they felt the adult version might be more predictable than a cross-bred.
They’d decided that they’d like a Shih Tzu and they contacted the Irish Kennel Club to find a breeder. This is usually a good way of finding a reputable source for a pedigree pup, but unfortunately, none of the registered breeders had pups available for a few months. They wanted to get a pup sooner than that, so they decided to look elsewhere. They visited a popular “buy and sell” website, where they discovered that as well as Shih Tzu pups being available, there were other so-called “designer breeds” that they might be interested in.
They did have some reservations, however: they had noticed the ISPCA campaign that highlighted the possible pitfalls when buying a pup online. There are rogue breeders out there, selling poor quality, badly socialised, sickly pups that fall seriously ill. To try to avoid making a mistake, they downloaded a “puppy buying checklist” from the Irish Pet Advertising Advisory Group website (www.ipaag.ie).
PUPPY BUYING CHECKLIST
This checklist included key questions to ask the puppy seller.
1. Is the puppy eight weeks or older? The girls’ family found two pups, from locations in the same area, 50km away from their home, which ticked this box.
2. Does the advert include a photo of the puppy? In both cases, photos of the pups were included, and they both looked happy and healthy.
3. Does the advert say the pup is microchipped? All puppies that are being sold need to be microchipped under Irish law, so this is important. The ads didn’t mention this, so they resolved to ask the breeders about this when they visited the premises.
4. Does the advert say the pup is vaccinated? Both adverts stated that the pups were vaccinated, but the girls’ parents knew that this was not enough in itself: when they visited the breeder, they’d have to ask for a vaccination certificate, and it would have to be signed and stamped by a vet to confirm its authenticity.
5. Does the advert say that the puppy has been treated for parasites? In both cases, the adverts stated that the pups had been treated for worms and fleas, but they resolved to ask for more details when they met in person, including the precise products used.
6. Can the puppy be seen with its mother? Sometimes, puppy farmers take the pups away from the mother and sell them via someone else. So it’s always best to see the mother with the puppies. There was a difference between the two pups that they’d found for sale: in one case, the mother was still with the pups, while in the other, the seller told them that tragically, the mother had been killed in a road accident a few weeks previously. This may or may not have been true, but it’s a line that has been used to flog puppy farmed pups in other cases, so they began to be wary about this particular seller.
7. Can the puppy be seen at the breeder’s property? In both cases, the seller told them that they could come to visit, so that’s exactly what they decided to do. The two sellers were within a twenty minute drive of each other.
The family went to see the seller that they were dubious about first. The address turned out to be a farm, with a large outdoor shed housing the dogs. The inside of the shed was sectioned off with farm-style fencing, into around fourteen small enclosures. Each pen contained a batch of pups, with different breeds and varying ages. There were pedigree dogs (Shih Tzus, Pugs and Yorkshire Terriers), and there were “designer breeds” (Cavachons, Maltipoos and others). There were some adult female dogs, but they were mixed up, with one mother feeding pups of a different breed. It all seemed chaotic, with around a hundred pups, and just one man looking after them all. It was definitely not the “family bred and reared puppy” they were looking for. With hindsight, they realised that this was probably an unlicensed puppy farm. The pups did look healthy enough, but they were anxious, frightened animals, rushing to the back of the pens. Poor socialisation is one of the real problems with puppy farmed dogs: they grow up to be nervous, anxious adult dogs. The man told them that they were not microchipped “because they were too small”: this is untrue, as any size of pup can be microchipped by eight weeks of age. They left this first seller, realising that they would not be buying from him.
The second seller was in a family home, and while the pups were also in an out-house, there was just one litter, under a heat lamp, and they were relaxed, friendly puppies. The man had vaccination certificates signed by his vet, he had the packaging from the flea and worm treatments, and the pup had been microchipped. The three girls fell in love with Bubba as soon as they met her. They brought her home, and when I checked her the next day, I confirmed what they had hoped for: they had made a good choice. Thanks to the IPAAG advice, they had bought a healthy, well-socialised puppy from a reliable family breeder.