Where Are Your Puppies Going?

Beware, Before You Sell

by Joan B. Guertin

When I had my first German Shepherd litter back in the '50's, we didn't worry too much about the process of selling puppies. We advertised; we showed our pups to the families who came to see them. They either fell in love and bought one, or they didn't. If they did buy, they paid us, we shook hands and that was that. Most of the people who bought our puppies became friends and we watched the pups grow up. However, by the '80's and '90's it was no longer that clear cut or simple. In our changing world and with changing attitudes about the value of dogs in our society, we saw some genuine problems emerging. Suddenly we had problems such as pet overpopulation and puppy mills!

No longer in Shepherds, I never-the-less can't help feeling twinges of guilt about the abandon with which I represented litters; boasting that the first litter we sold made the down payment on our first house! Little did I know at that time that by the latter part of the century there would actually be a serious problem with pet over-population. Unwanted litters would result in mass over-crowding in animal shelters. Abandoned pets would add to the already crowded conditions in those shelters, leading to healthy, adoptable pets being euthanized because there weren't enough homes to go around. All because well-meaning pet owners would breed their registered dogs in order to profit from litters without regard for bloodlines or genetic screening for health. And, pet shops, charging outrageous prices for AKC registered puppies, would be encouraging buyers to breed to "recoup the cost" of the overpriced pups.

Most reputable breeders didn't want to add to the pet over-population problems, so they examined their reasons for breeding. Many curtailed the numbers of litters; many stopped breeding altogether and those breeding encouraged or required the spaying and neutering of all pet stock. Breed clubs developed stronger codes of ethics which conscientious breeders were eager to endorse.

This, however, did nothing to halt the numbers of stray or abandoned dogs and unwanted litters that continue to over-crowd shelters. Although there has never been a concentrated effort to track the source of stray, abandoned and owner surrendered dogs in shelters, my guess is that a great many of them, particularly the purebreds, had their origins in the puppy mills.

In Corgis, thanks in large part to a very strong Parent Club Code of Ethics, we can take pride in the way we have protected our breed. Overall, the Corgi breeder is going for quality rather than quantity. However, that has resulted in another problem. Because reputable breeders seldom, if ever, advertise puppies in local papers, there is always a demand for the breed. Thus, the backyard breeder has a ready market, as does the puppy mill that will advertise and sell direct to the public without screening buyers. This is a problem which impacts our breed, as well as many other breeds. Nowhere is this problem more prevalent than in the State of Missouri, the home of the Puppy Mill! The puppy mills exist to supply the demand. And, they are looking to be competitive with the reputable breeder, so they are looking for ways to improve the pedigree of their poorly bred dogs. And, this is what poses a threat to the reputable, knowledgeable breeder!

The Broker, the middleman between the commercial breeder and the pet shop, is aware that a better pedigree brings a better price for puppies. Also, a better pedigree, particularly with strong champion representation in the first 3 generations is indicative of a better bred litter and recognizing that most responsible breeders screen for genetic defects, the broker will most likely be buying healthier, better socialized puppies. Therefore, Brokers are advertising for litters of puppies with "champion pedigrees" and are paying bonuses for the number of champions in each pedigree. The value of these pedigrees is evidenced in the catalog entries at dog auctions. Bitches sold with champions in pedigrees bring a higher price and are more valued as breeding stock (although they will not be bred to champions, they still will enhance the gene pool of most commercial kennels). And it will look good on paper!

Unless someone with champions in their pedigree answers the ad, and sells the broker their litter at a ridiculously low price (the last report was that brokers were paying $80-$150 per puppy), the broker isn't going to be able improve his return when he sells to the pet shop.

The Commercial Breeder, in order to improve the sale price of his puppy to the broker, now looks to the reputable breeder for new breeding stock. Believe me, these people are shopping! And they know how to con the best breeder out of a good puppy!

It isn't all that difficult for the unaware and unsuspecting breeder to be conned, as commercial breeders don't come with a big "C" tattooed in the middle of the forehead! They look just like any of the rest of us. Some of them even show their dogs! Not much, just enough to talk a good line. Unless we ask around, we often assume that people we've met at a show is conscientious and reputable just as we are. I have been told by several people in Oklahoma of one woman who shows one breed and her Corgis pay the expenses. She looks like any one of us. The point being, that unless we seriously check backgrounds on potential buyers, we could, unwittingly, be selling to a commercial breeder.

Another Oklahoman related the story of a family who came to look at a litter and wanted a female puppy with the idea that they would at some time want to breed her. These folks had nice kids and appeared to be a normal all-American family. By questioning the people extensively, there finally was a slip up. The woman didn't sell the puppy and later she discovered that the "children" had been "borrowed" from a neighbor to lend legitimacy to a couple who were commercial breeders.

Slip-ups don't happen only with pet puppies. In one case, again in Oklahoma, a potential show puppy didn't work out and the buyer sold the puppy to someone else with instructions to neuter the pup. From there he fell through the cracks. Not only was he not neutered, he was resold and the last we heard of him was in an auction consignment for a commercial kennel disbursal sale, with his registered name and AKC number listed. He's now in the system, part of someone's commercial kennel operation and a reputable breeder's kennel name is part of puppy mill pedigrees. And this young male had lots of impressive champions in his pedigree.

How can we insure that our puppies don't end up as breeding stock in a puppy mill? There are never any guarantees, of course, but we can make sure that we take nothing for granted. I would say that in this day and age we can't be too careful. Following are some of the guidelines that I use in selling puppies.

My puppies are precious to me. I have bred and raised them with care. I interview the prospective buyers just as if they were adopting a real live baby. I also never sell a puppy on a first visit. I tell people not to come with their checkbook, as I want them to see the puppy on several different occasions before I feel good about the puppy going to that person or family. I ask for references on the first visit. I then have time to check them out before the second visit. I always want to know whom their veterinarian is which is usually an excellent way to get a feel for the prospective home. I want to know how long other pets have lived with the family. Did they die of old age?

I also sell puppies on a two-week trial basis. If in that time the puppy isn't working out, it comes back. I feel that puppies must fit a family just like a glove fits a hand. If it isn't a perfect fit and the people aren't happy, it usually won't get any better. If the prospective buyer is local, I arrange to visit the home so I can see for myself just where the puppy will be going to live. I expect the puppy to have a fenced area available for safety sake.

I don't ship puppies unless I know to whom they are going, and with impeccable references, preferably from someone I know personally. If possible, have someone you know, close to the prospective buyer go out and inspect the home. I want to know that puppies are going to the family that is actually looking at that puppy. I don't sell to people who are buying for someone else. I don't sell unless I have met all the family members living at home. I want to know that all members of the family actually care about the puppy. I refused a sale after four visits by the family because a five year old girl had a real problem with dogs. . . she actually didn't like them. The puppy would have been in big trouble in that family situation.

If you truly care about where the puppies are going, it is necessary in this day and age, to sell on contracts. Most of us won't release papers unless pet stock is spayed or neutered. It needs to be in writing and it needs to be followed up. When in doubt, take care of the altering prior to the sale of the puppy. In the case of a pair of mis-marked males in a litter I had in the early 90's, I had my vet neuter the boys at 10 weeks. Not only did they re-cover within 24 hours; they have grown into healthy, normal dogs. The vet in this case was uncomfortable with altering the two bitches so young, so I sold them both to people I knew, with a spay contract and could monitor them until the contract requirements were met.

Reserve the right to NOT sell a puppy. If you know your litter, you will often be the best judge of the right puppy for a particular family. If they don't understand your reasoning, you are probably better off without the sale.

If you are selling potential show prospects, go with a co-ownership. Spell out everything clearly in the contract. Make sure that the buyer understands that under no circumstances can the dog be sold without your input. Of course, my preference is to take the dog back (whether show or pet) and handle the re-sale myself. Then I can find a better home for the pup and return a portion of the sale price to the original buyer.

The main thing to remember is that there is a perfect home for every puppy. Don't be in a rush to sell, which is one problem I see with novice breeders. They seem to feeling that every potential customer might be the last.

We have a strong network in Corgis and with patience we can sell every one of them. The breeder just needs to be aware that there are those lurking out there who really don't have our breeds' best interests at heart and we have to be more aware and wary of whom we are selling to. As I said, there are no guarantees, but if we stay alert, do lots of checking and in many cases, go with our gut feelings, we can make sure our beloved breed is protected.

The bottom line is that we live in a society that has made us wary and we need to go the extra mile to make sure we really know where our puppies are going!

This article is reprinted with permission of the Author, Joan B. Guertin, All Rights Reserved. This article may not be reproduced in whole or part by any means without permission of the Author, Joan B. Guertin, JBGuertin@aol.com