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Why Pet Shops Are No Place to Buy a Pet for the Holidays… Or Any Time of the Year

By Dr. Patty Khuly

Buying Puppies at Pet Stores

Yep, it’s that time of year again. Time for the annual onslaught of puppy mill puppies brought to us via one of many nearby holiday pop-up puppy shops.

I hate these places. Whether they’re the permanent establishments intent on supplying our community year-round with its fill of sick puppies or the seasonal fly-by-night places we have to deal with from Thanksgiving through New Year’s, I detest them.

Indeed, if I were queen for a day, I’d hire a small army of animal welfare specialists to enforce the animal-advocacy laws that currently live within our codes — yet are witheringly applied. In so doing, I'd effectively shutter 99 percent of the pet stores in the U.S. And good riddance!

While most of you reading this are likely to cheer me on in my wishful ways, I have plenty of clients who believe pet shops serve a crucial purpose: ensuring their insta-access to the "purebred" puppies they crave. This is a free market economy after all, and why shouldn’t buyers have access to the wares they demand –– living or not?

So went a typical conversation with one of my less than favorite clients. After she'd spent almost a thousand dollars on her “clearance sale” designer mutt (Schnoodle? Shitz-a-poo?), she’d had to bring him in for a severe cough (which turned out to be a hard-to-treat bronchitis). That’s when I took the opportunity to explain that most pet shop pups in our neck of the woods come with multiple diseases.

“Take for example this severe overbite of his,” I continued. “This’ll likely require dental extractions of his lower canine teeth so they don't poke holes into the roof of his mouth. And his knees. Can you feel how they pop when you flex them? That’s called medial patellar luxation and more than twenty percent of dogs with this abnormality require surgery at some point in their lives.”

That’s when she got upset. Now, I know I might’ve been taking my remonstrations a tad too far, but sometimes there’s a fine line between educating people and rubbing their noses in their mistake. Which is why I backpedaled a bit and tried to reassure her that she was not alone:

"Nearly every pet shop pup offers veterinarians special challenges like these," I explained. “And most first-time purchasers don’t know what they’re buying at these places. They tell you they come from breeders, but by that they mean large-scale commercial breeders you and I might refer to as puppy mills.”

In any case, she didn't warm to the implication that she'd made a bad decision. That’s probably why she dug in her heels and offered me this explanation: How else is someone supposed to source a purebred puppy and not pay a mint? "I mean, they cost twice as much when you buy them online, and you can't even return the puppy if it's sick," she cleverly retorted.

Not that she was planning on returning her not-so-pristine specimen, thankfully. For all her ignorance, she’s a good person, she loves her puppy, and she’s willing to do what it takes — bad knees, bad teeth, bronchitis and all. Still, I would have been even more gratified if she’d redirected some of her moral indignation to its rightful recipients (the owners of the puppy store) instead of the mere messenger (me).

With that in mind, I tried it this way, instead:

"Pet shops are chronic offenders when it comes to treating animals like inanimate inventory. Which is why there are laws to help people like you get some of your money back when the pups you buy are sick. The more people like you speak out against pet shops that sell sick and genetically deformed puppies, the more regulatory oversight these shops will get treated to. And that can only be a good thing for the welfare of the animals involved in this kind of trade."

(Enter my would-be army of law enforcement officers.)

Unfortunately, this approach didn't work. She kept concentrating on the words “sick, deformation, and genetic disease.” Which she didn’t appreciate. Not when applied to her pup. Which, I guess I can understand.

Oh well. Win some, lose some. Which got me to thinking that if only all these shops could get shut down, I'd never have to have this uncomfortable conversation again. I would never find myself urging my clients to take their pet shop stories to the streets, to the shops, to our legislators and regulators. I wouldn't have to court their displeasure with the insinuation that better choices might have been made… choices that would have meant less sickness and suffering.

So yeah, I think pet shops should vanish into the past, much akin to smoking sections in airplanes and child-labor camps in Latin America. Because, much like these examples, nothing good can come of pet shops.

For all the extra choices they offer for meeting our insatiable demand for all those so-called purebred pets, I can think of plenty of great reasons they shouldn’t exist - beyond just the coughs, the trick knees, the bad teeth, and their puppy mill provenance. After all, places like these teach us that animals can be had on a whim, which to my way of thinking only serves to reinforce their disposability.

What’s your take? What are some of your reasons for wanting to see your local pet shops shuttered? …or not, as the case may be.

Mind if we pay your vet bills?

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