On a serious note, I recently came very close to unwittingly purchasing a dog from a puppy mill.
Here's the short version: We all know not to buy from pet stores but if you're considering buying a dog from a breeder, know that they could be a "commercial breeder" or what some would call a puppy mill. Search for their operation on this USDA Registry of Commercial Breeders. You can even read reports written by federal inspectors of their facilities. For more information on puppy mills and how to avoid them, read this article by the Best Friends Animal Society Network.
Here's the long version.
My search for a Kerry Blue Terrier puppy began with contacting local breeders recommended by the KBT Foundation. We found no puppies, only waiting lists, so we kept looking and found a nearly perfect puppy in an online ad. The dog was states away in South Dakota, but the breeder offered to ship her anywhere in the U.S. From the start, the arrangement seemed too good to be true.
The local KBT breeders we had spoken to were notably standoffish and all emphasized that they bred very few litters each year. According to the internet (breeding websites, forums, etc.) these are signs of a breeder who is selling dogs for all the right reasons. Our contact in South Dakota did not act accordingly, nor did she ask us any questions about our home or the environment in which her dog was to be placed. That was a big red flag for me, so I dug deeper for info about her kennel and here's what I found via Google:
1. No national/state Kerry Blue Terrier Clubs vouched for her or even mentioned her
2. She placed ads on the net selling half a dozen or more different dog breeds
3. She was charging nearly half the price of other breeders
At this point I smelled puppy mill. While there is no shortage of websites enumerating the horrors of mills, only a few suggest how to avoid them other than "don't buy from pet stores." Short of confronting the breeder, I had no way to confirm my suspicions. So I dug deeper online, found the following info, and decided to make it available here.
The United States Department of Agriculture regulates a certain number of dog breeders in the US known as "commercial breeders." This type of breeder is infamous for emphasizing quantity over quality, sacrificing good genes, good sanitation, and good business ethics in order to maximize profits. Some people call them puppy mills. Fortunately (and I wish I'd known this all along) the USDA has a searchable database of it's commercially licensed breeders.
To visit the Animal Welfare portion of the USDA's Animal and Plant Inspection Service site go here:
For their searchable database of breeders go here:
For a great primer on how the USDA is involved in commercial dog breeding read this article by the Best Friends Animal Society Network.
This database even pulls up site inspection reports written by veterinarians who visit these commercial breeding facilities. While reading the past three years of reports on our potential seller I went from almost ready to purchase, to inwardly angry, to noticeably upset. I initially thought I was dealing with a casual "backyard breeder" who just happened to have a puppy available, yet these reports revealed approximately 60 adult dogs on the premises. From 2007 onward this woman's kennel has been cited for various sanitation and health code infractions including exposing her dogs to rodent feces and one case where two wire mesh runs were placed on top of each other, exposing the lower dogs to excrement falling from the upper run.
I won't name names and I'm not saying that all the people in this database treat their animals poorly. Conversely, if a breeder isn't on the list it does not mean they are an above board operation. They might just be operating outside of federal regulation.
To summarize, a lot of people will tell you not to buy from a breeder, period. That you should only adopt from one of the millions of shelter dogs. I hear that but some people want specific breeds for specific reasons.
If you're looking for a purebred animal, do A LOT of research. Look for reputable clubs devoted to your desired breed and contact breeders they trust. If you happen to find a breeder that you can't seem to get any info about, use the tools linked above. You might be surprised what you find.
I feel sorry for the dog I almost bought, that poor little pup, but I just can't take the risk of health issues and other potential problems that come with a puppy mill dog. More importantly, I won't reward this woman for mistreating animals and neither should you. Now go read some of the more light-hearted BS hardtolive.com has to offer.