Talking animals: The difference between pet stores, breeders and humane societies

Anthrozoology professor Beth Daly joined Tony Doucette in the Windsor Morning studio to talk about the difference between buying pets from pet stores, breeders and adopting them from humane societies. 

Pet expert answers FAQs about adoption versus buying a pet

Anthrozoology professor Beth Daly joined Tony Doucette in the studio to talk pet stores, breeders and humane societies. (Tom Addison/CBC)

The City of Windsor is working toward banning dogs and cats from being sold in pet stores. 

Anthrozoology professor Beth Daly joined Tony Doucette in the Windsor Morning studio to talk about the difference between buying an animal from pet stores, breeders and adopting them from humane societies. 

Let's talk about the difference between getting a dog from a pet store or a breeder or the humane society or for that matter from a friend. What's the real difference?

Well the big difference is that most people when they are choosing to get a puppy or have made a decision to get a dog, they're actually vetted by the place that they get the dog from, with the exception of pet stores. 

For instance, when you go into a pet store some people just go into buy food or for whatever reason. And the minute they see those tiny puppies or kittens playing, they can't resist, and sometimes they leave with those with an animal that they had no intention of buying.

If you did plan to buy a dog at a pet store, what questions would you have?

One of the problems is that you don't know anything about the history of the dog. Humane Societies and other shelters generally do their best to tell you what they can. But more importantly, humane societies and other shelters have often socialized the animal and worked with the animal. 

Let's say we're talking about dogs. When you get an animal like that from a pet store, they very rarely have been socialized. So the kinds of questions you would ask — "Where did this puppy come from?" "What were his or her parents like?" "What breed of dog is it?" — they either don't have the answer or even worse, often the answer is not truthful.

So if I'm running a pet store, I have to get my dogs somewhere. Where typically?

Well this is interesting, because the city of Montreal is currently attempting to pass a law — I'm not sure if it's gone through yet — where all of pet store pets must come from shelters. 

Typically though, that's not where they come from. Typically, sadly, historically, they have come from what are known as puppy mills.

And those are massive and intensive breeding facilities where the female dogs are just kept pregnant their entire life. They are never let out of cages. And they're always very unpleasant environments.

The age of a puppy. Why is that important? 

It's really important, because puppies learn a lot from their littermates and they learn a lot from their mother. 

I still believe that six weeks is too young. To me, the ideal age is eight or nine weeks when people should be taking a puppy home. But I do hear it's younger and younger.

They tend to have a little bit more maturity when we take them home at eight or nine weeks. The problem again with pet stores is by the time the puppies have even gotten to the pet stores and are put in cages and put on sale, a lot of times they're only sometimes four or five weeks [old]. But we don't even know at what age they left their mother.

And there are some horror stories of puppies being transported across the country or even commonly in the U.S. they come from Europe. And many of them don't survive. There's some real horror stories that have been reduced dramatically over the last few years.

Some of these issues we've attributed to pet stores. Don't we also encounter some of those same issues with breeders?

Yes absolutely. And when you asked about the questions and what we should be looking for in pet stores, it is so important to find a good breeder.

A good breeder often will tell you that you have to wait, because they don't have a litter right now. A good breeder never has more than one or two litters at a time. A good breeder will ask you all kinds of questions about your lifestyle and making sure that you can accommodate a dog. A good breeder will tell you that if this does not work out, they will take your puppy or your dog back. 

So good breeders will, also very importantly, let you come in and have a look at where the puppy and where the mother usually is residing.

Is there evidence that says definitively that getting a dog from a breeder is better than getting a dog from a pet store?

Typically the research has shown — and there isn't a lot — but the research that I've read ... does typically say that pet store puppies tend to have more behavioural problems. And another problem is pet store puppies tend to be returned more.

Now there's different reasons for that. It might be, as I said earlier, people were not ready to get a dog and that's what ended up happening. But also one of the most important things for anybody who has a dog is puppies must be socialized. They have to be socialized for the first six to eight weeks with their littermates and their mother. And for eight weeks to six months, they should be constantly, constantly socialized in their human environment.

What do you make of this move by the city to ban the sale of dogs and cats in pet stores?

It's a great idea. The evidence shows that most animals that are sold in pet stores come from not the best environments. At the very extreme, puppy mills. Fortunately we haven't seen a puppy mill incident in Canada in several years. But nevertheless, it's just part of a civilized society. We want to support our local shelters. Good breeders are good breeders. 

And when you don't know where an animal is coming from and you're paying a lot of money, all you're doing is supporting that. I've had people tell me that at certain pet stores they've actually bought the puppy or the dog, because they felt like they were rescuing it. They looked in the cage, they saw the dog maybe had marks on its face from looking out the cage and they've said it was a rescue.

But all you're doing is reinforcing the sale. They restock their puppies and we should really be buying puppies from really good breeders and certainly from good reputable shelters, like our own humane society. 

Answers have been edited for length and clarity. Listen to the full interview below:

On this week's edition of 'Talking Animals,' the sale of dogs and cats by pet stores. Windsor's moving towards a ban, like many other cities, but why does it matter? Professor Beth Daly tells us why. 9:14

With files from Windsor Morning


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