Pet shops and puppy mills

Thirteen years ago, when we got our new puppy, the last thing I wanted was to support an industry causing pain and suffering for hundreds of defenceless animals – but that was exactly what I was doing.

My daughter, H, loves all animals, but dogs were the first animals she fell in love with. She nagged and nagged and pleaded and begged for a dog, pretty much from the time she was able to speak. We managed to put her off for the first 4 years of her life, but then, in her final year of kindergarten, we surrendered.

No idea about dogs

I was pretty new to dogs. My family had had a dog, Cindy, for a short time when I was about 4 years old, but she terrified me. She was around the same size as me, but much stronger.  She leapt and bounced everywhere, standing on her hind legs with her hands on my head, licking my face till I fell over, scratching me with her excitable claws.

Mum doing my hair while Cindy watches.

Poor old Cindy (who looks tiny!) watching Mum do my hair on my first day of school. (I’m not so old that there was no colour photography – my dad just liked to develop his own black and white photos.)

These were the days when dogs wandered around the neighbourhood all the time – everyone thought it was cruel to keep them locked in the house or backyard. Cindy followed me to school regularly and got me in trouble with the meanest, most sadistic teacher in the school (that was you, Mrs Connell!).

She (Cindy – not Mrs Connell, unfortunately) also wandered away a lot, and one day she never came back. (No, she wasn’t ‘sent to the farm’, I’ve questioned my mum about it many times.) Poor little Cindy. I think she was just living in the wrong place, with a family who didn’t know what to do with her—I hope someone took her in and looked after her.

Be careful who you listen to!

So, I was nervous about having a dog. Would it hurt the kids? Run away? Need to be walked 3 times a day? Destroy the house? Would I be terrified of it?

I did what a responsible pet-owner-to-be would do. I researched ways of living happily with a dog. At that time, the RSPCA had a handy tool that helped you to find a dog to suit your family. It was like a survey where you selected options for things like the number of people in your family, the age of your kids, the size of your backyard and the time you had for exercising the dog. At the end, it recommended a selection of breeds, and (if I remember correctly) had a warning that you should always go to a registered breeder, so you could be sure you knew what you were getting.

I wasn’t sure what to do. I’d vaguely heard something about puppy farms, and wanted to avoid them, so I started by checking the RSPCA and Lost Dogs Home dogs for adoption. Tiny H and I wandered up and down the rows of kennels, looking at the lonely dogs, and she wanted all of them. (Secretly, so did I, but I was still nervous.) They all seemed too big and/or energetic and/or looked a bit scary. I wasn’t sure I could manage them.

So I decided to look for a breeder. I’d read some hints on how to make sure you don’t end up with a puppy farm dog. They included tips like:

  • Always buy from a breeder
  • Take the advice of an experienced friend who has dogs.
  • Talk to the breeder and make sure they’re reliable.

Happily, a good friend of mine had just bought a Laborador puppy from ‘a good breeder’. She’d had dogs before and recommended this breeder wholeheartedly. She’d already checked them out and, “After all”, she said, “Don Burke recommends them, and I’m sure he wouldn’t recommend a breeder who wasn’t trustworthy.” Made sense to me!

Puppy farms won’t look like puppy farms

I called and spoke to them, and they were very nice. We arranged a time to come down and meet the puppies. I read up on how to choose a puppy and off we went.

It wasn’t what I thought of as a ‘pet shop’, but looking back, I suppose it was. As ‘wise’ pet buyers, we carried out the temperament test I’d read about, and one little brown puppy wandered over curiously and sniffed H’s hand. He put his front paws on her arm and looked into her eyes as if to say (I now think), “Get me the hell out of this god forsaken hell hole…please!” H and I were in love, she sat proudly in the back of the car carefully holding her new best friend on her lap. He was in a little cardboard box, snuggled into an old towel and he curled up and went to sleep. They made such a sweet picture I almost cried.

As conscientious new owners, we went off to get him checked up by our own vet. I remember noticing that he sighed when I told him we got our puppy from a breeder in Croydon. The puppy was full of worms, he said, and shook his head as he examined him. I just didn’t understand why, at the time.

Little Cocoa fitted into our family straight away. He was gentle with the kids, snuggly when we were tired or sad, enthusiastic when we wanted to play and, what surprised me most was how funny and silly he could be.

H, Cocoa and his cousins (who probably also came from puppy farms).

H, Cocoa and his cousins (who probably also came from puppy farms). This must be about 10 years ago!

Years later, I was reading an Animal Liberation Victoria article about horrible puppy farms, and was shocked to see that the featured puppy farm was ‘our breeder’.

The pictures showed dogs slumped in cages, wasted and exhausted. Row after row of cages, all filthy with only some torn newspaper to provide protection from the cold, hard concrete floor.

To say I was upset would be an understatement. But even more than that, I felt stupid. I’d thought I’d taken steps to avoid a puppy mill, but I hadn’t been vigilant enough and I’d been duped. I hadn’t realised how widespread puppy farms were. I hadn’t realised that the people who ran them wouldn’t necessarily look like evil criminals. I was also angry with Don Burke for supporting them – well, we all know that some people will do anything for money.

That’s why I support Oscar’s Law.

Oscar’s Law

Oscar’s Law aims to:

  • Abolish the factory farming of companion animals.
  • Ban the sale of companion animals from pets shops/online trading sites.
  • Promote adoption through rescue groups/pounds/shelters.

It’s so important to get the word out, so that naïve people (like we were) don’t hand over any more money to support these places, leaving homeless dogs to die.

Adopt and save lives

Animal Liberation Victoria estimates that “In Australia we kill approximately 160,000 dogs every year because they are homeless, lost or abandoned”, so if you want a dog, please adopt!

If you need help finding a dog with the right temperament for your family, just ask advice at the shelter. They don’t want a mis-match any more than you do. In fact, the RSPCA now has a system where their dogs are colour coded. If you’re a nervous beginner, just look for a dog with a blue cover sheet on their kennel.

Find a pet

Lost Dogs Home (including links to shelters in Queensland and New South Wales.

RSPCA Adopt A Pet

Some dogs don’t find homes

cocoa keeping warm amongst our pillows

Our heating went off, so Cocoa kept warm amongst our pillows.

It turned out happily for Cocoa. He’s a happy and adored member of our family, and all these years later, he now sleeps beside H as she studies for her VCE exams. But although he might be happy here with us, I still can’t help but think of his early days, and his parents who would have been used as breeding machines, and of the other puppies who didn’t find happy homes… All I know is, if we ever get another dog, we’ll be making kinder and wiser choices.

Watch ‘Don’t buy puppies from pet shops’ by Oscar’s Law.

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4 thoughts on “Pet shops and puppy mills

  1. Love the photos. Cocoa’s cousins came from pet shops which most likely means they started life at puppy farms. When we got the first one we had never heard of puppy farms but when we got the second we bought him because he was the last of the litter, a tiny wee ball of snow white fluff curled up in the corner of a shop window all alone and we couldn’t bear to think of what was going to happen to him if he wasn’t sold. Ha, how many puppies have been bought for that reason alone?
    Great post Lin. We will probably never own another dog but if we were to change our minds we would definitely visit the Lost Dogs Home or the RSPCA

    • Yeah, I think nearly all of the little, fluffy dogs come from puppy farms. Hopefully the word is getting out, and this might be the last generation. It helps that Don Burke isn’t on the TV every week persuading people to buy them!

  2. The most unfortunately part of your story is how difficult it is for someone who means well to discern the best path; so many folks making money off this confusion and, in this instance, so many animals suffering as a result.

    I didn’t know who Don Burke was before this, but I clicked on your link and clearly he’s a tool. He’s all “inferior dogs,” blah blah blah. What could possibly make one dog inferior from another? Tool!

    In any event, great post, adorable pooch, and valuable lesson.

    • Don Burke had a popular TV show in Australia in the 90s called Burke’s Backyard. It was about gardening and pets and stuff like that. There were lots of rumours about how the people who worked with him really disliked him – which I can well imagine! And yes, he’s definitely a tool! 🙂

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