Puppy love can quickly turn to heartbreak
In light of new Texas law, BBB reminds consumers to research breeders thoroughly
AUSTIN, Texas - Sept. 12, 2012 - As of Sept. 1, certain dog and cat breeders in Texas are required to submit to state inspections and obtain a license, thanks to a new state law. In light of the new regulations, Better Business Bureau is advising consumers to thoroughly research dog breeders and brokers before purchasing a puppy.
Since Jan. 1, BBB received almost 300 complaints against dog breeders nationally. Complaints ranged from health issues to problems with paperwork regarding pure bred puppies.
These types of complaints led the Texas State Legislature to pass the Commercial Dog and Cat Breeders Act, signed by Gov. Rick Perry in June 2011. The act requires breeders who maintain 11 or more female breeding animals and sell 20 or more animals per year to obtain a license from the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation and to submit to state inspections once every 18 months.
The state representatives who proposed the bill said the new regulations are meant to curb abusive practices among animal breeders and eliminate puppy mills. However, BBB still recommends consumers personally inspect the breeding and living areas of any puppy they purchase, ask the breeder questions and meet the puppy’s parents before taking a puppy home. This advice applies to puppies found online and through other sources.
Austin resident Sheila Johnson only had her puppy a few weeks when she first noticed the dog’s head jerking to the side. Coco had been in and out of the vet’s office since Johnson brought her home, needing treatment for intestinal parasites and pneumonia. The new symptoms were caused by seizures and the vet said Coco would need to see a neurologist.
“So I go in with Coco there (the neurologist’s office), and the vet takes the X-rays and everything. And when she walks in, I could tell from the look on her face that it was not good,” Johnson said, her voice cracking with tears as she recounted the story. “She said, ‘Your dog has distemper. You can either take her to your vet or we can put her down now.’”
Johnson chose what she considered to be the more humane option and had Coco euthanized immediately. Then, she contacted the breeder she had bought Coco from. She had paid for a one-year health guarantee, but really, she wanted to warn the breeder that some of his other puppies might be sick as well.
“And he wouldn’t return my calls. I bet I left at least 10 messages on his voicemail, at least,” she said. “Every time something new would come up, I would call to let him know because I thought he was an honest person and had no idea this was going on.”
Looking back, Johnson said she should have noticed the red flags. When she first visited the breeder, she was told Coco’s parents belonged to a family member and were not on the premises. She never saw where Coco was born and raised.
BBB reminds consumers to be especially wary of purchasing puppies online. In May, the United States Department of Agriculture proposed a new rule to regulate breeders who sell puppies online. However, that rule has yet to go into effect. Until it does, those breeders are not required to obtain a license or submit to USDA inspections.
Animal rights groups say this loophole allows unscrupulous breeders to flourish by selling animals directly to consumers on the Internet.
San Antonio resident Tina Barta became an animal rights advocate after she purchased a sick puppy from a puppy broker who advertised online.
She said the man she dealt with purchased puppies from possible puppy mills and then displayed them for customers in a more palatable environment.
“It looked like these dogs were taken care of, very well taken care of,” Barta said of her experience. “He had pictures of cute dogs with bows in their hair, playing around.
“I went to his house, and he goes by appointments only,” she continued. “He actually had them in fences in his backyard. … It looked like he had a nice house. I wasn’t able to see where they lived, how they lived.”
She said the man told her that he had a community of breeders and he simply helped them sell their puppies. She said he provided a puppy warranty that would reimburse vet bills should the puppy get sick, but only if the new owner took the puppy to a licensed vet within 72 hours of purchase.
When her Maltese puppy came down with kennel cough, a yeast infection and ear mites, she said she discovered that the contract only covered up to $1,000 of care, and that owners had to prove the puppy contracted the disease before it was purchased.
The experience pushed her to do more research on the broker. She found that he had a reputation of selling sick puppies and then moving and changing his business name when complaints started to pile up.
“He’s making a killing,” she said. “The more I dig, the deeper this well gets.”
She echoed BBB’s advice that people should research those they are buying puppies from.
“Consumers really need to do the research on these puppy brokers,” she said. “I want to shut this kind of animal cruelty down. … It’s just crazy how this has gone under the radar for so long.”
For those looking to add a furry friend to their family, BBB offers the following advice:
Consider adoption. Local animal shelters have hundreds of dogs and cats in need of a loving home. If you’re set on getting a pure bred, look for animal rescue groups in your area that specialize in that breed.
Check with BBB. If you choose to go through a breeder, check his or her BBB Business Review.
Ask to see the parents. Before bringing a puppy home, ask to see his or her parents and the living area where he or she was born and raised. Honest breeders will be happy to show you around. If the seller refuses or makes excuses, walk away.
Ask for references. Ask the breeder for contact information of people who have bought puppies in the past. Try to talk to people who have had their dog a while in order to check for issues that may not be immediately apparent, like genetic problems.
Avoid buying online. Unless you can visit the breeding facility before the purchase and bring your puppy home personally, do not purchase a puppy from a website. When you have a puppy shipped from another area, you don’t know how that puppy has been treated, how healthy or young it is, or whether or not the puppy exists at all.
Read contracts thoroughly. If the seller offers a health guarantee, make sure it is in writing and read it carefully for limits and proof requirements. Guarantees should cover more than a few weeks or days, since it can take weeks for symptoms to appear in illnesses like parvo and distemper. Genetic issues might not become apparent for years.
Ask for medical records. Get a written account of all medical care your puppy has received, including vaccinations and antibiotics. Take this record to your vet during the first examination.
See a veterinarian immediately. Within a few days of bringing your puppy home, schedule a complete physical with your vet to make sure it is in good health.
Keep your puppy quarantined. If you already have pets, keep them separated from your new puppy until it is given a clean bill of health.
To check a company’s BBB Business Review, visit bbb.org.
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Contact BBB serving Central, Coastal, Southwest Texas and the Permian Basin at (512) 445-4748.