Real Pet Lovers Don't Purchase Pets at the Pet Store


I am a pet advocate – therefore I generally support pet stores. Of course, they’re great places to purchase toys, treats, food – even winter garments and stylish holiday sweaters.

However, pet stores are not such a great place to purchase puppies or kittens.. . arguably the last place you want to get a puppy or kitten – unless you support puppy mills.

What prompts my piece is an editorial that appeared in pet age magazine, authored by longtime editor Karen McLeod.

McLeod writes, “Two years ago, we warned you that pet sales and puppy sales, in particular were under unprecedented attack. today, we are sorry to say that the situation is even worse. Measures to ban retail sales are not just coming faster, they’re succeeding more often. Thirteen localities in either states have passed retail pet sale bands, and three have done so in just the last six months.”

She continues in her piece, blaming well funded national animal welfare groups for the pet sales bans. She continues, “The trouble is, these restrictive bans won’t just cripples stores that sell animals. They will cripple all pet retail outlets and vendors who supply them. After all it’s  pretty hard to sell kibble and collars to someone who can’t get the dog he wants, or pellets and filters to someone who doesn’t have fish.”

She adds,  “We must stand up on behalf of responsible pet owners as well as the right to sell live animals.”

I DISAGREE – Fact is responsible owners should never purchase a dog or a cat from a pet store. (I am not talking about stores who work with local shelters and rescues, placing those animals up for adoption).

Let me start with some reasons why buying a puppy or adult dog, or kitten or adult cat from a pet store is absolutely not a good idea:

– I don’t personally know of a responsible breeder who sells to pet stores. To be clear – not only am I not against breeders, I stand with the good ones. There’s value in having a pedigree dog or cat, and a well bred pet if that’s what you desire. There’s most certainly also value in a shelter animal, and truly saving a life.

By definition responsible breeders are discerning about who they sell their animals to. Responsible breeders carefully socialize their animals, and do the best they can to prevent disease transmission. By selling puppies or kittens to a pet stores “breeders” lose all control. That is hardly being responsible. Responsible breeders do not sell to pet stores any more than responsible pet owners should purchase from pet stores.

Most important: Pet stores sell to whoever has a credit card that works, not to the right family for that pet.

– So now you know dogs and cats sold at pet stores are not from responsible breeders – then where are they from? The overwhelming majority are from puppy mills (these facilities are horrible breeding factories, and all should be closed down) and commercial breeders (large scale facilities, which may be clean and pristine, and animals vet checked – but still are they socialized? Is this the right way to breed dogs and cats?)

– What are you buying? There’s no way to determine what the animal really is. So, the claim might be “Shih Tzu,” for example, when in fact it’s a mix of a really poor representative of what a Shih-Tzu is paired with a mix that somehow resembles a Shih Tzu. Isn’t that fraud when you pay for one thing but it’s really another? This happens all the time at pet stores.

– There’s no data to demonstrate the health of dogs or cats sold out of pet stores is any worse than those sold through responsible breeders, or adopted from shelters.  However, anecdotally veterinarians report more problems when animals are sold through pet stores (where health guarantees may be non existent). And indeed evidence mounts concerning behavior problems.

– The buyers from pet stores have no family records, so there’s no way to determine how long the parents of the little puppy or kitty lived, and nothing may be learned about familial or genetic health issues. No past health records are available. Temperament is also, in part, genetic. Meeting the folks is very helpful, and can’t be done in a pet store setting.

– Purchase from a responsible breeder or adopt from a shelter, and if you have a problem there’s back up….or there should be, experts to provide advise. And should you decide this pet isn’t right for  your family, a responsible breeder or animal shelter accepts the animal back (albeit begrudgingly) – some pet stores will, many will not,.

– Some pet stores do pay attention to socialization, but others do not. And more important, there’s no way to determine if the pet was socialized before arrival at the store.  Missing out on early socialization is a significant cause of behavior problems which results ultimately in euthanasia.

Now about Karen McLeod’s editorial: She seems to suggest that a significant number of animals derive from pet stores (increasingly untrue), and without the ability to sell them, people won’t have an outlet to buy a dog or cat of their liking. Nonsense….though in a sense I wish that was true, shelters have lots of dogs and even more cats; rescue groups represent each of the pure bred’s from Affenpinscher to Yorkshire Terrier and from Abyssinian to Turkish Van, not to mention all the responsible breeders of the world.

Many pet stores survive just fine without selling dogs or cats, boutique pet stores are found all over the country, like Barker & Meowsky in Chicago…Petco and PETsMART have no interest in selling dogs or cats.

While I don’t want to small businesses crippled, I am far more concerned about those selling crippled dogs and cats. And, in a sense, it turns out many are crippled. Here’s some hard science, hot off the press from Dr. Frank McMillan, lead researcher and director of well-being studies from Best Friends Animal Society, discovered in a survey of 1,169 former puppy mill dogs – while all dogs sold at pet stores aren’t from puppy mills, as I’ve noted many are. His findings are:

  • Dogs used as breeding parents in puppy mills show significantly high levels of fear
  • They have pronounced compulsive and repetitive behaviors such as spinning in tight circle and pacing
  • They are less trainable
  • They are more likely to soil a home
  • They have heightened sensitivity and resistance to being touched or picked up
  • Buying a puppy from a pet store contributes to the likelihood that the parents of that puppy must continue to endure a poor quality of life in a puppy mill

I realize people are impulsive, me too….it’s a part of our human condition. But please don’t purchase a dog or cat at a pet store this holiday season (or anytime), and never rationalize that you are saving that pet. There’s some truth to that – but you are also keeping the pet store in business (and as McMillan’s final point is noted above), you’re keeping that puppy mill in business which allows for their inhumane practices to continue.