Pet-Buying Tips

Expert Advice

When you're looking to add a pet to your life, consider adopting a homeless animal from your local shelter. Whether you want a puppy or a more mature dog, a purebred or a one-of-a-kind mixed breed, even a rabbit or hamster, your shelter has the best selection of animals anywhere—all screened for good health and behavior. Most shelters will even help with spaying and neutering.

The animal shelter is the top source for a new pet, and our pet-care experts have compiled all the information you'll need to find your nearest shelter, select a pet who matches your lifestyle, and more. Information courtesy of the Humane Society of the United States.

Adopting from a Purebred Rescue Group

Purebred rescue groups are usually run by people with in-depth knowledge of a specific breed. Rescue groups keep adoptable animals until they can be placed in loving, permanent homes. These animals may come from failed breeding operations; arrive from boarding kennels and veterinarians, where they were abandoned; be rescued as strays living on the streets; or be obtained through the cooperation of local animal shelters. Adoption fees vary, depending on veterinary and other costs that have been incurred. Follow-up counseling is usually available.

To locate a rescue group that specializes in the breed of dog or cat that interests you, contact your local animal shelter, check the classifieds section of the newspaper, or search the Internet. You can call The Humane Society of the United States at 202-452-1100. Ask for the Companion Animals section. They can help you find out if there is a breed-rescue group near you.

When you contact a breed rescue group, be sure to find out as much as you can about the group, how it cares for its animals, how it decides which animals are adoptable, and what other adoption and post-adoption services are available.

Adopting from an Animal Shelter

Animal shelters are your best source when looking for a pet. Not only do they have a great selection of adult animals for adoption, but they also have kittens and puppies, even purebred animals. In fact, on average, purebreds account for about 25% to 30% of a shelter's dog population.

Many pets at the shelter are waiting for new homes because they were obtained by someone with unrealistic expectations of the time, effort, and money required to sustain a lifelong relationship with their pet. National figures indicate that about half of the animals in shelters must be euthanized for lack of homes. Animals at your local shelter are eager to find a new home and are just waiting for someone like you.

You can depend on responsible shelters to screen the animals for sound health and temperament. When animals are relinquished by owners, the shelter staff makes every attempt to collect a thorough history of that pet. Then, while caring for animals, staff and volunteers try to learn as much as they can about these animals as well as those who come to the shelter as strays.

Don't be discouraged if, when you first visit the shelter, there are no animals of the breed or type you want. Shelters receive new animals every day. Your shelter may also have a waiting list and can call you when an animal matching your preference becomes available. Before choosing your pet, you can even speak with an adoption counselor about whether your choice of a particular type or breed will be best for you.

Another advantage is that shelter adoption fees are usually much less than an animal's purchase price at a pet store or breeder. And your new pet is more likely to be vaccinated, dewormed, and spayed or neutered. Many shelters have web sites on which they display the animals they have available for adoption. A growing number of shelters also promote their web sites, and the animals they have for adoption, on sites such as Petfinder, PetShelter Network, 1-800-Save-A-Pet.com, and Pets 911.

Buying from a Pet Store

Pet stores cater to impulsive buyers and consumers seeking convenient transactions. These stores ask no questions of prospective buyers to ensure responsible, lifelong homes for the pets they sell, and the stores may be staffed by employees with limited knowledge about pets and pet care.

One of the most important things you need to know is that pet-store dogs are often churned out by mass-breeding facilities known as "puppy mills." These facilities are often characterized by inhumane conditions, particularly for the "breeding stock" animals who are caged and continually bred for years, without human companionship, and then typically killed after their fertility wanes. Their offspring don't fare much better, and many suffer and deteriorate in the substandard conditions of the puppy mill.

Few pet stores will ever admit selling animals bred in puppy mills; be wary of claims by pet store staff that they sell animals only from breeders that the store has "personally inspected." Such claims are usually meaningless.
Dogs are not the only species mass-bred for sale. Cats, rabbits, ferrets, guinea pigs, reptiles, hamsters, and gerbils also are common victims of the commercial pet industry. Currently, 17 states have "pet lemon laws" that require stores to refund the purchase price or replace a puppy with congenital or hereditary defects.

Buying from a Professional Breeder

To find a responsible breeder, talk with veterinarians, seek out local dog and cat clubs, or search the Internet. And be sure to read up on the breed you're considering before visiting a breeder. That way, you'll know what to look for and which questions to ask.

Look for a breeder who knows a lot about the breed and knows how to breed to reduce the likelihood of genetic defects. Puppies and kittens from professional breeders receive early socialization and training to make them better pets. Selling animals for economic gain is not the goal of responsible breeders; improving their animals, their bloodlines, and the breed is the primary incentive. To screen those purchasing their animals, professional breeders sell directly to potential buyers, not through an intermediary.

Responsible breeders sell pets with contracts requiring that the animals be spayed or neutered; educate buyers about the breed and responsible pet care; remain available after the sale for support; and take back pets who don't work out. Be careful, too, of those who breed, sell, and promote "fad" and physically challenged breeds. Many of the brachycephalic (flat-faced) breeds, such as pugs and Persians, have breathing and eye problems, and sharpeis often suffer skin problems because of their multiple skin folds.

Selecting the Right Pet for You—Pure or Mixed Breed

Dogs and cats fall into one of two categories: purebreds or mixed breeds. The only significant difference between the two is that purebreds, because their parents and other ancestors are all members of the same breed, generally conform to a specific "breed standard." This means that you have a good chance of knowing what general physical and behavioral characteristics a puppy or kitten of that breed is likely to have.

The size, appearance, and temperament of most mixed breed dogs can be predicted as well. After all, mixed breeds are simply combinations of different breeds. So if you can recognize the ancestry of a particular mixed breed dog or cat, you can see how a puppy or kitten is likely to look as an adult.

Some people think that when they purchase a purebred, they're purchasing a guarantee of health and temperament, too. This is not true. In fact, the only thing the "papers" from purebred dog and cat registry organizations certify is that the recording registry maintains information regarding the reported lineage and identity of the animal.

Mixed breeds, on the other hand, offer several advantages that prospective pet owners may fail to consider. For example, when you adopt a mixed breed, you get the benefit of two or more different breeds in one animal. You also get a pet who is less prone to genetic defects common to certain purebred dogs and cats.

What to Consider Before Adopting a Pet

It can happen to the best of us. You see a cute, tiger-striped kitten with white paws and green eyes, just begging for attention. Or maybe it's a gorgeous Labrador mix whose tails seems to be wagging just for you. You take one look, and the next thing you know, you're walking down the pet food aisle at the supermarket.

If you're like most of us, falling in love with a pet is easy. Sharing your home with a four-legged friend can be one of life's greatest joys. Dogs, cats, and other pets give us unconditional loyalty and acceptance, provide constant companionship, and even help relieve stress after a hard day's work. Adopting a pet, though, is a big decision. Dogs and cats require lots of time, money, and commitment—over 15 years' worth in many cases. Think through your decision before you adopt a companion.

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