At Discover Dogs last weekend, I was glad to see the Kennel Club providing clear information about campaigns that are close to my heart. In particular, the campaign to put an end to puppy farming must have struck a chord with anyone who was at the event to find out which breed of dog they’d like to own.
With so many unwanted dogs and puppies needing homes, there are many arguments for adopting a rescue dog. But whether they hope to show their dog or ensure that its parents have had all the relevant tests for hereditary conditions, many people will want to buy a puppy from a breeder. I’ve had a mixture of dogs from rescues and breeders, though I think my next dog will probably be a rescue. And I know from experience how easy it can be to unwittingly support irresponsible breeders, and how important it is to make sure you don't.
Years ago, after the death of my first dog, I went looking for a whippet puppy. I did my research and phoned an established breeder to find out if any litters were planned in the near future, but I was given such a hard sell that alarm bells started ringing. I was pressured to buy a six-month old puppy that hadn’t been taken, and told that if I came to see any puppies and didn’t buy one, that would make me a time-waster. I know that responsible breeders will often offer to take a puppy back if its new home doesn’t work out, and that can explain why an older puppy might become available from them. But this breeder’s attitude made me suspect that the supply of puppies was far outstripping demand, and that raised issues about their health and welfare. Sadly, I soon found out that I was right – a few months later, more than 50 whippets were rescued from the breeder, having been kept in appallingly over-crowded conditions and the breeder was banned from keeping dogs.
My own story had a happier ending. Following my conversation with this breeder I contacted another, reputable breeder who welcomed the grilling I gave her as much as I welcomed the fact that the puppy I wanted from her hadn’t even been conceived yet. This breeder had a good reputation in the show world, and would make sure she had a list of people wanting puppies before she bred a litter. It was reassuring news. She questioned me about my experience with the breed, my previous dog and why I wanted a puppy.
Thirteen years after those phone calls, I’ll never forget my experience of dealing with two very different breeders, or the lessons it taught me. I still have the dog I bought from the responsible breeder and he’s a stunner. I hope all the rescued dogs were rehomed, and that they’re enjoying life to the full with the people who adopted them. But I remember that at the time, despite my misgivings, I had to resist the temptation to take one of those puppies from the first breeder – a decision that would have helped to perpetuate the suffering of many other dogs.