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Hi, I thought I would start this as a new thread since the "people looking for a pet are not well-served" thread has evolved into its own conversation between members who know each other. It got me thinking about an experience I had as a teenager when my family went in search of a new family dog. I'm not really an "experienced" dog person, though I've loved dogs my whole life and done the basics like volunteering at a shelter and going to obedience class. I wanted to share how my family tried to do the right things, but ended up failing miserably. I thought it might provide some encouragement to people who are frustrated with the process of choosing a good breeder and wondering whether or not their efforts are really worth it.

When I was 17, my parents told me I could get a dog of my own, so long as it was a small, low-shedding breed that we could keep in the house. As a dog-lover, my bedroom was full of books on dogs, dog training, dog health, and several atlases of dog breeds. But I didn't understand how reality differed from those books. I knew puppy mills were bad and that good breeders would try to avoid genetic diseases... in vague terms. The shelter was our first stop, but they did not have any small breed dogs available except for an Italian greyhound with submissive urination issues.

So, since I had no idea how to even go about *finding* a breeder, I asked my mom what to do. My mother is a very sweet woman who grew up on a farm where puppies were thrown in the lake with a brick tied to their neck if they were sickly or overpopulous. However, overall my family is well-off and both of my parents have graduate degrees, so they are not uneducated or strangers to difficult research. My mother told me to get a newspaper: that was where the breeders were.

Enter kennel number one: We drove for an hour to reach a woman who was breeding pekingese, dachsunds, and several other small breeds. We were not allowed to view any of the parents, and she had a litter of six-week old peke pups in a baby crib "ready to go home." I noticed she had a lot of dogs and that her own pets were crated. They looked sort of laconic. We walked away from that kennel.

After that experience, I was convinced that the newspaper was not the way to go. I went to the internet, and found a woman breeding Japanese Mi-Ki's who looked legit. Titled dogs, health tests, proper registration with the Mi-Ki club of America. The kennel was owned by an older woman. "These dogs are my retirement," she told us. $1500 per puppy. When we visited, we found a quaint house that smelled faintly of feces and urine. Something didn't seem right about that to me, so we walked away there as well.

The last place we visited was also advertised in the local paper. A woman had some bichon frise puppies she was selling for $350. She had bred her children's unfixed dogs together on a whim since they were gone and the house was kind of empty. We drove out into the country to meet her. At least this time, the puppies looked active, well-socialized, healthy, and were kept in clean conditions. I have no doubt she was taking good care of them. I fell in love with one of them and against our better judgment, my parents gave the okay. It didn't seem like we were doing anything wrong. We just wanted a pet, right? Well, these were pets.

My bichon Dolly was the best dog I ever had. For three years. Then one day she started to get bruising on her belly and was very lethargic. We rushed her to the vet. It turned out she had rapidly developed Canine Immune-Mediated Thrombocytopenia. Within 24 hours she was hemorrhaging all over her body and had to be rushed to the University vet school for treatment. She died on the operating table.

Her "breeder" probably had never heard of such a disease. Her own dogs were free of the "normal" bichon diseases like patellar problems and the puppies had all been checked out by a vet.

So, I'm not trying to preach to the choir, who can obviously see the holes in our reasoning at the time and what we should have done differently. But I would like to try and point out the reasons why this terrible scenario happened because I am sure my experience is not uncommon:

1. Traditional, local knowledge is given more credence than knowledge found from third party sources: parents got good puppies from the newspaper as kids, therefore that was where puppies come from. Encounter with sketchy Mi-Ki lady just confirmed that bias.

2. Lack of digital literacy: none of us knew that shelters advertised adoptions online or that breed clubs had websites that could help us find a breeder. Clearly we were willing to drive out of town, but we didn't know where to drive TO.

3. Popular publications easily available to families seeking purebred dogs sugarcoat the state of purebred dogs and fail to mention diseases like ITP that have a 20-80% mortality rate.

None of these things are the fault of people on this forum. But IMHO if you could tackle these three points from the ground up, you could really change the culture surrounding the purchase of puppies as pet animals. This post isn't to say "you, expert shepherd owners, must fix these things," but to share thoughts with similar-minded people who are also very interested in developing information literacy skills and critical thinking in their home communities.
 

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Thank you for a really good post. :)

How long ago did this happen? I'm guessing that the state of digital literacy overall has probably improved a bit since then -- or at least I hope so, since many of us have no chance of reaching people who don't look online!
 

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You are so right I am glad someone said this :) very well said thank you
 

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Discussion Starter #4 (Edited)
How long ago did this happen? I'm guessing that the state of digital literacy overall has probably improved a bit since then -- or at least I hope so, since many of us have no chance of reaching people who don't look online!
This is a really great question. This was eight years ago so most people now understand to look online for their next pet instead of a newspaper. However, one thing we talk a lot about in my field (educational technology) is how increased access to the internet does not mean more digital literacy. The reason for this is that technology manufacturers want to make devices and websites easier and easier to use for the average consumer. The user needs very little understanding of what they are doing to accomplish a task that would have been complicated 5-10 years ago.

So, I think what I mean by digital literacy is not knowing to Google things, but knowing how to evaluate the visual and textual information you encounter in an online environment and question it. Most of us have some level of this awareness: we get "bad vibes" from a website with a lot of animated gifs and mis-spelled words. But people need to be able to ask themselves questions like "Why does this person only show pictures of puppies on her home page and not the parents?" and "Who is this dog several generations back that she keeps mentioning? Maybe I should google his name." Even better, "This breeder has an image on their website that says 'ethical breeder.' I wonder where that image came from and how they got permission to use it?" You can see how having everything easily available online can actually make people think less instead of more when they are inundated with text and images that all look pretty good at first glance.

But I have no idea how to solve this problem. There are still clients I work with who can't even use a wiki, so I have no idea how we can get people to think about this at a higher level without tons of education.
 
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