Buyer Beware

by Barbara Anderson Lounsbury

"Dr. Lounsbury, can I talk to you?" My student Brian stuck his head in my office door. He was obviously troubled. He is an excellent student, so I couldn't imagine why he needed to speak to me with such urgency.
"Of course," I replied. "Is it about the midterm?"
"No — a dog situation," Brian said. "I know you know a lot about dogs, and we — my parents and I — need your advice."

Brian and his dad had promised his mother a dog — something to cheer her up after a recent family crisis. She wanted a [purebred dog of my breed*], and had seen one at the local pet shop. So they purchased Heather for a hefty sum, and the puppy quickly captured their hearts. Unfortunately, within several days she was in the intensive-care unit of the local emergency hospital fighting for her life. The diagnosis — Parvo. Little Heather died the next morning.

"I know we shouldn't have gone to a pet shop," Brian said. "When my mom feels up to it, we're going to find a reputable breeder." I did my best to give him the "crash course" in how to identify an ethical breeder. I told him what to look for, what questions to ask, and what the "red flags" might be.

About a month later, Brian once again appeared in my office. "We bought another puppy," he said jubilantly. "This time we knew enough to go to a breeder." I was pleased for Brian and his family, but I was also concerned. I knew all of the serious breeders in this area. I didn't recognize this woman's name. Further discussion revealed some very troubling facts. She had several breeds on the premises, and four litters of puppies. She owned both the sire and dam (or so she claimed) but would not show them to Brian's family. The puppy was registered, but not with the AKC. She claimed that they came from "championship lines" but none were apparent from the pedigree she showed them. Were any genetic tests done? ....... No.

Brian and his family have purchased a puppy from a "backyard breeder," one whose primary goal is financial. He doesn't realize that their puppy's temperament, health, and genes are a game of chance. He's just proud that they knew enough not to patronize the local pet shop again. I failed in my attempt to educate him — a difficult pill for a professional educator to swallow. I pray that, in spite of the odds, this time it will be OK. Brian and his family have suffered enough.

I'm still troubled by my lack of success in educating Brian and his family. Those of us who have dedicated our lives to producing sound, healthy, and well — adjusted puppies must make clear to those looking to add a puppy to their family that not all breeders are alike.

Please learn from my lesson. When you encounter a potential puppy buyer, send them to [this or the appropriate the parent club web site*]. Tell them about the breeder-referral pages or guide them to a reputable breeder in your area. Help by preparing them to ask the right questions — and tell them why it's necessary to ask these questions. Also tell them to insist on information about a puppy's pedigree and parents. Remind them that good things come to those who wait. And that includes a sound, healthy, and infinitely loveable purebred* puppy.

CREDIT: This article was written by a Scottish Terrier breeder but with these minor changes is equally relevant for Shih Tzu or any other breed. Reprinted from the American Kennel Club Gazette, August 2007