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Monday, January 5, 2009

Controversy Week: Pet Stores

I thought I'd do something a bit dangerous, and set up some controversies this week. I'm sure that one or more of these posts are going to rile people, but I'm also certain that those in the veterinary field will likely agree with most of what I say. So never let it be said that I avoided controversial issues!

Let's get it kicked off by starting with pet stores. First let me say that I have nothing against pet stores in general. I think that they're a legitimate business, and offer pets and products that you can't get any other place. If you're in the market for a bird, fish, or lizard, pet stores are generally your only source. There are also many products or foods I recommend to my clients that you can only purchase at specialty stores, and can't get in your standard grocery stores or Wal-Mart.

However, I think that you should never, ever buy a dog or cat from a pet store.

Let's start with cats. I have seen cats for sale at pet stores, and they're usually not pure-bred cats. There are millions of cats and kittens in shelters that will be euthanized if they don't find homes, so you should always start there. You can also pick up your newspaper and look in the classifieds. Pretty much any time you check, there will be listings for kittens that people are giving away for free. Why would anyone buy a cat that they could rescue from death or get for free?

Dogs are more complicated. Yes, there are also millions of dogs in shelters that need rescuing, and I fully support people doing that as a first option. However, many people want a certain breed, and shelters usually have mixed breeds. People also go into a pet store and see the cute doggies, falling immediately in love. There are several reasons why I recommend never getting a dog from a pet store. First, you don't know the quality of the breeding. Pet stores getting dogs from "puppy mills" is much less common, but still happens. Even if it's from a legitimate breeder, you don't know the history of the parents or the tendencies for certain behaviors or health problems. Second, I have found that pet store puppies are incredibly overpriced. I have seen consistently that you can get a better quality dog for cheaper by going through a reputable breeder.

One of the reasons I like PETsMART is that they don't sell dogs and cats. They donate space to local shelters and rescue organizations to come in and adopt out pets, but don't sell them directly. To me, that's the attitude more pet stores should have.

Stay tuned the rest of the week for more controversial pet-related topics! Tomorrow....designer breeds!


  1. Don't forget that most shelters get purebred dogs as strays; usually adults, often already altered and housetrained and these animals also face euthanasia due to lack of space. You may have to wait a while, and make several trips, but if you make your preferences known to the shelter staff, they can call you if they get an animal that meets your needs. As a shelter volunteer, I have seen a staggering number of purebred dogs that were well-mannered and highly adoptable that simply didn't have to die but had the misfortune of being strays when there was no room to house them and local breed rescues were at capacity.

  2. Excellent point! I have also seen many pure breed dogs come from shelters. Always the best place to start.

  3. Just had to add that you shouldn't buy a bird from a petstore, either. There are many, many in rescue (the rescue where I volunteer, in a mid-size city, takes in between 300-400 every year) -- just check on petfinder!

    Just like with dogs, the best way to find a bird is to work with a good rescue (and preferably adopt a bird that chooses you) or through a reputable breeder -- plus they're about 1/2 the price as you'd pay in a petstore.

    Birds from petstores are usually raised in production-type facilities (very similar to puppy mills) and buyers are almost guaranteeing themselves tons of behavior problems down the road due to improper upbringing when young (weaning, fledging, etc.)

    I just found your blog today; I love it!

  4. Yep, you're right. I should have included birds as well. It's harder to find a good avian breeder, but it's well worth the effort. I like referring people to reputable bird shows.


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