Whether its puppy mills or backyard breeders looking to sell puppies, both the St. John's SPCA and the city's Humane Services Division have the same message for potential pet owners - don't use them.
"We would definitely advise people not to buy puppies from such an operation," said Lynn Cadigan, president of the St. John's SPCA. "The risks to the individual are that you could end up with a dog that has serious behavioural or medical problems because the breeders are not testing or screening for health and temperament."
Neither the SPCA or Humane Services receive many complaints about puppy mills or backyard breeders. Humane Services supervisor Cindy McGrath said puppy mills are more commercially-oriented and often use stacked kennels.
"The dogs are not usually out of the cages. They're not socialized. They're specifically used for breeding. They don't have any care whatsoever, no vaccines or anything like that, and usually they're not in the house. With a backyard breeder, usually they are in the family home. Again, not a good situation, but a backyard breeder ... they do live in the home. Often they have way too many (animals). But again, they are doing it for financial gain."
McGrath said some complaints have been made to Humane Services about backyard breeders operating in the city, though they have been infrequent.
"Certainly, our city compared to other cities, we probably have no problem, but one is too many in my opinion."
In one case, McGrath said a resident had 20 dogs in the home for breeding. The animals were then advertised through different forms of media.
"Obviously, if you have a house that has 20 dogs, they're not neutered, they're not spayed obviously ... so the males are spraying in the house. A lot of them are not house trained, so living conditions for the residents can actually be quite deplorable."
In the case of reputable breeders, Cadigan said they typically do not need to advertise their animals and will likely have a waiting list of people looking to purchase a pet.
McGrath said a veterinarian had visited the dogs in the example she spoke of and they were being fed.
Some were later sent to the SPCA and Humane Services, she said.
By using a backyard breeder instead of a breeder of registered animals, McGrath said one encourages the backyard breeder to continue their work.
"These so-called breeders are selling these puppies as purebreds with no papers. There's no such thing as a purebred animal with no papers. If you're going to a reputable breeder, both parents are registered."
Thus, the buyer may inadvertently support cruelty and neglect of animals, according to Cadigan.
"If people stop buying from them, then they don't stay in business. And business is a key word, because the motive is primarily profit and money. It's not the welfare of the dogs."
There are several instances that should raise alarm bells for potential buyers, according to Cadigan. Buyers should be required to visit the premises and expect to be asked questions by the seller about their own home.
Offering to deliver a puppy or meet in a public place to complete the transaction is another red flag. People should also be concerned if they are unable to see where the parents of the puppy are kept.
McGrath said registered breeders operate in a responsible manner and focus on more than just selling animals to make a profit.
Under the law, Cadigan said there is a limited amount of action that can be taken when a backyard breeder or puppy mill with less-than-adequate living conditions is identified. Unless animals are without adequate food, water, shelter, or are visibly sick or in pain, nothing can be done.
"Even though it looks terrible to you, if the animals are not in distress, that's where legally it ends."
When adopting from an animal shelter, McGrath said, people can rest assured the pet they take home will have been vaccinated, treated for fleas and dewormed.
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