So you want to add a puppy or kitten to your family—congratulations! You are in for the time of your life. Where to start, though? Here at the Alaska SPCA* we will always advocate for rescue or adoption from a place like our own Adoption Center or Anchorage Animal Care and Control. However, we recognize that many people are fond of particular breeds and are committed to purchasing a specific type of puppy or kitten. That’s fine; just make sure you do your research about the breed and breeder before you dive in. Alaska has more that its share of backyard breeders and puppy mills. We are aware of irresponsible breeders all over Southcentral Alaska, in Juneau, and in the Fairbanks/North Pole area. Scam breeders are all over the internet and too often unsuspecting buyers are left without their new pet and out a fair amount of coin.
This is a case of “buyer beware” and spending good money for a puppy or kitten that has health or behavior problem due to poor breeding will cost you far more than the bargain price of the little one, as well as heartache and grief. All breeds have health and behavior characteristics, both good and bad. Responsible breeders make decisions that amplify the good and reduce the likelihood of the bad. We want to help you avoid that and offer this list of recommendations so that you and your new addition have a long and healthy life together.
1. Research the breeder BEFORE you look at puppies or kittens. Puppies and kittens are adorable. Their fluffy little bodies, compelling eyes, and cute antics will steal your heart and all thoughts of research, health problems, or temperament issues will fly right out the window. An irresponsible breeder will have your money and send you home with your new friend before you blink. Down the road when you’re having to make a heartbreaking decision about a dog with congenital aggression or lose your cat to hereditary disease it will be too late to regret that impulsive decision.
2. Go in with eyes wide open. Breed popularity trends like fashion, often for little reason other than media exposure. French bulldogs are quite in vogue in recent years, but too many owners don’t understand that the cute little smooshed face and big eyes
also means that Brachycephalic Obstructive Airway Syndrome and corneal ulcerations too often go with the deal. Research the breed, common health conditions, breed temperament, grooming needs and make sure the dog or cat breed you’ve fallen in love with will actually fit your lifestyle and household.
3. Expect that cost does not equal quality. Do not assume that because the breeder is demanding a price in the thousands, that it means that the puppy or kitten must be of great quality. Don’t get me wrong, responsible breeders will charge prices that are sometimes hard to understand. Responsible breeders invest heavily in the health and care of father, mother and her litter. Between covering costs of quality breed stock, health tests and certifications, artificial insemination and C-sections in some cases, supplementation where needed, puppy socialization tools…it all adds up. Responsible breeders are not making small fortunes on the sale of puppies or kittens. The downside is that puppy mills and backyard breeds will see the prices that responsible breeders charge and use that as their benchmark. You must do your research so that you can be sure you’re getting a healthy new pet (are you seeing a theme here?).
4. Don’t fool yourself--AKC or CKC Registration does not mean that the breeder is reputable. The kennel clubs at the local, state, and national levels are good starting points, but the fact that the mother and father are AKC registered does not mean that your new pup is any healthier than random puppy litter. Responsible breeders are registered with kennel clubs, but you need to look for more than that.
5. Expect to meet the breeder in person and see the facilities. Responsible breeders want to know who their puppies go to. Many have an application process and require a deposit (more on the financial part later). They’ll speak to you on the phone at least once or twice, and want to meet in person, too. Breeders should be proud of their setup; they’ll be able to give you a tour and explain their approach to caring for their animals. The breeder won’t insist on meeting you at another location.
6. Expect that there won’t be lots of different breeds available. Responsible breeders focus on just one or a few breeds and take their stewardship of those breeds seriously. Pay attention to how many people are available compared to how many litters are available. Caring for a nursing mother and her litter is serious work; too many litters means too little attention to health of mother and her babies.
7. Ask questions. Many breeds are prone to genetic conditions, and responsible breeders don’t breed from animals with these conditions. Each breed has different tests that will be performed on parents before breeding to ensure puppies are as healthy as possible. There is no such thing as a purebred pet without some kind of risk for health or temperament problems. Ask to see pedigrees, test results or certifications, and information from both the dam (mother) and sire (father). There are two kinds of tests for breeding stock: Health screenings, such as hip X-rays and blood tests for thyroid levels, can confirm that a dog is free from disease; while that does not guarantee that the dog won’t produce that defect in its offspring, it certainly improves those chances. DNA or genetic tests can determine if a dog is a carrier for a particular disease or disorder; by knowing the genetic status their dogs, the breeder can effectively prevent a disease from manifesting. Get the names of others who have purchased from this breeder and check those references.
8. You may have to wait for a puppy or kitten. Because good breeders only have a few breeding females and don’t overbreed them, you may have to wait for the next litter. Breeders will often require a deposit; do not pay in cash, “moneygram,” Venmo, or other means that is difficult to trace. Use your credit or debit card, or PayPal.
9. The puppies or kittens won’t go to you until they are at least 8 weeks old. Good breeders will be focused on providing ample time with the dam (mother) and litter, as well as providing early socialization, before puppies go to new homes. Large breed dogs may stay with the litter as long as 12 weeks, which is a bonus for you. That extra time helps your new pup learn boundaries from mom that will help you in training later. You should expect that the first vaccinations have been given.
10. You’ll receive full veterinary records and be able to contact their veterinarian if needed. Your puppy will have seen a veterinarian a few times before you bring her home, and will come with full health records, including the contact information for that vet. Your breeder will also provide information on diet, information on when the next vaccinations are due, and guidance on what to expect as your little one grows and develops.
11. The breeder will provide guarantees. Responsible breeders care about where their puppies and kittens go and want them to live in secure homes for their entire lives. If unforeseen circumstances mean you have to give up the dog or cat later, the breeder will want the dog or cat to come back to them rather than a shelter or unknown home and will provide this guarantee.
Yes, it’s a lot, but it’s a big decision. If you want a purebred, buy from a responsible breeder and help us put an end to puppy and kitten mills in Alaska. If you are on the road to finding a breeder and have questions, we’d love to talk! We know what a big step
this is, and want to make sure you find the best companion for your family. You can always call us with questions or concerns during this process. Once your new puppy (or kitten!) comes home, bring him in and we’ll perform a thorough checkup to get you started on the right paw!
*The Alaska SPCA is Alaska's own animal welfare organization, not affiliated with any national nonprofit. We provide low cost veterinary care, a no-kill shelter, pet food bank, and rural outreach and education.