My mom lost her beloved yellow Lab, Destin, a few weeks ago to a nasty tumor in her heart. To say mom was bereft from the loss would be an understatement. The dog was healthy in the morning, and within 24 hours she got sick and was euthanized.

Destin had never even gotten to the point where she was acting "old." Mom had no time to prepare for losing the dog that had basically become a substitute child in the face of an empty nest. Mom’s whole world was rocked and she was devastated.

I went to visit her a week after everything happened, and I couldn’t shake this feeling of emptiness in her home. The thought occurred to me that the people in a house are its heart, but the pets are its soul. That seems so silly, after all, they’re "just pets" … but that’s how it felt.

Thank God, a week or so later, Mom started making hints about a puppy. Not just any puppy, but a calm, "English style" Labrador of smaller stature, like my beautiful, perfect (in my opinion) Lab, Mia.    

This was the first time I’ve ever actually gone through the process of finding a puppy — all of my pets have found me one way or another — and I learned a couple of things about puppy selection that I thought I’d share (should you decide a purebred is for you).

1. Know your breed. Given my profession, I know what the problems are for most breeds. All Labs have some degree of hip issues, and OFA testing doesn’t tell you much about how good their hips will be (despite popular opinion, it’s not the most accurate test in the world). Labs can also have terrible elbows, some eye issues, and (most importantly to me, because the joint stuff can be managed) severe allergy problems. Anyone with an allergic dog knows what a nightmare that can be. Plus, there are Labs that are lovely, and Labs that are idiots.

Talk to your vet to plan for whatever pitfalls may beset your breed of choice. There is no perfect breed, including mutts, but one thing about pure breeds is that you can roughly plan for and expect them to have particular health and personality issues. You sort of know what you’re getting, IF you do your homework. This is crucial.

Mutts are wonderful, but they’re a slight gamble with regard to health and behavior issues. Sometimes they live life happily ever after; sometimes it’s like the disease gene was amplified and they have every disease of every breed they are made up of.

Incidentally, I asked my local vet dermatologist for tips on finding a less allergy-prone Lab and his recommendation was to NOT get one from another state/region. Non-local dogs have more allergy issues.

2. Talk to the Breeder. It seems that good breeders know their dogs inside and out, so don’t be afraid to ask questions. I contacted probably ten breeders before finding "the one." I shared my concerns about allergies.

Turns out, this breeder worked for a vet for 15 years and she hates dealing with allergic Labs too! In fact, she specifically breeds dogs with minimal to no allergy issues. All her breeding dogs are also OFA tested for hips and elbows, examined yearly for eye issues, and even DNA tested for the eye stuff (I didn’t know that existed)! She loves her puppies and controls who they go to in order to ensure they are placed in good homes that match their personalities. She won’t sell dogs to just anyone. I had to fill out a huge application before she sold me the pup. And she let me come to her house to meet the dogs. All these things implied to me that this was a good breeder. 

When I told her that my mom’s pup must be calm, she replied that this was the calmest dog she’s ever bred (in ten years). She actually refused to sell this pup to a family with little kids because he was too laid back for an active young family (but perfect for a couple of, shall we say, more mature folks. (My Mom reads this, so I can’t say "old people" … oops, just did. Sorry, Mom, you’re not old. I’m talking about Dad).

So I had just bought my first dog (not counting the $100 for Scully the Mutt), and Mom took possession after Christmas. The pup’s name is Kemah. He’s super cute, super calm, and absolutely wonderful. Mom is head over heels in love. He might even be better than my Mia … but we’re not going to go there.

My point here isn’t to tell you that you must get a pure breed dog, it's just to give you some tips, should you choose to go that route. God knows there are plenty of ways to get a good dog, but my 800(ish) word limit won’t let me cover them all in one blog! 

Dr. Vivian Cardoso-Carroll

Mia (on her back) playing with Kemah, who will be much bigger than her in a few months!