Where to Get a Puppy: Pup Shelters, Pet Shops and Breeders

7 min read

If you’re interested in welcoming a puppy into your home, you may have already visited a pet shop. However, did you know there are other ways to find a new pet?

For instance, there are animal shelters in almost every town trying to end pet homelessness. These local shelters have plenty of cute puppies who are waiting for good homes. There are also responsible dog breeders, rescue organizations and shelter veterinarians who go to great lengths to ensure that puppies are healthy and properly cared for before adoption. Let's look at how each of these choices differ.  

Pet Shops

A lot of pet stores carry puppies, but as cute as they may be, this is not the ideal way to find your new family member.

You will see many of the most popular breeds of puppies available for sale in shops, but too many pet shops source their puppies from puppy mills. Puppy mills are facilities licensed by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to mass produce puppies, frequently putting profit ahead of the wellbeing of the dogs.

According to Cori Menkin, senior director of the ASPCA’s Puppy Mills Campaign, “Dogs are kept in overcrowded conditions, with tiny cages stacked on top of each other and wire flooring that can be detrimental to their paws.”

“Females are bred at every heat cycle to make as much money as possible and produce as many puppies as possible,” she says.

In addition, the pet shop itself does not typically provide the necessary hygienic conditions for the puppies or provide the physical space for them to be active. Far too often, puppies are undernourished or mistreated, and the cages in which the puppies are housed are sometimes so small that the puppies are unable to move freely. There are even instances of puppies not being vaccinated against disease, leading to the spread of illnesses like parvovirus to the others puppies kept in the shop.

Some pet shops appear more like a factory, where the finished goods are crammed into the smallest space possible and the truth about the animal’s health is not shared in order to sell as many as possible before they become obviously ill.

In addition, the puppies have been separated from their mothers, and the care and attention they need as they make the adjustment is often lacking in the pet shop environment. Many national animal advocacy organizations say these puppies will frequently have behavioral problems as they grow older.

From a financial point of view, shopping for a puppy in a pet shop is not viable either. While the initial cost may seem like a bargain, the future costs of training and veterinary expenses due to illness will become overwhelming if the puppy has been irreparably damaged by its experience or if its genetic background was less than optimal. Unfortunately, what a person gets in such a pet shop is a dehydrated or malnourished puppy that is weak and ill.

Far from the reason that some people use to justify, buying from a pet store or mill does not save a puppy's life. The bottom line is to stay away from pet shops and puppy mills, since this will only encourage continued breeding and large-scale animal abuses by irresponsible dog breeders.

If you are determined to get your puppy at a pet shop, go to one which partners with animal shelters and local sheltering groups that offer animal adoptions of new pets. Call your local shelters to find out if they offer this to the community.

Animal Shelters

Most communities have animal shelters and rescues where stray and abandoned dogs are taken care of until these new pets can be adopted. You can easily search for an adoptable dog near you on our dog adoption page. Sometimes the puppies are free, but in most cases there is a fee for the adoption; this fee covers the cost of vaccinations, spays and neuters, and operating expenses that help to keep the shelter afloat and keep the pets in it happy and healthy.

In that sense, you really are getting your puppy for free, you’re simply paying for a valuable set of services.

Some animal shelters will have special days in which the cost of adoption is less than normal in order to make room for more animals. You can find out more about this by calling your local animal shelter.

Most shelters will interview prospective owners to make sure that the dog is going into a safe and healthy environment. They will also be able to fill you in on the puppy’s health, temperament, and overall fit for your family. This is a huge advantage in finding the best pet for your lifestyle. You’ll also be creating more space in the shelter for a new homeless pet, thereby saving the life of your pet, plus one.

By the same token, many shelters will honor a return policy if the dog is not a good fit for the adoptive family. Don't forget to talk to your shelter counselor about their policy, though. While it’s unlikely you’ll need to return your new puppy, if you do you'll want to be sure you're returning the puppy to a safe place that will work to find a new home for it.

Before adopting, you will need to ask a lot of questions, interact with the puppy, and be aware of how the dog is behaving. Once you have met your ideal puppy match, many shelters offer training materials, veterinary care discounts, and advice on behavior and care.

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