Look closely at the doggies in the window
Nancy Pitnof will not make the same mistake twice. She bought a puppy in December from Linda Snow, the owner of Missy’s Puppy Land, the Stoughton store that has been linked to a house in Randolph where nearly 90 neglected dogs were discovered last week.
Within 24 hours, Pitnof’s labradoodle became so ill with diarrhea she had to bring it to a veterinarian. The dog was suffering from malnutrition and dehydration: it had stomach parasites.
Cost to treat the dog: $1,800.
Then, on Christmas, Pitnoff became ill with giardia – an intestinal parasite that causes diarrhea – that she caught from the puppy.
In hindsight, she admits missing red flags when she bought her dog from Snow at what she believes was Snow’s home, a short distance from Missy’s Puppy Land on Park Street.
Pitnoff, a Quincy native, is not alone. Others who bought dogs from Snow reported spending as much as $2,000 to treat their sick puppies.
And such instances are hardly a local phenomenon. Many people who buy animals are ill informed about the risks and the safeguards meant to protect them and their pets, according to animal welfare experts.
Dr. Amy Marder, an animal behaviorist with the Animal Rescue League, said dogs bought in pet stores or online often come from puppy mills – where the pets are raised in crowded confines with minimal human interaction, much less needed care.
Still, when customers see a doggy in the window or on the Internet, it may be difficult for them to grasp what the animal has gone through before being staged for sale.
“People are susceptible to scams when it comes to puppies,” said Daisy Okas, spokeswoman for the American Kennel Club.
For her part, Pitnof never got her money back from Snow, and she blames herself for not doing her homework before buying her dog.
She found Snow, a breeder of designer dogs, online, calling her Web site very professional.
“I never thought to check further,” Pitnof said.
Pitnof bought her dog Ziggy from Snow for $800 – a bargain for the cross between a Labrador retriever and poodle, which can cost as much $2,500.
Snow brought the puppies out one at a time, never letting Pitnof see where they were being kept. When asked to see the dog’s parents, Snow said they were with her husband.
Marder, of the Animal Rescue League, said she recently evaluated an extremely aggressive cockapoo bought at Missy’s Puppy Land.
“It is the breeding that goes on in puppy mills,” she said of the behavior. For that and other reasons, she counsels people not to buy animals at pet stores, a piece of advice pet store owners says is wrongheaded and off the mark.
Michael Cahill, acting director of the state’s Bureau of Animal Health, says dogs in pet shops must be seen by a veterinarian within seven days before they are sold. “That means a vet should be in the store at least once a week.”
Kathy Blackadar, owner of Fin Fur & Feather stores in Quincy and Hanover, says pet shops are not the problem, noting that they need to be licensed and inspected by state officials but breeders do not.
“Pet stores account for 6 percent of puppy sales in the state; 94 percent come from unlicensed uninspected sources,” she said.
Puppy mills these days thrive on people who buy animals on the Internet, Blackadar said.
“I’ve heard stories of people sending money and never getting their dog, or getting to the airport and finding the dog sick or dead,” she said.
Blackader, who has been in the pet business for 30 years, said she has visited the Midwestern kennels and breeders that supply her puppies. “These are not puppy mills. They are people breeding one or two breeds,” she said.
Blackadar said she doesn’t trust Massachusetts breeders because they’re not regulated.
But Okas. the spokeswoman for the American Kennel Club, said that many dog breeders do their job well, taking pains to keep the animals safe and healthy. Still, she urged consumers to do their homework before buying.
“It’s best to look for a responsible breeder, where hopefully the dogs are raised in a home atmosphere. See if the kennel is clean, if the dogs look happy, and if their eyes are clear,” she said.
Nancy Machinton of Sharon, a breeder of collies for nearly 30 years, says breeders should eagerly show dogs interacting with another and with people.
She adds that it’s important for buyers to ask breeders to guarantee a puppy’s health and that they will be free of congenital ailments to which some breeds are prone.
Machinton says groups that rescue certain breeds and local animal shelters are also good places to look for dogs.
The Scituate Animal Shelter has found homes for some 2,500 dogs, said Ginni Hayes, a volunteer and member of the board of directors. The shelter’s dogs are given all the of the required shots and are evaluated by a veterinarian.
“We’re very careful the animals are in good physical and mental health,” Hayes said.
Robert Sears may be reached at email@example.com.
Pet store pooch advice
- A vet must have examined the dog in the seven days prior to sale. Ask to see the most recent health certificate.
- At the time of sale, the shop must provide a copy of the dog’s complete medical record and a notice of the 14-day warranty required by state law.
- If within 14 days of purchase, a veterinarian finds a dog is diseased or has a congenital disorder, the animal can be returned with the vet’s written statement within two business days for a full refund or replacement.
- It is illegal to sell a puppy that is less than eight weeks old. Buyers should ask to see documentation of age.
- The shop must display its state license in a location visible to customers.