Working with Breeders and Rescues

The Pet Fund encourages all potential pet owners to seek out adoptive animals from shelters or 501(c)3 rescue groups. However, if you choose to purchase an animal from a breeder, the following recommendations will help you to avoid purchasing an animal with serious health problems. The following checklist for purchasing a dog or cat from a breeder represents the minimum requirement for the definition of a good breeder.

What to look for when purchasing from a breeder

  1. Be extremely cautious if you purchase a dog or cat from a pet store. Good breeders do not sell animals to pet stores. Some pet store animals come from puppy mills or other abusive backgrounds. These animals are likely to have major medical issues and purchasing them helps to perpetuate a cycle of abuse by the puppy mills that breed them.
  2. A good breeder will provide the purchaser with a contract of sale which states that if any genetic defects or preexisting diseases are found that the breeder will refund the purchase price and/or pay for treatment. Many states have laws which require breeders to be responsible for genetic defects and preexisting disease. Be aware of your state’s laws. Be aware that purchasing a puppy outside of your state may nullify this protection. When you purchase an animal, be aware that you are taking personal responsibility for that animal and be prepared to pay for its medical expenses.
  3. A good breeder will always allow prospective pet owners to tour the breeding facilities. These should be clean and spacious with adequate shelter from both heat and cold, and no breeder should have more animals on the premises than they can safely care for properly. Good breeders have nothing to hide with respect to their breeding facilities. This is also a reason to never buy animals sold from the back of a truck, in front of stores, or anywhere where the facilities are not viewable. When used, cages must be spacious, clean, and well bedded. Animals should have adequate exercise time outside of the cage.
  4. A good breeder will always provide you the paperwork for your dog or cat, which must include not only breed registration papers but also paperwork from a veterinarian demonstrating that the animal has had an examination as well as all the appropriate vaccinations and dewormings. For large breed dogs, breeders should also provide proof that a veterinarian has examined the parents of the puppy for hip dysplasia. Do not pay for the animal unless you receive the paperwork at the same time, including a copy of the medical history. Good breeders often have a list of references of previous clients whom you may call.
  5. Good breeders will often want to get to know you before selling you a puppy or kitten. Although it may seem intrusive, good breeders feel responsible for the animals they are selling and want to make sure they are going to a good home.
  6. Beware of “discount” pets sold online or from ads in the paper. Good breeders will charge more for animals whose pedigree warrants the expense. Backyard breeders who sell dogs and cats cheaply are not able to afford proper care for those animals and may possibly sell you an animal with serious medical problems.
  7. Good breeders bring their animals to vets to receive vaccinations and exams. Beware of breeders who claim to have vaccinated the pets on their own. Your cat or dog may not have received the vaccines at all, or may have been inadequately vaccinated. Also, if you need to board the animal for any reason, you may be required to re-vaccinate the dog or cat because you will have no proof that a vet provided the vaccines.
  8. Good breeders are aware of the potential genetic issues certain breeds face. If your breeder is not serious about screening for hip dysplasia in German Shepherds, for example, they have not researched the problem sufficiently and are likely to evade responsibility for treating the dogs if the problem arises. Work with a breeder who is educated enough to be able to implement good breeding practices.
  9. Do not agree to become co-owner of a dog or cat with the breeder. While some breeders may insist on this clause in a contract, agreeing to this situation may bar you from having legal rights to your animal and may prevent you from being able to make medical decisions on behalf of your animal. You may even lose permanent custody of your animal if you agree to this arrangement.
  10. It is illegal for a breeder to sell or give away a cat or dog under 8 weeks of age. If you encounter a breeder selling animals younger than 8 weeks of age, contact Animal Control Services and report them.
  11. Good breeders will provide you reliable and current contact information. If a breeder seems unwilling to provide a phone number or is in the process of moving, do not work with them. If you need to find them later to deal with medical problems, it will be much harder to locate them.
  12. Avoid making your decision based solely on information from a breeder’s website. A bad breeder may have a good website and unhealthy animals.
  13. Do not “rescue” an animal from a bad breeder. Paying a bad breeder for a dog or cat who is clearly being abused may save that animal, but will ensure that the breeder continues to profit by abusing or neglecting other animals. Instead, contact Animal Control Services in your area and try to adopt the animal from the shelter if the breeder’s animals are impounded.

How to find a good breeder

  1. The easiest and best way to get a referral for a good breeder is to ask your vet, or ask a local veterinarian. Good breeders bring their animals to the vet for medical care, and bad breeders do not bother to provide care.
  2. Get a personal referral from a pet owner who has had a good experience with a breeder and whose animals are healthy and free of genetic defects. If a breeder provides referrals, feel free to contact them for information. Just remember that they may not be reliable sources of information about the breeder, so make sure to review the checklist above before purchasing the animal. Spending time researching the breeder before purchasing your animal will save you significant expense later on and will help to avoid supporting abusive breeders. Doing your homework about the breeder ahead of time will also help to stop the suffering of animals raised in puppy mills.

What to do if you have a medical problem with an animal purchased from a breeder or pet store

  1. Get a letter from your veterinarian stating the medical problem your dog or cat has, and ask them to specify if it is a preexisting or congenital disease.
  2. Call or email or write the breeder, include a copy of the letter from your veterinarian, and ask that they pay for the medical care needed. If they do not respond, send a certified letter asking that they take financial responsibility for the medical treatment as outlined in your original contract.
  3. File in Small Claims Court for maximum amount allowed by law in your state. Research the dog “lemon laws” in your state to determine the maximum amount of damages you will be able to claim in court. The Humane Society website has an online link to state-by-state listings of dog lemon laws:
  4. Filing in Small Claims Court is very inexpensive, no lawyers are required, and your claim may be heard within 1-2 months of filing. Even if you lose your case, the breeder’s name will appear online associated with the case, so future potential clients will be able to see that they were sued in court.
  5. If medical neglect or animal cruelty is involved, call your local District Attorney or State Attorney General as well as your local Animal Control Services agency. Breeders and pet store owners have been arrested and convicted of animal cruelty for selling sick animals or for running puppy mills.
  6. Call your local media resources, including television stations and your local paper. They may wish to run a story about your experience with your breeder or pet store. This may encourage your breeder or pet store to take responsibility for the animal’s medical care needs rather than face public scrutiny and possible criminal charges.

Working with a rescue group

  1. Make sure that the rescue group you want to work with is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization. You can check a nonprofit’s status by looking on the IRS website under “Charities” to search by name. A real nonprofit will have a 501(c)3 number from the IRS allowing them to function as a charity. Remember that only a nonprofit can legally accept donations, so if you are working with a rescue group that is not a legally incorporated nonprofit, technically they may be liable for medical issues with the adoptive animals, just as a breeder would be. Read over your contract carefully.
  2. Make sure that the rescue group has adequate facilities for the number of animals they are attempting to adopt out. Sometimes would-be rescuers are actually animal hoarders. Even if they have a legal charity distinction they are still responsible for the welfare of the animals. No one person or entity can properly care for too many animals at one time, so if you visit a “rescue” where one person has 50 cats in one house, that is an example of a badly run rescue operation and possible hoarding situation. These animals are not likely to receive adequate medical care.
  3. Legitimate rescue groups may want to visit your home or get referrals for you in order to adopt out an animal. This is standard practice for rescue groups and you should view this as a good practice and possible sign of a well-run nonprofit.
  4. Read over the rescue group’s website for information about the nonprofit’s purpose. Make sure that the nonprofit’s stated mission is being followed by the group’s practices. For example, no real animal rescue group will ever be involved with breeding or other for-profit venture including animals.

Working with an animal shelter

  1. Ask if the animal you wish to adopt has any known medical or behavioral conditions. If you adopt an animal knowing that they have special medical needs, you will be financially responsible for the cost of all medical care.
  2. Be sure to adopt a breed that is appropriate for your situation. If you want a specific breed of dog or cat, research the exercise, feeding and medical needs for that breed ahead of time. Also, be aware that some breeds may have behavioral issues which you will need to consider before adopting.
  3. If you feel the shelter is not providing adequate care, contact your local City Councilmember and request that they review the shelter’s practices. There is foundation funding available for shelters to become no-kill shelters. The “For Shelter Directors” page of The Pet Fund website has information about this funding source.
  4. Examine the animal you wish to adopt before adopting. If the animal seems to have medical issues, for example, if the dog or cat is limping, bring the issue to the attention of shelter staff before adopting. When working with a rescue group or animal shelter, take time to select the right breed and animal for your situation, and make sure that the animals are well cared for.
  5. And finally, spay or neuter your dog or cat to ensure that they have the best start for a long, healthy life.