Sunday, March 22, 2009


photo by Michelle

If you watched the CBC Marketplace episode on How Not to Buy a Puppy about the flow of puppies from puppy mills in the States to Hunte Corporation to P.J.'s Pets in Toronto, you might remember Dinglehopper, the little Pomeranian with big medical problems.

As it turns out, Michelle, Dinglehopper's owner, has a very informative website, aptly named Dinglehopper, about all the major health ordeals her young dog has gone through so far including the giardia he brought home from the store, 3 surgeries for his luxating patella and most recently, progressive retinal atrophy which will eventually blind him. In all, he's had almost fifty vet visits so far, the majority of which were in his first year.

The Marketplace angle on puppy mills to pet stores focuses in on the health risks/medical costs of the pups purchased (it is called "Marketplace" after all) but I think most dog advocates would agree that while that is important, especially to the eventual owner, the real story is how buying pet store pups perpetuates the factory farming of dogs. Michelle understood this from the start, even before purchasing Dinglehopper, and this is the part that reveals an even more insidious side to this industry: how it preys on a person's compassion. From her website:

I always said that I would never purchase a puppy from a pet store. I have always been told that by doing so, you are setting yourself up for heartbreak as far too many chain pet stores have puppies that came from puppy mills. However, I had been told by a number of this store’s representatives/employees that this was not the case with their store – that they did not have puppies with a puppy mill background. Numerous employees told me that if their store had involvement with puppy mills, that they would not be working for such a place.

On January 3rd, 2006 I came across two Pomeranians that were for sale. Upon request, an employee led me into a room to meet the puppies, separately. I instantly fell in love with the cream sable Pomeranian. I was told that this Pomeranian had been in the store for a number of months. Furthermore, it was mentioned that nobody had been expressing interest in this puppy as it was “too old” (he was not yet 4 months old) and the younger puppies were more popular. I left that evening not planning on purchasing the puppy as, again, I did not believe that it is right to buy dogs from pet stores. That evening, however, I couldn’t push the thought out of my head how nobody wanted this Pomeranian because he was deemed to be too old. I decided that the next day I would return to the store to inquire further about the dog.

The following day the puppy was not in the window, yet his price tag remained. When I inquired nobody seemed to know where the puppy had gone. After approximately 20 minutes he was found in the back. I was informed that he was “boxed up” ready to be shipped away because nobody wanted him, restating that he was too old to remain at the store. I was told that if I wanted him, I could have him, but if I wasn’t interested he would be sent away. I was not told where he would be sent, but it definitely was not said in a tone that sounded promising. The situation seemed to be urgent, as the Pomeranian needed to continue on its way if I was not going to purchase him. I purchased the puppy for $1,944.99 + taxes (15% GST/PST here in Ontario) and named him Dinglehopper.

I can imagine how hard it would have been, thinking that you held the balance of a dog's life in your hands. How impossible would it be to walk away from that, especially when an attachment has already been made. It's this same strength of compassion in Michelle that makes her continue her care of Dinglehopper. And it's this same compassion that these pet stores use to blackmail even those who are somewhat knowledgeable about puppy mills.

It was only later, after more investigation, that Michelle realized that Dinglehopper did indeed come from a puppy mill and of course by then, it was too late. Their bond was formed.

I'm sure Michelle would never make the same decision again but it was a lesson learned the hard way. Her website tries to inform others of that lesson before they end up in the same situation.

That's another sad thing about this: that in order to stop the cycle of puppy mills, people have to stop buying pet store puppies and that means the puppies in the display cases will end up growing too old, getting boxed, and shipped off.

Michelle tells me that Dinglehopper's next vet visit is today. The blood flow to his retinas is estimated to be at 50%. Due to the progressive retinal atrophy, once there is no blood flow he'll be blind. "There's nothing we can do... just hold on to some hope that maybe it will take years for him to become fully blind. It's sad because this condition can be screened for and if a dog has it, don't breed them... because if they have it, or are carriers it's going to be passed on to at least some of the puppies."


Barb said...

I think that pet stores are fully aware that some people will buy a puppy - even knowing where it came from - in order to "rescue" it. They take care to just meet the puppies' needs without making them appear too comfortable. I wouldn't be too surprised to find out that there are more "rescue" buyers than totally ignorant ones nowadays.

Barb said...

And I think the threat of "boxing the pup up and returning it" is mostly just that - I imagine the pet stores have a HUGE markup/profit margin on these pups and what I've heard of is that eventually they reduce the price to the point where it's only unreasonable as opposed to completely obscene. But they'll talk up the sad story of "gee, I don't know what will happen to this poor puppy if someone doesn't buy her soon" and imply that she will be shipped off for slaughter or something. It's a very effective strategy!