Eugene Weekly : Ask The Dogcatcher : 12.17.09


Ask the Dogcatcher
Kylie Belachaikovsky answers your critter questions
by Kylie Belachaikovsky

My kids want a puppy for Christmas. We don’t want to adopt an adult dog, period. Any tips for finding the right puppy?

First, huge kudos to you for doing a little research before bringing a new puppy home. Nothing invites impulse shopping like the pleading eyes of a prospective pup. Impulse shopping is bad enough when you end up with a leopard print Snuggie. When you get suckered into the wrong puppy, your error can cost you an arm and a leg in vet bills and behavior problems. 

Want to spare yourself the drama? My #1 tip is to download this guide for new puppy owners, Before You Get Your Puppy by Dr. Ian Dunbar, at It’s free, and it is packed with practical, easy-to-understand advice on picking a great puppy and preventing problems. 

So where do you look for the perfect pup, once you’ve downloaded your guide? Of course, I say adopt! My shelter, Lane County Animal Services, doesn’t usually get litters of puppies, but Greenhill Humane Society does, and most were raised with love in an experienced foster home. Searching on will help you find an adoptable pet of any breed (or species!) you can imagine. When you opt to adopt from a good shelter or rescue, most of your initial veterinary care will already be taken care of, so you can save a life and save money!  

What if you don’t want to adopt? I work at a shelter, but I also understand that you may want a very particular breed of puppy, like a non-shedding dog, and can’t find one to adopt. Or maybe you would like to raise a puppy to do competitive sports and want to know more about your puppy’s heritage than your average shelter can tell you. 

But if you are purchasing your pooch, there are some hard and fast rules, folks. Why would you waste your money buying a puppy that is sickly, lacking basic social skills or genetically disposed towards disease or a bad temperament? People do this every single day, convinced that they are “rescuing” the dog by opening their wallet. Be a smart, humane shopper by looking for the “3 Gs”: Good Genetics, Good Social Skills and Good Karma.

1) Good Genetics. Never underestimate the power of good genes on your dog’s temperament as it grows. You must, must, MUST see your puppy’s mother and littermates in person. Don’t just take a pet shop or breeder’s word for anything. Be absolutely certain to see the puppy and the mother at the breeder’s home, not in a parking lot. This is a puppy, not a drug deal. All of the dogs should be confident and social when you visit. The mother should be well-trained, housebroken and friendly (the way you’d like her puppy to turn out, right?). The breeder should show vet records indicating that the mother is free of genetic defects common to her breed. If the breeder can’t do these things, walk away. 

2) Good Social Skills. A good dog breeder will enhance those good genetics with great early training and socializing. If you plan to keep your dog indoors, your puppy should be living inside, getting used to normal household activity and handling. If you don’t want a dog that poops all over your house, check that the breeder is housetraining the puppies.

3) Good Karma. You don’t have to be an animal rights nut to know that mass-manufacturing puppies in cruel and neglectful puppy mills is wrong. Whether it is a huge commercial operation or a small backyard puppy mill, only your dollars can shut down their abusive breeding practices. Your one-time purchase of just one dog has a huge impact. So what’s it gonna be? Are you willing to support the abuse because you really want to buy a particular breed of puppy right now? Or because you want the convenience of puppy shopping at a pet store? 

Please choose compassion — and be a savvy consumer — by supporting adoption and responsible breeding practices. This holiday season, give pets a gift and reject the lure of pet stores, puppy mills and other breeders whose pups are less likely to make great lifelong family pets and more likely to end up filling our overcrowded shelters.

Questions for the Dogcatcher can be emailed to Questions may be edited for length.