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Purchasing a Pedigree Puppy: Complaints

I have received many calls and emails from very upset owners of puppies regarding their purchase here in Spain. One particularly problem is regarding their vaccinations where puppies have died a few days after arriving home from Parvo or Distemper. Many of the other calls relate to overpricing of supposedly Pedigree dogs and some that do not look like they are pure breeds as they become older.

Many upset owners ask me to warn people about purchasing puppies from the various pet shops with or without their own in-house veterinarian staff and from supposedly Kennel Club recognised breeders. What is the best way of trying to make such problems scarce and how can we be careful out there?

I have therefore asked Kathryn Hollings if she would write a further article to provide more information about the purchasing of puppies here in Spain.

Getting what you Pay for by Kathryn Hollings BSc. (Hons)

Frequently people telephone me asking for information on the best way of purchasing a puppy. In essence, when you take the decision to buy your new puppy, you expect it to be healthy, happy, and inquisitive, with bundles of energy.

Yes, it is possible to acquire any breed of puppy here and even arrange delivery within 24 hours but I will not do this. I will only liase with the best breeders in Spain and the reasons why are given below.

Working with some of the best quality breeders here in Spain, I have experience of what I would consider to be the best bred dogs, which through the care and love of the breeder, are fortunate enough to have a good start in life, which can then be built upon by the new owner.

At the other end of the spectrum, I am also very aware of what I would call the more mass-produced litters, which are bred either in Spain, or in other countries, often the Eastern Block.

Posing as a potential customer, I did make some enquiries to several of these companies that though based in Spain; do not sell puppies bred here: they breed them in bulk abroad in puppy farms. One of the foreign companies from the Slovak Republic contacted me, sending me a “Chinese Menu” length list of hundreds of dog breeds, and their relevant prices. Providing I bought a minimum of 10 Labradors, I would not only receive a 20% discount, but receive two free. Twelve Labradors for the price of ten: quite a remarkable way of doing business. I would not be surprised if they offer their “valued customers” some sort of Loyalty Card scheme.

The next obvious question is who their customers are. On the bottom of their fax to me, it stated that their exclusive market was Spain. More to the point, pet stores, large and small all over Spain. I did wonder why their Spanish was so good. Considering the price tag of €150 for a Labrador, with the typical pet shop price being €600, someone is making a handsome profit.

This particular company not only exported dogs, but also cats, birds, hamsters, and fish. The transport to Spain was 3 days by road. It states that the general health of the animals transported was very good, being wormed, vaccinated, and however I did notice that on the list of vaccinations received, the important vaccine for distemper was missing.

I am aware of supposedly Spanish-bred puppies, normally from pet shops, becoming ill, often very quickly. How are these dogs bred? Normally in environments not conducive to giving your new puppy, the best start in life. Often they are sold with guarantees, which commit you to becoming a client of the pet shop’s in-house vet. These guarantees normally guarantee that you receive your money back or a replacement dog, if your dog develops some sort of illness within a specified period. Often, new owners have their own vet already, or it may be impractical to go to the pet shop’s in-house vet, so the guarantees might prove useless.

In addition, I am also aware of dubious paperwork and documentation prepared for puppies. Sometimes their dates of birth are questionable, and do not tie up with their vaccination history. In one such case, it appears that the date of birth on the Vaccination Booklet, which you should receive, was altered. If in fact the date on the Vaccination Booklet were correct, it would mean that the puppy had received the first vaccine at 2 weeks of age, which of course is impossible.

After speaking to potential owners, I have found there is a lot of confusion about what a pedigree actually is. In fact, when I looked at the “price lists” of puppies reared in Eastern Europe and to an extent similar organisation within Spain, all quote prices for breeds without pedigrees. How can you have German shepherd, Cocker Spaniel, or Chihuahua puppies without a pedigree? Surely a pure bred puppy is just that, and hence should have pedigrees. From such organisations, you must pay more to have a German shepherd with a pedigree, but my question is what is a German shepherd without a pedigree – a mixed breed?

There are three levels of pedigree here. The first one (normally given by pet shops) is not clear-cut. It simply means that you would expect the dog to be 100% Cocker Spaniel, for example. The second level, introduced several years ago by the Ministry of Agriculture is the FCE (Federacion Cinologica Espanola), which governs the breed characteristics as interpreted by Spain of specific breeds. The third level, and incomparable to the previous two is the FCI (Federacion Cinologica Internacional). This is the International Breed Standard for a particular breed, and it is these pedigrees that are recorded in writing by the Kennel Club of Spain. All good breeders issue the FCI pedigree, here or in the UK.

Some people that have telephoned me are extremely price-sensitive, which is of course understandable. However, the choice of buying a Labrador from a pet shop for €600, or alternatively from a breeder at anything from €700-€900, with the latter you do have the piece of mind knowing that your puppy will be healthy, well-balanced and have been extremely well cared for by the breeder. Of course, unforeseen events can happen, but in general, you will have much more security from one of the good registered breeders here. After all, it is their business and livelihood, and as most good breeders plan breeding, with rest periods in between for the bitches, they cannot afford for anything to go wrong. Many breeders have relatively low profit margins, and all the ones I deal with have reputations, both national and international to protect, unlike the organisations that mass-produce puppies in exchange for a large amount of profit.

I do find some customers want a puppy now. They are not prepared to wait for a good litter to come up. Often, though for the more common breeds, due to the larger number of breeders, there might be more availability of litters, so it is possible for me to find a puppy for them quickly. However, of course, there is often competition for such puppies so there is a need to make reservations early.

All the breeders I deal with know fully the difference between a companion dog and a show dog. Often, an exceptional puppy with the high likelihood of winning internationally will be kept by the breeder, or will have a high price tag; however most puppies are simply capable of winning shows if the owners so wish to enter them, or equally will make good companion dogs for a family. Most breeders’ prices will reflect this, with possible differences in prices for different puppies within the same litter. Happily, I am now increasingly receiving notification from breeders of upcoming planned litters 12 months ahead, giving me the knowledge of knowing what is happening now and in the future for specific breeds.

I will only liase with the top end of breeders here, which produce multi champions, both in this country and around the world. This does not necessarily mean that they are very expensive in comparison with a pet shop. When you consider what your unknown liability might be for vets bills, problems with the puppy’s temperament, death of the puppy etc. their slightly higher price, is a price well worth paying for the knowledge that your puppy has been well bred and cared for the first 8 or 10 weeks of its life. The majority of dogs live for in excess of 10 years; therefore, it is only a small price to pay for piece of mind.

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