It's a shame it happens, but it does. A person distraught about buying an alleged "purebred" or "healthy" puppy calls me up to tell me how they feel they've been taken by a seller -- many times financially and emotionally.
These unfortunate circumstances can happen to intelligent, astute buyers when it comes to buying homes, automobiles or appliances. Yet, spur of the moment emotions can sometimes cloud the buying process when it comes to buying that new puppy.
I'll give three pieces of advice that will help anyone interested in purchasing a dog from making some common mistakes.
First, stay focused on what you're looking for. Before you read the newspaper classified ads, go online or visit the pet shops, make a decision as to the breed, gender and quality (breeding, show vs. pet) of the dog you're looking for. This will keep distractions minimal during your search.
The American Kennel Club, AKC, is helpful in not only defining breed standards but also in keeping legitimacy to the breed bloodlines. In addition, just about all breeds of dogs now have their own club Web sites that contain where information on breeds of dogs, breeders and their locations, and even chat rooms where a potential buyer can speak to established purebred owners.
Secondly, never pay a purebred price for a nonregistered dog. Here's the drill: There is AKC paperwork with an assigned number to the sire and dam of each litter that the AKC registers under a breed. If a seller of a pup claims "purebred" pups but cannot produce AKC registration numbers of the sire and dam, then don't deal unless the seller is significantly discounting for nonregistered status.
There are a few breeds that AKC does not recognize, but the breed may be registered in the United Kingdom or Canada. Still, these registration papers should be produced prior to any sale and not under the terms of "I'll mail them to you later." I have seen more people get burned on this single issue than any other in the purchase process.
Thirdly, keep your veterinarian in the loop. Rather than analyzing what went wrong later, try to avert problems up front by asking your veterinarian's advice before the search starts. Before any serious money changes hands, ask that a veterinarian inspect the puppy for congenital problems or illnesses.
Your vet wants you to succeed in order to create a long-standing relationship with you and your dog. Most reputable breeders or sales establishments not only allow for this inspection (sometimes after a deposit), but also commonly provide warranties for up to 7-10 days post-purchase. Never be afraid to ask about these steps being taken.
I must point out that not everyone is in search of a certain purebred puppy. A pet-quality dog that is not purebred can bring years of satisfaction to your family and can give a home to a dog who may be destined to an uncertain future at a local shelter. As a personal aside, I have a mixed-breed dog. For a modest price and a complimentary veterinary inspection, these shelter pups (and full-grown dogs) can be a win-win alternative for the shelter and the new owner.
-- Dr. Chris Duke is a veterinarian at Bienville Animal Medical Center in Ocean Springs, Miss.