On a technical level, National Puppy Day is a simple celebration of all kinds of puppies, from lazy fluffballs to miniature dynamos. There is, however, something more serious behind the whole day, and that's to raise awareness about the ways in which people buy puppies, and the potential harm they could be doing by supporting puppy mills or harmful breeders. No, this doesn't mean you have to stop dedicating the day to perusing puppy GIFs — GIF away! But it's good to take a moment to learn about our beloved furry friends and the conditions of their lives, too.
While I'm a long-standing advocate of adopting older animals, it stands to reason that many people prefer to go for younger dogs; they can be molded and trained as you like, and you get to share as much of their lifespan with them as possible. Plus, puppies are all pretty damn cute.
There are, however, good and sensible ways to go about it, and those involve being aware of the myths and pitfalls of puppy ownership, from the necessity of vaccinations to unfounded concerns about the health and temperaments of shelter puppies. Basically, shelters are always the way to go, provided they're well-managed and treat their animals well. So if you were thinking about adding a new (and extremely furry) member to your family this #NationalPuppyDay, read on.
Myth: "Shelter Puppies Are Probably Sick"
Fact: Shelters do everything possible to care for sick animals, and to prevent illnesses in the first place.
Puppies are actually not overly common in shelters, and rarely stay there long due to high demand for them; most of the animals up for adoption will be older, largely because of the rise in the common practice of spaying and neutering pets. (Shelters also tend to neuter all their pets as a matter of course, so nobody's getting pregnant while they're in there.) There are puppy and kitten "seasons" in which shelters are more likely to have younger animals, particularly the summer months.
All respectable shelters do their best to reduce the possibility of any animal getting sick, and to care for them while they are. Realistically, puppies who've come from any collection of animals, including a private breeder, are vulnerable to the normal infections and illnesses that can turn up among groups of dogs. Shelters, while they do gather animals together in groups, are one of the best places for young vulnerable dogs if they do get ill. The ASPCA, for instance, has a set of intense structures in place to both stop the spread and treat any outbreaks of parvovirus, including quarantines and strict sanitization. Shelters also usually have strict rules about completely vaccinating any animal in their care. And, as we'll see, getting animals from private breeders or owners doesn't guarantee they'll be healthy either.
Myth: "Shelter Puppies Have Behavioral Problems"
Fact: Shelter puppies are typically as well-socialized as any puppy.
The good thing (or bad, depending on your personal wants and needs) about very young animals is that they're extremely open to influence and are developing as they go. So a very young puppy, who's only ever really known the shelter, is far less likely to have behavioral issues or anxiety around people than a dog who has experienced abuse or neglect elsewhere.
Shelters often try to keep puppies in a litter together to have normal socialization time, keep them bonded with their mothers if possible, and allow them to meet other puppies, all of which are part of healthy dog development.
This doesn't mean that puppies adopted from a shelter won't need attention, training (particularly bathroom training), and all the normal discipline and affection required by any new young pet. It does, however, mean that there's no reason to fear that their time in the shelter will have caused them to develop aggressive or unpleasant personalities. Dog Time suggests that picking a shelter puppy should be about assessing their temperament and behavior through a series of tests, to see how they relate to humans and what kind of training they'll need.
Myth: "Puppy Mills Are Only Really A Problem When You Get A Dog From Craigslist"
Fact: Many pet store puppies come from inhumane puppy mills.
You've heard about puppy mills, right? They're intensive breeding facilities that churn out puppies for sale and keep the breeding dogs in foul and often highly inhumane conditions. Even beautiful, bright-eyed-looking puppies can come from mills; I Heart Dogs has a good list of indicators that a puppy seller is actually a mill, including a refusal to show the papers of a dog, selling four or more breeds at once, having huge numbers of puppies available, refusing to allow you to see where the puppies are kept, and having unhealthy, unvaccinated pups.
But puppy mills are not just an issue for people who pick out puppies from classified lists like Craigslist (don't do this, incidentally). Both the Humane Society and the ASPCA note that the vast majority of dogs sold in pet stores throughout the US are from puppy mills. You should be particularly suspicious if the pet store has no papers for the dog, or if the papers show it was "brokered" from an out-of-state place, which is commonly a mill.
Adopt or go direct to a reputable breeder instead of purchasing a pet store puppy; if you want a purebred pup, go with breeders with American Kennel Club certification.
Myth: "If You Buy A Puppy Direct From An Owner, The Dog Will Be Fine"
Fact: Many private puppy sellers don't know about the health of their dogs.
Avoiding puppy mills isn't the only issue for people looking for an adorable new buddy. If you're getting a puppy from a person rather than a store, it's best if they're a breeder who can provide you with all the dog's paperwork, including records of vaccinations and past health problems, and their parents' as well. (Different dogs have different health issues; Labradors, for instance, should have eye tests and hip tests as a priority, and their health paperwork should also include genetic testing.)
If somebody's dog has had pups and they can't provide any information at all, even if they're a friend and love dogs immensely, think twice before picking up the puppies — or, at the very least, be sure to have them very thoroughly checked by a vet and get as much information about their parents' health as possible, so you can make sure to get the puppies any health treatment they need. (Example of how adopting from litters can go wrong: a friend picked up a beautiful spotted collie puppy from a litter born to a local farmer. They later discovered that the pup had worms and hadn't been vaccinated at all.) This is another advantage of shelter puppies: they'll have been checked out intensively before anybody is allowed to adopt them.
When you're checking out puppy videos today, remember that shelters are full of dogs who are just as fuzzy, sweet, friendly and goofy as the ones you see on Instagram — and many of them would love to become your pal IRL.