Poor-quality purebreds are everywhere: Vicious golden retrievers, crippled German shepherds and deaf Dalmatians -- virtually every breed has some kind of genetic problem that reputable, knowledgeable breeders are working to eliminate.
Defective dogs most often come from two kinds of breeders: the clueless or the careless. The first group is blissfully ignorant of the potential for congenital problems and the importance of socialization; the second group knows full well and could not care less.
You can get a great pet and a great deal by working with a shelter or rescue group. But if you simply must have a purebred puppy, here are some questions to ask a breeder.
-- What are the congenital defects in this breed? The breeder who says "none" or "I don't know" is to be avoided. That's a person who's not screening for what she doesn't know about, and you don't want to pay the price for her ignorance.
A good breeder tells you every remotely possible problem in the breed, from droopy eyelids to deafness to epilepsy.
-- What steps have you taken to decrease defects in your dogs? You want to hear words like "screened" and "tested" and "certified."
In breeds with the potential for hip dysplasia - that's almost every large breed -- look for PennHIP or Orthopedic Foundation for Animals certification. These are expert, unbiased evaluators who know exactly what to look for. Insist on documentation on both parents. And their parents, too.
-- Do you have the parents on site? May I see them? This is a bit of a trick question. You should always be able to see the mother -- unless she died giving birth -- but reputable breeders often don't have the father on hand. That's because the best match for any particular dog may be owned by another breeder, and the female was sent away for breeding.
As for the mother, she may be a little anxious with strangers around her puppies, but on her own you want to see a well-socialized, calm and well-mannered dog. So, too, should be the rest of the breeder's dogs. If you don't like the temperaments of a breeder's grown dogs, what makes you think you'll get a good temperament in one of the puppies?
-- What are the good and bad points of the parents, and what titles do they have? You may be looking for a pet-quality purebred, but you still want to buy from someone who knows what top-quality examples of the breed are -- and uses such animals in a breeding program. You want to see show and working titles all over that pedigree.
It doesn't matter if you go home and throw that fine pedigree in a drawer. Recent titles on both sides of a pedigree are the sign of a breeder who's making a good-faith effort to produce healthy dogs who conform to the breed standard.
-- Where were these puppies raised? How have you socialized them? "In the house" is the best answer to the first question. You want a puppy who knows what the dishwasher sounds like, whom you don't have to peel off the ceiling when a pan drops, who has set a paw on linoleum, carpet and tile.
Environmental socialization is important, but so, too, is the intentional kind. The best breeders make sure puppies have been handled by adults of both genders and by children.
-- What guarantees do you provide? You want to see a contract explaining the breeder's responsibilities should the puppy develop a congenital ailment. In most cases, such contracts state either replacement with a new puppy or refunding of your purchase price.
The contract also states your responsibilities, such as neutering your pet. You may also be required to return the dog to the breeder if you can no longer keep him. Such language is the sign of a concerned and responsible breeder.
Read and discuss the paperwork with the breeder. The best breeders offer contracts that protect not only the buyer and seller, but also the most vulnerable part of the transaction: the puppy.
New feathers, often called blood feathers, can be identified by their waxy sheathes and are well-endowed with a blood supply to support growth. In a healthy bird, a broken blood feather is not a cause for alarm, despite popular opinion - the blood will clot and the bleeding will stop. If your bird breaks a blood feather, don't panic. It's likely not worth worrying about. If the bleeding doesn't resolve itself quickly, or if your bird keeps re-injuring the area, call an avian veterinarian for guidance.
PETS ON THE WEB
With the recent tragedies, we are all painfully aware of the contributions of rescue workers, who risk their lives (and sometimes lose them) to help others in time of trouble. Specially trained dogs are always a part of any rescue organization, with an astonishing record of finding people alive when all hope seems gone. The National Association for Search and Rescue (www.nasar.org) is an umbrella group of all who put their lives on the line in a disaster. The Web site has a section on the work of rescue dogs, as well as links to regional rescue organizations.
QUESTIONS FROM THE PACK
Q: I could not believe that you advised cat owners to put a collar on their cat or get a microchip. How about keeping them home? I am sick and tired of cats pooping in the back yard, screaming all night and fighting.
If a dog were to get in someone's yard and bark all night and make a mess, the pound would be called immediately. What makes you think a cat is any different? If a person is going to get a cat, then the animal should be kept indoors, or the owner should buy 10 acres so it can roam.
You seem to be ignorant of the problems cats cause, and I haven't even addressed their filthy mouths that cause infections and swelling when they bite, especially in children. My son had to be hospitalized from a cat bite when he tried to get one out from under the bushes. Of course, the cat was just roaming the neighborhood, as you advise.
A person like you shouldn't have a column. You're not responsible enough to check the facts before you write, and you write based on your own personal preference. -- J.R., via e-mail
A: As longtime readers well know, my personal preference is exactly the same as yours: Cats should not be left to roam, both for their own safety and out of consideration for neighbors. Cats can indeed live happy lives indoors, especially if given access to a screened-in porch, or a yard equipped with netting to keep cats contained.
But I also recognize that in many places, it's perfectly legal to let cats roam, and even in those areas with "leash laws" on the books for cats, enforcement is nonexistent. And many people are convinced that their cats are happier roaming.
The reality is that cats will always roam. My point in writing the column is that if the animals are wearing collars and tags, there is a chance that they will make it home if lost.
I need to make a couple more points. If cats are spayed and neutered, they won't be screaming in the night for mates and fighting will be greatly reduced.
As for cat bites, the numbers are insignificant compared to the national figures for dog bites. That said, children must be taught to leave strange animals alone, and any animal bite should be treated promptly by a medical professional.
Q: I have a Senegal parrot, and I'm thinking about purchasing another one. Is there a simple way to tell the males from the females? -- E.M., via e-mail
A: The Senegal is one of the best pet parrots you can choose, a small bird not much larger than a cockatiel with a very easygoing temperament. This species is usually not much of a talker, but it's also not much of a screamer. And a well-socialized bird from a reputable source will be a playful and affectionate companion.
There's not much difference in temperament between males and females, and either should make a fine pet. While many parrots show no difference in markings between male and female, the Senegal can occasionally be visually sexed. While it's not considered all that reliable a method of determination, some experts say that birds with a shorter "V" in the green marking of the chest are males; in females the V drops down lower, almost to a point between the legs.
For a definitive answer, though, you'll have to consult an avian veterinarian.
Gina Spadafori is the award-winning author of "Dogs for Dummies," "Cats for Dummies" and "Birds for Dummies." She is also affiliated with the Veterinary Information Network Inc., an international online service for veterinary professionals. Write to her in care of this newspaper, or send e-mail to writetogina(at)spadafori.com.
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