Before I write one word of advice about buying a purebred puppy, I have to stress that for most people, finding even the most reputable breeder isn't the only path to finding a wonderful family pet.
Shelter and rescue groups offer puppies and adult dogs galore, purebreds and mixes both. Many dogs are discarded for the flimsiest of reasons and are ready to slip into a new home with little in the way of adjustment. Many others just need a fresh start and a little training. These animals deserve a chance, and the rewards of owning one of them are many. Good dog, good price and a good feeling in your heart -- this is why three of my four dogs are "recycled rovers."
But I'm enough of a realist to know that there will always be those who have their heart set on a purebred puppy. They're after a particular look, a particular personality, or they insist on raising a dog on their own. Others are open to the idea of a shelter dog, but have found out that although large breeds such as Labradors are plentiful in shelters, if you want a small purebred, especially less common ones, you're probably going to have to buy a puppy.
If you're buying a purebred puppy, you need to find a reputable breeder. I simply can't stress this enough. If you don't make that effort, you may end up dealing with expensive health problems caused by poor breeding and vexing behavior problems brought on by a lack of socialization and by unsanitary kennel conditions. (Puppies raised in their own filth, for example, are notoriously difficult to house-train.)
It takes time to find a good breeder, and more time until she'll have a puppy for you. Reputable breeders do not churn out litters to make money: They plan their pairings carefully, not all that frequently and often have waiting lists for their puppies. They generally don't advertise, and can be found primarily by word of mouth.
Start by finding contact information on the national club for your breed, either by calling the American Kennel Club (919-233-9767) or visiting the Web site at www.akc.org. Then call, write or e-mail and ask for the club's information packet and for referral to a breeder in your region. Once you have some names and the numbers, start networking. If one breeder doesn't have puppies, ask for the names of those who do.
When you find a breeder, ask lots of questions, and expect to be grilled in return. It's nothing personal: Reputable breeders care about their dogs and want them to go the best homes possible. Plus, they will always take back a dog they bred, no matter the circumstances, so they'd much rather get it right the first time when it comes to placing a pet.
Ask the breeder to tell you about the breed, the good and the bad both, and what she sees as the strengths and weaknesses in the dogs she herself breeds. Ask about congenital defects in the breed (almost all have them), health certifications (the parents must have them), a regimen of puppy socialization and contracts that spell out what happens if the puppy you buy ends up with health problems.
Once all the questions have been asked and answered to the satisfaction of all and the contracts and check are signed, you'll be heading home with what you hoped for most: a healthy, well-socialized puppy with the promise of turning into a wonderful companion -- and a reputable breeder who'll be there to answer the rest of your questions for the life of your dog.
PETS ON THE WEB
Dr. P's Dog Training (www.uwsp.edu/psych/dog/dog.htm) is one of the oldest resources on the Web for information on training and behavior, and it's still one of the best. Dr. P is Mark Plonsky, a professor of psychology at the University of Wisconsin, Stevens Point, who has a professional interest in how animals learn and a personal interest in helping others teach their dogs to be better behaved. The site is simple and easy-to-navigate, but has a depth of information that'll provide interesting reading for a long time.
Grinding nails can be less painful and stressful to pets than clipping them. I've used a Dremel cordless rotary tool for years on those pets (the parrot and one of the dogs) who absolutely hate to have nail clippers anywhere near them. (The other dogs are just fine with clipping.)
Dremel has now come out with a rotary tool expressly designed for use with pets. The Dremel Pet Nail Grooming Kit (suggested retail: $30) is small, lightweight and cordless, running on four AA batteries and coming with four extra sanding drums and directions. If you already have a cordless Dremel, I wouldn't recommend adding this one just for grinding pet nails, but if you want a rotary tool for handling this grooming task alone, the Pet Nail Kit will fit the bill.
QUESTIONS FROM THE PACK
Q: I will be moving from Connecticut to Georgia in June. I am not hiring movers or flying by plane because I can't afford it. I will be driving my SUV full of cats, eight to be exact. I know I am going to have to put them in carriers or cages, but I can't see driving 16 to 18 hours without them on some type of relaxer. Also, how do I deal with the bathroom issue, and is that much time in a carrier OK? I really need some advice. -- D.C., via e-mail
A: If you were traveling with just one or two cats, I'd suggest putting each in a carrier large enough to hold a cat, a litter box and food and water dishes. Given the number of cats, the tight budget and the limited space inside even the largest SUV, you're going to have to improvise some. Use a small cardboard carrier for each cat (the kind they send cats home in at the shelters), and set up a larger cage for refreshment and potty breaks. Each cat (or pair of cats, if they get along well enough) should have a turn in the larger cage at least a couple times a day.
Your cats should be wearing harnesses with ID attached, and remember never to take a cat out of a carrier without putting a leash on first. An angry or frightened cat is very difficult to hold on to, and you may need that leash to keep a cat from bolting for good.
As for tranquilizers for the cats, talk to your veterinarian. I'm guessing most of your cats, while not enjoying the trip, will tolerate it well enough for the couple of days it will take you to get where you're going. But among your eight cats, there likely will be at least one so completely unhinged by any change in routine that a tranquilizer would be a very good idea, indeed.
Q: When I got married, my wife came with a much-beloved Amazon parrot. I will say without any hesitation that this is not a pet I would have chosen for myself, but my wife was absolutely clear on the subject that she and the bird were a package deal. We've been married almost two years now, and we've all three had to make adjustments, but things are generally OK. One of the things that still bothers me, though, is the amount of food this bird wastes. I think for every 5-pound bag of pricey parrot food we get from the vet's office, the bird eats 2 pounds and throws the rest away. He also gets "people food" and throws most of that away, too.
My wife says this is the way parrots are, and we can't "recycle" the clean bits back into his bowl. I say it would be nice if he'd eat the food we pay for. Can you help? -- R.B., via e-mail
A: Your wife's right: Parrots waste a lot of food and that's just the way it is. In the wild, this is part of the plan: When birds scatter the remains of their meals, they're also scattering seeds far and wide.
Additionally, in a caged environment the food is usually dumped into the dropping tray, "recycling" just isn't safe. For health and sanitary reasons, cage papers should be changed and all food should be picked up and thrown out at least once daily, and the dishes thoroughly cleaned and refilled.
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. You can also read her frequently updated Web log or view her column archives at www.spadafori.com.
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