Responsible pet ownership - before you buy
Australia has one of the highest rates of pet ownership in the world, with an estimated 63% of households owning a pet and nearly 40% of households owning a dog. And with around 4.2 million pet dogs all up, that's one dog to every five people in the country.
Despite the nation's love of dogs, there's an appallingly high rate of pets ending up in shelters every year. In the 2013 financial year, the RSPCA received more than 49,000 unwanted dogs — a staggering 20% of which had to be put down. The good news is the number of dogs being sent to the RSPCA has been declining since 2009, but it's still a tragic number that end up unwanted and abandoned.
Getting a dog is a big commitment, so it's important to think through whether the cost and care is something you're ready for.
What to consider before buying a dog
Apart from the initial one-off costs such as the purchase price, microchipping and desexing, there are also ongoing expenses including food, veterinary costs, vaccination, registration and grooming which can be quite costly. In fact, the average dog owner spends $1600 a year on their dog.
Before getting a dog there's various things to consider such as:
- How much time can you commit to caring for a dog?
- Do you have an active lifestyle?
- Are your living circumstances likely to change? That is, are you likely to travel, move house or have a baby?
- Is your house pet-friendly?
- Can you afford a dog?
You can read more about what you should consider before getting a dog in the RSPCA's Smart Puppy and Dog Buyer's Guide.
Once you're sure about your decision, talk to other dog owners or go to websites such as www.petnet.com.au where you can do a short questionnaire to help you choose the right sort of dog breed for your lifestyle.
With the number of pets surrendered to the RSPCA and local shelters, it's worth considering adopting a dog or cat.
It often costs less than buying one from a breeder and you'll be offering animals a second chance at a happy life.
According to the Animal Welfare League (AWL), all animals that are fit for adoption have been through health and behavioural checks looking for potential problems, such as food aggression or the chasing instinct. These characteristics are then noted so AWL can make the best recommendation to families.
After behaviour testing, the animals are desexed, vaccinated, microchipped and wormed before they are put up for adoption. You can search for a rescue pet through organisations such as PetRescue, RSPCA, or PAWS.
'Backyard' breeding is not illegal in Australia. While all breeders are required by law to ensure that they follow the animal welfare code, it's often difficult to monitor as there are no regular audits.
Puppy farms (also known as puppy mills or puppy factories) are intensive dog-breeding facilities where dogs are kept in extreme confinement, receive inadequate veterinary care and are essentially used as breeding machines. According to Animal Liberation Victoria, puppy farms are common in Australia and the operations range from 80 dogs to anywhere up to 1000 dogs, with the majority holding about 300 to 400 dogs.
Although all animal breeders are required to comply with their state or territory's domestic animals regulations, the RSPCA needs permission from an owner to enter a property, so they can only follow up complaints but can't carry out routine checks.
All types of puppies for sale – purebreds, hybrid and mixed-breed dogs – can be produced in puppy farms, which can make it difficult to know the conditions the dog has been raised in. The best way for a buyer to ensure their puppy isn't from a factory is to visit the place where the puppies were bred.
Hybrid and designer dogs vs purebred dogs
So-called designer dogs (think 'spoodles', 'cavoodles' and 'shnoodles') have become a sensation over the years. The concept comes from mixing two purebred dogs to create first crosses for a specific purpose, such as a low-shedding coat or particular aesthetic qualities.
Unlike pedigree dogs, these fashionable pups are not considered 'breeds' because they're not registered with the Australian National Kennel Council (ANKC) and the breeders aren't scrutinised for their breeding practices – so buyers should be extremely careful when purchasing a hybrid puppy.
Hybrid breeders often promise qualities such as "hypoallergenic", "non-shedding" and "the best of both breeds" in their dogs. But how many of these claims are true?
Veterinarian Dr Anne Fowler told CHOICE that while superior qualities can arise as a result of cross-breeding, also known as hybrid vigour, genetics is largely a numbers game. "I wouldn't think that getting the best of both breeds is going to happen every time. It comes down to the individuals and their genetics. It also depends on 'penetrants' – that is, how inheritable certain characteristics are and how well they manifest into something we see," she says.
Responsible breeders screen their breeding animals for common genetic diseases to ensure they don't pass those genes to new generations.
Buying a dog
It's always worth checking with your local RSPCA or their national adoption website adoptapet.com.au to see if they have a dog that suits your requirements – you'd be surprised how many purebred dogs and puppies end up in the pound.
If you can't find the right dog or puppy for you there over time, then the next step is to find a good breeder. Regardless of how you locate a breeder (the internet, word of mouth, in a newspaper or magazine ad or any other way), it's very important to ensure the puppy has not come from a puppy farm.
Pet shops and classified ads
It's best not to buy from pet shops at all, because you could be inadvertently supporting the puppy factory industry – if you can't meet the breeder and the parents of the puppy, you can't be sure of the puppy's origins. You should be cautious with purchasing puppies from classified ads in newspapers and online, and ask to meet the parents of the puppy and visit where the puppy was born. Never meet in another location for the sale as the sellers may want to hide that they are a puppy factory.
These are the best ways to be sure you're getting a dog from a reputable source:
- Visit the place where the puppy was born.
- Meet the mother dog (and father too, if he's around) and make sure they're happy and healthy.
- Check the breeder provides a high standard of care and living conditions for all of their dogs.