Well. The Great Puppy Search has begun, but so far it has not been a raging success. After a nine-year campaign launched by my son, my husband finally relented a few days ago. We surprised him with a note in his 14th birthday card saying he could finally, at long last, get the thing he wanted most in the whole world. A puppy.
Then we realized we had no idea where to start or what we wanted. Immediately the advice began pouring in, but soon I discovered that how people feel about dog breeds is something very individual and personal. One person’s idea of a beautiful dog is someone else’s “so ugly it’s almost cute.” And people are passionate about the dogs they love, and about a lot of other things, too.
I was advised not to buy from a pet shop, but we ended up looking at one anyway. A friend of ours had just bought a really lovely puppy from a local pet shop, so we decided we would look – for educational purposes only. They carry lots of different breeds in pet stores, and since we were clueless, we thought it would be a good place to begin.
We walked inside on a busy Sunday afternoon, and the shop was packed with happy people fussing over the puppies. At least they looked pretty happy. One woman did shout, “Don’t buy from here! They get their dogs from puppy mills!” as we came in. It was sort of weird, like one of those people carrying around signs saying, “The end is near! Repent!”.
The puppies were all cute, but on closer inspection most of the people in the pet shop were kind of weird. Not an everyday sort of weird, either. This people were borderline circus freaky carnie kind of weird. One lady was braless and had breasts that nearly touched her thighs. Really. One family, dressed entirely in camo, talked about how they bought their other dogs, a Rottweiler and a Pit Bull, at the same mills in Ohio that the pet store used. The store manager, looking perky in a pony tail and a polo shirt, froze as soon as Camo Man spoke. Obviously the crazy woman shouting a warning had been right - the shop did buy from mills.
Boob Lady had come with a herd of grandchildren, eager to play with puppies, but obviously with no intent to purchase them. They proceeded to torture dog after dog, complaining loudly about each one. I guess it was their idea of a fun family activity.
We waited thirty minutes for a chance to see three of the puppies. My son chose a chocolate lab, a Ba-Shar (a mutation of a Bassett Hound and a Shar Pei) and an Ori-Pei (another mutation between a Pug and a Shar Pei). They brought the puppies in one by one. They were all cute, but we immediately fell in love with the chocolate lab. Unfortunately, all the dogs were sick (they had kennel cough and none could be purchased)(not that we would have)(the screaming lady had scared us). They were also extremely overpriced. The chocolate lab was nearly $2K, which is about three times the going rate for that breed.
Our next stop was to look in the classifieds. Another bad experience. We drove to a farmhouse in the country, skidded down an icy driveway, and entered into what must be one of the nine circles of hell. The breeder, a large woman in her pajamas with a raspy voice, didn’t seem thrilled to see us and didn’t make eye contact. Not a good sign. This was a scheduled appointment, not a drive by.
When we walked into the kitchen, the first thing we saw was a gigantic birdcage with an enormous parrot inside. The cage was the size of my kitchen island – if it had been doubled and stacked one on top of the other – and the parrot (from tip to tail) was roughly the size of my 14 year old. As we walked past, it said, “Hello, sexy” right in my ear. I nearly wet my pants.
The next stop on this thrill ride of an adventure through this crazy fun house was walking past a closet with a chocolate lab inside nursing her litter. She was blocked in with a baby gate and growled menacingly at us as we walked past.
“Is that the litter you advertised?” I asked.
Breeder Babe looked over her shoulder and managed to glare at me without making eye contact. “No. Those ain’t the ones.”
We were led into her family room, which was definitely hotter than Hades (another Inferno reference here)(Dante would have loved this place). I’ve been in saunas that were cooler. I guess the place was kept warm because of the multiple litters of puppies throughout the house, but I smelled something smoking and hoped my eyebrows hadn’t caught on fire.
The puppies, only a week old, were on a blanket on the floor. The house was cluttered, but fairly clean. The puppies, however, were filthy.
“Go ahead,” I said to my son. “Pet them.”
He looked at me in horror, but tried to gingerly find a clean spot to kneel on the floor. He couldn’t find one.
“Can we see the mother?” I had no idea what questions to ask, and this seemed like a good one. The heat was starting to affect my brain. I was just glad that (due to a freak accident years ago) I no longer have a perfect sense of smell. I’m sure there were a whole cornucopia of scents in this place.
Breeder Babe shuffled off to the garage.
“Uh, oh,” said the parrot. I should have listened.
The mother dog came in, growling and terrified. “Go and feed your babies,” shouted Breeder Babe, but the dog was more focused on us. She was obviously scared, and very used to strangers who came in during the night and stole her babies. She circled us, growling, with her ears down and teeth barred.
“She’s not happy.”
Once again, my powers of observation are uncanny. Without having any knowledge of dogs whatsoever, I managed to concisely summarize the whole situation in one sentence.
“She’s fine. GO. FEED. YOUR. BABIES.” Breeder Babe dragged the poor mother over to the blanket, pushed her to the ground and smacked her on the head when she tried to get up.
“We should go,” said my son, his eyes huge in his face.
I agreed, but my good friend, Patti, was planning to meet us at the breeder to help me figure out if they seemed reputable or not. I had already figured it out for myself, but I thought Patti should see this. Lucky for her, she got lost and couldn’t find the farmhouse in the middle of the desolate, dark, snow-covered field. It definitely looked like a good setting for a slasher movie. That should have been my first clue.
“Wait. I’ll bring out the father.”
I didn’t think my son’s eyes could get bigger in his face, but they did. Especially when dear old dad came out with two giant Rottweilers.
They ran through the kitchen, their feet skidding on the tile floor. One of them nearly ran into the parrot cage.
“Watch it,” said the parrot.
The adult dogs, although they cowered around Breeder Babe, seemed friendly and fairly healthy. I just didn’t like the vibe of the place, the way it felt seedy and slightly illegal. I also didn’t like the way Breeder Babe spoke to the dogs. Every time she yelled at them, we flinched. If the three of us had been a dog pack, she would have been the alpha.
“You’re just here to make a deposit today. You can pick your puppy when you come back in a few weeks.”
“We really have to go.”
Breeder Babe looked up in surprise and then shuffled back to the kitchen to show me paperwork and my “Welcome Puppy” packet.
“Um. We really have to think about this.”
She paused, the “Welcome Puppy” packet still clutched in her hand. “If you want a female, I can’t guarantee one unless you make a deposit. NOW.”
“We’re just not sure.”
“I have references.” She was now clutching the packet so hard she was wrinkling it.
“I’m sure you do.”
“I’ve been doing this for twenty five years. Well, more than twenty.”
“Great,” I said, easing toward the door. My son had his hand on my coat, pulling me out.
I thanked Breeder Babe for her time and we left as fast as we could. The parrot did have the final say.