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I Worked at a Large Commercial Pet Store, And What they Do to Puppies Will Shock You

Bleach in the drinking water is just the start.

 |  May 23rd 2014  |   54 Contributions


I worked at a pet store when I was in college. It was a family-owned franchise, and I will say they ran about as good a business as you can for a pet store. They visited each breeder they worked with, and adhered to very strict guidelines on how many litters (and how often) could come from a breeder, in an attempt to avoid puppy mills.

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The pet store owners really cared what happened to the puppies after they left the store. Posted by mchelleliddle on Tumblr.

The owners turned away potential customers if they felt they weren’t the right fit, and truly seemed to care about the puppies' futures after they left the store. It wasn’t unusual for us to stay all night if puppies were sick just to be able to tend to their needs. If a puppy fell asleep, we weren't allowed to wake her up to show her to customers, because the owners understood that they were babies and they needed their sleep. 

My experience there was so nice that when the time came for me to find another job, I once again sought out a job at a pet store.

Big mistake.

This one was part of a large commercial chain. Unlike the first store I worked at, where the puppies would come in healthy and our job was to keep them that way, these puppies started out by coming in sick and full of worms -- and our job was to sell them before they died. 

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Illustration by the always-awesome Nigel Sussman

As soon as a “shipment” of puppies arrived, it was store protocol to deworm them and start them on antibiotics before they even saw a vet. We threw them on a scale and medicated them according to a little chart on the wall telling us what to give the puppy according to his weight.

The meds, which were stocked in bulk and came from who knows where, were very hard on the puppies' tummies, so almost immediately they would have diarrhea. They were kept in metal grated cubicles that gave them cage sores, and now they were defecating in them and exposing open cage sores to more bacteria.

How did we counteract that infection? We gave the puppies more antibiotics.  

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At the meaner pet store, we had to wake up sleeping or sick puppies to show them to potential owners. Sleepy Puppy by Shutterstock

With the puppies' immune systems already worn down, upper respiratory viruses ran rampant throughout the store. Because the owner didn’t want to pay us overtime, we were instructed to put the dogs three and four at a time into the nebulizer unit (a plexiglass box that pumps in medicated vapors) to get their treatments done faster. This meant that several sick dogs with different viruses and infections would be crammed together in essentially an airtight container, breathing each other’s germs.

We spent so much time cleaning up dog poop and taking care of sick puppies that it didn’t leave a lot of time to get other things done. In an effort to cut down on the time we spent washing the glass water bottles in each puppy cubicle, we were instructed to put a tiny bit of bleach into each bottle so that they were self-cleaning. 

When it came to making a puppy sale, we were encouraged to show the sick animals to the customers. If they were feverish and sleepy, “Well, this one is very docile and quiet, great for someone with young kids!” 

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The sick puppies were grouped together in the nebulizing unit, helping spread illness even further. Illustration by the always-awesome Nigel Sussman

Our manager spent nearly all of his working hours fielding phone calls from unhappy customers and trying to quiet the ones who would come in screaming about “the sick animal you sold me.” I personally watched the police remove several livid customers from the store -- people who just wanted answers as to why they had been sold an animal who was so sick.

I lasted two weeks before the bosses mysteriously let me go. They never fired me; they just told me that they were overstaffed and would call when they had an open time slot.

I have to believe it was because I was the one who stayed late nebulizing the puppies one at a time. I was the one who turned a customer away from a feverish puppy. I was the one who refused to put bleach in the water bottles. 

I wasn’t outright fired because I hadn’t done anything wrong; I had done everything right.

Unfortunately the puppy business doesn’t have time for people like me on their schedule; they have sales to make, whatever the cost.

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I wasn't going to rush the care of the puppies. Illustration by the always-awesome Nigel Sussman

Views on pet stores are to the animal world what discussions about abortion, gay rights, vaccinations, and war are to the rest of the world. There’s a pretty good chance we won’t ever all agree, and everyone will have a pretty strong opinion on why his or her view is the right one. Like I said, not all pet stores are bad. There are in fact a few great stores; you just have to look really hard to find them.

Here's why you shouldn't buy a dog from a pet store

The biggest problem with pet stores is that they cater to the instant gratification of wannabe pet owners. “Wake up and want a puppy? Great, come on in and you can have one immediately.” 

Don’t do this, people! If you really want a puppy, chances are you will still want one in a couple of months, after you have had time to do a little research. Buying a puppy mill dog on a whim is only setting you up for a rough road ahead.

If you truly just decided that you need a puppy right this minute and have had no time or drive to plan this “purchase,” there is a good chance you haven’t had the time or planning to really think about all the work that owning a dog entails.

People also buy from pet stores because they want purebreds and don’t want to pay private breeder prices, but there is a reason they are cheaper in the pet store: You get what you pay for! It’s like buying a cheap knockoff purse. Sure, it looks great on the outside and can pass for what it’s supposed to be, but the quality sucks and it probably won’t last as long.

As sad as it is, these pet store animals don’t live as long as they should, and their lives are often riddled with the health problems that come along with bad breeding. 

Another reason some people feel that it’s a good idea to buy from a pet store is because they believe they can select a breed with the qualities and temperament they want. I’m sorry to break it to you, but this falls under the same category as the knock-off purse. Sure, the dog looks like a Labrador, but let me tell you, his poor little puppy brains are probably so scrambled from years of being bred with his siblings that you would have better luck with a mutt from the shelter, because at least that dog doesn’t have an overlapping DNA strand.

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This puppy mill Yorkie was photographed by USDA inspectors in 2011. The breeder refused to get treatment for the dog repeatedly. Photo credit: HSUS blog

But if you're dead set on buying from a pet store [Editor's Note: UGH, PLEASE NO!], here's some advice

Do your research first. Look online to see how many complaints were filed against a store. Check out the Better Business Bureau site and see what their rating is. Go in and talk to the manager, ask detailed questions about their breeders. 

Also, do not take the animal to the vet that the store tells you to take it to. The reason they wave the benefit of a “free vet exam” in your face when you buy the puppy is because they are contracted with that vet’s office (at least this was the experience at my store). The vet gets tons of new client business from the store, and they know you will be back when the animal keeps getting sick! And, in my opinion, some unscrupulous vets will even say initially that the pet is “fine and healthy” because they don’t want to lose their contract with the store. Call other vets in the area and see what their opinion is of the pet store -- they will give you the most honest reviews of the pets they have treated who were purchased from there. 

So that, my friends, is what really goes on in a pet store. You wouldn’t buy a car without doing a little research first, why would you buy an animal without doing the same? At least a car stays in your garage, whereas this purchase will be looking to you to take care of her -- and maybe even sleeping in your bed. Don’t you want to know what you are sleeping next to?

Have you ever bought a pet store puppy? What do you think of all this? 

Read more on puppy mills and pet stores:

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About the author: Eden Strong is a quirky young woman with a love for most animals with fur. She readily admits to living her life completely devoid of most social graces and so far she's still alive. More of her crazy antics can be read on her blog, It Is Not My Shame to Bear

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