Where Should You Buy Your Dog?

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Even during an era when people are spending more on their pets than ever before, it's important to be economical about the biggest purchase you'll make in your life as a dog owner: actually buying an animal. Even if your family's heart has been captured by a cute little pup in a pet store window, it's important not to make any rash decisions. There are several financial and moral benefits to adopting from an animal shelter or a rescue group, and these should be thoroughly considered before buying your pooch from the nearest pet store.

"When you adopt from an animal shelter or a rescue group, the outlay of cash upfront is a fraction of what you would spend at a pet store," says Joanne Yohannan, senior vice president of operations at the animal rescue and adoption organization North Shore Animal League America, based in Port Washington, N.Y. "Most animal shelter adoption fees range anywhere from $100 to $400, while you can spend anywhere from $1,000 to $5,000 at a pet store."

Yohannan also notes that the animal shelter fee will often cover such medical expenses as vaccinations and neutering. Pet stores may also include initial vaccinations for puppies in their upfront fee, but at a considerably higher cost.

And that's not to mention the disparity in the cost of subsequent medical fees between shelter animals and pet store dogs. "When you adopt from a shelter or a rescue group, you're usually getting a mixed breed dog, which has far fewer breed-specific illnesses than a purely bred dog," says Yohannan. Pet stores, on the other hand, usually sell purebreds, and those dogs are more likely to get sick down the line.

Another advantage that potential pet owners may want to consider is that shelter animals are usually better trained than those from pet stores. "Pet shops usually don't have around-the-clock care as shelters do," says Moira Colley, media officer from PETA. The pups on display at pet stores are usually not walked, as stores often opt for newspapers or pee pads instead to handle dog waste.

By contrast, many animal shelters offer group play classes, and most provide some degree of dog walking. "When you take a dog, even a puppy, from a shelter, they're going to be at least partially housebroken, if not completely," says Yohannan.

And the dog-walking and group play that occur in most shelters offer another benefit to pet owners as well: they better socialize the animal. This may not seem like an obvious boon at first, but dogs who have been socialized well are easier to manage when they encounter other dogs on walks and when they have to spend time at doggy day-care facilities. In a worst case scenarios, you may have to spend a considerable fee to arrange a solitary sleeping arrangement for a poorly socialized pet at these facilities. And the fact of the matter is, most improperly socialized dogs come from pet stores.

This is because most pet stores get their dogs from puppy mills, which are essentially breeding kennels. The puppies raised here usually do not get the chance to interact with other dogs and often suffer inhumane mistreatment. "We've done many undercover investigations, and what we've found is that these mills are usually backyard operations that are hardly regulated," says Colley. "The puppies are kept in tiny crates, and they do not get the chance to be properly socialized."

This brings us to the final, and perhaps most compelling reason to adopt from a shelter or a rescue group: morally, it's the sound thing to do. "Many mill dogs end up at our shelter, and we have to desensitize them from trauma or neglect," Yohannan says. When an industry is causing that kind of widespread distress, it's a clear sign that it should not be supported. Potential dog owners can help by purchasing their pooch from an adoption center instead of a pet store. Their checking account, as well as their moral integrity, will be grateful for it.

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