Starting Jan. 1, California will require pet stores to implement measures intended to help puppy buyers avoid severe health and temperament problems associated with dogs raised in Midwestern puppy mills.
The changes are the result of a law authored by California state Assemblyman Sam Farr, D-Monterey, requiring a notice on the cage of each dog naming the state in which the dog was bred and brokered, as well as a prominent statement informing buyers that information on the source and health of the dogs is available for review.
It's a good start, but it certainly doesn't help the potential buyers of pet-store puppies this Christmas season. That's why Mr. Farr, along with the Humane Society of the United States, is calling on the pet industry to voluntarily enact the provisions now, and on consumers to do their part to clean up the commercial pet trade.
"As we approach the holiday season, we are asking people not to spend hard-earned dollars on an industry that supports cruelty," said Mr. Farr. "The point here is to make the consumer an informed buyer."
The Humane Society of the United States is continuing to ask consumers not to buy dogs bred in the main puppy-mill states -- Kansas, Missouri, Arkansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma and Iowa.
When it comes time to choose, be sure to find a breeder who has raised the litter as part of the family, gently exposing the puppies to both men and women -- and especially children -- as well as other animals, strange noises and smells. It's also important to see the puppy's mother, as well as question the breeder about care and the genetic problems common in many purebred dogs.
Puppy buyers also need to be aware of the recent disclosures of fraud in American Kennel Club registrations. The AKC itself has said that up to half of the one million dogs registered with the organization each year may be involved, mostly dogs from commercial breeding operations. The reports bring into question the pedigrees, and especially the value, of millions of animals sold in pet stores as "AKC purebreds" for prices of up to a thousand dollars.
For purebred dogs, one way to find a reputable local breeder is to check with a referral service that insists its members adhere to a strict code of ethics (most, incidentally, include provisions banning puppy sales to pet stores).
For mixed-breed puppies, Carol Lea Benjamin's "The Chosen Puppy: How To Select and Raise a Great Puppy From an Animal Shelter" (Howell Book House; $7.95) is an invaluable resource for selecting a happy, healthy and trainable pound puppy.
Q: A couple of years ago you mentioned a place that offers "vegetarian" food for dogs. Can you repeat the information? Is there such a product for cats?
A: There is, indeed, a vegetarian food for dogs. For more information, write to the distributor, Wow Bow, 309 Burr Road, East Northport, N.Y. 11731. Because dogs are scavengers, they can live without meat, deriving protein from carefully formulated rTC vegetable sources. Before making such a change, however, consult your veterinarian.
A vegetarian diet is out for cats. They are pure hunters, not scavengers, and must have meat in their diets to survive.
*Ms. Spadafori is a newspaper reporter and an animal obedience trainer in Sacramento, Calif. Questions about pets may be sent to her c/o At Home, The Sun, 501 N. Calvert St., Baltimore, Md., 21278