Buying a Dog with No Papers
A lot of people about to buy their first pedigree puppy will be under the impression that "papers" (i.e. Kennel Club registration and a pedigree) will only matter if they want the dog for showing or breeding. "We don't need papers as we are only looking for a family pet" is a phrase commonly heard. But is this correct?
Let me tell you a story about something that happened to me personally. I had kept dogs for decades, and I had been breeding for a little while, showing for much longer. There was a breed that I had liked all my life, ever since my grandparents acquired one when I was two years old. The Papillon. I had wanted one for so long, and now finally I was in a position to get one of my own. Only as a pet, as at the time I had absolutely no intention of adding a second breed to show. No, I wanted a pet, a dog to have fun with at training classes and to cuddle on my lap.
I first contacted a well known and respected breeder. I was told that as the breed has small litters, puppies can be hard to come by unless they are mismarked and obvious pets, but this breeder had recently mated two bitches and I was welcome to wait and see if there might be a pet puppy available for me. This I was happy to do. Unfortunately neither of the bitches fell pregnant, so the breeder recommended another well known breeder to me, as somebody who may have a puppy available. The second breeder explained they did not have a puppy available, but they knew of a third breeder who had a young litter where none were yet booked. It sounded perfect. I made a phone call and arranged to go and see the puppies a few weeks later.
In the meantime, I read up on the breed -for the umpteenth time. I learnt that it is not uncommon for puppies to be sold without papers when being sold for pets -this is clearly something which can vary from breed to breed as in the majority of breeds, you should expect KC registration. I also already knew that it was a healthy breed, with few health problems and usually a very long lifespan. Indeed, the world's oldest recorded dog was once a UK bred and owned Papillon called Fred who lived until 29. There are no vital recommended health tests such as hip scoring and as this was before the advent of the KC Assured Breeder Scheme, there were no recommended health tests to find out about either. I knew luxating patellas could be a problem in any small breed though, but again there is no official health scheme for this.
I went to see the litter of puppies and was allowed to have pick of litter. This should really have made me suspicious to start with -why did the breeder not want first choice herself? Didn't she breed the litter for something to keep back? I was too taken with the puppies to ask the question. Met the mother who was lovely and friendly and appeared healthy. The breeder seemed genuine and asked me lots of questions.
I picked my puppy up at 7 weeks of age. He was very small, and it was not until I got to know other breeders within the same breed that I found out that this breed you do NOT sell under the age of an absolute minimum of ten weeks, more likely 12 and above. They are simply so small they need their mother and litter mates for longer, they don't develop as quickly as larger breeds. My puppy fitted in the palm of my hand and he was terrified when he arrived at our house. He was black and white and I had decided to call him Bobby, after my grandparents' Papillon all those years earlier. The breeder gave me plenty of the food Bobby had been used to eating, and a handwritten pedigree. I had all along expected no KC registration as my puppy was a pet and I did not look at the pedigree when it was handed to me, as I knew little of Papillon pedigrees and it would make no difference to a pure pet anyway, I figured. After all, it was such a healthy breed, and there would be no hip scores or DNA tests or similar to worry about.
Later when I looked at the pedigree I was shocked to discover that it was not a case of just my puppy being unregistered. No, his mother was unregistered as well, as had HER mother been in turn. Yet Bobby's father was a show dog with good wins to his name. Why would somebody allow their winning show dog to mate an unregistered pet bitch, and more to the point, why would anybody BREED from an unregistered bitch, where none of the puppies could be registered? The answer was simple: money. The litter had been bred for one reason only; to make some money for the breeder. I could have kicked myself for being so naive, simply assuming that my puppy would not be registered as he was going to a pet home, but that the litter had been bred for a purpose other than profit. I was not entirely surprised when 8 months later the breeder phoned me and asked if I didn't want to buy a friend for Bobby, as he now had little brothers and sisters. His mother had been mated again at her very next season.
Bobby turned into a lovely dog, that I took to training classes and passed the KC Good Citizen Bronze, Silver and Gold tests with. A perfect pet? Yes, except his eyes were always runny, staining his nice white face. Treatments from the vet did not work. We even had him under anaesthetic to flush his tear ducts, which made no difference. The runny eyes have remained. Also Bobby's front legs are slightly tested, with his paws turning out. He looks like a little Charlie Chaplin. And his stomach has always been very sensitive. And he had food allergies causing skin problems. This improved when I started feeding raw meat only, but we did have several years worth of problems.
Today Bobby is 8 years old. He has turned almost completely grey and several vets have remarked on how he appears to be much older than his age. He is going blind. He has lost most of his teeth. Worst of all he has several times had serious problems with discs in his neck and back, with excruciating pain. Bobby is no longer my only Papillon. I now have several others as I fell in love with the breed and wanted to start showing and eventually breeding. I was very lucky that I met an excellent breeder who has been a mentor to me. Now, when comparing my other Papillons to Bobby, it is very clear what a badly bred dog Bobby is. None of the other dogs have any health problems whatsoever. They don't have sensitive stomachs or runny eyes or twisted feet or back problems. The oldest is close in age to Bobby yet she only looks about half his age. I only wanted a pet, but I wanted a healthy pet that would stay well into his teens and have a long life. Sadly, for Bobby it does not look like this will be the case. He was bred for money, by a breeder who had no knowledge of what problems could be lurking in the pedigree, if she even cared. On the other hand, my dogs that came from a caring show breeder have parents and grandparents etc. that not only look like their breed should, but are healthy and live long lives.
Of course, not all show breeders are good -there are good and bad in all walks of life. But buying your puppy from somebody who breeds for a purpose OTHER than making money is the first step in making sure you acquire a puppy that is going to be healthy. If you want, for instance, a Labrador -such a common breed, available easily from a number of sources- then unless you are buying from a breeder with a genuine interest in the breed, one who health tests all their dogs before breeding, one that either shows or works their dogs, then you are playing Russian roulette. That lovely puppy you bring home could in a few years time be crippled with hip and/or elbow dysplasia, and be going blind, unless the parents were hip scored, elbow scored and eye tested with GOOD results. This is where KC registration matters! If you are interested in buying a puppy, do your research and find out what health tests the parents need to have had carried out. Health tests are not at all only for show dogs -surely you want your pure pet to be healthy as well? Ask the breeder for the KC registered names of the puppies' parents and go to the KC website and check that the tests have been carried out. There is a very handy little tool call the "health test results finder". Also, any official health test results WILL be printed on your puppy's registration certificate! And the very fact that your puppy is registered will prove that its parents, grandparents etc. also are. Even if you buy a puppy where for one reason or another you will not get KC registration, double check that the parents ARE registered, get their names, check their health tests. Search Engines are your best friend - search for the parents' names. Any breeder worth their salt will have entered their breeding dogs into competitions and you should be able to find proof of this by searching for the names. Active involvement in a breed means a lot. It is no guarantee, but it shows the breeder is not solely breeding for money, as showing and/or working and carrying out health tests is very expensive indeed. It's a hobby that no good breeder will expect to make money out of. Unfortunately not all breeds have health tests that will be recorded with the KC (such as in the case of Papillons) but again just checking whether the breeder has any further involvement within the breed other than breeding will help. The good breeder will also go above and beyond KC recommendations, and will for instance eye test their dogs annually and can show you certificates as proof of this.
So yes, papers DO matter -just as much for a pet as for a show dog. You would not buy a cheap car without MOT and service history and expect it to work perfectly, would you? It's not all that different with puppies.