When a Newbie Comes With Baggage
You’re bringing home a new puppy! Puppieeeees! Oh, the joy and excitement of a new, innocent life to add to yours, to nurture and care for and share your heart and hearth with.
But wait – are there strings attached? What did that contract you signed say, again? Spay or neuter within six months? Vaccinate three more times with a combo wombo shot? Feed a particular brand of kibble?
Who’s in charge here, anyway?
I recently had a couple of run-ins with the law.
Oh, not like that, just a couple of clients who recently acquired new bundles of joy with legal strings attached. The sellers both wanted to have say in how these new family members would be raised. I was called upon for counsel, as both clients wanted to raise the healthiest, most vital animals they could and the contracts they signed were, well, pushing them in another direction.
We can learn from these experiences (and probably your own, if you tell us in the comments below this post).
Fundamental Q: Who Owns the Rights to Your Dog’s Health Care?
When you’ve studied about the ill effects that neutering has been proven to cause, you may now, like me, think twice about chopping out ovaries or testicles from your new bundle of joy. You’ve assessed your ability to prevent unwanted pregnancies, your willingness to go through heat cycles a couple times a year if your pup is a girl, and you’ve decided:
I’m responsible. I can do what it takes to ensure no unintended offspring come as a result of my keeping this animal intact.
When you’ve learned that vaccinations are the most significant decision you’ll make in the life of your animal, you’ve boldly stepped out of a paradigm. You don’t want to live with life long chronic disease or sink into the murky quagmire called vaccinosis.
So, with all of that knowledge and desire to do the very best natural rearing with your new animal, how do you square that with a seller’s desires to have control over your well thought out decisions?
Let’s talk rights here, as that’s what it ultimately comes down to, isn’t it?
- When you buy a new car, does the dealer get to call the shots about whether you wash it at a certain place or garage it or never drive it over 80 mph? Vrrrooom, “So long, guys!”
- When you add new furniture to your home, does it come with an agreement that Sadie the dog doesn’t get to sleep on that couch? “Hey, c’mon up here next to me, girl, we’re watching your favorite movie, The Incredible Journey!”
- Have you ever bought a new computer and had the company who made it tell you there were only certain things you were allowed to do with it? “Whoa, look what happens when I hit these four keys together! Cool!”
The Pavement of Good Intentions
A surprising amount of damage is done to animals in the name of prevention. In fact, I think I can safely say, after 35 years in veterinary practice, that all the illness we see in our animals came about from misguided prevention practices. Some of it is inherited, but the parents or grandparents got ill via the same mistakes in “prevention” that you’re trying to avoid in your newbie.
What goes through the minds of those who sell you that pup or kitten or foal? Well meaning intentions, likely. But if they live in a different paradigm and haven’t looked at the correlation between vaccination and allergies, kibble and lackluster health, neutering and cancer, and heartworm drugs and autoimmune diseases, how much should you have to follow their wishes? If you’ve been doing your homework here and elsewhere and they are locked into those old beliefs of prevention, I don’t think they’ve got a right to decide your animal’s life journey for you.
That well intentioned pavement leads to a hot, uncomfortable place, and you’ll be the one to bear the burden, not them. So, how to navigate this somewhat tricky terrain?
As I pointed out in my 10 Steps to a Vital Puppy page, you are wise to start early when you want a pup who’s had the least damaging influences possible before you take her under your wing. Review these points and see if your breeder will go along.
When a contract comes your way, remember, a contract is a legal document, and what you sign to, you are responsible to do. But, there are some practical considerations as well. Let’s look at my two recent experiences through the eyes of new dog buyers in my practice.
What’s a Puppy Buyer to Do?
Gracie drove to a distant state to pick up a rare breed of dog that she’d had her eye on for months. The traits of this breed were a perfect fit for her needs on her ranch, so she contacted the breeder and started discussions about what her hopes were for her new bundle of love.
Here’s what she learned, from dealing with someone with a whole lot of education, years of raising this particular breed, but little to no understanding of holistic health principals.
- Start the vaccine discussion early. The earlier the better, and, if they are planning to vaccinate, be respectful but ask that your pup be spared. Gracie said, “In light of new research coming out on vaccines, I want to explore single antigen vaccines spaced out in time, once your pup comes home with me.” A white lie, as Gracie’s plan is zero vaccines! [Hopefully, with the lists of natural rearing breeders, that won’t be an issue for you.]
- Adopt a firm, confident tone. “I’ve known people who’ve done this successfully and I work closely with my vet, who I respect and trust on health matters.”
- See if reality is matching promises. Check in to verify this. In Gracie’s case, nosodes for parvo and distemper were sent to the breeder early, along with Transfer Factor. At pickup time, Gracie learned they’d not actually been given.
- Choose your battles. In this case, raw food discussions weren’t going to be on the table. The breeder was set in his ways and actually named a brand of kibble he wanted the pup to get at home! So, the take away: say nothing, don’t polarize and risk losing the pup of your dreams. When you get home, feed the best you know how to. Gracie feeds raw to her lucky pup.
- If the breed standard is to dock tails or crop ears, you need to be proactive, firm, and kind, explaining that you’d like to avoid these procedures. As tails are docked very early in life, you’ll want to reiterate that as whelping gets closer. It’d be all too easy to “forget” in the heat of snipping body parts!
Learn from Outliers
Here’s an interesting aside from this pup’s story. The rest of the litter were vaccinated for the usual combo of puppy stuff, with a 5-way vaccine (distemper, parvo, lepto, hepatitis, parainfluenza). Sheba, her pup, was not, thankfully. Two to three days later, the whole litter had diarrhea. Not Sheba.
Coincidence? I think not.
Rescued from Rescue
My other client, I’ll call her Vrinda, had a variation on this theme, as her new family member had been turned in to a rescue organization as a yearling. She had a history of puppy shots, and, as is all too often the standard in shelters, she got these all over again upon arrival.
Vrinda knew Tracie would never get another vaccination on her watch, as she’d recently been through two elder dogs with chronic disease that we’d struggled with for some months before each finally died.
Good news/bad news
The good and bad news was that Tracie was still intact, and Vrinda took her, signing a contract that stipulated she’d need to get Tracie spayed within three months of ownership.
- Good news: less chance of future cancer, incontinence, knee ligament rupture, and hypothyroidism when ovaries are present. See the research to own this.
- Bad news: rescue organizations see way too many animals, and tend to see the problem as purely a lack of neutering. Often a “my way or the highway” attitude, end of discussion.
More bad news was what brought Tracie in as my patient. She had itchy/twitchy skin, hot red ears and red eyes, and was both skittish and aggressive. She’d lunge at dogs on walks, and she was a big dog! She’d even lunged at welcomed visitors and punched a few with her muzzle. Gulp.
So, we’ve been working on her with homeopathy, and Vrinda just told me of a breakthrough with her latest remedy, but it was obvious to both of us that “instant menopause” was not in Tracie’s best interest now, if ever.
What did we do when the pressure came to get her in for a spay? Vrinda got a letter of waiver from me and from a local holistic vet, both agreeing that neutering was not in Tracie’s best interests at this time.
So far, so good. A deposit check to insure this spay happened was cashed. Probably end of story.
Paving With Better Intentions
You are the one who’ll live with the consequences of your health decisions for the life of your newbie. Be wise, and know that sometimes that may mean breaking a contract. When you get this animal home and think long term about raising the most vital animal you can, it’s entirely appropriate to rethink the contract you signed.
Weigh the consequences, make the decisions you can live with. Have compassion for the intent of your breeder or rescuer. They truly believe their stipulations are in the animal’s best interests. It’s like having compassion for those who, looking out at the horizon, are sure the Earth must be flat. It really looks that way until you get up in a plane.
If the consequences include seizure of your animal, consider how likely that is. In these two cases, it’s not, one now living several states away from the breeder, the other firm in her decision and with the backing of two veterinarians.
In short, if you are well read, confident, and firm in your intentions to make your animal vitally healthy for a long joyful life with you, you’ll mindfully raise your foundling, contracts be damned.
Have you been through this process? Tell us in the comments how you navigated it and kept your values intact.