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How to buy a puppy
Shain agrees. "You should never buy a dog over the Internet," she says.

Using the Web to find a local breeder is OK, but she recommends physically going to visit the puppy and seeing its living conditions before making a purchase. Reputable breeders will always require that personal meeting -- they're going to want you to come and see it, she says. They won't send you a puppy as soon as you send payment. Consider it a red flag if you are discouraged from coming to see the puppy first.

Other red flags:
You aren't allowed to spend time with the parent dogs or see where they are kept.
You are told to stay put while the breeder disappears to get the dog.
The puppy acts fearful or shows signs of sickness.
The seller focuses on getting paid.

If they're pushing you to buy the animal online without first meeting it, you should be concerned, says Shain. "That dog is going to be in your family for at least 10 to 20 years," she says. "It's worth making sure this is the right dog."

If you're inquiring about a purebred puppy, ask the breeder if they belong to an AKC club and then contact the club, says Anne Donoghue, director of public relations for the AKC.

But remember, a high price or a mention of "AKC papers" does not necessarily mean a healthy, quality puppy. Breeds such as English or French bulldogs typically fetch high prices, so price shouldn't be used to gauge value.

Get referrals of people who made purchases from the breeder, as well as veterinary references. Take a week to research the breed and check out references before you purchase the animal, says Shain.

Find out if any complaints have been made about the breeder by calling the AKC at (919) 233-9767 or by performing a search on the BBB's Web site.

If the breeder has a contract, read it before you sign. Don't be swayed by a written promise to take the dog back and give you a replacement if the original falls ill.

"The problem is if you're standing there with a dying puppy or if your puppy dies, the last thing you're going to want to do is send that puppy back to where it came from," Shain says, adding that most people won't return the puppy because they have established an emotional attachment to the dog.

If you want a puppy, don't buy one online. That's the short answer to avoiding the heartache of paying hundreds or even thousands of dollars for a puppy that never arrives, getting a different one than the one you ordered or, worst of all, getting a puppy that becomes ill and dies.

To learn more about finding a responsible breeder, visit the Web sites of the Humane Society or the American Kennel Club.

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-- Posted: Sept. 4, 2007
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