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Buying a pet online
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Lynn Ostrem, a small business owner in St. Michael's, Minn., purchased a standard poodle through a dealer she found on the Internet. "Most of the pups in my immediate area were 'show-quality' and selling for $1,000, while 'pet-quality' pups sell for $500," she says. "When a woman offering a blue standard poodle who was only 200 miles away offered to sell me a female for $450 if I was willing to drive half the distance, I readily agreed.

"The end result: our puppy, Lily, is absolutely adorable," she continues. "She's as healthy as an ox, but she's not blue. I believe we got what we paid for and that was because we bought from a fairly new breeder who didn't have a lot of references. But we're happy just the same."

Health issues. Retailers and breeders who are reluctant to discuss or disclose a pet's health history are waving a major red flag. You want to get some information about a pet's mother and father and look into health issues that may plague particular breeds.

Henry Childers, DVM, president of the American Veterinary Medical Association, noted in testimony before the Senate the effects of poorly bred companion animals.

"Unfortunately, veterinarians are regularly confronted with pets that suffer the ill effects of irresponsible breeding and inappropriate transportation over long distances," he says. "Animal suffering compounds human suffering when heartache and financial burdens are thrust upon pet owners who have purchased these unfortunate animals."

Beth Shaw, a pet owner in Hermosa Beach, Calif., agrees. "My partner bought one of our dogs online -- a Boston terrier from Tennessee. She has mange and has a very skittish and insecure personality. I am just glad that we got her because she is very sensitive, probably was not treated right in her first nine weeks before we got her. She is an emotional basket case but we love her."

How to find a pet
Whether you are looking to get a purebred dog or cat, another type of companion animal or a shelter animal, there is a Web site out there for you. Here are some sites:

  • Adoption sites, including Petfinder and Pets911, offer information on pets available for immediate adoption. Leah Ingram, an etiquette consultant from New Hope, Pa., took this route and was very pleased. "We logged onto daily for about two months and eventually found the cocker spaniel/golden retriever mix (Buffy) who has been our dog for the past three years," she says. "Because Buffy was at a rescue place in New Jersey that I'd never heard of, if it hadn't been for Petfinder, we never would have found him."
  • Rescue groups care for abandoned or neglected pets and frequently specialize in a particular breed. Petfinder lists rescue and shelter groups by ZIP code and location.
  • Local pet shelters are an underused resource when it comes to finding a pet. The Humane Society offers a guide to adopting a pet through a shelter and how to find a local shelter.
  • The American Kennel Club, a not-for-profit organization that maintains a purebred dog registry, sanctions dog events and promotes responsible pet ownership, has a dog-buying guide on its Web site. Breeders who sell through AKC classifieds must meet certain requirements.
  • The Cat Fanciers' Association provides a list of breeds and includes information about their personalities, histories and characteristics.'s corrections policy -- Updated: July 7, 2006
More stories by Amy Buttell Crane
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