And Now For Something Completely Serious – Selling Puppies on Ebay

Yesterday I awoke to find an email from Edie (yes, the famous Edie of Will My Dog Hate Me?) passing on information about a campaign to stop Ebay from selling puppies.

Ebay and Live Animal Sales

Ebay got a lot of good press when they announced they’d no longer allow the selling of live animals on their auction site. Then they started allowing it in their classifieds section. (I don’t want to give them any publicity for this so I won’t be including any Ebay links–check it out for yourself).

A number of other bloggers have written eloquent posts about this issue prompting to pick it up as a petition. You’ll find a good post over at Mary Haights’s Dancing Dog Blog and can sign the petition here.

I’m always slow to move on these calls to action. I’m not very impulsive. I wonder if I have all the facts. And what are the unintended consequences of this action? I blame it on my history degree; studying the results of human decision-making over generations can make you skeptical that anything is ever what it seems.

I pondered this issue a bit. I checked out the Ebay classified ads. And I signed the petition.

Why I Signed the Petition

I didn’t sign it because I thought it was going to put the last nail in the coffin of puppy mills. I signed it because I don’t think dog and cats (and even sheep, pigs, and cows for that matter) are commodities to be bought and sold without respect for their sentience. And I signed because I think it sends the wrong message about how puppies should be bred and sold.

Doing It the Right Way

I checked out the puppy classifieds for my state. Here’s what I found and how it contrasted with my experience working with the responsible, hobby breeder who produced Honey.

Classifieds – One “kennel” was selling two litters of puppies at the same time–Border collies and German shepherds. From the pictures, the Border collies were about 4 weeks old and the German shepherds were about 12 weeks old. The pictures were taken inside a home so this is probably not a mill of puppies but simply a backyard breeder trying to make a few dollars.

Golden Retriever Puppy

I don't know why I'm here and why everyone keeps taking my picture. I guess I'll just scratch while I try to figure it out.

Hobby Breeder – Honey’s breeder raises only Golden Retrievers, allowing her to become an expert in all things Golden. We continue to get periodic updates on research into breed-related medical concerns from Ms. Breeder. Litters are planned carefully so Mr. and Mrs. Breeder get only the best puppies but also so they have the time to care for their charges. When Honey’s litter was born, Mr. Breeder slept on the couch near the whelping box to keep any eye out for problems.

Classifieds – The only criterion for getting a puppy from the classified ad was that you be registered on Ebay and have the money to pay.

Hobby Breeder – I had to go through a vetting process to be considered as a potential adopter of Honey. First I called the volunteer at the local Golden Retriever rescue for a referral to a breeder. She spent over a half hour on the phone telling me about potential health problems of the breed, their exercise needs, and need for human companionship. The volunteer asked about my work schedule, what kinds of activities we did, what our house and yard were like, whether we had children, whether we had other pets, what happened to our previous dogs, where we lived, and what was our previous experience with Goldens and with dogs in general. Whew!

Once she was satisfied we understood the responsibilities involved, the volunteer gave us the name of two breeders expecting litters. When we spoke to Ms. Breeder ,we had an even longer conversation about all the above topics, and we added in training philosophies and the importance of socialization.

Ms. Breeder sent me a long, academic article on the importance of socializing dogs at an early age and asked me to respond to it in writing. She had no idea what she was getting into–I’m not known for being concise.

But Ms. Breeder felt comfortable enough with us so far to invite us to her home to meet Honey’s mama and papa and to view the puppies (they were too young to be handled by strangers).

We visited the litter several times and got to see how Mr. and Mrs. Breeder were raising the pups to feel comfortable with household noises, young children, car travel, handling by other people, and more.

Classifieds – There was no indication of how puppies would be chosen. Does the buyer just pick who they like best? I suppose that’s it. I have no way of knowing from the ad what the puppy selection process is.

Hobby Breeder – The breeder and her partner got first choices from the litter to make sure they were passing on the best breed characteristics in their future breeding program. The breeder shared results of temperament testing on the two remaining puppies available to us and said that although we could choose either pup, she felt the lower energy dog would be a better fit for our family. I was inclined at first to disagree with her, but in the end we took the calmer pup and I think Ms. Breeder was right. Honey has been a perfect fit in our household and a very easy dog for us.

Classifieds – Although the ad said puppies were of “good stock” and wormed with up-to-date shots, there was no health guarantee or information about health problems associated with the breed.

Hobby Breeder – Honey’s breeder provided certifications that Honey’s parents had good hips, eyes, and hearts. The breeder’s contract noted that they would contribute to the cost of medical care if we brought Honey home and found some serious health abnormality. I loved that they didn’t provide a money-back guarantee, expecting us to return Honey if she was sick. That’s what I expect from pet shops and I can’t imagine anyone returning a sick puppy to a store.

Classifieds – I don’t think the Ebay breeder ever expects to see the buyers of his puppies again once he cashes their check.

Hobby Breeder – We get occasional pictures and updates of Honey’s litter mates. The breeders offer boarding to any of their litters. We took a long day trip when Honey was too young to be left with just anyone; we felt lucky to have Mr. and Ms. Breeder to rely upon.

It’s a nice service for the breeder to offer. But it’s also their way to make sure the puppies continue to be raised at a high standard.

Golden Retriever in Snow

C'mon over and run in the snow. It's more fun than rolling in dead things!


This long post was to show what a difference I believe a careful, responsible breeder can make in the process of getting a dog. And that’s the reason I think classified ads (whether in newspapers or on Ebay) are no way to sell animals.

I know some readers will disagree with me. Some feel a classified ad is a fine way to match puppies with homes. Others feel there is no reason to ever buy a dog from a breeder and we should have gotten our last dog from a shelter or rescue–advertising is almost beside the point. But I wanted this chance to show you what an experience with a responsible, caring breeder is like so that if dog breeding exists at all it is done with the highest standards and a respect for the responsibility that comes with shaping the DNA of (wo)man’s best friend.

I also do not want to vilify the family I used as my example from Ebay. We’re all just trying to make our way in the world. I’m just hoping to hold up a higher standard.

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  1. I’m glad I inspired such a thoughtful post — and of course I’m eternally gratefully for your calling me “famous.” If I was actually famous I would be too busy ordering around my entourage to come here.

    Once upon a time, long long ago, I wrote a post about breeders. It opened up a huge can of worms. What you wrote seems eminently reasonable to me but I’m not sure about the term “hobby” breeder — as distinguished from “backyard” breeder, I guess? But that doesn’t rule out making money, right, because most breeders, reputable or not, do expect to profit from their enterprise.

    • I used the word hobby breeder because it’s what the breed groups use to refer to themselves to distinguish them from backyard breeders. I suppose hobby breeders would be happy to make money but I doubt it happens for most people.

      The xrays for health certifications, serious medical care, and costs of showing dogs all cost a great deal of money and make it highly unlikely a hobby breeder will ever make money from it. That’s why it’s a hobby.

      Backyard breeders don’t usually offer health guarantees and probably don’t show their dogs and so don’t incur the costs involved in getting championships so important to hobby breeders.

      • Thanks for this clarification. I just knew there were good breeders — the type you describe — backyard breeders, and large commercial outfits that were often puppy mills. I didn’t realize the term “hobby breeders” was popularly used to refer to the good kind!

  2. A very good post that makes a great comparison between breeders and sellers.
    I have found myself in many arguments lately over the term puppy mills and puppy brokers. I don’t know how that came about. It wasn’t intentional. Perhaps next time I will be able to direct them here – you have broken it down very well.

    Before we adopted Shiva, we visited a few breeders of Duck Tollers. All of them were as you described above. They were interested primarily in the continuation of the breed. They all were very involved in breed-specific activities and kept in regular contact with the owners of all their puppies. We were put on a waiting list and have still yet to be contacted because they just haven’t had any puppies for over two years. Now that’s what I call a great breeder.

    (I only just learned you have a history degree as well! That is most excellent. I love how neither of us are doing anything related to our academic field. I have considered going back to work on my MA but the fundage has not come my way. Besides, my employability would probably not increase at all, even if I had a doctorate. It would be something to do if I won the lottery or just had money to waste, unfortunately. Did you have a particular specialisation? I should have totally saved this for an email and not taken away from your important post but I couldn’t help myself.)

    • Interesting that you considered a Duck Toller. They’re quite rare around here but Honey had one as a playmate in her puppy group. I think they’re amazing dogs.

      I’ll reply off list sometime about the history thing. Yep, it makes you totally unemployable (although I worked in historical societies and archives for many years). But it does teach you how to think, doesn’t it?

  3. I think you wrote a pretty interesting post! I don’t fault people for wanting a purebred dog of a particular breed and doing their homework to be sure they can find a good breeder. I don’t understand people paying a ton of money for a “designer dog” when there are already tons of dogs of the same mix in shelters dying every year. I’d consider a classified ad in a local paper as something different than ebay’s classifieds. To me, a local paper allows you to go and meet the dogs in person. I think that part is very important. I don’t get people who can just look at a picture online and decide that’s the dog for them. To me, choosing a dog is a matter of fitting personalities together.

    • It’s an interesting point you make about looking at a picture online. It’s actually the way human adoptions work too. People who want to adopt a child get a book of pictures or go online. Under the picture is a brief description. Evidently looks come first and personality fit is secondary. Weird, huh?

    • I so agree with you Houndstooth. I actually have a client who is a responsible breeder. I will never understand the desire to buy a “designer dog” for lots of money when, as you said, there are so many in shelters around the country. I once visited a place based on an ad in the paper. The place had a barn, a trailer (like the ones in trailer parks) with tons of dogs barking inside. The “breeder” showed me a Sheltie in the barn in a stall. She was completely freaked out when I said I needed to call my mother on my cell phone to see if she wanted the dog. This was my first experience with a backyard breeder – we left and did not take the dog. I would have loved to have rescued him from that place, but I just couldn’t support giving this woman money so she could continue to sell animals this way. I reported her, but I often wonder if she was caught. Ads in the paper and ads online – it makes no difference to puppy mills and backyard breeders, but as you mentioned, at least you get to see where the dog came from.

  4. I agree with everything you’ve said. Though you were lucky to found such a good hobby breeder. I have met a few in my time that all puppies were to them were a money machine and they treated breeding like so. Which is sad, but true. I don’t think selling puppies over the internet is right, whether it’s Ebay or another way. My personal belief is having a hands on experience with your puppy long before they go home. Just my two cents.

    • Thanks. I think you make a good point that not every hobby breeder is virtuous. It’s easy to find rotten apples in every barrel, isn’t it?

      I guess that’s why I want to celebrate someone who is truly doing the right thing.

  5. This is a *great* first-person example of the differences between the backyard breeder and the hobbyist, and what people should expect during the qualifying process, as Kristine noted. And you probably know that I agree completely and have said many times that selling family pets as if they were commodities is no way to treat a sentient being.

    Thanks for your kind mention of my post – and for the record, I think it’s good practice to think about unintended consequences before leaping into things!

  6. Thank you, Mary. I don’t often write more serious posts about issues because I feel others are such much better at it than I am. You are certainly one of those “others.” You write a lot of great stuff over at Dancing Dog blog.

  7. OMG – I totally did NOT know eBday was allowing this to happen. I think this is atroucious and must be stopped… immediately. Signing the petition – right now.

  8. Wow. Great post Pamela. I was over here for the Saturday blog hop and was going to comment on your husband’s post when I saw your list of recent posts and this one caught my eye. Thank you for showing the delineation between the online sales and a responsible breeder. I think you called out the differences between the two perfectly. I am hoping that eBay is paying attention. It won’t stop puppy mills, but it can have an impact if eBay stops the online sales of puppies. My Daisy thanks you!

    BTW – I know you have RSS feed, but I can’t seem to get it to work. Do you also have a way to receive your posts via e-mail? I love everything you write, but I always seem to miss them while out walking dogs and such.


  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Mary E Haight and Mel Freer, Kristine. Kristine said: Great comparison, breeder vs. seller RT And Now For Something Completely Serious – Selling Puppies on Ebay: @s_wagging […]