What lies behind the breed lineage of a pet store puppy?
Fostering dogs not only saves lives, it opens the door to a realm of experiences. It is something I have encountered in my short stint as a dog foster with Albert’s Dog Lounge, a senior and special needs rescue. Whether the dog is blind, deaf, or dumped on the side of the road, I cherish the opportunity to gain their trust and help them feel safe until they find their forever home.
Therefore, as a volunteer with Bailing Out Benji, an organization that educates about the puppy mill-pet store connection, I jumped at the opportunity to foster a retired breeding dog surrendered straight from an Amish mill. The USDA licensed breeder, I learned, sells his dogs to pet stores. Within hours of receiving the phone call, I was on the road to pick up a three-year-old Cavapoo, who I named Pearl.
I understood the challenges that awaited me as I traveled the road to freedom with Pearl, a poodle-like dog who had never touched grass or experienced the love of a human. What I failed to understand was the breed lineage of the Cavapoo.
Fostering, what pet stores would call a Designer Dog breed, I researched the breed and then Googled various pet stores and the puppies they were selling. The list of hybrid possibilities appeared endless. Goldendoodle, Bichonpoo, CavaBea, Pomsky and so on. As I scrolled further down the page, one profile caught my eye. A black and white Cockapoo labeled 2nd gen.
What is a cavapoo?
I battled the growing curiosity rising inside of me as I tried to comprehend the different generational groupings of these so-called Designer Dogs. Genetically speaking, I wondered if Pearl was an F1 Cavapoo; a dog with a 50/50 blend of Cavalier King Charles Spaniel and Poodle. Perhaps, with her curly locks and wavy hair, she was an F1B Cavapoo; 75% Poodle and 25% Cavalier. Digressing even further, I contemplated the make-up of her puppies. Was Pearl’s male partner another Cavapoo, a poodle or a Cavalier? Did the selling price of Designer Dog puppies vary based on their generational grouping?
As the unresolved questions drifted through my mind, I turned my attention to the previous DNA testing performed on my own dogs. I wasn’t surprised that my dog Faith, a purebred re-homed from a responsible breeder, tested 100% Border Collie and received a clean genetic bill of health. She was free from any of the 165 genetic health concerns that Embark tested her for.
The test results that fanned the flames of my breed ancestry interest rested with my rescue dog Deputy. As a dog surrendered by a Kansas breeder to the National Mill Dog Rescue, Deputy’s DNA breed results fit the profile of the Cockamo he came into rescue as. Namely, 86% American Cocker Spaniel and 14% American Eskimo. His breed results resembled the F1BB generational grouping, meaning he was a third generation Cockamo. Nonetheless, the results cemented my belief that DNA testing could accurately detect the breed make-up of a dog.
From test swab to an unlikely revelation
Seeing this all as I do, I opted to perform an Embark DNA test on Pearl. After sending her saliva-stained swab back to the lab, I received weekly updates on the status of the testing. Four weeks later, the long-awaited moment arrived. Complete with a breed reveal video, I watched as Pearl’s genetic background played out before me.
The video traced Pearl’s family tree from her parents down to her great-grandparents. Suddenly, I grappled with the results. With 50% poodle topping the list, I watched as her mother’s breed ancestry unfolded. The results were anything but inconsequential as I quickly learned that Pearl’s mom was 43.2% Cavalier and 6.8% Cocker Spaniel. Although Pearl is 100% adorable, a total gem, I also realized she was a mixed breed dog.
Disillusioned, I studied the health results included with the testing. A responsible breeder screens for genetic defects to reduce the risk of health issues down the road. Unfortunately, Pearl carries two copies of a specific gene that puts her at an elevated risk for intervertebral disc disease. A risk that she passed on to some of her offspring. Even more concerning, Pearl inherited a retinal disease gene that causes progressive, non-painful vision loss over a one-to-two-year period. Although she is only a carrier and the defect will not impact her future, there are consumers who may have purchased her puppies who are at risk of caring for a dog who may eventually lose their vision.
I dug deep into my soul and realized Pearl’s mixed breed results were not what disappointed me. After all, my soulmate dog, Desiree, was as mixed a dog as any I have known. Instead, I mentally created a family tree of the pet store industry. Although my internal advocate-like critic understood the deficiencies in the commercial dog breeding industry, I wanted to believe that Pearl’s breeder kept accurate records and breed lineages of his dogs.
Therefore, I reasoned, somewhere in the past, he bought a dog at auction or took in breeding stock from a breeder who either downsized or went out of business. Unfortunately, in that branch of the family tree, the purebred ancestry snapped. Then again, perhaps this breeder believed he had sufficiently pruned out the third breed and the tiny stub that remained would go undetected by the average consumer.
The questionable pet store business model
I mentally rehashed the business model of puppy selling pet stores. In the past, I have researched pet financing schemes that come with notoriously high interest rates. I have witnessed a pet store’s inaccurate description of a breeding facility in which they sourced a puppy. Finally, I have read reports in which consumers purchased pet store puppies who were sick or genetically at risk of disease.
Now, through the lens of a foster dog, I struggled with the exposure of a new shade of deceit. Today, I question the validity of the breed lineage of dogs sold in pet stores. Because, if the DNA results are accurate, then Pearl’s offspring are not 1st, 2nd or even 3rd generation Cavapoo. Instead they will contain a small percentage of Cocker Spaniel. In other words, they are not the true Designer Dog a consumer believes they purchased for six or seven thousand dollars.
A moot point for some, but for myself, as I look to observe No Pet Store Puppies Day, it only strengthens my resolve to continue spreading awareness of the unethical and deceptive practices inherent to the puppy mill-pet store industry.