Responsible Breeders

The San Francisco SPCA strongly encourages the adoption of pets through legitimate shelters and rescue organizations. If a suitable pet cannot be adopted, then we recommend obtaining a pet only through a compassionate, responsible breeder.


Responsible breeders are individuals who have focused their efforts on one or a select few breeds. They have become knowledgeable about heritable defects, temperament and behavior through breeding, historical research and ongoing study, mentoring relationships, club memberships, showing, raising and training these breeds.

Responsible breeders are as interested in screening potential owners in order to ensure a long-term fit as they are in making a sale. Often, these breeders must comply with their breed club’s code of ethics, which may forbid selling animals to commercial distributors, including those who sell online. To decrease the risk in choosing a breeder, prospective pet guardians should visit the breeding facility and observe the animals’ living condition.

Owning a pet is a long-term commitment. We encourage everyone to follow these guidelines:

  • Visit the breeder’s facility
    • The breeder should definitely encourage at least one and preferably multiple visits with your entire family before you are committed
    • Make sure the animals live indoors and not outside in kennel runs
    • The boarding area should be clean and well-maintained
  • Observe the animal’s behavior and socialization
    • Puppies are kept clean, warm, fed, and with their mother until weaned
    • Puppies appear happy, healthy and don’t shy away from visitors
    • Spend time with the puppy’s parents – at a minimum the mother; assess their health and temperament
    • Supplies references from previous customers
    • Screens and counsels potential customers to find the best fit for the animal
    • Has no more than two or three breeds of dogs or cats
    • Communicates the positive and negative aspects of the animal or breed
    • Ensures animals are weaned before placement (8-10 weeks of age for dogs and cats)
    • Provides what look to be accurate and reliable health, vaccination and pedigree records that include a history of veterinary care
      • Caution: a health certificate is only a brief wellness check by a veterinarian and does not include diagnostic tests for the  genetic disorders, parasites or diseases, such as giardia and brucellosis, commonly found in puppy mill puppies
    • Offers a veterinary reference or support materials for your puppy’s care after purchase
    • Provides a contract in plain English that spells out the breeder’s responsibilities, the purchaser’s responsibilities, health guarantees and return policy
  • Make sure the breeder meets rigorous standards
    • Read health guarantees very carefully, especially if an animal has not been given diagnostic tests beyond a wellness exam. If health issues arise, breeders will often claim “the animal was sold with a perfect health certificate” even if it becomes sick within a few hours of purchase.
  • Do not be fooled by breeder certification or purebred registration papers
    • Responsible breeders and puppy mills can be USDA-licensed breeders. A puppy mill can leverage this certification to make buyers feel comfortable without visiting its facility.
    • Puppy mills routinely sell puppies with papers from prestigious sounding kennel clubs. Registration papers do nothing to ensure that an individual puppy (or its parents) is healthy, free of genetic defects or was raised in a humane environment.

Warning signs that you are NOT working with a responsible breeder

  • Willing to sell a puppy to you without meeting you (e.g., internet or phone only)
  • Has puppies available at all times
  • Is reluctant to show you their facilities; they might offer to ship the animal to you or meet you somewhere to drop off the animal
  • Has dirty, unhealthy or unsocialized animals
  • Does not have proof of the animal’s veterinary visits or vaccinations
  • Sells to pet stores, flea markets or any channel that does not thoroughly screen potential guardians

Purchasing Pets Online

The Internet can be a good source of information for prospective pet guardians to research breeds and breeders and learn more about pet care. However, animal sales over the Internet have increased the opportunity for unscrupulous breeders or brokers to sell anonymously with little fear of exposure. Many of the largest puppy mills have embraced technology as a way to avoid the costs of operating a clean, healthy, and humane breeding facility. They can sell animals online with no legal oversight. If consumers follow the criteria listed above when evaluating breeders on the Internet – especially a mandatory on-site visit – puppy mills would eventually go out of business. Reputable breeders will never sell their animals via the Internet to people they have never met.


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