Beware of the Pet Store Puppy!
Gizmo is a male pure blood Bichon Frise. He looks like the perfect Bichon Frise, white, fluffy, curly white fluffy tail, large dark eyes. Doesn't even get the tear stains some Bichons get. Just like the Bichon Frise on the cover of the Milk Bone box for small dogs. He has a "Bichon" temperament. He's happy, energetic, playful, cuddly. A real sweetheart. But he isn't the ideal Bichon Frise. The temperament and appearance of the dog is only part of the dog. Gizmo was born with, and will always have, some very serious health problems.
His birthday is April 4, 1993. His mother's name was Muffin, and his father was Mr. Big. He came from a kennel in Missouri, which I now know is the state with more puppy mills than any other. There were seven puppies in the litter. They were taken from their mother before eight weeks of age.
I know this information about him because we were given his papers that would have been for registering him with the American Kennel Club as a possible stud or show dog. I even have his registration number that would have been needed had I ever registered him. And I could have, because there are no health checks required for registration. All you have to show is that the dog's parents were registered. I have their numbers, too.
On June 17, 1993, my sister-in-law, Dorothy, who worked for a pet store nearby, called and told me of two Bichon Frise puppies that had come into the store. She told me that the puppies couldn't even stand up without help and couldn't walk. The puppy broker and the owner of the store were in negotiations for the return of the puppies so they could be destroyed. Knowing nothing about Bichons, I asked her every question I could think of about the breed.
She told me about the temperament - always a puppy, very playful, very loving. That Bichons are one of the very few breeds that are acceptable for people with asthma. She told me they needed lots of grooming, but that I could learn to groom myself, or always keep the hair short.
So, off to the pet store my two daughters and I went. Drove quite fast, as I recall. When Dorothy handed me two bundles of white fluff, I fell immediately in love. When we put them on the floor, they both collapsed into heaps of crying white fluff. It nearly broke my heart. There was one female and one male. After holding them for several minutes, they could get their balance and waddle a few steps. The male could waddle about 3 feet, the female about 1 foot.
The next day, June 18, 1993, I woke up not knowing that my life was about to change forever. Dorothy called me 10 minutes after the store opened and told me that her boss had agreed to let us take one of the puppies, even though it got him into trouble with the broker. We chose the male, mostly because he seemed the stronger of the two, bought the food he had been eating (we hadn't even thought that far - Dorothy reminded me we had to feed him). Another employee of the store took the female home. There was no charge for the puppy.
Gizmo was so tiny, he fit in my hands. We put him a doll cradle at home, gave him food and water, and sat next to the cradle watching him for about two hours before we realized he couldn't stand up, even though we had known that before we took him home. We had hoped being with us would somehow cure him. When my husband came home, Gizmo lifted his head and looked at Larry. Larry was shocked the puppy didn't run to him. I don't think Larry really believed me that we were bringing home a disabled puppy.
Over the next couple of weeks, my daughters and I took turns holding the puppy until he could stand, and gradually he was able to stand on his own. Walking was the next thing. We tried everything - toys, balls of yarn, whatever we could think of to attract his attention. What finally got him was a 2-liter soda bottle with three marbles in it. Over the next month of so, he was so interested in this "rattle", he chased it all over the carpet. Every time the bottle rolled onto the linoleum, he stopped and cried. Every time he got onto the linoleum, he would slide into a wall or do a terrific impersonation of "ice walking". After two months, he could walk on the linoleum.
Once he could walk straight, I took him to his first vet visit. The vet loved him immediately. When the vet saw him trying to walk across the waiting room floor, I could swear I saw tears in his eyes.
Gizmo was neutered at four months, which is the youngest puppies are neutered. We had him X-rayed at the same time to check for hip dyspasia. The vet thought that was the problem. What the X-rays showed, however, was not hip dyspasia. What was it? The vet couldn't really say, or maybe I just didn't understand straight. Something about the hip socket being shaped wrong. Not even surgery would repair the damage. The best hope was to try and strengthen the muscles in his legs and hips so he would be able to keep walking.
Today, Gizmo can run a little distance. Not much more than 25 feet on a good day. He can walk though. Somedays, he can get about 100 feet before the hips give out and he does an Olympic-worthy "polar bear rug" impersonation. Sometimes he can hardly get to the end of the driveway. We have bought all new furniture, much lower to the floor, and he can almost just step onto the sofa. He falls down the front steps sometimes, though. I have had to carpet the front steps (they're cement). And he can't always climb back up into the house. He can't get in or out of the car.
Around June, 1996, I noticed that Gizmo's eyes were cloudy. They had blue circles in them. Fearing the worse, I took him to the vet who confirmed that Gizmo has cataracts in both eyes. He's now three and half years old, and getting closer to being totally blind every day. When he is completely blind, we can have one eye operated on to restore fuzzy vision. This is an expensive and difficult operation for the dog, so we won't do it until we have to.
Gizmo has also had problems with very sensitive skin, and an allergy to fleas. Because his legs don't work right, neither do his intestines. After more time at the vet and more searching for answers, we have Gizmo on "metamucil therapy", which means that every morning, Gizmo gets one teaspoon of metamucil flakes in his breakfast so he can poop without screaming in pain, straining until he bleeds, a behavior which had me in a panic when I first saw it.
Around Christmas time, 1995, I thought a second Bichon would be good for Gizmo. Someone to play with, get him to run around more. I contacted a local Bichon Frise rescue, and brought Gizmo with me to meet the other Bichons and maybe pick a friend. The volunteers were very dismayed to see me practically dragging Gizmo across the floor, because his legs had given out between the front door and the adoptions.
I immediately volunteered with the rescue. I saw many Bichons that had lost their homes, had been mistreated by people who couldn't or wouldn't research the dog they were bringing into their lives, refusing to spend the time needed to groom the dog or the money to have a professional groom the dog.
I learned a great deal about grooming Bichons, general dog care, and the nature of some people looking for a quick bundle of love without thinking of the well being of the animal, or finding what kind of dog is best to fit their life style. It is truly heartbreaking to see these wonderful dogs being mistreated and abandoned. Bichons are marvelous dogs, wonderful for so many reasons, but they simply aren't the right dog for every family.
If our house was bigger, I have no doubt I would have filled the house with Bichons by now. I have brought home a couple of the rescue dogs to see how they fit in with our family, but Gizmo exhausts himself trying to play with them, and ends up miserable because he just can't keep up. A second dog now seems like more strain than he could take. We are still looking for another Bichon that has about the same energy level as Gizmo.
While we love Gizmo and plan to keep him and do whatever we can for him, I also realize that his health is not at all typical of Bichons. Bichons are hardy little dogs. Comparing Gizmo to healthy Bichons is difficult for me, because all the health concerns become so obvious. I am so used to making allowances for his condition, I don't always remember his limitations.
The breeder who bred Gizmo is, as far as I know, still breeding unhealthy puppies. The broker is, as far as I know, still dealing in unhealthy puppies. Their totally motivation is for money. They do not care about the dogs. A reputable breeder would have had the parents screened for possible genetic imperfections, and they would not have been bred. I am not even sure if a reputable breeder would have let me keep Gizmo, even though I complied with the stipulation (of the pet store owner, not the broker or breeder), that he was neutered and never registered or shown.
Puppy mill Bichons, hopefully, do not all have such extreme health problems. I have talked to people who have puppy mill Bichons with nasty temperaments or other, equally nasty health problems. I had contact with the employee who took the female from the litter for awhile, and while that Bichon still had the terrific temperament, her knees were much worse than Gizmo's hips. She can't walk at all, and they were attempting to build her some kind of scooter so she could get around. She was being spoon fed because she couldn't stand up.
I would like to see all puppy mills put out of business. The only way to do this, of course, is to keep them from making any money, and the only way to do that is to educate people about what these disreputable breeders are doing, and hopefully that way no one will buy their puppies.
Bringing home a dog, any dog, is a decision that cannot be taken lightly. I did not do the research necessary to make an educated choice in our family pet. Please, learn from this mistake. We love Gizmo, but the heartbreak and expense we have put out is beyond what any family should endure for one of these wonderful dogs.
Gizmo was originally for sale for $500.00. I have spent much more than that on vet bills for the various problems he has had because we did not get him from a reputable breeder. A reputable breeder might very well charge less for a healthy dog, but even if it is more, the puppy would come complete with health certifications and the agreement that the dog can be returned if a health problem shows up. These are very valuable. A pet store puppy might seem like a good deal, especially since pet stores tell you the dog is "AKC", but "AKC" doesn't really mean much (please read section on what this means).
The time and energy it takes to find a reputable breeder, wait for the puppy, pass inspection, and finally bring home your new bundle of fluff, will be more than repaid in the years to follow by having a healthy dog to enjoy and love. Bichons are hardy, energetic, happy little dogs with wonderful temperaments, lots of energy and enthusiasm.
No Bichon family should have to lower their furniture so the dog can get onto the sofa, keep nasty carpet because the dog can't walk well on wood floors and new carpet is not affordable, not move anything so the dog won't hurt itself, learn what to do when the dog nearly knocks itself out running into street lamps, walls or corners of furniture because the dog's legs give out at a bad time, carry the dog up four front steps because the dog can't climb, carpet and cushion the same steps because the dog fell when mom went to answer the phone, catch the dog when he falls down the same steps, always lift the dog into and out of the car, buy new lighting so the dog can see, or learn to look for the dog's legs giving out on walks so he can be picked up before he gets dragged down the street. It can be embarrassing to drag the dog across a floor, even though I have learned to catch him before he falls totally (usually, anyway). And no person at all should end up with a dog with a nasty temperament.
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Thursday, January 23, 2003
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