One thing that has changed dramatically in the last year is the way in which people are choosing to purchase their pets. Each time pet shops close, we see a huge spike in enquiries from both the ‘want it now’ customers and the more thoughtful type.
The desire to treat shopping for a pet in the same way as shopping for cheesecake has become ingrained in us through the culture of ‘I want’. It’s very hard to change the concept that if you breed you must therefore be into 1. 100% customer satisfaction and 2. be open 24/7.
Customer satisfaction in breeding only goes so far because the animal’s welfare always wins. The way in which pet shops have been selling has flown in the face of that in so far as you can pretty much just tell them what they need to know and you have a pet, there and then, no matter what.
Since lockdown one, backyard breeders have cottoned on to the idea that they can supply hamsters to people who don’t want to wait for them. To be fair, the responsible breeder market for any pet is not capable of supplying the amount of pets that our disposable animal culture thinks it needs. Last year saw many breeders with insanely long waiting lists except for those of us who bred for expected shows and got stuck with a lot of pups (like me!)
What is a backyard breeder? Joe Bloggs buys two animals of any kind of origin and breeds for the sole purchase of making pets to sell with no thought to health, wellbeing, future home suitability or the inherent dangers of breeding to the animals in question. An example of this would be breeding russian dwarf hybrids, or leaving chinese together which often results in the death of the male, or even breeding two patterned syrians together with thought for the fatal ‘whitebelly’ gene (results in significant pup death and/or deformity). In short, breeding without enough knowledge, foresight, care or responsibility.
But…..they are popular. Their pets are sometimes (not always, ironically) cheaper, readily or rather immediately available and with little or no need to know their customers. Customers represent the animal’s future home. The pets sold wrongly from this type of breeder end up in rescue as often as pet shop animals. So in reality, there’s little to differentiate the two except for a lack of premises.
I was told recently by a potential home that buying from such a place was ‘way easier’ than buying from me. I welcome this and do not view it as criticism. I felt sad that this person, who had an extremely small cage, was going to end up with a pet anyway. They were asked to wait, in the end, three days until I was available to do a collection. I rarely do same day collections because it discourages impulse buyers. The lady made it to day two. Two whole days to wait for a pet between deciding to get one and buying a cage. This is the problem with the pet trade in my opinion. A lot more education is needed but it’s an attitude change as well.
Don’t get me wrong, if people don’t want to wait three months than that’s ok. But three days shouldn’t be so much of a hassle, surely. This type of buyer usually hasn’t done their research, hasn’t thought about caring for the hamster past the first 6 months and usually doesn’t keep their pets for their lifetime. Of course this is from my experience but that’s from my rescue days, which informed the way I wanted to sell my excess pups as a breeder.
How to know then? Why should you wait?
Let’s lay it out. Animals are not commodities. You should wait for the right pet that suits your set up and has the right temperament to suit your experience or needs. You should expect, in return for waiting, for a friendly, healthy hamster that lives a long life and gives you the interaction you are looking for. It’s as simple as that.
Pedigree breeders are almost always members of a club or fancy. They should ideally have a prefix but sometimes have to be a member for a little while to gain one. Having a prefix proves to you that they are genuinely a member of their organisation. Bear in mind that organisations such as the The National Hamster Council don’t vet breeders (neither do the Kennel Club unless it’s their accredited breeder scheme) so holding a prefix is only one marker. They breed with a code of conduct in mind, primarily for show and sell excess pups to other breeders or pet homes. In short, they don’t breed what they don’t need.
The price you pay should reflect what you get. I’ve seen some greasy, small and pointy roborovski for sale for £10 with no paperwork. Or you can pay £15 or £20 for hand friendly, healthy roborovski with a full set of papers. Seems a simple choice to me.
Pedigrees, what are they? With the rise in hybrid dog breeds we have seen a lowering in the value customers lend to pedigrees. But having a family tree is extremely important. It allows you to know where you animal came from but also shows a level of basic care that the breeder has put in to tell you this information. If a breeder cannot put an even basic family history together for you then how do you know they didn’t just buy your pup from someone else and sell it on? Or that they know what they are doing at all?
Handling. Handling isn’t just picking the animal up and putting it down. It’s showing you how you can then handle them. It’s knowing when to start handling them as babies and if they understand the temperament differences between pups. This can vary in small pets in one litter, from totally bombproof to a bit more scatty. Can the breeder tell you this?
Seeing your pup before you buy. I can’t wait to get back to seeing hamsters in person as it takes so much more time to shoot a video and email it. Personally, nothing compares to getting an owner’s hands into a litter and them choosing for themselves. Never buy an animal that you haven’t already seen, whether it’s on video or in person. Covid rules just means viewing is electronic right now, it shouldn’t be none existent and photographs are not enough to judge tameness.
Health. In Russian Campbells and Russian Winter Whites diabetes is prevalent. Hybrids of the two, usually just named ‘Russians’ are even more prone to this disease. Does your breeder do diabetes checking. Ask them! Chinese hamsters are also prone although this more commonly happens in older age so it’s much harder to screen for. Ask your breeder, instead, if they have screened at least one of the parents (usually the dad) who may have been grown on for this purpose. Females have to breed before 6 months ideally to limit their danger to the male and this will mean all your breeder can say is that she wasn’t diabetic at the time of breeding. Still, this is better than ‘I don’t know’. Incidently, rescues should also be screening their animals before rehoming. Roborovski and Syrians do not commonly suffer with diabetes and are therefore not routinely screened as it’s very rare in those species.
Generally your breeder should have a good idea of how healthy their line is and stop breeding if a trend emerges. It’s hard to guarantee health so this is normally how it’s done. Again, this is why knowing the parentage and ancestry is important.
Questions. Did they ask any? Can they give you advice on cages and bedding? Do they keep financial records and give you some kind of receipt/agreement or contract? This should both satisfy HMRC and tie you in to agreeing to the animal’s welfare rights. £1000 in pet sales is declarable to HMRC and so breeders like myself will ask for you address details too. This helps us track where the animal has gone, in case of an issue or dispute later and shows we are making legitimate sales to real people. It’s best practice, yes, but as even Pets at Home ask for your address you should wonder why your breeder doesn’t care.
All in all, use common sense. Put your proposed pet first. Be prepared to wait. And wait for and support responsible breeders where possible in order to stop the breeding of unhealthy animals. And of course, check your local rescue although they should provide you with the necessary checks and paperwork too.