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The Legal Side of When to Buy or Sell a Puppy

Updated: Nov 10, 2023

There are a variety of things to consider both when purchasing a puppy and with going into breeding. One thing that is often overlooked are legal restrictions. For example, how old should a puppy be before it goes to it's new home? Believe it or not there is a legal component to this question. Let's talk about it!

Ethically, depending on the breed, a puppy should generally be somewhere between 8 weeks and 12 weeks old when it goes to it's new home. Legally, the answer to this question depends on where you live. Approximately twenty-seven states, as well as D.C., have laws or administrative regulations that stipulate how old a puppy must be before it is offered for sale or adopted out to a new owner. Of those states with laws, all but three (D.C., Virginia, and Wisconsin) require that a puppy be at least eight weeks old before being offered for sale. Other states focus on the separation of the puppy or kitten from the mother in addition to specifying a minimum age. Nevada's law, for example, provides that a retailer, dealer, or operator shall not separate a dog or cat from its mother until it is 8 weeks of age and accustomed to taking food or nourishment other than by nursing - whichever may be even later than 8 weeks. Likewise, Illinois also states that a puppy or kitten shall not be "separated from its mother" until the puppy or kitten has attained the age of 8 weeks. This technically means that a puppy of 5 weeks could be sold, but the mother would have to go with it.

But we're in South Carolina, so what about us? South Carolina Code 1976 § 47-1-200 stipulates that a dog or cat under eight weeks of age may not be sold, traded, or given away. This is reiterated in Section 802.201. Furthermore, it states, "a person who violates the provisions of this section is guilty of a misdemeanor and, upon conviction, must be fined not less than $200 nor more than $500 dollars [per incident/animal] or imprisoned for not more than 30 days, or both." Who does this apply to? Whatever persons are involved; breeder, buyer, adopter, gifter, etc. I bet some of you didn't see that one coming.

The penalties for violating these provisions in other states vary. Less than half of states make a violation of the law a criminal misdemeanor. California’s law also makes it a misdemeanor to sell a puppy under the age of eight weeks as does Nebraska's. Violation of Connecticut's law results in a fine of $1,000. For many states, the laws only apply to pet dealers, retail pet store, or pet breeders, so penalties involve revocation of state licenses or other administrative penalties.

The concern of early separation is not only a legal one, but an ethical one.

Regardless of whatever laws may be applicable in their state or country, a responsible breeders will never allow a puppy to be separated from the mother and littermates too soon. This could be a great way to tell if a breeder is ethical or not. If they are willing to let you pick up a puppy at 5 weeks old, they are likely breaking the law and are certainly not practicing ethical breeding. And if they are willing to cut that corner, how many other corners do they cut when producing litters? Your chances of getting a healthy puppy that is well bred begin to drop precipitously when these red flags start adding up, so be wary.

And to any breeders who may be reading this; if you are among those who permit early separation, do better. A puppy staying with the dam (the female parent of a litter of puppies) and littermates for the proper amount of time is not just so they can fully wean, the process of which is often complete a couple of weeks prior to separation, but is vital for the proper groundwork for socialization and training. A puppy learns a tremendous amount from it's mother and littermates; social cues, behavioral limits, proper communication between canines, not to bite too hard when playing, etc. Depriving them of this key learning period not only potentially sets them up for a more difficult time in the future, but also presents their future family with behavioral and training issues that they otherwise would not have to work so hard to overcome. And keep in mind that behavioral issues are the number one reason given for surrendering dogs to shelters. Doing the bare minimum of keeping the puppies until they are 8 or 9 weeks goes towards helping prevent these types of problems, and sets up your puppy for success!

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