LOS ANGELES — Remember that old song, "How much is that doggie in the window?" For most Americans, it seems it's no sale.
More than half of people in an Associated Press-Petside.com poll said they would get their next dog or cat from a shelter, nearly seven times the number who said they would buy their next pet from a store.
And more than four in 10 said they thought store pets could have hidden medical or psychological problems. That's significantly more than those who expressed the same concerns about pets from animal shelters or breeders.
"I believe they overbreed the pets. I believe they couldn't care less about the pets, they're really in it for the money. I think you are more likely to get a pet at a pet store that is ill or has problems," said Sandra Toro, 62, of Colton, Calif.
Just 8 percent of those polled said they would get their next cat or dog at a store, while 13 percent said that's where they got the pet they have now. Fifty-four percent of those polled said they would probably get their next pet from a shelter, while 23 percent went for a breeder.
Toro, who has a 14-year-old rescue terrier mix named Dancer, said she doesn't understand how anyone can buy a pet from a store or a breeder.
"There are so many wonderful pets out there that will be euthanized," she said. "There's no reason for it."
John Knight, 45, of Dallas, got his 3-year-old mutt named Liesl (rhymes with diesel) from an animal shelter that was holding a weekend adoption day at Petsmart.
"There are plenty of animals out there that need good homes that don't have them. There's no reason to continue to breed animals when there are so many that have to be put down," he said.
When asked where their present pets came from, 26 percent said breeders and 30 percent said shelters – a much smaller number than said they would go to a shelter for their next pet. More than half of those polled said their dogs or cats came from places other than shelters, breeders or stores. They might have been strays, gifts from friends or favors for neighbors. Since some people have more than one pet, the numbers add to more than 100 percent.
"I've probably had 50 dogs and all but two came walking up our driveway," said Colleen Campbell, 71, of Fairview, Texas.
She and her husband have spent 50 years on their rural farm outside Dallas and it has been a perennial dumping ground for strays. They also take in any other animal that needs a home. Their vet talked them into Frito and Burrito, a pair of donkeys Campbell knew would need special medical attention.
The American Pet Products Association said sales from pet stores have declined over the last 10 years.
The poll showed that dog owners (35 percent) were likelier to have gotten their current pets from a breeder than cat owners (5 percent).
Forty-seven percent of those polled said they were strongly concerned that an animal from a pet store would have medical issues they didn't know about, 38 percent had similar worries about animals from breeders and 32 percent were concerned about shelter pets.
As for psychological problems, 44 percent said they had significant worries about pet store animals and 33 percent worried about both breeder and shelter pets.
Fitting in with the family was of concern to everyone: 33 percent for stores, 30 percent for shelters and 28 percent for breeders.
When Mike Stoutenburg, 36, of Mishawaka, Ind., and his family are ready for their next dog, they will probably go to a breeder, he said, because they want an Australian shepherd. He is sure he could see any health problems in a puppy, but said he would ask his vet and groomer to check the pet out for any mental problems because the dog will be around a very young and active child – and his 3-year-old son "loves to grab things."
"Our groomer is extremely knowledgeable about animals. We trust her opinion," Stoutenburg said.
Bill Machut, 40, of Rolling Meadows, Ill., got his dog, Sidney, a Siberian Husky, from a pet store when the dog was 8 weeks old. That was 12 years ago.
If he were looking for a new pet, "I would buy from a pet store again. And I wouldn't rule out a breeder if I was looking for a certain breed. But I would probably start off at the shelters," he said.
He said most people expect things like kennel cough or worms. "There is an assumption there is a good chance there is some sort of health issue, especially being at a shelter. You deal with it. It's not that big of a deal," he said.
Several years ago, they got Sidney a playmate from a shelter, knowing before they took her in that she was sick. "She had seizures from the get go. We knew she wasn't going to be a long life dog. We had her six years."
People under age 30 (17 percent) were likelier to say they'd get a pet from a pet store than older groups (all were 7 percent or less).
The AP-Petside.com Poll was conducted April 7-12, 2010, and involved landline and cell phone interviews with 1,112 pet owners nationwide. It has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.3 percentage points.
Associated Press Polling Director Trevor Tompson, AP News Survey Specialist Dennis Junius and AP Writer Alan Fram contributed to this report from Washington.
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