Photo: Norma Lopez Molina
Brandie delaPaz breeds golden retrievers at the family's home in Sebastian and sells puppies directly to buyers for $2,000 each.
Golden opportunity: Mom-and-pop Florida dog breeders
Six years ago, Brandie delaPaz and her husband, Matt, a Marine infantryman then stationed at Camp Lejeune, N.C., paid $1,500 to a breeder for their first golden retriever, an 8-week-old female named Sophie.
The delaPazes, who have four young children, found Sophie to be an ideal family pet and decided to breed her once she was old enough because “we wanted another dog just like Sophie,” says Brandie delaPaz, a stay-at-home mom.
She went online to research how to breed dogs and became overwhelmed by how much there was to know, she says. She enrolled in a program for veterinary assistants at her local community college and eventually bred Sophie with a golden retriever owned by another breeder.
After a two-month pregnancy, Sophie gave birth at home to eight puppies. The family kept a puppy for themselves, gave three to neighbors and sold the rest for $300 to $400 each.
“We had no idea what we were doing,” Brandie says, laughing. “We look back and say, ‘dang, we were so inexperienced.’ It’s like any small business — you learn.”
Brandie and Matt delaPaz got more serious about breeding, acquired a golden retriever stud and raised two more female dogs. In late 2016, Matt retired from the Marines after 15 years of service. The next year, the family moved to Sebastian in Indian River County, where they converted their dining room into a puppy room.
The delaPazes now breed two female dogs — Meli and Daisy — once a year with the male, Charming. Sophie, their original golden retriever, will retire from breeding later this year. Brandie, who runs the business, registers the puppies as purebred with the American Kennel Club, markets online through AKC’s website and usually has a waiting list. (She already has deposits for the next litter in August.)
A typical litter numbers eight puppies, each priced at $2,000. The delaPazes say they generate around $30,000 a year from two litters of puppies and spend between $12,000 to $15,000 on the dogs’ upkeep, including veterinary care and food. “This is my way to make some extra income for our family,” Brandie says.
Indeed, Craigslist and the classified sections of newspapers are full of ads by people who’ve turned dog breeding into a cottage industry. On a recent weekday, the Tampa Bay Times’ classified section included more than 40 ads from breeders with names like FurMySunshine.com and phone numbers, selling everything from basset hounds for $1,100 to Cavalier King Charles spaniels for $2,500. A search for “puppies in Florida” on AKC’s online marketplace turns up about 770 results.
No government agency regulates small breeding operations in Florida, making it impossible to know exactly how many mom-and-pop breeders there are statewide. In 2017, more than 28,000 dogs were registered with the AKC in Florida, but that does not include popular cross-breeds such as the labradoodle or cockapoo. It also doesn’t distinguish between commercially bred dogs and those bred in homes. The AKC says it has no way to estimate the number of mom-and-pop breeders in Florida.
One reason for the growth in mom-and-pop breeding operations is that pet stores and websites that sell dogs supplied by large, commercial breeders are coming under increased pressure from animal activists. The U.S. Department of Agriculture requires breeders bigger than a mom and pop to be licensed and inspected, but a USDA license is no guarantee that a breeder is humane or honest, says John Goodwin, senior director of the Humane Society’s Stop Puppy Mills Campaign. “USDA regulations are abysmal,” he says. A breeding dog might spend most of its life in “a cage only six inches longer than its body, and that’s legal,” he says.
During the past decade, dozens of Florida cities, including Fort Lauderdale, Miami Beach and St. Petersburg, have moved to close down puppy mills by banning pet stores from selling dogs obtained from commercial breeders. Five Florida counties also have banned or curtailed retail dog sales (“A Leash on Sales,” page 79).
Some now hope to pass a statewide ban on sales of dogs from commercial breeders. In 2017, California became the first state to limit pet store sales of dogs and cats to shelter or rescue animals only.
The legislation doesn’t ban private dog sales, however, meaning people can still buy canine pets directly from small, home-based breeders like the delaPazes.