I’ll finish recapping the AKC Eukanuba experience this week (in between building my gingerbread houses and working on the 12 Days and all the other things that manage to pile on this time of year), but I wanted to deviate for one moment into this large cloud that looms over any sort of dog discussion, and that is the vast and gaping chasm separating two equally passionate groups of pet enthusiasts.
I had some very interesting conversations with some of my fellow bloggers at the conference this weekend. We were discussing the role of the breeders in animal welfare, and one person (who I will leave out by name unless she wants to specifically enter the discussion publicly) spoke to me about the discomfort she felt at BlogPaws as a breeder. She did not feel it was her place there.
“I’m really surprised you feel that way,” I said to her. “I have a tremendous amount of respect for what serious breed fanciers are trying to do to maintain the health of their breeds. I’ve always felt your role was very important in pet health.”
She told me some stories, some personal, some from other folks, about the harassment they had received for their actions as breeders. Police called on them, confiscated pets, threats to families, those sorts of things. And because of that, she and others like her have become extremely leery of anyone who purports to be an animal welfare advocate.
And that really took me aback, because I consider myself an animal welfare advocate. I don’t advocate harassment, or the elimination of the AKC and breeds, or anything that I consider extreme. I am about as far from a PETA person as you can get. Lumping the actions of the animal welfare advocates I know and respect in with animal rights activists is akin in my book to putting puppy mill owners in the same book as serious breeders. Perhaps one can find similarities on an extremely superficial level, but really, they are nothing alike.
There has been so much animosity from the extremes on both sides that what I imagine to be the reasonable majority in the middle are having a hard time finding a way to find the common ground. There is so much work to be done and so little time to waste on distrust.
I am the first to admit that I am not an insider in either community, the animal welfare/shelter movement nor the breed fancier group. In that, the nuances are lost. But it also gives me so much more freedom to look at the situation objectively as an outsider and ask what the problem is. I have no preconceptions or assumptions to keep me from asking the painfully obvious.
I know it’s hopelessly naive to simply say, “Can’t we all just get along?” with a pleading face and expect a summit to happen, the clouds to part and everyone to become besties who agree on everything. But I do think it is perfectly reasonable to explore what our common goals are, to find those commonalities- which at the end of the day is better health and better lives for our canine companions- and focus on that, rather than the other things, in order to serve the greater good.
It is reasonable to want that. It is a good discussion to have. And as long as I can find reasonable people from all areas of canine welfare to discuss it with, I will do so.
Here are two groups of people who love their pets to the ends of the earth, who spend thousands on medical care and supplies and hours on activity and love. We are not the enemy of each other.
The enemy is ambivalence. The enemy is abuse and neglect and greed and “It’s just a dog.”
We have work to do, and I think we need all the help we can get.
Tabitha W says
I love animals. I love my 3 cats, 2 pure breed Burmese and one tabby. They are my life I love them. When people ask me why I went to the breeders and not a shelter, I have no answer for them. I wanted cats and the breeder lived beside my mom and dad’s house. She had adult cats that she was willing to give to a good home and that is how I got my Mini and Magoo.
I look at it in a simple way. You cant go wrong when you bring an animal into your life. No matter where they come from, what medical state, what form of training, your life will be better for it. I often equate shelter animals and pure breed animals like human foster care. Not everyone is cut out to “foster” a kid with needs, trauma, and unknown histories. Just like not everyone is put on this earth to take in stray dogs and cats. Some people can foster kids and others can make their own. Some people can adopt animals and others can afford the to buy one. Its a personal choice but either way how can you go wrong? You life will be better for it. We would never look down at a family for having children naturally, nor would we for adopting or fostering a child. If animals are our babies then who cares how we got them! BTW, my Tabby came from a foster home that I used to work at. He was a therapy cat of sorts. I adopted him, and in return he let me rub his belly until I cant rub any more (or i need to go to work). My life is better because of all of my fur babies.
Dr. V says
I agree Tabitha. I think it’s vital for people to know their expectations and limitations before taking a pet home, and being honest about what you can and cannot deal with. Not everyone wants the same thing, and as long as we continue to beat each other up for our choices then we’re missing the opportunity to address problems we all care about.
Kathy, RVT says
As a previous breeder(not currenty breeding, because I did not feel my last female was of breeding quality), and someone active in Rescue, plus being a tech…There is very much a place for the well bred purebred dog. I raise sheep, and very few of my foster Border Collies are useful working dogs. Very few of my foster Goldens will be successful in the hunting field.
That said; my current working dog was one of my fosters, but I also knew where he came from(working stock); and my current therapy and OB dog is my first foster failure(after over 200 dogs), a beautiful Golden.
I find it amazing how many “dog people” act like I did something wrong because I bought my dogs from a breeder. One of my Welsh Terriers came from a backyard breeder. I should have seen the signs…she’s a little crazy and has issues, but I love her anyway. The Welsh I bought from the established championship breeder is a fantastic dog. He was going to be her show dog, but he has a gay tail, lucky for me. So, in a way I rescued Tegwen from her large litter, raised in a garage with an over breed mother, and I rescued Rhys from the breeder that couldn’t use him in the show ring. So next time I’m asked …I’ll just say I rescued them both.
As a supporter of canine rescue & long time advocate of adoption, I braced myself for hate mail or some sort of backlash when I introduced my purebred, planned-for, bought from a breeder, Bull Terrier to our online pack. I discussed my apprehension with rescue-leaning folks in advance, and had my arguments prepared. And the backlash never came.
I think those of us in the middle ground of this issue will always outnumber those on the edges, but we’re typically not the loudest.
I like Tabitha’s comparison of having/adopting kids to pet acquisition. This resonates with me as my pets are like family members. I think that we should be planning any breedings – human included – with our planet’s limited resources in mind.
Tabitha W says
I like what you said, “our planets limited resources”. I feel the same way. Its one of the main reasons why I work in Human foster care. Can you imagine if more care was taken when people were adopting pets (or having children) no matter where they came from? There would be so fewer animals in shelters (children in foster care). Perhaps in tribute to Lennon’s death today someone should write a verse of imagine with regards to pets. Any musical talent out there?
Dr V, I LOVE that you are pursuing this discussion! I believe that (as with many of society’s problems today) the danger is in the extremists of each side. They are usually louder than the rest of us. It’s time for rational people to start questioning some of the irrational opinions expressed online and in our lives. Please count on me if you want help in facilitating this discussion! We can build a bridge!
Although I’ve always adopted dogs and cats and parrots, I love that people are still breeding purebred dogs. I do disagree with some of the “alterations” that supposedly are necessary but still don’t think that qualified breeders should have to stop breeding. Where do you think our “mutts” came from! I’m sorry that the breeder/blogger you spoke with felt uncomfortable at Blogpaws. I really thought it was for everybody and saw a lot of good work come out of it but wish (like you) “Can’t we all get along?”. Thanks for opening this topic up and I hope it reaches the people who could use a different view.
Both of my pets are rescues. One is also a purebred that was given as a gift, then rescued by me from being dumped in a shelter. My other is 100% rescue. She wouldn’t be alive today if I hadn’t taken her home with me. I would always prefer to save the life of an animal in need rather than pay for a ‘new’ one. BUT, I’ve known very responsible breeders who take great care in matching animals for breeding, who love them and treat them like family, and who only sell to people who feel the same. I think there is a place for pure-bred dogs, as long as they are bred and cared for properly from birth onward and bought with the intention of making them life-long family members, because we all know the shelters are full of animals in need of home. Though those animals may not always be ‘perfect,’ they are 100% lovable and deserving of the very best 🙂
Diana Reed says
I too rescue animals. I pick them up and take them home when I find them lost or starving. I took in a pregnant lab (AKC I’m sure) that was dumped in front of our vet clinic and whelped out her puppies in my whelping room (yes I’m a breeder myself) and found homes for them all. I know that I can’t save them all but I do my best to help those that I can. It hurts me to see my neighbors tie up their dogs to a tree and watch her whelp out litter after litter, see the pups die in the street or eventually go to the pound…it breaks my heart. I have owned mutts before and there is nothing wrong with them. I just prefer pure bred dogs. Ones that I can pick out by breed for temperment and soundness and that I know ahead of time that it will fit into our lives and home. I do not breed for money nor quantity. I breed on occasion for quality puppies that I can show or donate to a guide dog school, or supply some family with a dog that they can enjoy for a long, long time as it is well bred and physically sound with a wonderful temperment. My dogs are raised in a family home with a lot of attention and love. I would never raise them in a garage in cages piled up on top of each other without Veterinatry care and breed them everytime they come into heat so I can get enough money out of selling them to make a living. My dogs are my family. I only let them go to approved homes and am willing ot take them back if the new owner is ever unable to keep them. I do not expect my puppies to ever end up in a shelter. I donate to shelters. There is definately a place and a need for shelters and responsible breeders. But the puppy mills need to be closed down and the public educated on the need to alter their pets for health reasons. I hope that neuter clinics can be made more readily available for those that love ther pets and need help with the neutering.
Tabitha W says
Its great that we are having this discussion and I think it is amazing that in just these comments we have brought out many of the other issues that face problems in the animal welfare area. Over breeding, giving pets as gifts, over populated shelters, not enough funding for spay/neuter clinics, extremest behaviours on both sides, family/personal view of animal (Eg pet, family, below human, animal ect), and how all of these important issues help us to make the decision on what type of animal we can care for. Keep up the great discussion.
Thank you so much, Dr. V. for opening up this can of worms! Our animals need rational, compassionate, intelligent people from BOTH sides of these trying issues. Hopefully this will be an avenue of discussion and cooperation between animal lovers of all persuasions. From what I see the extremists are helping very few animals. We need to come together somehow for the sake of our four footed friends.
I stand before you, guilty as charged. I’m the “fellow blogger’ who shared oxygen with Dr. V both at Blog Paws and at Eukanuba, and am the breeder of whom she spoke who felt disquieted when surrounded by shelter and rescue workers (heroes of mine) at Blog Paws. The topic of animal welfare (a term I’ve come to dislike for its political ramifications) has become needlessly complicated when at the heart of the matter is one simple caveat: it’s about the animals. Or should be. Instead, money, politics and misconceptions have clouded the topic and kept an earnest dialogue from occurring. Extreme views have dominated the conversation, but it’s the voices of reasonable people with a heart who should be heard. Who can object to “animal well being?” In my world, it’s certainly not the breed clubs who actively rescue their own and chastise those who don’t. There needs to be a meeting of minds. This is a good beginning.
Hawk aka BrownDog says
Until me, all my Humans’ dogs have been rescues. Even as a child, my Human Momma’s dogs consisted of ones “dumped” near their farm.
Since they had lost and mourned their Chessie rescue’s passing and were looking for something specific and another Chessie, they ended up with me. I’m from a breeder but “filled the bill”.
That said, my Humans know several breeders who are as involved in and with Rescue as they are with breeding.
Y’all come by now,
Hawk aka BrownDog
My dog is from a breeder. I’ve always been a huge rescue advocate, but I wanted a backpacking companion… which meant I needed to get him young to train him to use the gear properly, needed a predictable size (small enough to carry out and share a solo tent) and personality (energetic, friendly, enthusiastic). I needed a dog that would be fit enough to keep up and which I could be reasonably sure would not develop hip dysplasia. There isn’t a shelter puppy in the world that can guarantee me what I needed… but a purebred hunting-line Brittany turned out to be just the ticket.
I did not expect the huge amount of disapproval from many of my friends and family with rescue pets. All of my pets up to this point have been rescues, because I didn’t have specific plans for them, but I was amazed how many people I knew felt that even with the year and a half of research and waiting and planning, it was never ever acceptable to get a puppy from a breeder. Most of them have warmed up to him in person, but it really struck me how many people who participate in rescue feel that there is no such thing as ethical breeding. I think maybe it’s because they see so much of the ugliness that results from the opposite end of the spectrum…
Shawn Finch says
As a veterinarian, I try to counsel most pet owners toward spaying and neutering, and have seen the clients who do decide to breed do a stellar job – with socializing, medical care, finding homes…
Lately I have been thinking forward to when almost every pet has a home, I think we may be closer than it seems. If shelters can shelter, and rescues can rescue and puppy mills are shut down and the “supply and demand” of pets is balanced (I hate to use such a crude term for our pets) – but once overpopulation is no longer crazy out of control, we will ALL need a pet source. We will NEED our excellent breeders even more than we do now. Even though we are not there yet, I still think they play a vital role in the pet world – the good ones are raising pups (and kittens and hamsters and birds…), socializing them, finding good (hopefully forever) homes for them.
Often, the extremists are the loudest, and like you guys have been saying, the reasonable majority is not always as well heard. It makes me sad that the great breeders and adopters-from-breeders have been so harshly judged by the loudmouths. I think as pet lovers, we have more in common than not. (Also, if someone brought me their baby Bull Terrier for a new puppy exam, I would probably die of joy.)
Lisa W says
I think at least part of the problem is the connotation that is now so prevalent when one hears the term “breeder,” because so many are not responsible and as I understand it the AKC is not helping because they don’t have real guidelines in place to ensure quality and care. If I can get an AKC dog from a puppy mill, I see that as a problem. My babies are both rescues, but I have nothing against people who want a pure-bred as long as they take care with their decision. I also have nothing against breeders who care for their animals and make an effort to place them in the right situations. I do, however, admit to a moment of trepidation when I hear that someone wants to buy a dog from a breeder, for the reasons mentioned above and because I can’t walk through a shelter without crying and I know how many animals are euthanized…. That being said, I definitely consider myself part of the “reasonable middle.” I think the more extreme views of both sides of the argument are passionate for the good of animals, If we could find a way to stop the puppy mills and the backyard breeders, I think we would all be amazed at how much we indeed have in common.
We’ve adopted from shelters, or taken in strays my whole life. Getting Chewy and Q was the first time I had ever gone to a breeder, and it was a great experience. I made friends, not just with the breeder, but with her other puppy owners. We share stories and pictures about the dogs on Facebook, and I feel like my life has been enriched for it.
The next animals I get will be adopted, for sure, but there’s absolutely nothing wrong with buying a dog from a responsible breeder.
I, too, had to deal with the backlash from ‘animal advocates.’ People telling me all sorts of unsolicited and unwanted advice, people who were offended that I’d gone to a breeder, I had one woman tell me that my ‘selfishness’ had just cost the lives of countless animals.First of all, what a horrible thing to say to someone, and the assumption is just… Ugh. And secondly, well, no, not really. We don’t have kill shelters here, and the dogs get adopted out very quickly. Cats are a huge problem for the shelters, though. So many strays around here, Drew and I feed all of the ones that come around our house.
I’m with you Dr. V, can’t we all just get along? I love my pets dearly, from shelters or from breeders. They’re my family, and they get the best possible lives I can give them. They eat better than I do. I give generously to animal welfare organizations every year. We’re all in the same boat. People putting down legitimate breeders, or people who buy from them, is a bit like cutting off your nose to spite your face.