I’ve been following Dog Time’s multi part series about No-Kill with interest. Fascinating stuff. Then I saw yesterday’s piece: “There are no responsible breeders.” I read it, waiting for the twist, waiting for some clarification on the idea, and then I got to the end and realized that the author meant it, as is, in all sincerity.
Even responsible breeders who genuinely love and want the best for their animals you ask? I know this statement will raise some hackles, but it needs to be said: There are no responsible breeders. At least not now, while our shelters are full and perfectly adoptable animals are dying (some of which came from breeders).
It doesn’t matter that you’ve grown up with Collies or that a German Shepherd once saved your life. I don’t care what breed you love above all others. Your passion for wanting to see that breed proliferate is irrelevant when it comes to the welfare of a single animal. Breeding is a hobby for humans. It’s morally intolerable to value the worth of a breed over the worth of an individual. No exceptions.
And, here comes the part where I step in it.
I really, really dislike these overgeneralizations. Painting every single breeder on the planet with the same “you suck” brush (and really, calling them all irresponsible is doing just that) does nothing except create more divisiveness and defensiveness in the very group of people we need to be working with more than ever.
What this article is saying, in essence, is that there is no acceptable way to get an animal other than from a shelter/rescue. Regardless of the breed, regardless of your lifestyle or what you are looking for in a pet. You are selfish if you go about it any other way and are killing animals.
Well, that is a difficult position to argue against, isn’t it?
Don’t get me wrong- I do think many, if not the majority, of people that breed animals do so in a manner that could easily be characterized as irresponsible. But not all of them. The people who will tell you this with the most certainty are the responsible breeders, who get that breeding well is not something one can make a profit from. But to place puppy mill owners, backyard “I just want one litter” breeders and those people who painstakingly research the health and wellness of their pets before breeding them all in the same boat is doing a great disservice to us all.
And to imply by extension that anyone who dares to do something like get a pet from anywhere other than pre-approved channels such as a shelter is essentially smothering a puppy with their own bare hands, well, that’s not helping the situation.
The desire for purebreds isn’t going anywhere
First, it assumes every person on the planet wants a dog for the same reason. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Some people want guard dogs, others want loyal companions, still others want a working dog to save lives in war zones. When people look for a pet, and more specifically a dog, they have a set of characteristics in mind that they are looking to fulfill. And the most tried-and-true way of getting that consistent set of traits is by getting a particular breed, or at least a dog who has certain combination of breed characteristics. This is why people who have purse chihuahuas do not usually also have Dobermans at home (though it happens.)
One of the reasons the whole “there are no responsible breeders” statement gets me so much is that I don’t see anything positive coming out of it. People looking for pets of specific breeds aren’t going anywhere any time soon. The demand is not going anywhere. So now those people feel shame and guilt, and breeders trying to do the right thing feel shame and guilt or just flat out decide all rescue people are out of touch with reality, and then dialogue is completely shut down.
I distinctly remember talking to someone after the last BlogPaws, a blogger who I have gotten to know and like a lot, who is what I would count as a “responsible” breeder. She said how uncomfortable she felt in a room of rescue advocates, not because she was ashamed of what she does, but because she felt others implied that she should be. And that makes me sad.
Rescue isn’t for everyone
“So what about Petfinder?” you might ask. “There are tons of purebreds in shelters and rescues.” Are you kidding? I love Petfinder. Petfinder is amazing. I browse it all the time. I’m with you. I love rescue and I do it myself. But it isn’t for everyone. I remember being told when I put a feeler out that I couldn’t adopt from the local Boston Terrier rescue because I had a child under the age of 10 in my house.
I ended up with Kekoa instead- and that turned out just fine- but maybe other people wouldn’t want to wait 5 years for the possibility of maybe being approved for a senior dog with incontinence and one eye (which was the status of every Boston available for adoption in Southern California at the time). I think we could do a better job promoting rescue overall, but sometimes it just isn’t going to work for a particular situation.
Then there’s the health issue. I have had 4 rescue dogs in my life so far, dogs of indeterminate origin and breeding. Every single one of them has had cancer. Cancer, a disease with a strong genetic component. In the absence of breeder programs keeping track of these problems, strong programs like the AKC Canine Health Foundation which is doing some amazing research to pinpoint the genetic causes of disease in dogs and perhaps people, are we really better off?
Canine Companions for Independence is one of many service dog organizations that has a breeding program. They do this not because they are callous to the plight of shelter dogs. They do it because it is the most efficient way to consistently get dogs of the right temperament and degree of health to do their job, a job which begins the moment they are born through intensive socialization. Are they irresponsible too?
All breeders are not created equal
Let me clarify what portion of the breeding populace I am referring to when I say “responsible” breeder:
- One whose primary concern is the health of the breed.
Not profit. Not championships. Not “aw, I want her to experience the joy of motherhood.” Not “I want to earn a few bucks to offset this/that/whatever.” Breeding a dog for health is expensive, with PennHip/OFA certifications, eye checks for CERF certification, heart disease checks, keeping a temperament consistent with that of the breed. That is hard to do.
They are also extremely protective of their dogs, sometimes to a fault. People continue to do a ridiculously poor job of picking a dog for the right reason. If you’re a housebound senior who wants a Jack Russell, any responsible breeder will tell them no, and explain why. And if they are dopey, they go to the mall and get one anyway. We don’t need less good breeders, we need more. Ones who will educate people. Every breed club I know of has a rescue arm, one that does work helping the breed they love in times of need. We need more of this collaboration, not less.
Most people who produce litters of puppies are not what I would call responsible breeders. I agree with this. But not all. Not all. But they are responding to a demand, and therein lies the problem. The public continues to approach dog ownership with a callous disregard and need for instant gratification that creates a never ending supply of poorly bred animals that wind up in shelters and dead.
We don’t need to beat up breeders trying to help keep a breed intact and healthy in order to solve the shelter problem. We need to educate our children to value pets of all kinds through humane education. We need to eliminate ridiculous breed specific legislation that forces people to put their animals into shelters when they are in a housing crunch. We need to improve shelter hours so it’s more convenient for people to go there to see the pets, and make it a positive experience so people aren’t so scared of the place they don’t even want to set foot in it. Better websites, better photos, trainers to help these animals become more adoptable and remain in their new homes.
So no, I don’t agree that there are no responsible breeders. There are some. I wish there were more. Because then there would be less of the crummy kind. But more than that, I just really shudder at drawing the battle lines that separate us from some really stellar advocates for pet health and companionship, because these people are not the enemy. And I really hate that people who conscientiously breed, and people who seek out a purebred from these people, are so nervous and worried about being lambasted for making a personal choice that they feel they can’t even enter into the discussion without being sneered back into the shadows. They love animals too.
You all know I feel passion deep in my bones for the plight of our shelter situation, right? I want nothing more than to help erase this massive wound in our national conscience. I just don’t think this particular angle is one that is helpful and might even be a little hurtful. I know it’s a sensitive topic but I know this is a very intelligent group who can talk about challenging topics with an open mind.
All right, fire at will.