December 16, 2007

A dog is not a toy. Also: puppy mills suck.

Classic posters from the Fundación Altarriba. 'A dog is for life, not just Christmas.'

I get lost in my little dog-person world sometimes, and assume everyone knows certain things about dog care, dog training and dog behavior: that bloat is a life-threatening emergency, for example. That beating a puppy for "deliberately disobeying" is stupid, and cruel. That half a dozen annual vaccines for Scout may not, in fact, make you a paragon among dog owners. That puppy mills are the stuff of nightmares. That pet shop puppies come from puppy mills.

When I first started speaking out against the train wreck that is AB 1634, I learned that if I said, "This bill gives puppy mills a free pass," people would say, "What are... 'puppy mills,' exactly? Why are they bad?"

This graphic may help. The author posted it to the Pet Connection Blog last year, and it's also available on the Best Friends web site. According to the USDA, which regulates commercial, high-volume factory farms for dogs breeding kennels, a dog must have six inches of head room, and each animal's floor space = [the length of the dog from nose to base of tail + six inches] squared. And if this space is doubled, the dog never has to be taken out of her cage --- double the space means "adequate" room to exercise, according to the USDA. Here's a photo from an old post of a dog with "adequate" room to exercise:

She'll spend most of her life in that cage. She will be bred on every heat until she's too worn out to breed, and then she'll be sold at auction or killed. This is where pet shop puppies come from, not from "caring breeders." A truly responsible breeder would slit her wrists before she'd hand puppies over to a pet shop to sell to anyone with a credit card. Pet shops get their puppies from large-scale, commercial breeders, and until people quit buying puppies from pet shops, puppy mills will go right on cranking out thousands upon thousands of sickly, unsocialized 'misery puppies.'

[And may I take this opportunity to call BS (a bit) on Newsweek and the HSUS? Good on you for lifting the rock off "Pets of Bel Air" and making the bugs scatter, but enough already with the old "you must get your dog from the shelter" routine. For a healthy, well-raised pup, get in touch with a responsible breeder.]


-J. said...

Er, you had me until the end there. I know you have shelter dogs and I know you know they can be just as wonderful (and yes, as healthy and as well-raised) a companion - for most people seeking a pet, shelters are a wonderful and life-saving option.

BorderWars said...

Great Post, Luisa. We don't agree on much, but that last paragraph is particularly insightful.

If we are to "be the light we wish to see in the world," then two fundamental things must happen: (1) We buy our pets from responsible people, and (2) We keep them; we keep them well fed, well exercised, and socialized until the day they die, but we keep them.

Rescue is wonderful, but it can never be the only thing and IMO, it should never be the only thing and to cast shelter adoption as moral and buying a dog from a good breeder immoral is dangerous.

As Nathan Winograd says in his book, the demand for new dogs is twice the number of every shelter dog in America (including all the ones we import). Even in an ideal world, half of all dogs will need to be bought "new" versus "used." And as society as a whole become better owners, that ratio will tip even more toward buying from a breeder vs. a shelter as (may this day come) pets abandoned in shelters become more scarce.

The ideal situation is well bred dogs by hobby breeders are bought for good prices by vetted families who keep that dog forever and take advantage of the growing training and sport industries (as well as the premium food markets) to keep their pet healthy and happy.

Hobby breeders need to compete, Veterinarians need to compete, Dog Food makers need to compete, and even Shelters need to compete. Competition breeds innovation and efficiency. But you have to be a part of the market to influence it in the direction you want it to go.

For many people that means that it is moral, ethical, and economical to pay a good price for a well bred dog from a breeder who expects more than just a check in return.

Luisa said...

Thanks, Christopher.

-j, point taken. I always encourage people to visit the shelter and adopt a pound dog [or two or three or more ;~)].

What makes me want to spit ink is the marginalization and/or disparagement of responsible breeders. Dogs should be carefully bred for terrific temperaments and great health, and while those attributes can certainly be found in a stray from the local shelter, no one should feel guilty about buying a well-bred dog from a responsible hobby breeder. Where else do we want the great dogs of the future to come from? "No-Kill Nation," terrific -- "No-Birth Nation" and a future without border collies and pit bulls...? Not for me.

Anonymous said...

Spot on, especially the last paragraph.

The mythology around 'pet overpopulation', like most propaganda, is not necessarily true - it is just believed to be true.

AR like to harp about 'overpopulation' so it can push for mandated sterilization because the outcome is obvious if dogs cannot reproduce. Duh.

However, they also lament large-scale, inhumane commercial breeding operations.

If there are too many pets, then how can millers make so much money?

It doesn't compute.

I've had most of my dogs 'second-hand' since adulthood including my two current purebreds who were obtained from a breeder who has become one of my best friends. Neither was acquired in infancy, one lived at my friend's house until 2.5 yrs and one was a return at 7 months but they are hands-down the nicest dogs, temperamentwise, I've ever owned.

I'm tired of ethical breeders being lumped in with millers. To me, it borders on libel.

What's more, no breeder among the many I know would ever give a dog to someone who couldn't care for it properly. Also, contrary to the propaganda, no breeder I know would ever let one of their dogs languish in a shelter. They take them back at any age and in any state of health.

Until the media cottons on to the differences between various factions and stops quoting Peta et al as if they somehow represent dog owners, I'm afraid the public will be left without the information they need to make an informed choice.