Opening Space

Why we have to take action


I’ll admit I came late to the party. When the Internet started buzzing about new anti-dog legislation it wasn’t something that sent off immediate danger signals: there’s so much talk these days about plans to curtail our dog activities that it’s easy to become inured against it.

In any case, read the California Healthy Pets Act (AB 1634), making it illegal to have an unneutered or unspayed dog or cat in California unless you obtain a special permit, it seemed clear to me that this is a bill that won’t pass. To begin with, it targets law-abiding pet owners and small hobby breeders who ought to be encouraged, not restricted, while it won’t hit at the heart of the over-population problem: unplanned backyard breeding. Instead of spaying or neutering their pets, irresponsible owners would simply abandon their pets, exacerbating the problem instead of helping it.

In addition, the bill would be so difficult to enforce that I don’t see how it can pass the steps required before it comes to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s desk for the signature which would make it law. What, they’re going to come into my back yard and look for the scars that prove my 11-year-old bitch has been spayed? Pursue us down the street when we go jogging? I don’t think so.

However, the fact that this particular bill will probably be thrown out should not lull us into a false sense of security. Unless we do something pro-active, we are going to remain at risk for future sanctions. It’s not the first time anyone has tried to enact rules restricting dog ownership, nor is this happening just in California: it’s a nationwide problem.

How can we ensure there will be no further attempts to restrict us from participating in our hobby of choice?

Admit the Problem

Let’s first admit that we have a problem. It upsets me when I find people who are so locked into our own hermetically sealed world of dog shows that they either don't know or don’t care about what goes on in the wider world of dogs. The fact is that there are hundreds of thousands of homeless dogs out there, there are way too many irresponsible owners who don’t look after their pets, and it would be a blessing if a far greater percentage of the pet population was spayed and neutered, so they could not continue to contribute to the overflowing shelters. All dog lovers should be able to agree on this.

I don’t know if the figures quoted are correct (more than 800,000 pets abandoned in California each year at a cost to the tax payers of $250 million), but that’s not really the point. Talk to someone who works at a shelter and you will hear stories that will turn your stomach and make you cry. You need a heart of stone, or an ostrich’s ability to bury your head in the sand, to not realize that there are too many unwanted dogs out there.

You may say that’s sad but it isn’t your problem. In a sense you are right: barely 10 percent of the dogs in the pound are purebred (and the term “purebred” may even then have to be used rather elastically), so chances are none of them come from you or your friends. But the fact is that we are all seen as part of the problem, whether that’s true or not, and we will be treated accordingly — hence AB 1634 and all the other efforts to regulate the activities of even the most responsible dog people.

What we have to do is prove to the world that we in the dog show community do not contribute to the population problem. We already say that we care about every puppy we help bring into this world. Now is the time to show that this isn’t just loose talk.

A Solution

The following suggestion is, quite frankly, brilliant. No, it doesn’t come from me, and it isn’t new. I give all credit to AKC judges Betty-Anne Stenmark and Sandra Pretari, both active in the Palo Alto Animal Services shelter in California. Here’s their remedy, in brief:
•  All AKC breeders agree to microchip and register every dog they own and every puppy they breed before it leaves their home. This information will never change;
•  All AKC breeders agree to sell all companion animals either altered or with limited registration and a spay/neuter contract;
•  Any dog with a microchip that turns up in a shelter would be returned to the owner first. In the owner’s absence or if the dog was surrendered to the shelter by that owner, the breeder of record agrees to take the dog back. The breeder makes arrangements to pick up the dog or to have it shipped to them. They would assume all costs. Obviously, if a breeder does not perform, he or she will be subject to the applicable punitive laws.

As Betty-Anne says: “We bring them into this world and we are responsible for them all of their lives. No responsible breeder would refuse to microchip the dogs they breed or to willingly take their dogs back, be they 2 or 12 years old. If the breeder is unable to keep the dog, he or she will either re-home the dog or take on the responsibility of euthanizing it. No shelter will ever have to be responsible for the progeny of responsible breeders.”

She concludes: “Frankly, any breeder who wouldn’t adhere to these policies can suffer the consequences of their actions. They would deserve what they got.” 

If AKC supported this plan we would be able to claim that AKC breeders are indeed the “gold standard” and that no AKC breeder ever contributes to the pet over-population problem. Then, of course, we can deal with the sorry situation created by the unplanned breeding of others... because we care about pets, not because it was something we caused.

The question really is: just how responsible a breeder are you? Do you deserve to be considered part of the “gold standard”?

I truly hope you do.

Bo Bengtson, Editor-at-Large


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