Bo Bengtson Opening Space: We Are the "Animal Rights" People

It still shocks me when I hear dog people talk with withering scorn about the "animal rights” people.

By Bo Bengtson | January 1, 2006

One of the dumbest things we dog people have done is to let the "enemy camp” — those who would like to stamp out dog shows, breeding, pet ownership, any kind of interaction between animals and humans — get away with stealing the terms that sound good to the layman. When those people talk about "animal rights” they don’t mean what these words imply to us, and although the acronym PETA stands for "people for ethical treatment of animals,” it doesn’t mean what you or I would mean by that. It sounds good: how could anyone be against ethical treatment of animals? Yet knowing what PETA stands for, how could you not oppose them?

It still shocks me when I hear dog people talk with withering scorn about the "animal rights” people — as if we who own, breed and show dogs don’t care about their well-being. I know that’s not the case, of course — but when we use these terms, let us make it clear that it’s what these people stand for we disagree with, not what they call themselves. Let’s be specific and call them "the so-called ‘animal rights’ people” or "those extremists who are against anyone keeping pets.” And how about making it clear that it’s we who are the real "animal rights” people — that we believe in decent, respectful treatment of all living things.

Exactly how dogs and other domestic animals should be treated in a humane, ethical society is a thorny question. Most of us practically live for our dogs, and I know show dogs which are better treated than most children, but as long as we let the other side hijack all the terms that sound good, how is society at large going to know that we in fact do care about our dogs’ welfare?


Slow Boat to China

Speaking of humane treatment of pets... I understand that quite a few U.S. breeders are getting requests for "breeding pairs” of popular breeds from China, so this might be a good time for a word of caution.

Just a few years ago it was illegal to keep dogs as pets in most, if not all, parts of China: dogs were considered a symbol of a degenerate, bourgeois society. With the political change came a more tolerant attitude towards pets, and China is currently undergoing a groundswell of interest in purebred dogs which could soon make it a major player in our sport — what Japan has been for some years now, and Russia is well on the way to becoming.

The western visitors who have traveled to the first dog shows in China (see DR Feb./March 2005, p. 517) report tremendous enthusiasm. However, that purebred dogs are now a big status symbol there is a mixed blessing: there is no living tradition of keeping pets, little practical know-how, and a vast, largely unregulated market of buyers, which makes the whole situation extremely volatile and open to abuse. It doesn’t matter where your dogs go as long as you make sure they will be well looked after for their whole life. The problem with China is that so few of us speak the language and know the culture, and the situation is currently so sensitive that caution is recommended. I would love serious breeders in China to get good foundation stock from the best American bloodlines, but I’m not about to ship a dog out unless I can be sure that it will be well taken care of.

I look forward to more contacts, reports and an exchange of ideas. Several AKC judges have been visiting China already — we’d like to hear from you!

Now, this may be coincidence, but I just received an internet inquiry for "breeding stock” from Lagos, Nigeria. I had never thought of this African country as a hub of the commercial pet trade, but with approximately 128 million inhabitants there’s obviously a demand for imported puppies.

I suppose we should be pleased that people in places where purebred dogs were largely unknown just a few years ago are now taking an interest. If this is not a sign of social stability and progress, at least it’s an indication that our fascination with dogs is, indeed, a truly universal feature.


Awards of Merit

In another publication I recently read an article in which the so-called "Awards of Merit,” which can be awarded to the closest contenders for Best of Breed at especially prestigious shows, are simply called a "consolation prize.”

I couldn’t disagree more. Perhaps if you have a top dog you’d rather get nothing if you don’t win, but I’d go the opposite route and ask judges to place the champions... Nothing is easier than pointing to a well-known top dog in a pile of champions, especially when you don’t need to give any reason for your decision; nothing is more revealing than seeing a judge select the four or five final contenders. That takes real knowledge, and I think all judges worth their salt appreciate the opportunity of calling the shots as they see them! Have fun with your dogs...


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