Does the Purebred Dog World Have a Death Wish?
With all that's going on, wouldn't you think that the show dog community would do its best to show a good face to the world? We need to do a much better job at public relations instead of wasting our time fighting with each other.
Stephanie Hunt-Crowley |
Although the media often focus on the exaggerations of purebreds, responsible breeders do not sacrifice good health for pleasing conformation. In the case of the Bulldog breed, some of the top-winning dogs in the show ring boast health titles as well. Photo Gina Cioli/I-5 Studio.
This question has been asked for several years now, but in the beginning it seemed to be voices in the wilderness. The animal rights activists slid onto the scene in the 1980s, but we really did not notice that they were there, and it was not until the 1990s that their activism became obvious. Even so, their constant criticisms of dog breeders under the guise of attacking "puppy mills" created a divide in the dog show community itself. People were creating terms such as "responsible breeder" and "reputable breeder," and breeders who wanted to retain such badges of honor were expected follow certain codes of conduct to differentiate those breeders from the rest, the bad guys who deserved to be driven out of dogdom. In theory that sounded like a good idea, and members of the community fell in line. The problem was that there was no clear-cut definition, and pejorative descriptions were thrown around with abandon.
In the late 1990s, dog breeders saw the first attempted inroads on the control of dog breeding in general — and not just the "bad guys" — when the Doris Day Animal League made the first legislative attempt to force APHIS to make all dog breeders subject to the rules of the Animal Welfare Act. This failed — but we could already see how we were more interested in fighting with each other than fighting legislation! This was also the time when the Internet was gaining ground first with online bulletin boards and email groups where members could share and read comments made by people they had never met. There was an explosion both in speed of communication and the number of people that could be reached with the click of a mouse. As with any medium, whether it be newspaper or email group, there were people on both sides of the issue, and those in the middle were converted by one side or the other.
In the past 10 years, we have seen more and more legislation proposed and backed by the HSUS, all under the guise of clamping down on "puppy mills" — but with all of them creating serious problems for private breeders and show kennels, and even working and hunting dog breeders. Sadly, the show community was in almost total denial. "If you are not doing anything wrong, you have nothing to fear," was the reverberating response.
The tipping point came when California was presented with a state bill that would have mandated spay/neuter of all dogs and cats at 4 months of age. It failed, but the zealots did not give up. They grabbed hold of the media and harassed dog breeders, labeling all of us "the bad guys." The show community went into overdrive to show that "we" were the good guys by listing what a "good" breeder did or did not do and criticizing everyone else. Naturally, "good" breeders would never be affected by legislation, and cooperating with those on the unapproved list was tantamount to giving them the seal of approval.
"It is truly disturbing to read what people think about the show community. If they don't view us as evildoers breeding crippled dogs, they think of us as 'snobby show people.'"
Overpopulation was the big issue that was hammered home again and again, blaming dog breeders, even though the vast majority of dogs born were mixed breeds. Unwanted dogs were turned in to shelters and euthanized, and it was "our" fault. Now comes the third sucker punch — purebreds were depicted as deformed monstrosities bred for the show ring by uncaring breeders who used vile breeding methods such as inbreeding. Mixed Breeds were much healthier, of course, as they had "hybrid vigor."
With all of this going on, would you not think that the show dog community would do its best to show a good face to the world? I am not talking about organized events such as Westminster or Meet the Breeds. I mean people talking to people and showing the public that we are not all clones of Cruella De Vil! If you follow the comments sections on any news story about dogs and allow for the fact that many comments are written by paid hacks and trolls, it is truly disturbing to read what people think about the show community. If they don't view us as evildoers breeding crippled dogs, they think of us as "snobby show people" who do not want competition! The animal rights activists have done a good job of depicting us as the former, and we do a darned good job of presenting ourselves as the latter!
If someone calls a breeder and asks a politically incorrect question such as the price of a puppy, he or she is likely to have the phone slammed down on them — and then the breeders wonder why people end up going to a pet store. We have adopted the policy that we should never advertise; puppy buyers should appear magically when the Dog Show Fairy waves her wand, and they will then wait patiently for several months until their puppy is born. Anything less suggests an impulse buy, which is unacceptable.
The problem is, if we as a community never advertise, how does the public find out about different breeds? How do they learn that purebred dogs are not monstrosities and that many breeds are capable of doing many things? How do they learn the right way to raise and train a puppy if they end up with a mixed-breed puppy out of the Pennysaver? These people need to meet dog breeders, talk to them and go to dog shows just to see different breeds before making their choice. And we need to do a much better job at public relations instead of wasting our time fighting with each other.
From the August 2014 issue of Dogs in Review magazine.
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