Tired of Extremism…


… In all forms.

Anyone who is convinced they are always right and that anyone who disagrees is stupid, ill-informed or evil has some serious ego issues.

There are few real absolutes in this world beyond the need for us to try to understand one another and be generous in our compassion. Too simple, I know, but wouldn’t it be wonderful?

Of late I have been dreaming of an ideal community. At the foundation would be Berner owners and their loved ones – these are people who already know how to defend the well-being of an endangered population, the greatest flaw of that group being the very passion for the breed that makes it a remarkable and wonderful community. Sometimes patience and compassion are not all that they could/should be — we strive to be as wonderful as our dogs expect us to be but we have a ways to go yet in terms of how we treat each other.

We do need to fix a lot in the way we, as a nation, treat our animals, whether they are companion animals, working stock, or livestock. There’s a *lot* of room for improvement.

But that does not mean that we need to throw out the baby with the bath water.

We need to call upon our local and state law enforcement and animal health officials to enforce the laws that exist, and if those laws don’t address changes to technology (can you say Internet puppy sales?) and modern culture, then amend those laws to include what is missing.

We don’t need to over-regulate how we care for our animals, or we may find that USDA regulations for commercial kennels (which are MINIMUM standards, by the way, you’re allowed to treat your animals MUCH better than that) become the only legal way for animals to be housed, fed and exercised. Do we want the minimum standards of care to become the only standard?

Of course, there are those organizations that would just as soon make animal ownership – or guardianship or stewardship or any other relationship – next to impossible. They seem to think we have no right to bring our animals into our homes and farms and lives. They want to make it as hard as possible.

Well, animal ownership *isn’t* a right. It is a responsibility and a privilege — one of the greatest honors and blessings we have in this life. There are some who abuse that privilege, and I feel awful for those people and for their animals.

The other extreme regarding animal ownership are those who consider their animals as their private property that they can do with as they wish, with no interference from anyone else.

I strongly disagree.

If animals are considered property, it must be as a special class of property, for these are living, sentient beings. They are not toasters or t-shirts that we can use up and throw away or stuff into a drawer to get them out of the way. They are alive, and they are dependent upon us to keep them fed and healthy and socialized – as part of our team, part of our family.

They are not simply a product.

I don’t know why that’s so hard for the Commercial Kennel/property rights extremists to understand. You have to be licensed to carry a gun or drive a car or conduct a business in many states (especially if your business can have an impact on human health) – but commercial breeders (yes, puppy mills) seem to think that licensing them is singling them out unfairly.

But we’ll get back to the ‘puppy mill’ definition debate later. Yes, Virginia, and Walter, and Karen, there really is such a thing as a puppy mill and there have been courts that have even ruled on a definition.

Instead of arguing about who is imposing what rules on whom and whether it’s fair or not, why not do what is in the best interest of the animals?

Even if we can’t agree on what the best *best* is, certainly we can agree that each and every one of us could do better – in terms of nutrition, health and training, and what jobs we have to offer our working breeds, and giving them the opportunity to spend more time with us and/or more time at play.

Regulated kennels don’t have to be the Taj Mahal, but adequate light and ventilation and cleanliness and comfort are either possible or there are too many dogs.

Consider the situation of someone with 200 dogs – if we estimate that the kennel owner sleeps 6 hours a night, they have 18 hours to care for the dogs.  Eighteen hours is 1,080 minutes. If there are 200 dogs, there are, presumably, at least 100 kennels, cages, enclosures of some kind. If the dogs have not had the opportunity to find somewhere else to relieve themselves, each of those kennels needs to be cleaned at least once a day (geez, wouldn’t it be a lot easier – and more pleasant – to just have 40-50 dogs and give them space to exercise and relieve themselves away from the kennel structure? But I digress. Sort of.)

Okay, so 100 kennels, even at two minutes per kennel, 200 minutes to clean all of the kennels. Another minute per dog to feed each dog, so another 200 minutes taken from that 1,080-minute, 18-hour day. So we’re down to 680 minutes. That’s 3.4 minutes PER DOG to socialize, groom (ever bathed a dog in 3 minutes? Only place I’ve ever seen that done was at a dog auction. Even the auctioneer was stunned by the stupidity), check health and well-being, and decide which dogs are appropriate for breeding.

Oops. What about getting dogs to the vet, or assisting with whelping, or bottle feeding puppies or…. yes, all of that cuts in to that three-point-four minutes per dog per day.

What about kennel help? Sometimes there may be other family members available, if they aren’t in school or doing chores around the house or farm, or out working elsewhere. Some kennels do hire kennel assistants, minimum wage workers who might be there 10-20 hours a week. Even if there is someone hired 40 hours per seek, 8 hours per day is 480 minutes. An extra 2.4 minutes per dog if there are 200 dogs, but is someone is going to hire kennel help then they have to breed more dogs to pay for that help so 200 dogs won’t be enough to make a living. After all, each dog is getting a whopping 5.8 minutes a day of attention now! (Minus meals for the kennel owner, and their potty breaks and phone calls and paperwork.)

The most common definition of puppy mill is that of a puppy factory – more concerned with profit and cutting costs than with the health and well being of the animals. With two minutes to clean kennels, little or no time to keep records or spend with the vet or get to know the individual strengths and weaknesses – let alone temperament – of the dogs, a puppy mill simply grinds out puppies for sale, and small wonder so many raids find inadequate shelter, ventilation, water or cleanliness. Yet a flour mill is far more tightly regulated – and our expectations of the cleanliness are much higher in the flour mill than the puppy mill, in spite of the fact that animals need and deserve more time and care and can have just as dramatic an impact on health, both positively and negatively.

I know there are those who would consider this analysis unfair. I might, too, had I not seen puppy-manufacturing facilities too many times.

Dogs and other animals are not corn or potatoes or something you can plant, water a few times, harvest and sell. They need more, and they deserve more. And we deserve better than what the extremists on both side of the issue are offering us.

Posturing and polarizing hurts all of us. Worse, it hurts the animals. And it just drives the opposite side further and further away, with an increasingly hardened view.

The puppy buyers lose. Our society loses. And the dogs suffer.


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