Mill apologists

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Once again there are a bunch of anti-regulation/dogs are property-no more, no less folks who find every way imaginable to claim that any seizure or rescue of a breeder’s animals is unfair, wrong, illegal, unconstitutional, theft, WHATever.

To their minds, a dog in a neglectful home is better off than that same dog in a shelter – but god forbid we should ask those same apologists to adequately fund shelters!

And if a breeder wants to leave their dogs exposed to all manner of weather, with minimal vet care or human contact or even exercise, well, that’s their right, right? Right?

Wrong.

While I can almost see the argument to consider dogs as property, they are a special class of property in that they are living beings, and, under law, are considered companion animals.

As such, they require adequate food, water, shelter, vet care and socialization. If they are being used to make (mill) more dogs for the sake of profit, then vet care must be more than adequate, it must meet the need to protect consumers and their families and friends from diseases that could be carried by said ‘property.’

Which means that ‘property’ must be wormed, vaccinated, treated for any bacterial or viral diseases. And it must be what it is both implied and inferred to be – a COMPANION animal. Socialized. Biddable. Which means that it cannot be removed from mother and siblings too early (much of a puppy’s restraint is taught by its mother and littermates) and it should be handled gently and lovingly while still young so that it learns that humans are good things to have around. It should not be tossed around or struck or yelled at, or stuck away in a dark cage.

I certainly do not consider my dogs to be mere property. They are companions, housemates, helpers, entertainers, teachers, students, and so much more. It took each of them time to get to that point. One was used as bait in a dog fighting operation, one was left with an injured eye untreated until a rescue stepped in to take over his care. Another two were abandoned as strays by those who couldn’t be bothered to tag or chip or contain their animals, even those who could have served them well as herders and guardian dogs.

My other dog was not mistreated, but was simply imperfect and therefore not saleable. Rescue stepped in before he could be put down as a waste of food. He lacked early nutrition and never learned much from his mother, but he’s coming along nicely now. Were he simply property, he would likely have been dead before I could ever have heard of him.

There have been several seizures across the country this past week. The conspiracy theorists blame it on shelters needing dogs to sell. Yeah, right. They don’t consider that when a woman says she just put the pups outside (in subfreezing temperatures) while she cleaned their cages, she might have been ‘cleaning cages’ all day without consideration for the dogs in the freezing weather. One conspiracist’s response was that they’re dogs, they SHOULD be outside.

Now, I’m a believer in fresh air and sunlight and exercise and all, but puppies without shelter (or, apparently, their mother) do NOT belong out in the cold for prolonged periods of time.

It’s interesting, too, to see the apologists humming right along until it is their own breed that has been put at risk. Then, suddenly, there ought to be a law and that law damn well better be enforced.

There are laws. They are being tweaked and improved and made easier to enforce. And they will be.

Those who abuse living beings, human or ‘property,’ will face justice. If not now, later. Apologize for the abusers all you want, neither God nor Karma will be swayed.

Definitions

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I grew up near Chicago. At the time I knew little of puppy mills or dog auctions or any of the miserable ways companion animals were exploited for proft.

I do know now. I’ve seen it, I’ve cleaned up after the mess, I’ve helped to rehab some of the victims. I like to think that my thinking has evolved.

Apparently there are still too many who just haven’t quite gotten it yet. Or maybe they just don’t want to. After all, if they admitted to the realities of puppy mills, they might have to admit that their participation in a throw-away culture could be part of the problem. If they have gotten a dog on a whim, without planning, research and commitment to the animal for the whole life of that animal… well, failure on any of those counts does, indeed, contribute to the problem.

I just found out that there is a pet store selling puppies near where I grew up. It used to be that you either found a breeder (not an easy task years ago) or went to the shelter for a pet. Not so any more!

Between the Internet, slick salesmen and people’s increasing willingness to hawk anything for a buck, you rarely have to spend more than 15 minutes looking for whatever purebreed or mix you want. And many of those selling those dogs would deny with their dying breath that they are puppy millers or that puppy mills even exist.

Sigh.

I haven’t yet had the opportunity to go looking for the physical publication, but I am willing to take the word of the Chicago Dog Training Examiner on the Examiner.com when she writes “according to Merriam-Webster Dictionary, a “Puppy Mill” is defined as “a commercial farming operation in which purebred dogs are raised in large numbers” – a definition with which I agree (even if the dictionary weren’t referenced!).

I wish that I could believe that all state and federal inspectors had the best interests of the dogs at heart, but I have seen some of them who just want to be pals with everybody, including the “commercial kennel” operators whose mantra seems to be out of sight (even if not out of hearing range), out of mind. I’ve been to auctions attended by those federal and state inspectors where outdated medications and vaccinations were sold off along with other equipment and where lack of teeth, eyes, or limbs were seen as no obstacle (and perhaps even a plus) to the dog doing its job of making lots more dogs.

Heck, one of the reasons all those ‘other’ registries got started was so that dogs could be sold with papers without having to go through all of the inconvenience of providing a paper (and occasionally DNA) trail to the AKC.

I have seen cages stacked on top of each other, sick dogs sold, dogs that have been injected to mask symptoms until well after the sale was completed. I’ve seen people with a lot of dogs whose dogs are well cared for – those are people who breed ONLY when they have enough background on their dogs’ pedigrees and health histories and when they honestly believe that they can produce dogs that will be better than the current generation.

I’ve seen backyard breeders who realize their dog was coming into heat who call out for a male of the same breed, background be damned, they just don’t want to miss the opportunity for a few extra bucks.

Companion animals should be just that – companions. Not profit centers. Not machinery to produce goods for sale.

Our dogs give us their trust, their devotion, their protection, their companionship.

Can’t we give them the dignity and care they deserve, by treating them as living beings rather than a crop?

What a shame

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So it was well past time to clean up the in box, so I ran quickly through a lot of news alerts and saw a rather interesting phenomenon.

Those who don’t like the animal protection laws (basic welfare, folks, we’re not talking about treating dogs like people) either scream that the existing laws shoulda just been enforced or they try the old, tired argument that there aren’t enough laws to protect children so why are we worrying about animals.

Well, guess what! We can protect both! What a concept!

There is no need whatsoever for anyone to keep several hundred dogs, breed the females every cycle and ship the puppies to pet stores or across the country through internet sales. Someone with several hundred dogs is unlikely to be keeping up with the latest regarding the health issues for their breed(s) and probably won’t endanger their profit margin by actually conducting health testing and breeding only the best of their dogs.

Gee, it would cost more to make (and keep) healthy puppies! Yeah, and it would cost the consumer LESS in the long run to buy healthy puppies – dogs without dysplasia, allergies, heart murmers, PRA, kidney problems, breathing difficulties – the list goes on and on, and I haven’t even mentioned the costs of treating dogs for cancer.

Just think, if a commercial kennel (oh, sorry, they like to call themselves “professional breeders.” Thanks, but I’d rather get my dogs from someone who breeds to create the best possible, and healthiest, examples of the breed because they are breeding for the love of the dogs rather than the love of the money. Look up the root of the word ‘amateur.’) spent an extra $200 for some simple health tests on a breeding female, and  was able to get three litters of six from her, that extra cost was just over $10 per puppy.  But I guess that would be too much to ask of someone asking hundreds of dollars for each pup.

Lord knows the commercial kennels don’t want to share the costs of the inspections that need to be done, but it seems only fair. Heck, states and municipalities could consider assessing a fee for each puppy sold or brokered to help fund the local shelters. They’re helping create the mess, they can help clean it up.

Then we get to that argument about the children. Yes, there are children living in conditions that are deplorable. They should be helped. They should be safe and cared for and educated. Child welfare laws are a wholly separate issue from animal welfare laws, unless, of course, you’re breeding for profit.

But the so-called self-anointed ‘professionals’ would decide that the lawmakers were trampling on their property rights again. With the animals or with the children. A living being is not the same thing as a refrigerator. Special care and consideration is due to those entrusted to us.

Dominion is not strictly ownership – is it also benevolent *care.* But there you go again – that care might cost a few extra bucks per dog.

What a shame.

Put rescues out of business?

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Every rescuer I know would much rather have the luxury of just taking care of their own animals without having to rescue, vet, rehab, retrain someone else’s animals.

So, how? What can we do to help keep dogs and cats and other animals safe, healthy, and in homes?

How do we educate the public on how to train and maintain their own animals, and how to keep them if they have to move, if they lose their job, get a divorce, etc. etc?

Please, leave comments with your ideas. Somewhere between 2 and 4 million dogs and cats are killed by shelters each year, perhaps not all of those animals can be rehomed, but shelters should be a place of last resort anyway. There have to be other options!

Education? Regulation? Incentives?

Be creative! Be realistic! Be cynical, if you must, but offer some sort of solution. After all, if you’re not part of the solution…

Buying a dog…

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So, you want to get a dog. Great!

But before you shop online and submit your credit card information, let me ask you this:

Where do your puppy’s parents live? Inside a home, where they are loved and cared for and groomed and trained? Or outside in a kennel, with food tossed in once or twice a day, whatever water can be hosed in or collects from the rain, with little human contact unless someone is dragging them to a different cage?

Are your puppy’s parents tested for the health issues common to the breed? Does the breed have heart problems, dysplasia, eye issues, skin problems, kidney diseases, bleeding factors? Is there documentation easily available for you to see on your own and compare with other dogs in the breed? Or are you supposed to take the seller’s word that “Oh, my lines don’t have any of that kind of problem”? Or “These are from European lines and they’re much healthier than these inbred American show dogs.”

Sigh.

Puppies bought over the Internet are almost always the “product” of commercial kennels – otherwise known as ‘high-volume breeders” or – yes – puppy mills. They are manufacturing puppies with the purpose of the highest possible profit, with the puppies’ parents as the machinery or the raw materials.

Even if you are lucky and *your* puppy is healthy and long-lived and temperamentally sound, consider that puppy’s mother and father. Where are they? What conditions are they living in? Buying that puppy online or from a pet store just tells the puppy miller (excuse me – ‘professional’ kennel — they would have us believe that selling dogs for a profit successfully makes them professionals) that he or she was right to breed those dogs and that doing it again (and again and again and again and again) will be a boost to the old profit margin.

If your puppy has problems — major, minor, fatal — what does the breeder expect to do? Will they be there to offer advice and support for the life of that dog? Or does their relationship with you and your dog end as soon as your credit is approved? What happens if you find a few years down the road that your dog has a late-onset genetic disease? Will you be able to contact the breeder to share the information, will you know where your dog’s littermates and siblings are so that you might be able to share notes with their owners and figure out what treatments work best for the dogs? Will you be able to share moments of joy, training tips, anxiety, and even grief with the owners of your dog’s siblings?

When you get a dog, you should be developing a relationship with a number of breeders and other people involved in the breed you want. You will need support, advice, someone to share pictures and accomplishments and worries with. Your relationship with the breeder of your dog is one that should last before, during, and after the life of your dog. The breeder (or even the shelter manager, if you’re getting a pound puppy) should understand your lifestyle, what you *say* you want and what will be a temperament that will work with your household.

They’ll *want* to know a few weeks and a few months down the road how things are working out, whether you have any questions, how they can help. You have a dog they helped bring into this world, that makes you very important to them. Much more important that the size of your wallet.

We are a society enamored of instant gratification. That may be fine for buying books or dresses or toasters. It’s not okay when you are making a commitment to another living being for as long as that life shall last.

So when you see that picture on the web advertising healthy, happy puppies in this rare breed or that one, ask yourself why all the puppies weren’t already spoken for before they were born? When/if you contact the seller, see whether they can give you a coherent explanation of *why* they bred that pair of dogs, what health testing was done, what their health guarantee is, what their availability will be if you have questions in a month or a year…

*IF* they don’t hang up on you/ignore your e-mail, and are willing to talk to you about why they breed and what activities they participate in with their dogs and what their commitment is to those puppies and to you, be ready for a lot of questions about what kind of you you have and will provide to their pup, and other questions to determine what YOUR commitment to the dog will be. Be glad that they do.

You might even have found an ethical breeder.

Check with the kennel club, the regional breed club, see whether there are Yahoo groups related to the breed where you can learn more about the dogs and the people. Find the breed clubs breeder referral list or breed stewards and see whether they know this breeder and whether they can recommend them.

Okay, this is not a process in which you can decide today that you want a puppy and go pick it up tomorrow. Get over the frustration and impatience. This is a living being, a companion who will be sharing your home for the next decade and a half, god willing. So you be willing to put in the time, effort and patience to find a breeder you can live with for the same amount of time.

A breeder who breeds for health and temperament and type. For the love of the dogs and the breed. From the Latin root, an amateur.

“Professional” breeders be damned. A puppy mill by any other name is still a puppy mill, and I have yet to meet an ethical breeder who sells through pet stores.

What’s in a name?

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This is getting ridiculous.

There’s one group of people claiming to be animal welfare advocates and calling anyone who advocates for better regulation of ‘high-volume breeders’ animal rights wackos or terrorists.

They are so paranoid that all they can see is a threat to their property rights – without any concept of the fact that that ‘property’ is living, breathing, and aware.

There is a reason that companion animals are considered different from livestock. But those reactionaries seem to feel that any animal on this earth is for us to do with as we see fit, with no interference or care on the part of society.

Unfortunately, that hasn’t worked out so well for the animals. Or there wouldn’t *be* any sub-standard kennels or puppy mills or animal abuse. Because mankind, in our infinite wisdom, has failed to ensure the well-being of the animals, it has been necessary to create laws and regulations to set minimums – and yet even those are often not met.

They rail for the enforcement of existing laws rather than the creation of new laws, yet when the existing laws are enforced, they are the first (and loudest) to cry foul. They want absolute privacy and absolute property rights, and sales taxes be damned when they want to sell their property.

Nor do they seem to recognize the health concerns for the population at large. They want no consequences should their intact animal get loose (it has to have been an accident, of course, no negligence on their part) but if someone else’s animal gets loose they complain that the animal control officers (which they consider Nazis) don’t respond quickly enough. Not that they want the Animal Control Officers to be funded by any sort of user fees or taxes….

They seem to think it is no one else’s business whether their animals are vaccinated or ill, or whether those animals are moved. Apparently only rescue animals ever contract brucellosis (which can be transmitted to humans) and it’s always someone else’s fault (and financial responsibility) if there is an outbreak of rabies or distemper or parvo. They don’t want to fund the shelters which were intended to hold strays, but then criticize those same shelters when there are outbreaks of disease.

To those people – and I’m sure you don’t know who you are, I couldn’t *possibly* be writing about you! – you are NOT animal welfarists, you are selfish and silly and the more you attempt to demonize those who think differently from yourselves, the sillier you look.

Using CCF as your source material kills your credibility the moment anyone sees it, and hitching your wagon to the Sportsmans Alliance (Yates, et al) and the NRA only moves you further from the mainstream.

Yes, there are a lot of problems in this country right now that are just as important as the way we treat our animals – but that does not mean that we can turn a blind eye to abuse and to the rantings of those who defend the likes of Cindy Bemis, Karen Bauck and Linda Kapsa.

If these views make me an animal rights wacko, a terrorist, whatever, so be it. I will advocate for the humane treatment of all animals and for enforcement of laws to ensure humane treatment, as long as there is breath in my body.

And I don’t have to call anyone names to do it – y’all are doing a fine job of that yourselves.

Neutered

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Well, it’s done. Hagar’s encroaching doghood has been nipped in the, well, bud.

As a rescue, there was never any question that he would be neutered. It’s in the contract and I take that agreement seriously. I also take the health of the breed seriously and with no background information for him or his sire or dam or siblings or grand-sire and -dam, etc, etc, even if Hagar were gorgeous and typey and a well-behaved agile herder and drafter, it would still be wrong.

I cannot imagine life without Berners. But not at the expense of a healthy breed. I would rather do without Bernese of my own than see their already precarious health tipped over the edge just to ‘meet consumer demand.’

And that’s probably the biggest difference between those who can ‘justify’ so-called Professional Kennels (commercial kennels sounds soooo crass, doesn’t it, yet that’s really what they are, or, not to put too fine a point on it, puppy mills) and people like me who actually care about the “product” of those kennels.

“Oooh, that one’s damaged? Sorry, we’ll make some more.”

should have been

“A genetic problem? Let’s see whether the same issue is showing up in related litters or anywhere else on the family tree. If we find it, we will remove the parents and siblings from our breeding program right away!”

No dog is going to be perfect, but the honest, ethical breeders I know go through a lot of work and a lot of heartache trying to find the best combinations of breeding lines to try to IMPROVE the overall health of the breed. The status quo really isn’t good enough, not when the life expectancy of the breed is still less than 8 years.

So as a rescue, who had to be neutered as a condition of adoption, and an unknown quantity in terms of the genetics behind him, today he lost his marbles.

With luck, since he will be playing at least one fewer party game, maybe the brain fairy will find him *before* he’s two years old.

I can dream, can’t I?