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Responsible Dog Ownership, Support Responsible Breeders, Uncategorized

Just make it illegal, right?

Most dog lovers have heard the term “puppy mill” or “backyard breeder” at some point. The term “Puppy mill”  inspires images of too many dogs stuffed in to tiny cages, covered in their own filth and bred purely for profit.

The term “backyard breeder” brings to mind images of either accidental litters or people who are breeding their pets together for various reasons. Most of the time that reason is money. Occasionally it’s something misguided like, “My Chloe is such a good girl I want to make more just like her” or “My niece just loves Max, so we figured we’d breed him so she could have a puppy”.  More often than not they’re ignorant of basic canine reproduction, and while they may love their animals, they’re rarely providing the care necessary to ensure health and happiness.

 

Golden lab puppy sign.jpg

This particular brand of backyard breeders are generally fairly easy to spot. The ads themselves are usually rife with misspelled words and once you talk to the “breeder” it becomes clear they’re not educated about their breed.

 

Multepoo

The other type of backyard breeder has absolutely turned it into a business and tends to have a much more professional look. They’re usually higher volume as well, with anywhere from one to ten litters per year. If the main reason to breed is to make money, it makes sense that the more litters you have the more money you will make.

Husky breeder

The Facebook page for the above puppy producer is teeming with quality photos of adorable puppies. The posts are engaging, the photos show the animals looking clean and well loved. The puppies are AKC registered and are selling for over $1000 a piece, which can be a selling point to the unwitting puppy buyer. “A thousand dollars a puppy? They must be quality!” They use phrases like “champion lines” “excellent structure”.

What you don’t see in these photos and what the puppy producer is definitely not telling you,  is that they’re breeding dogs who are under two years old, which for a dog this size is not fully developed. Think of it as a 13 or 14 year old human giving birth.

You’re not seeing that neither parent is health tested, or that the “woolly” coat that you’re paying more for is not an accepted coat type in the breed because the “woolly” coat makes it harder for the dog to regulate their body temperature. You’re not seeing how a year from now when a puppy buyer can no longer keep the dog, the breeder refuses to answer their calls or take the dog back.

ban puppy mills

Puppy Mills and backyard breeders are a problem! So let’s make them illegal, right?

Did you know that in many parts of the US, there is already legislation in place requiring kennel inspections and kennel licenses before someone is allowed to have more than a certain number of dogs? In my home town, we have a city code stating that anyone who has four or more dogs is required to get a kennel license.

The problem is our town does not have an application for a kennel license, our fee schedule does not address what to charge for the license, and there are no guidelines in place to tell the animal control officer what they should be inspecting if they were to ever inspect the nonexistent kennels. The thing is, the code is already there, it’s just a matter of following through, which we’re working on. And my town is not unique in this problem.
Animal Control Truck

Is a new state law going to help us with that? Will that law provide more funding for the local police and humane agencies? Making something illegal does not mean that it is going to be enforced. Not because these agencies don’t care, but because they don’t have the resources and staff to make it happen. There are plenty of towns in my county that don’t even have an Animal Control division.

Often these laws are written by politicians who do not have a good grasp of the current animal issues and are being influenced by the animal rights agenda. Because of terms like “backyard breeder” some of these laws prohibit breeders from keeping the animals in their home. They require dogs to be kept in kennels that must be a certain size and provide a certain type of drainage. Building a kennel that meets these requirements takes a good deal of money! Your average hobby breeder does not have the funds for that, and even if they did, they don’t want their dogs out in kennels! Their dogs are part of their family.

So once this legislation is in place, the only people who can afford to meet these requirements are high volume commercial puppy producers. They can afford to have large facilities with drainage and kennels. But is high volume puppy producers in the best interest for dogs as a whole?

labs in kennel
Being a responsible breeder means more than clean kennels and healthy, well fed dogs.

Some acknowledged that forcing breeders to build commercial facilities didn’t really solve any problems, so they took an the opposite approach. They decided to limit the number of litters a year a breeder could produce.

lowchen information

There are a few issues with that. The number of puppies to a litter varies by dog and by breed. So if a Lowchen breeder and a Cane Corso breeder can both only have three litters, the Lowchen breeder may have only had 9 puppies that year while the Corso breeder may have had twenty to thirty puppies!

And there are plenty of ways to get around litter restrictions. Break up your breeding operation over multiple locations so there are no more than a certain amount of dogs at each location. Send your bitches out to whelp so you’re not actually producing the dogs there, and bring them back once the pups are sold, under report your litters etc. The problem is not the number of litters a producer has, or the fact that they don’t have proper ventilation or drainage. The problem isn’t even that they’re making money!

We already have animal welfare laws in place. We have laws requiring people to keep dogs healthy, clean and fed. Most parts of the country have laws in place limiting the number of dogs they can have and requiring a kennel license and inspection.

We don’t need more laws! We need more education for puppy buyers and dog owners. We need the average puppy buyer to be able to tell the difference between a puppy producer and a responsible breeder. We need more resources for animal welfare agencies and animal control departments.

We don’t need to make puppy mills illegal….in most places they already are!

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Responsible Dog Ownership, Uncategorized, Vents

So You Found a Loose Dog…

Recently, a close friend of mine was pet sitting his parent’s dog. She’s a beautiful, sweet, purebred Golden Retriever named Tallulah.  My friend took her to the beach with his son and their other dog, and though it was a month after 4th of July, people down the beach started setting off fireworks. Poor Tallulah was terrified and and ran off into the dunes. My friend searched for her for quite a while, but it was dark and he needed to get his young son inside and to bed. So he called me and I advised him to leave a blanket or sweatshirt where his truck had been parked so that Tallulah would be more likely to stick around until morning. He did as I suggested and left a blanket and a bowl of water where his truck had been. In the mean time, I shared pictures of her on every social media outlet I could think of.

The next morning he got his five year old up early and headed down to the beach. There was the blanket and the bowl of water but no Golden Retriever. A fisherman saw him and told him that two young people had been running on the beach, had found a Golden Retriever sitting on the blanket and had taken her. Relieved that she was safe and knowing that she had a micro chip and that they were bound to see her if they looked on the Facebook lost and found pet pages we waited for a phone call. In the mean time, we put out calls to the local shelters and veterinarian offices.

Lunch time came and went and as the day progressed we began to fear that these people were not looking for an owner – maybe they were just going to keep her! I reached out to a local news blog and asked them to please share that Tallulah had a family who cared deeply about her and was looking for her. They graciously agreed and thanks to social media, the article was shared all over Facebook.

Finally, in the late afternoon someone contacted my friend and said they had seen the posts online and they had the dog. The man was a bit cagey and said that Tallulah was with his grandparents who lived in the next town over and were not home at the time and perhaps it was best if we just picked her up the next morning?

Tallulah face
Our beautiful Tallulah

Appalled,  my friend made it clear that he would be picking up his dog as soon as possible and that she had been greatly missed. They finally agreed and gave him the address. He met the man’s grandparents who were a lovely couple, but was astonished to find out that they had renamed her, bought her a new collar, leash, toys, bed, dishes etc and had already taken a family photo with her in it and had it printed out and proudly displayed in their living room! The people had had her less than six hours!

Apparently, the young people who had found her assumed that she had been abandoned and made no effort to find an owner. They just gave her to their grandparents who had recently lost a dog. The grandparents understood the situation and gave her back to my friend, but not before making sure that he really did want her….He assured them that he did.

The moral of the story is this: If you find a stray dog, please do not make assumptions. Contact your local Animal Control and Shelters and inform them that you found the dog. If you can hold on to the dog until the owner is found, that’s great, but you’re under no obligation to do so. If you’re reading my blog, I’m going to go ahead and figure you have access to the internet and can post pictures and/or a description of the dog on social media and lost & found pet pages. You can also call local veterinarian offices and let them know that you have a found dog. Most veterinarians will even check the dog for a micro chip free of charge.

If the dog looks injured or neglected, again, don’t make assumptions. The injury could have taken place while the dog was loose, and the “neglect” could be a medical issue the dog needs medication for. If the dog is actually abandoned, abused or neglected, knowledgeable animal control of shelter staff will be able to take steps to ensure the dog gets proper care and if possible, the owner is charged.

 

Pinterestsaluki
With their visible ribs and jutting hip bones, a healthy Saluki often fits people’s idea of textbook neglect. Don’t assume!

If the dog looks abused or neglected, it is even more important to involve your local shelter/animal control. I had a woman call me once and tell me she had found a loose dog three months ago who looked abused. When she picked the dog up, he was skin and bones and covered in some sort of skin condition. “It was just horrible!” she exclaimed, “How could someone let their dog get that bad!?”

The problem was that by the time I saw the dog he looked fine. A little on the thin side, but nothing concerning, and though his fur was a tad sparse, it was growing in very healthy. There was a night and day difference between the dog she was describing and the dog standing in front of me. But she had no video or photos of the dog’s progress, she hadn’t taken the dog to the vet, so there wasn’t even a vet record of the dog’s weight. There was nothing I could do when the owner came forward and claimed the dog.

 

The woman who found him blamed me for giving the dog back to “an abuser” but while I believe that the dog was in bad condition when she found him, she had done the dog a huge disservice by waiting until he was healthy to call. I had absolutely no proof so I couldn’t legally withhold the dog from his owner or charge the owner with anything. The only thing I can do is check in on the dog and his owner regularly.

I get calls all of the time where people assume the dog is abandoned (the dog was just lost) just had puppies (she was in heat) the dog had been used in fighting (scars were from a dog attack at the beach) etc.

Again, and I can’t stress this enough, please don’t make assumptions. Call animal control and look for the dog’s owner.

 

Responsible Dog Ownership, Support Responsible Breeders

Part Four – Responsible Breeders

 

In Part One, Part Two and Part Three of this segment,  I’ve touched on the “adopt don’t shop” movement and popular anti-breeder sentiment. I completely understand where that movement started, and harbor no ill will towards anti-breeder people.

I have friends whom I love dearly, who believe that there is no good dog breeder – that anyone who has a dog who has puppies is contributing to the shelter problem.  I also have friends whom I love dearly who are dog breeders themselves and who consider themselves “responsible”.  I hear both sides of the argument and believe that both sides have merit.

Responsible dog breeder.

The problem with this term is that much like parenting, dog ownership and breeding styles differ considerably. For instance, some people believe that all it takes to be a responsible breeder is getting a clean bill of health from the vet and making sure you’re careful about where the puppies go (whatever that means).
Other breeders are meticulous about adhering to their breed’s recommended health tests and only breed dogs that have been titled in a well respected kennel club. Some believe you can only be responsible if you breed purebred dogs. What is the standard? Is being a responsible breeder even possible?

Well, I think of it as similar to being a responsible business owner. That means conducting business in an ethical manner and treating your employees well. But what does that mean? Some people would argue that unless every building was powered 100% by renewable energy the business could never be considered “responsible”. Others would say that to be responsible the employees shouldn’t have to pay a cent for health care. Still others would argue that the business shouldn’t be allowed to make a profit at all and should donate all proceeds to charity. We’re in a similar position with dog breeders.

Malinois
Picture from playbuzz.com – I will gladly give credit to the photographer and dog owner if that information is made available.

 

Imagine that a person is breeding purebred, titled Belgian Malinois from working lines. They are health testing the dogs, keeping the puppies clean, and in general, abiding by the minimum guidelines to be considered “responsible”. But, they live in a densely populated area and are flooding the local puppy buying market with high drive dogs who are not well suited for city living. They’re not emphasizing to their puppy buyers that these puppies are going to grow up into high energy dogs that need to be given intense amounts of physical and mental stimulation.

Are they responsible breeders? The parents are health tested! They’re AKC registered puppies! The parents have TITLES!!!!

Now imagine that less than half a mile away from the Malinois breeder is another breeder. They’re breeding Cavalier King Charles but are mixing Shih-Tzu’s into their breeding program because they’re concerned about the heart issues that can be genetic in the Cavalier breed and are trying to introduce genetic diversity. The parents are health tested, but the litters are not registered with a kennel club and the parents have no titles. They too are raising the puppies in a clean environment, and aside from not breeding purebreds, they’re abiding by minimum “responsible” guidelines. But before they sell their puppies, they make sure each family is well aware of how long the dogs live, how much they will be spending on grooming each month and give a portion of the deposit back when the new family completes a training course with the dog.

Are they responsible breeders? They’re selling mix breeds! They’re calling them Cava-Tzu’s for Pete’s sake! How could they possibly be more responsible than the registered, titled, Malinois above?!

But think about it….which one of these breeders is more likely to have puppies end up in the shelter? Which one of these breeders is helping dogs as a whole?

Pizzaz
A puppy I fostered earlier this year.

Now that was a bit of an extreme example, but my point is that just like in parenting, while there are some minimum requirements you must meet to ensure you’re not causing harm, the definition of “good” and “responsible” is subject to interpretations. Really as far as hard fast rules, all we’re left with is minimum requirements.

Minimum Requirements

To me, this is the least you can do for a litter of puppies and their parents without being considered neglectful or abusive.

  • Are the parents old enough to be bred without causing physical harm?
  • Do they stop being bred before they’re old enough for the breeding to cause physical harm?
  • Is veterinary care provided to avoid pain and suffering?
  • Are the dogs’ physical needs met? Food, water, shelter, exercise etc
  • Are the dogs’ mental needs being met? Mental stimulation, training, rewards etc
  • When the dogs are no longer useful in the breeding program are they treated humanely? Keep in mind, this could include humane euthanasia – not my preference, but we are talking about minimum requirements here.
  • Are the puppies being given basic socialization to help them transition into life with a new family? Have they been inside a house? Have they had positive interactions with humans? Walked on various surfaces including grass and carpet?
  • Are the people in charge of the litter vetting the potential families and making sure that the new families are willing and able to do the work involved with purchasing a puppy of that particular breed?

And…. That’s it.

That’s the minimum. To me personally, this doesn’t seem nearly enough.  Legally, this list is actually a little bit more than required. Remember, the producer vs breeder distinction is more of a gradient than a hard, fast line.

In relation to the picture below, someone who abides by the absolute minimum requirements to not be abusive or neglectful of their animals starts about in the middle and responsible is on the far right.

 

Producer vs breeder

That’s a lot of grey area in between, and all of that is subject to interpretation.

Here is my interpretation:

Responsible Dog Breeder: (noun) A person who breeds dogs with the improvement and well being of the entire canine species as their main goal with a priority on health and stable temperament.

Responsible Dog Breeder - defined text

One of the key words in this definition is “improvement”. Taking the same two dogs and breeding them together over and over does not improve anything. It merely produces puppies. If you’ve read any of my earlier posts, you probably noticed that I use the term “puppy producer”. That is my way of distinguishing between responsible breeders who are working toward a goal and people who merely produce puppies.

Notice that I didn’t say “A person who breeds dogs with the improvement and well being of their breed as their main goal” I said “improvement and well being of the entire canine species as their main goal”. If breeding your particular breed of dog is not good for dogs as a whole, stop doing it. I’m going to come back to this in a different post.

DCM

Health

Now let’s talk about health. If your breed is generally very healthy and has low likelihood of ending up with hip dysplasia, are you going to completely write off a breeder because they didn’t get the parents’ hips tested? The number of health tests available today is mind boggling and if every breeder tested their dogs for everything, the cost would be prohibitive.

But – and now I’m going to start picking on some breeds very specifically – if your breed of choice has a specific issue, certain health tests may be a very high priority. Higher even than titles, registry in a kennel club etc.

Over 61% of Golden Retrievers in North America die from cancer. If I was buying a Golden, you can bet your hat that I wouldn’t give two shakes if the dog’s dad won group in Westminster. What I would care about is how long every recorded ancestor of his lived, and what they died of.

According to a recent study, 58% of Dobermans suffer from dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM). There is screening available – and again, I don’t give a rat’s rear end if the breeders feed their dogs steak and caviar….. I want to know if my puppy’s parents have been screened and what the results were. I want to know details about each one of my dog’s parent’s and grandparents.

Why would I spend money to buy a dog, fall in love with him, enjoy him as my daily companion, just to see him get sick and die before his time? Dogs are our best friends. Let’s keep them healthy.

You cannot seek to improve a breed if you are not also improving their overall health and longevity.

Tonka
Tonka the sleepy Malamute

Temperament

And last but absolutely not least, temperament.  I would rather have a leggy, dome headed Labrador who would make the judges at Crufts double over in laughter than a beautiful well balanced Grand Champion if it meant that he had a temperament that was consistent, stable, and correct for his breed.

To me, this is really where the rubber hits the road in the purebred vs. mix breed argument. I absolutely believe that while they are few and far between, people can and do breed mix breed dogs responsibly. And that statement right there will result in about four more blog posts!

But, how do you improve a dog’s temperament if you do not have a goal or a starting place? If your dog does not have a purpose or a standard, how do you know if you’re moving forward or backwards? You can absolutely work towards creating a new breed, or mix an existing breed to introduce more genetic diversity, but to just breed random dogs together willy-nilly does nothing to improve. It is stagnant.

If you take a dog who is aloof with strangers and breed their lines to be open and friendly with everyone, is that an improvement? If you’re breeding Labradors maybe, but definitely not if you’re breeding livestock guardians!

A well bred dog has a consistent, predictable temperament. A responsible breeder knows what that temperament should be and will not use dogs in their breeding program who do not meet those requirements.

A herding dog on a farm needs to be determined, tenacious and independent. A family dog in the city needs to be gentle, patient and look to their owners for decision making. The same traits that make each of those dogs excel at their specific purpose would make it difficult for them to switch places.

So, instead of giving you a list boxes to check off when deciding whether a breeder is responsible or not, I just ask:

Are they improving the entire canine species by choosing to bring more dogs into this world? Are they educating themselves on the issues that are pertinent to their choices? Are they ensuring that their puppies have the best start possible? Are they doing everything they can to ensure that their puppies turn into healthy, stable adults? Are they contributing to the shelter population or are they educating people and helping them become responsible dog owners? If the owner cannot keep the dog are they contracted to take the dog back?

Remember, we as puppy buyers drive the market. Let’s create a demand for responsible dog breeders not puppy producers.

 

 

 

Responsible Dog Ownership, Support Responsible Breeders

Part 3- Puppy Producers

When I started writing Part One of this subject I had no intention of needing a Part Two. And when I finished part two I felt relieved that I was finished – I didn’t like the pressure of people waiting for me to publish the next segment.

But as I started trying to write about responsible breeders vs puppy producers I realized that really, the whole topic is just a continuation of part one and two and I should write it like that. So here’s part three, and it looks like there’s going to be a part four. Get your reading glasses out!

Part Three – Puppy Producers

In part one I spent a little time going over the landscape of dogs in the US. In recent years there are fewer dogs coming from AKC breeders, fewer dogs in shelters overall, and eighty- three percent of dogs in the United States are spayed or neutered*. Which begs the question, where are the new dogs in the US coming from? Dogs have an average lifespan of 8-10 years. Once the dogs that are currently alive pass away, where does the new generation come from?

According to 2011 Mintel Pet Ownership information:

  • 30% of dog owners got their pet from a shelter or rescue.
  • 28% of dog owners got them from a friend or relative
  • 15% of dog owners got their pet from a breeder
  • 9% of dog owners got them from a pet store

So at this point, a good percentage of people are getting their dog from a shelter or rescue and the next largest group are getting their dogs from a friend or relative. That leaves 15% who are buying their dog from a breeder. The pet store puppies are a very small percent, more than likely because pet store puppy sales are relegated to certain pockets of the country where people are still “unenlightened” and legislation still hasn’t been passed prohibiting it.

The Mintel information uses the word breeder with zero qualification. I’m assuming they are using the term to describe anyone who owned a female dog, allowed her to become pregnant (intentionally or not) and sold the puppies. This could include the “oops” litter from the next door neighbors, the “yorkipoo” off craigslist, the show breeder who health tests and sells pups on a strict companion contract and everything in between.

So let’s talk about breeders.

I’ve touched a bit on the argument that dogs in shelters are the result of breeders creating more dogs. Yes, dogs being born creates more dogs, no that doesn’t cause them to end up in shelters. If you’ve made it past part one and two, chances are you don’t completely disagree with my logic.

To reiterate, irresponsible owners are the main reason we have the shelter epidemic we do. Puppy producers absolutely contribute to the problem, but not necessarily in the way we would imagine. It’s not the act of creating more dogs that really is the problem. It’s the way it’s done.

Generally, these types of posts end up in a discussion of “responsible breeder” vs “irresponsible breeder” and everyone has an opinion of what “responsible” is. There’s usually a list of requirements that a breeder must meet to be considered responsible (according to the poster) and if the puppy seller doesn’t meet those requirements, they’re labeled “irresponsible”.

What makes the list of “Responsible” requirements varies wildly from person to person. For instance, to someone who breeds purebred AKC registered show dogs, the list could include “Must be part of the breed parent club” “Puppies must be AKC registered” and “Breeder must actively compete in AKC conformation” as non-negotiable for being considered “responsible”

Someone who breeds their dogs as working ranch dogs might not give two shakes if the dog is AKC registered or purebred. All they care about is whether the dog is healthy and if it can move livestock. So their list of requirements will be completely different.

There some basic things that many people agree on. For instance, the dogs should be adequately cared for, the conditions should be sanitary, elderly or very young dogs should not be bred, and puppies should not be sold younger than eight weeks old. These are bare minimum requirements and in my opinion shouldn’t even need mentioning -but they do.

The problem with this current system of everyone doing what is right in their own eyes, is that we have a large number of people who consider themselves to be “responsible breeders” but who are still contributing to the irresponsible owner epidemic in our country.

Let’s take a step back for a moment and think of other types of people who produce something to sell. Imagine a zip tie manufacturer. Zip ties are amazing little things! They’ve saved my bacon countless times, especially when I lose the clips that come with plastic crates.

dog crate

But once the manufacturer has created the zip tie and sold it, they’re not really giving a second thought to what someone may do with it down the road. It doesn’t really affect them if someone uses the zip tie to tie their shoes, fix a crate, or you know…. kidnap someone and hold them for ransom. They produced it, they’re not responsible for what someone does with it. They don’t sell zip ties with little booklets telling you that it’s wrong to use their product for kidnapping. Telling people kidnapping is wrong isn’t really the zip tie company’s responsibility….people should probably have learned that from their parents or at school.

That is a producer. They produced the thing for money. The thing was produced, they got their money. Rinse and repeat.

So in my mind, you have Puppy Producers and Responsible Breeders. I did not coin those terms, but I’m going to use the heck out of them in an attempt to take back the conversation. The mentality behind puppy producers is the same as the zip tie manufacturer. The dogs may be AKC registered, they may be purebred, the parents may even be health tested! But if the driving force is “producing puppies for money” then they are not a responsible breeder.

To me the landscape of dog breeding is not black and white like the picture below:

Resp vs irresp

It’s a bit of a gradient:

Gradient 2prv

On the far left we have people who are producing puppies for money with no thought to the dogs’ safety or well being. These types of producers are often referred to as “puppy mills”. You’ve all seen the news stories. People hoarding 30 matted, little dogs in their garage in disgusting cages and selling puppies non stop.  The thing is, generally speaking, this type of environment is not really sustainable from a practical standpoint. Turn over is high, often puppy buyers come back  because the pups have health or behavior problems, neighbors complain etc. It’s just not good business. Plus, if you have any compassion for animals at all, it’s not something you can stomach.

In my experience, the majority of puppy producers/dog breeders in the US are somewhere in the middle. There are three main groups of producers out there. You have the “puppy mills”, high volume commercial producers, and producers who breed their pets.

You’ll notice, that I listed puppy mills and high volume commercial producers separately. Many people lump them together, but when I say “puppy mill” I am referring to a producer who keeps the animals in abusive/neglectful conditions. The photo below is what pops into my mind. These animals are being kept in physically and mentally harmful conditions for the sole purpose of creating puppies to sell.

Puppy mill 2

Just like the puppy mills,  high volume commercial breeders are still keeping dogs for the sole purpose of creating puppies to sell, but the conditions are generally better. I’m not saying they’re ideal – I’m not saying I condone the practice. I’m just pointing out that the conditions are a bit better. Which from a business stand point, makes more sense. Better conditions means healthier dogs, which means they can produce more puppies.

Many of these high volume commercial producers are USDA certified, which means that the USDA inspects the kennels periodically and they must maintain a certain quality of life for the animals. That’s not saying much, and depending on the area, the inspections could be cursory or even non existent. Just because a producer is USDA Certified, does not mean the conditions are better, or that they are a responsible breeder.

 

Puppy Mill

The picture directly above shows conditions that are better than the puppy mill picture, but it’s still not great. If I was a dog and I had to pick one, I would pick this picture for sure- but again we’re still in the darker shades of grey on the Producer to Breeder spectrum.

USDA Kennel 4

Now this picture, is also a USDA Certified high volume puppy producer, but these conditions are markedly better. The dogs are still not in a home as part of a family, but they’re clean, they have room to run, and access to the outdoors. If I were a puppy, I would absolutely choose this picture over the other two. So now, we’re still in the producer area, but as far as the dog’s health and quality of life, we’re still in the grey, but it’s getting lighter.

That brings me to the term “backyard breeder”. I have a love/hate relationship with this term. To me, it really illustrates the concept of some random person who has a girl dog, tossing a boy dog into their back yard and making puppies. Generally their reasons range from “My Sophie is such a sweet dog I just want more like her” to “If she has 10 puppies and I sell each one for $200 I can make $2000!”.

The reason I don’t like this term is that many people think that any one who has a backyard and produces puppies is a “backyard breeder” including passionate, educated hobby breeders who are the backbone of responsible breeders. The term “backyard breeder” gets a lot of harmful legislation passed. I plan to do a whole blog post dedicated to harmful anti-breeder legislation, but for now, let’s just touch on it briefly.

When terms like “backyard breeder” and “puppy mill” are used hand in hand, it is easy for both the public and politicians to think of anyone who breeds a dog at home as being irresponsible. So legislation gets passed banning people from breeding dogs in their home. They claim that the only way to know if a breeder is responsible or not is if their facilities are held to certain requirements are subject to regular inspections. The problem with this is a) as we saw above, USDA Certified and Inspected does not guarantee the animals are in great conditions and b) most  responsible breeders do not have “facilities”. Their dogs are part of their family and the whelping box is in their living room. They may have one or two litters a year, and they hand raise those dogs with intent and love. They don’t have the funds or the inclination to have a huge heated kennel with runs and exercise areas. They may only own a total of three or four dogs. So a lot of well meaning legislation ends up banning the people who do the most good for the dogs and rewarding the high volume commercial producers.

So when it comes to “backyard breeders” there’s not always an obvious difference between a responsible breeder following a breeding program and a backyard breeder producing puppies irresponsibly.

Now let’s go back to our gradient:

Gradient 2prv

On the far left we have the first photo. Dirty cages, unhealthy animals, breeding solely for profit. A little to the left we have the second photo. Still breeding solely for money, conditions are slightly improved – emphasis on “slightly”. Then we have picture number three. Now, being the realist that I am, I’m convinced that the third photo is a staged photo-op. That facility may exist for the sole purpose of convincing people that high volume commercial producers are not puppy mills. Realistically,  high volume breeders are probably a range in the middle.

For argument’s sake, let’s suspend our critical thinking skills for a moment and imagine that the photo-op photo is real. In fact, let’s get wild and imagine that most USDA high volume commercial producers look like these photos below:

USDA Kennel 1

 

USDA Kennel 2

USDA-Breeder-Kennel.jpg

The areas look clean and according to the Real Animal Welfare Group, the floors are heated, classical music is piped in, and the animals are all clean, bathed and happy. Would this be considered a producer or a responsible breeder? Ask yourself, what is the purpose of breeding these dogs? You guessed it. Making money.

Often times, these facilities are not selling directly to puppy buyers. They have brokers who sell the pups to pet stores, puppy buyers and even to ” retail rescues” (more on that in another post).

So far, all we’ve discussed is the physical aspects of these producers. Are they clean and healthy? Do the dogs get to play outside? Are they well groomed and well fed?

The next consideration is genetic. If you’re breeding for money, it doesn’t make any sense to phase healthy, young dogs out of your kennel. And one or two males can service dozens of females. So in a producer setting, say you have ten female Toy Poodles who each produce one or two litters a year and each time it is with the same male. The gene pool for Toy Poodles is now flooded with those same dogs’ DNA. Say each litter averages five puppies and each female produces one litter a year for four years – this is a very conservative estimate. That’s two hundred Toy Poodles who are all related to each other. Now, males can continue to breed far longer than females, so say the producer rotates those ten Toy Poodles and replaces them with ten more. So in four more years, we have another two hundred Toy Poodles who are still related.

This is not an improvement on the breed. If that male has any genetic issues, say eye problems (common in poodles) guess who  just inherited eye problems? Yep, four hundred Toy Poodles. It’s also just producing the same thing over and over again. There is no forward motion in the breed’s genetics. This is a major problem in producers, whether they’re producing ten puppies a year or a thousand puppies a year. They’re flooding the breed with the same genetic material.

Because this post just isn’t quite long enough, and I know you’re dying to spend all day staring at your screen, let’s talk about how producers contribute to the shelter problem.

Producers are producing puppies for profit. Once the puppy has gone to it’s owner the dog is no longer their responsibility. There have been instances where puppy owners have come back to the producer with complaints and they’ve gotten their money back, but those are pretty far and few between. Once you buy that dog, it’s yours. And if you decide you don’t want the dog any more, or she ends up in the shelter, that’s between you, your dog and your conscience.

The conscientious producers may offer a health guarantee or even hand out free booklets on responsible ownership, but they place the ultimate responsibility for the dog on the new owners shoulders.It is not in their best interest to ensure that the new owners understand that the breed has very specific grooming needs or that maybe buying their seventeen year old daughter a Scottish Terrier may not be the best choice since she’s never owned a dog before and she’s leaving for college in  a year.

If the family decides on a Tuesday morning that they want a dog, puppy producers will gladly sell them a puppy on Tuesday afternoon.

And that is how puppy producers contribute to our shelter dog problem. Puppy producers sell to anyone willing to hand them money for a dog. And it is abundantly clear that not everyone who has the money to buy a dog is in a position to be a responsible dog owner.

Right now, we have shelters, rescues and puppy producers who are adopting/selling dogs to people who could potentially be irresponsible owners. Responsibility for the dog still rests on the shoulders of the adults who decided to get a pet, but handing dogs out to anyone willing to pay is not helping the problem.

To transcend from puppy producer to responsible breeder, the goal has to be more than just producing a product to make money. So, if the goal in producing puppies isn’t to make money, what is it?

We’ll talk about that in  Part Four – Responsible Breeders.

*The featured photo for this blog post is a painting titled “Senior Wranglers” by Maud Earl

 

Cool Beans

Our Amazing History With Dogs

We’re interrupting your regularly scheduled blog post to share some exciting information.

Apparently there is a Museum of the Dog!

I’ve been obsessed with animals and dogs my entire life and somehow missed that there is an entire museum dedicated to dogs! They are moving back to New York City after spending a few decades in St. Louis.

They have an amazing collection of historic works of art including the beautiful pieces below. The first photo pictured really speaks to me in ways I can’t explain. Just lovely.

 

The Falconer by Donald Grant
“The Falconer” by Donald Grant – Gift of the estate of Cynthia S. Wood. (Salukis)
Senior Wrtanglers by Maud Earl
“Senior Wranglers” by Maud Earl – Gift of the Estate of Jean Graves Brainard. (Wire Fox Terriers)
Ch. Estat d'Argeles of Basquaerie and Ch. estagel d' Argeles of Basquarie by Edwin Megargee
“Ch. Estat d’Argeles of Basquaerie and Ch. Estagel d’Argeles of Basquaerie” by Edwin Megargee – Gift of the estate of Mary Crane. (Great Pyrenees)