I talked yesterday a bit about breeders, the different kinds of purpose-bred dogs, and how the rescue community tends to lump all of these animals together into a category of “bought” or “shopped for” animals. As I pointed out, however, all people shop for their animals, even when they have chosen to buy, or to use the rescue term, “adopt” a rescue. Just because the terminology is changed (‘buy’ to ‘adopt’, for instance) , does that make the experience any different? Some breed specific rescues actually use this to their advantage, telling people who are interested in a certain breed that they can get the same dog, fully vetted, for much cheaper. This may be technically true, but is the animal in question truly comparable to a purpose-bred animal that is the product of, not a mill or a backyard breeder (BYB), but a truly reputable breeder? Let’s take a look.
To answer this question, we must break down what each of these terms mean. Anyone in the rescue community knows the difference, or what they are told is the difference, but most regular citizens don’t. First, the most simple – mills. On this, most people from any side of the rescue equation can agree. Mills are horrible, evil, only for profit places that use pet animals to produce more pet animals to sell to the general public. Most are sold to pet stores at a very young age, and as a general rule no one is allowed to see the conditions the parents are kept in, which to be frank, are shitty. Any way you slice it, optimal profit is not obtained by taking proper care of the breeding animals, so they are often stuck into very small cages, stalls or shopping carts or staked to the ground outside. They never see a vet, are never groomed and not given proper food even when pregnant, because (and here is the key) they are always uber popular breeds. These animals, whether in horrid shape or not as babies, sell themselves. People want them. Pet stores stock them. It’s a match made in heaven for the unethical, greedy miller who has no time for silly little things like good food, exercise and wound care. In places where pet stores have limited stock capabilities, or have been banned from selling certain species (dogs for instance), the millers often sell their animals through brokers or directly to the public by meeting their customers in mutually convenient places. Luckily, even though mills are by definition hidden very well in their communities, their products are easy to spot by just asking a few well placed questions. “May I see the parents?” “Can I see the health records or pedigrees of the parents?” “What sort of food has the baby been eating?” “What kinds of health problems does this breed have?” “Can we think about it?” Any miller is not going to want to answer any questions, and you can be assured that if you pry too deeply you will be asked to produce the money or shove off. It’s nearly a sure thing that any puppy for sale in a pet store is also from a mill. No matter how much the store staff assures you that the animal is healthy and from a loving “mom and pop” organization, these animals are NOT even remotely certain to be safe to take into your home. Not only will a milled animal cost you near as much as a properly bred registered animal (if it is even proper to breed the animal in question, such as a parrot), it can potentially cost you much more in vet bills, psychological stress, and emotional trauma. It’s a bit like playing Russian roulette with your future.
Next, the dreaded Back Yard Breeder. This is said tongue in cheek as rescues hate any breeders – puppy millers for certain, and BYBs nearly as much. “Ignorant!” they cry. “Idiots who are too stupid to spay and neuter their pets and are flooding the shelters with their unwanted dogs!” BYBs are, by definition people who, as opposed to mills that operate on a large scale and often have more than one breed or species, breed two animals in a backyard. Ok, it could be a kitchen or a bedroom, but you get the idea. These are people who have one animal and want to make some more for their friends, family or to sell for a few extra dollars. So they get another animal, or borrow one for the deed and produce babies. The No Puppy Mills Canada site states that “The back yard breeder is the single greatest cause of pet overpopulation.” That is a pretty strong statement, I’d have to say. In the ASPCA’s “Cruelty Glossary“, the Backyard Breeder is defined as: ” Individual whose pet either gets bred by accident, or who breeds on purpose for a variety of reasons-a desire to make extra money, for example, or to let the children witness “the miracle of birth.” The animals involved are usually not tested for genetic or health. Learn more about our efforts to protect animals in puppy mills. Did you catch that? Not only is the BYB in the “Cruelty Glossary”, which is damning enough, but at the end of the definition, the ASPCA sees fit to link the BYB with the dedicated, profit-only, unethical Puppy Miller. Somehow this doesn’t sit right with me. BYBs may have questionable motives, may or may not know the history of the animals they are using for breeding, and may make a mess of the entire thing. But none of those are assured. Where do you think the wonderful dog you grew up with or your parents grew up with came from? Most likely one of the local farm dogs who had a litter every once in a while. She was a great dog and her pups were most likely as well. Most recognized pure breeds that we have today came from one person deciding to do an experiment or two in breeding to see what he got. What he got was a more diverse genetic pool and some very interesting results, such as a pug cross that no longer had the trouble breeding that it’s purebred parent did. Should we encourage people to spay and neuter their animals and not to breed haphazardly? Sure. But if they don’t take our advice, is it the end of the world? It’s unlikely. As Puppy Mills Canada says in their disclaimer, “All the information found on this site is the sole opinion of No Puppy Mills Canada webmasters.” Great. Could it be that in the minds of well meaning rescuers, the Miller and the BYB have somehow become fused? As was stated by a passionate rescue advocate, “I HATE BREEDERS! I HATE THEM ALL!”. Hmmm. Didn’t your beloved rescue pet come as a result of breeding? What would this world be like if breeding was only in the hands of show breeders and for-profit millers?
That brings us to our last category, the show or, as some rescues are now PC terming them, the ‘reputable’ breeder. Who are these people? Surely if you live near a major center, or even if you don’t, you’ve heard of shows. In the interest of being concise, I’ll talk here about the dog show, but many different kinds of species have their own shows: cat shows, goat shows, bird shows, etc. Any show, and in this case the dog show, consists of people who are registered members of an overseeing organization like the CKC (Canadian Kennel Club), AKC (American Kennel Club), or UKC (United Kennel Club). They own intact, registered animals that they take to various shows to present to judges to obtain critique of how their animals measure up to the breed standards. (Here is the breed standard for the Golden Retriever). The critique they receive about their animals is reflected in the points and awards they receive from the judges, who have become ‘masters’ of particular breeds. The people who participate in shows often only believe in the validity of purebred animals with long pedigrees. They are on their own mission to perfect the breed or in more humbler opinions, add to the betterment of the breed. Some registered breeders start with one breed and go to another, or add another as time goes on. To them, the breed standard for their particular breed(s) is the holy grail, the bible that motivates them each day to strive to produce that ‘perfect’ (more on that another time) animal. Obviously this goal requires breeding. Some breeds of dogs, like the Labrador Retriever (or more well known as the Lab), often have upwards of 7 puppies in a litter, and since the breeder is looking for just that special one to keep, that means that there are many puppies left in need of a place to go. In days passed, when many purebreds were only for certain uses, breeders would cull, or kill, those that didn’t make the cut. Now it is more common for breeders to find “pet homes” for these less-than-perfect animals. As sentiment about keeping animals as pets has changed in a more positive direction, and as multiple indoor pet homes have become more and more common, most breeders don’t have too much trouble finding homes for their breeding animals’ unwanted offspring. In a perfect world, this would be the optimal solution for anyone wanting a pet. Pick a breed, find a breeder, get an animal exactly like what you envisioned. Reality is seldom that kind, however. Some breeders, in a rush to find a showring-worthy animal, breed too much too quickly. Others invest so much time, effort and money into their breeding program that they need to product ‘x’ number of puppies and sell them in order to pay the mortgage and keep the lights on. Showing, buying breeding stock, and doing even a modicum of proper veterinary care gets very expensive. Most registered breeders are always operating on a tight budget, which makes moving animals out the door very tempting and often a necessity. So what happens when the family that just had to have a German Pointer discovers that his breed characteristics are not as cute at 2 as they were as a puppy? What about the German Shepherd that was a product of hasty breeding and improper socialization bites the neighbor’s little boy? Where do these animals go? Far more than registered breeders like to admit, they end up put down, given away, or in shelters. Because of great lobbying by animal and breed clubs, however, the rescue organizations are bowing to their pressure to separate out “reputable” breeders (meaning registered breeders) from their targeted breeder bashing. As rescue organizations use health and behavior problems as their backbone reasons for targeting all breeding, along with the idea that there is a glut of homeless and unwanted animals, it is important to note that purebred breeding is not without the same problems. It is not uncommon to see an animal in the show ring that cannot function properly as its species should, or even lacks the ability to do basic things like breathe properly. Read about Crufts veterinarian problems here and here. If the only people “allowed” to breed animals are the very ones who are breeding genetic problems into our beloved pet animals and who are drawing continually from very shallow gene pools (read here)… it stands to reason that we may be looking at their inevitable demise.
Where some pet animals are currently a dime a dozen (think your shaggy mid-sized shelter mutt), others are already having supply problems and rescue organizations are going to great lengths to obtain them for their clientele. Pets are being imported from other countries, but only certain breeds that have waiting lists. These pets are bringing with them big health and behavioral problems, as well as importing previously unknown parasites to the local populations. By registered breeding standards, they may be a bargain and make for a great sad story to tell the neighbors (remember all the adopted Chinese babies of the 90s?) – but are they truly the right thing to do? Can rescue organizations truly call themselves rescues when they pass by the non-descript mutt in the local pound that no one wants to scoop a tiny dog off the the streets of Mexico that people will line up for? Rescues will tell you that a life is a life but will never tell a customer to adapt and save that life no one wants.
Tell me that’s right.