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Animals In Print
The On-Line Newsletter

From 23 May 2001 Issue:

"Responsible Breeder" an Oxymoron
by Mary Chipman

Talk to just about anyone and they will tell you that the infamous "puppy mills" are a terrible, terrible thing. Backyard breeders who keep their dogs in filthy cages with little or no shelter, even less food and water, and no veterinary care, are the scourge of the pet world, and rightly so. Ask someone what they think of "responsible breeders," and the general opinion rises substantially. But, should it?

There are degrees of irresponsibility. Few would deny that a person who cranks out grossly inbred puppies with only a dollar sign in mind is a despicable human being. Yet, how responsible is any person who intentionally brings more puppies (or kittens) into an already impossibly overpopulated world of potential pets?  Granted, a dog or cat who is cared for and loved while reproducing is much better off than one who is not.  I am not trying to lump all breeders together as monsters.  I am, however, attempting to put the practice of breeding into some perspective, especially that of the animals themselves.

The "responsible breeder" says she is doing it for the love of the breed, for the opportunity to bring pleasure to prospective owners of the offspring, or for any number of superficially noble reasons.  It really doesn't matter what the reasons are; the fact still remains that for every puppy or kitten born, there is one less chance that an animal who already exists is going to find a home.  Like it or not, millions of perfectly healthy and beautiful dogs and cats are euthanized in American shelters every single year to make room for the next wave.  There are only so many potential homes.  As the saying goes, you do the math.

You could try to explain to those animals unlucky enough to have been born accidentally that their deaths will make room for those born with a pedigree.  You could explain that it's just the luck of the dice that their lives are meaningless while the lives of those born to "responsible breeders" somehow merit not only continuation but a handsome price as well.  Even if they could understand, I doubt it would carry much weight as the lethal injection starts to take effect or the gas starts to fill their lungs.

I can hear the "responsible breeder" now: "It isn't my fault that some people let their animals breed unrestricted.  We wouldn't have this problem if those people would just stay out of the breeding business."  Meaning, of course, that only those people with purebreds should be allowed to exploit the reproductive abilities of their pets.  Make no mistake about it: Exploitation is the perfect choice of words.  The animal has no say-so in the matter.  While it is also true that an animal has no say-so in the decision to spay or neuter, there are definite health advantages to that decision.  What does the animal get out of breeding?  A pregnancy, delivery, and nursing - all of which have potential for complications - and then the theft of her babies.

I know, I know.  "They're just animals!  They don't grieve when their young are taken."  Why are people so sure about that?  These are the very same people who insist that their pets love them.  Why do they resist the notion that animals might feel something when their babies are taken away, but have no problem believing that the animals have nothing but pure love and devotion for them?

People will tell you that their dog acted depressed when a son or daughter went away to college.  They will insist that their cat seemed to actually miss another family pet who died.  Yet, it doesn't seem to phase them to expect a mother dog or cat to simply hand over her young so that they can have a pet.  It doesn't strike them as cruel or unfair to force a puppy or kitten to leave its mother's side and the company of its siblings.

Breeders themselves will tell you that a hot water bottle and the ticking of an alarm clock may have to be a substitute for a puppy's mother in the first few days, so they must acknowledge the existence of some type of maternal emotion.  A mother animal is universally known as the last creature on earth you would want to tangle with, so we do recognize the strong bond.  Apparently, we can attribute emotions to animals when it's convenient for us, then whip them away when it's not.  How very human.

In addition to the overpopulation problem and the denial of maternal grief, there is a certain irresponsible snobbery to the "responsible breeder."  Once again, only the owner of a purebred is allowed the luxury of exploiting his pet.   People are proud to demonstrate the pure lineage of their dog or cat, which really only means the poor thing is hopelessly inbred.  You may not find a whole lot of them willing to admit it, but most veterinarians will agree (even if only to themselves) that a mixed breed is healthier both physically and psychologically.

As a result of decades, even centuries, of inbreeding, every purebred dog and cat has a host of inherent "defects."  Every breed is known for weaknesses, from hip dysplasia to epilepsy.  The human obsession with meddling in other species' lives to suit his purposes has resulted in animals that are too big, too small, too long, etc. for their own good.  Official physical standards in one area have created great genetic difficulties in other, more important areas.  Somehow, these standards are still considered superior.

What it all boils down to is our desire for a particular type of dog or cat versus the animals' well-being. I don't know how anyone could honestly say that her desire for a purebred from a breeder outweighs the well-being of a shelter dog about to lose his life.   I have to feel sorry for someone who can.

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