Best of Breed, Worst of Breeders?
A Companion Animal Care Article from

This Companion Animal Care directory is presented to help people seeking reliable resources, tips, and information for companion animals.

FROM Marc Bekoff, Psychology Today / Animal Emotions
June 2018

Purebred winners can come from the most horrific, canned breeders.

During the past several days, I've been inundated with news about nonhuman animal (animal) abuse. Frankly, it's emotionally exhausting to read about all of the animals who are intentionally and brutally being abused or killed "in the name of humans," because that's what it's pretty much all about.

For example, in 2015, New Zealand claimed that animals are sentient beings. However, in their war on wildlife, millions upon millions of animals are being killed using incredibly inhumane methods, including the use of the poison 1080 that causes excruciating pain to targeted and non-targeted individuals and also results in widespread environmental damage. We also read about numerous horses dying at California's Santa Anita racetrack and officials there refusing to stop the racing. And, just a few minutes ago, I learned that officials at the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife claim they were forced to kill a black bear who was habituated to people. Forced? By whom? Where are the animals in these anthropocentric decisions? They're treated merely as objects because the law classifies them as such, and humans still can get away with performing horrific, intentional animal abuse.

I'm deeply concerned with rampant animal abuse, and because of my interest in "all things dog," I was deeply moved by an essay in the New York Times by Aaron Randle titled "188 Sickly Dogs Hoarded by a One-Time Top Breeder at Westminster." The teaser for his excellent piece reads, "An animal cruelty investigation of a New Jersey couple has been opened. The pair said: 'This wasn’t backyard breeding. Things just went sideways.'” Well, I'm sure the dogs at Rocky Ridge Russells kennel don't care at all about their caregivers' excuses, and when things began going sideways, why didn't Martin Strozeski and his business partner, Marcia Knoster, stop breeding dogs in despicable conditions with no concern for these sentient beings? This is yet another example of why it's a misleading myth that dogs are our best friends. They're not, and this and numerous other situations in which dogs are severely mistreated clearly show that claiming they are our best friends is ludicrous.

Mr. Randle's essay is available online, and I strongly urge everyone to read it. Here are a few snippets to prepare you for what was discovered at the Rocky Ridge Russells kennel, along with some stomach-turning pictures and lame excuses for how these dogs, award-winning Parson Russell Terriers, were neglected, abused, and allowed to suffer and to die, because "it was a hobby turned bad." All in all, 188 "unkempt dogs—some of them pregnant and many that (sic) appeared visibly sick" were removed from the kennel, and some of the dead dogs, according to Mr. Strozeski, “were in the process of being buried.” It also turns out that "Some of the rescued dogs were pregnant" and "were suffering from physical wounds, skin conditions and external parasites." Mr. Strozeski also is quoted as saying, “They weren’t well cared for, but they had their primary needs—food and water, and I changed their bed every day.”

I wrote this essay, because numerous people asked me to do so, and because it made me teary. I also decided to write something, because Mr. Strozeski's saying he had taken care of their primary needs completely ignores what dogs also really need from their human companions, namely, respect, caring, and love.

I sat down a number of times to write something about these poor dogs and read and reread Mr. Randle's essay, but I always could find something else to take me away from my computer. However, I kept asking myself questions such as, "How can people who supposedly love dogs intentionally abuse them?" and "When is this sort of mistreatment going to stop?" It was the influx of emails that got me going.

One person who wrote to me referred to the Rocky Ridge Russells breeding kennel as a "puppy mill," which it really was. Another wrote, "I am shocked by what happened at Rocky Ridge Russells kennel. I really believed that at least people who bred dogs for show cared about their dogs, although I'm totally against these sorts of breeding mills."

And, in a note that really got me thinking about what happened to these dogs, the writer asked, "How do these people justify what they did and how do they live with themselves?" I really don't know, but it's clear that some people are able to block out what's really happening and deal with the cognitive dissonance they should be feeling.

In Mr. Randle's essay, we also read, "Mr. Strozeski admitted to being partially responsible for the poor upkeep of the animals, but said the media reports of the rescue had grossly exaggerated the dogs’ living conditions." The pictures belie this; the dogs were kept in filthy, tiny cages. One person who wrote asked, "How can he say he was 'partially responsible for the poor upkeep of the animals'? I suppose he can say 'partially,' because he was 1 of 2 people who ran this disgusting place." I'll spare you some of the other prose that came my way, because none of it was "pretty."

Clearly, purebred winners can come from the most horrific, canned breeders.  This sort of abuse should not be tolerated and raises many important ethical questions about dog-human relationships. I'm glad people living near Rocky Ridge Russells kennel got involved. As the late Gretchen Wyler aptly said, "Cruelty can't stand the spotlight."

We are the lifelines for our canine companions, and they depend on us for our goodwill and wanting to give them the best lives possible. I hope the case of the Rocky Ridge Russells kennel opens the door for further inquiries about the condition of dogs at other breeding facilities. Is the Rocky Ridge Russells breeding facility really the worst of kennels? I hope it is, but it's really hard to know. What went on there was indeed "backyard breeding" gone bad, or "sideways," as Mr. Strozeski put it. And it needs to stop right now. There should be zero tolerance for these types of practices.

Stay tuned for further discussions of dog breeding and what's involved in producing dogs who people desire and who are treated as by-products of human greed. I know some people will think this isn't fair to many people who say they really do care about the dogs they breed. However, this example and others call for open discussion about how some humans override the interests of dogs for money, fame, and perhaps other reasons.

The bottom line is simple: The dignity and well-being of dogs must always come first.

Return to Companion Animal Care