Sunday, June 06, 2010

A breeder is a breeder is... well, maybe not.

I'm retiring this sticker from the FYE store, and it's been a long time coming. It's something I used to fervently believe and this sticker was prominently featured on my truck - the dog on it is my dog, Jessie. As with MSN, this is something that initially sounds good and smart and logical to the rescue-minded until you begin to dig deeper and you find out that it isn't necessarily so.

Look, I'm a rescue guy. Hard core. My dogs are all rescues and the idea of purchasing a dog from a breeder is, to me, unfathomable when there are so many that are dying. Then again, I have no real attachment to any particular breed or type (although I seem to always get the Spaniels!), I have no desire to raise a puppy (my dogs are difficult enough), and I could care less about bloodlines, shows, ribbons or papers.

Having worked in rescue for a number of years, first as a volunteer then as a professional, I can tell you that the old notion that adopting a shelter dog is just getting yourself "someone else's problem" is sheer hogwash - and I know that the old myth is dying off among the general public. Oddly, the publicity surrounding the foreclosure crisis helped greatly to accelerate the passing of this stereotype as stories came out in major news outlets of pets sent to shelters through no fault of their own.

That being said, there will always be people who will not consider rescue, and some of those reasons are perfectly legitimate. Some absolutely must have an 8 week old purebred Ring Tail Snodheimer and no other dog will do (no offense to the fans of the noble Ring Tail Snodheimer!), and purebred Ringies don't show up often in rescue and are quickly snapped up when they do. Some want a working dog from known stock. Some want a purebreed puppy from a known bloodline that has been carefully and thoroughly screened for genetic flaws. Some are getting a dog for the first time and want someone who will hold their hand at 3am after their new puppy turns the living room carpet into a poopy Jackson Pollock painting because he got into the garbage after dinner. Who am I to judge? I can and will talk people's ears off about the virtues of rescued dogs, but some people aren't going to listen, and they're going to get dogs elsewhere.

And where, exactly? We're not doing ourselves any favors by alienating good breeders. I'm talking about the ones who do extensive genetic screenings on dogs they breed, who raise them in their homes with love and care and attention, who follow their progress over their lifetimes and always take them back rather than ever letting them enter the shelter system. Many of these breeders also do rescue work (quietly, quietly!) for their chosen breed(s), applying their knowledge to help those animals who do end up in shelters. By vilifying breeders as a whole, we're driving away these people who love animals and dogs and want to help them as much as anyone.

We also face a common enemy in the form of the puppymillers and backyard breeders whom we would all like to see driven out of existence - but by lumping everyone who breeds dogs together, we're not only driving away potentially powerful allies, we're actually driving them to hold their noses and stand together with puppy milling scum with well meaning but over-zealous legislative efforts that target not only soulless puppy millers but caring, dedicated breeders as well.

I don't agree with good breeders on everything, I'm not a market for them, and I hope the customer service of shelters everywhere can improve to compete with theirs. However, I agree with them on a lot more than I disagree with them on, we all have a genuine love for dogs, and we all want to see puppy mills driven out of existence. If we're going to do it, we're going to need to stand together, and I for one will proudly stand beside them to do so.


Blogger Jacqueline said...

This was really well-written and a very even-handed approach to such an important issue. Alienating those good breeders, as you point out, doesn't help anyone and certainly doesn't address the problem of puppy mills and backyard breeding.

Thanks for sharing!

9:15 AM  
Blogger Hiram said...

This is very well argued and I completely agree with John on 95% of "good breeders." But we still have the problem of the Pit Bull "good breeder." I LOVE pits! I rescue pits. I see emails of scores of pits euthanized in Atlanta every week. And there are people out there that do all the rights things while breeding and pit bulls - they are by definiton "good breeders." And these people are adding to the problem! At a recent convention for them in Atlanta, many heckled and harassed the rescue people in attendance and said that their dogs never ended up in shelters. REALLY?! Because only 1 of the 100's of owners of purebred APBT's and similar dogs I know got their dogs from a legit breeder while the rest were rescued or bought from byb's. In fact in the few times when a shelter pit is microchipped and traced back to their breeder, the breeder won't take the dog back. Pit breeders don't work with rescues - please if you are one who does, post a comment here and prove me wrong. So in summary, while this rescuer can agree that not all breeders are evil, if you breed pit bulls and don't also rescue them you ARE the problem!

1:00 PM  
Blogger jec said...

Thank you for saying this. Not too many people realize the purpose of purebred dogs. Some breeds have been over bred and not too carefully and this is when the problems start.
I have rescued my share of dogs. But I also have gone to reputable breeders for my purebred dogs. I train dogs in obedience and want them to be my companion. So, I appreciate getting a dog as a puppy so that I can bond with him and work with him from a young age. My rescues have come with issues, even the ones that started out as puppies. They take extra work and care but it is worth it. Puppies that come from good breeders are well adjusted and adapt to their new home quickly. Most good breeders are not in it for profit.
BYB and puppy-mills are in it for the profit. Our friends, after hearing that our business was slow due to the economy suggested that I breed and sell dogs. I thought that was an awful thought. We need to somehow educate the general public about responsible dog ownership and somehow turn the tide for dogs bred for no other purpose than profit.

1:27 PM  
Blogger Cyn said...

This blog made me feel good, finally. There are many, many dedicated breeders who do a great job, will take their pups back at anytime for any reason, and rescue the produce of others if the dog cannot be identified or the breeder isn't all that ethical.

I've done rescue for over 20 years, starting with my breed club, rising to National Director for 5 years, and now back down to a few death row shelter dogs a year. I own intact purebreds and in 2o years have never had a breeding, accidental or planned.

Thank you so much for recognizing there really are responsible breeders in this world!

Cynthia McCollum

2:32 PM  
Blogger Mary said...

Thank you John!
I did breed rescue for 15 YEARS (from 1990-2005) for my chosen breed, a really difficult one to own, showed them a little bit and never bred them-- yet...but when I do, it will be to make better dogs, health and temperament wise. BYBs do not care about either. When you support only rescue dogs, you support the actions of BYBs. It's still a viable solution for them--their creations will end up in rescue if they don't work out. What do they care? Their creations have all the genetic problems associated with their breed. So what? Rescue took them in and found homes for them. While good dogs were NEVER BRED or MADE AVAILBLE. Wouldn't it just be better to give good publicity to those of us who do the work of making sure breeds are strong and healthy instead of trying to make us quit by saying we're the bad guys!? It's expensive to do it right, no matter what 'it' is...dogs, no different. Rescue dogs are often loaded with behavior issues that gentrified legitimate breeders never have to see. I am all-rounded now, having seen the good and the bad (and don't forget...many MANY good breeder/exhibitors/handlers have a lot of humane society experience to boot! Incl me) and some day I will be ready to make a couple of awesome AUTHENTIC examples of the BYB 'Xeroxes' I rescued all those years. Thank you for shining a light on those of us who are sick to death of everyone saying how
'Rescue dogs Rule...' NOT!!! All dogs rule.

2:45 PM  
Blogger -J. said...

Stew - Uh, Rush is against Mandatory Spay/Neuter? Geez, that guy has an opinion on everything... :)

Hiram - I'd be willing to bet that pits have far more of a problem with backyard breeders than with large scale puppy mills. While neither is ethical, the sheer number of animals being produced by mills likely dwarfs the number of crappy (but small) breeders. That does seem to be a fairly pit-specific thing.

jec - Most of the people I consider ethical breeders would stop breeding in a bad economy to save all that money they're losing - seriously!

Mary - Well, I'll still take the rescued dog myself - if you know what to look for there are always diamonds in the ruff on death row - but you know that as well, I'm sure - and I happen to prefer the tough cases for my own dogs. I do love all dogs, regardless of where they came from, and I want the best for them. I'm not sure I'm ready to get on board with supporting only rescue dogs is supporting BYBs, though. :) I'd like to rescue dogs and still drive them out of business any way I can. I still believe that rescue is the best choice for most people - but not everyone, and that certainly doesn't make those who choose not to the enemy.

6:32 PM  
Blogger Cyn said...

Hiram - The vast majority of bad pits I see are not pits at all, they are mixes and poorly raised. In 22 years as a dog training pro I have never been bitten by a pit. BUT mixes are out here and stuffing the shelter system, as lab mixes or GSD mixes did in years gone by. Not the produce of ethical breeders, nor were their long past purebred parents. There is nothing new in the numbers, but the anti dog people have a new target, event though they cannot identify any of the purebred pit types.

J - If good purebred breeders stop breeding because of a bad economy, then good purebreds will cease to be. Good breeders - well see my original post. I know my breeder, my stud dog owner and all my dogs relatives, as well has have a world wide network of folk to help me/my pups/their pups if needed.

I will always have purebred purpose bred dogs of excellent quality. After 20 years, its doubtful I will ever breed a litter as I have seen up front the true responsibility needed to do so. And I will always have my hard case rescue dog who would be a rescue failure in the average propogandized dog rescuer. Lets just not doom the good breeders while punishing the bad.

8:07 PM  
Blogger Marilyn Wolf, BS, CPDT-KA said...

I know a wonderful Golden breeder who dones the genetic coefficients and follows her dogs for their lifetime. I also now know a Basenji breeder/shower/groomer who is less responsible. He was recently talking about breeding his bitch to her grandfather. This was a discussion I didn't even start.

I've taken in whatever dog showed up for my whole life and will most likely never pay more than the shelter fee to get one.

Even breeders and bloodlines need to be researched for those are interested.

5:53 AM  
Blogger YesBiscuit! said...


8:04 AM  
Blogger Kerry May said...

I agree with you.However, asa rescue worker, I simply can't say "buy from a good breeder." Because the customer is not going to know who that is. I can't just refer them to AKC club. Lots of bad breeders in there too!

As a rescue worker, I need a list of good breeders that I can refer people to. In a binder, organized by breed, I can flip to it and say, "oh, a golden retriever? You simply must contact so and so, he/she's the best around." Seems like the good breeders need a directory of themselves that's policed by themselves, cuz the AKC sucks at it.

8:07 AM  
Blogger Mystic_Mom said...

THANK YOU! This blog post is very well written and echoes what I've been trying to say on a couple of our groups about the differences between good in the dog world (responsible, ethical breeders and rescues) and the bad (puppy mills, abusers, fighters, backyard breeders of 'designer disasters', etc) and the ugly - the people who only have one view and expect that it must be right because it is their view. I'll be sharing this link! Thank you! Shanyn, Manitoba Voice for Animals

9:17 AM  
Blogger -J. said...

Cyn, I think I may have been unclear - my point was that good breeders invest so much money in their craft that they usually don't turn a profit. :)

11:07 AM  
Blogger Christie Keith said...

A, darlin'.... music to my ears! As to shelters improving their customer service to compete with even the best breeders... that's something I'm working to HELP them do!

6:47 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A fine, working bred dog is a wonderful thing. If you want or need a dog to round up the herd, retrieve a bird, find a lost child, pull a sled or do any of the other hundreds of wonderful things dogs do for us - a purpose bred (not necessarily pure bred) dog is a safer choice than most (though not all) shelter dogs. To maintain good working characteristics (and good health) in dogs we need to do mindful breeding.

I'd also like to point out that a good rescue group is a great place to find a good breeder. As Heather (the breeder of one of my dogs) noted, many (if not most) good breeders work with and support good rescue groups. And vice-versa.

The 'us versus them' should be rescue groups and good breeders versus 'mills', crap breeders and scam rescue groups. Not adopting versus buying.

8:51 PM  
Blogger FrogDogz said...

jec - Most of the people I consider ethical breeders would stop breeding in a bad economy to save all that money they're losing - seriously!

When I broke up with my ex, I didn't breed a litter for five years - because I couldn't afford to. Breeding a litter properly is expensive. Health testing, titles, all of the things that go into a responsible breeding cost money - lots of it.

Doing it in a bad economy unless you have SERIOUS homes lined up, or when you are short on cash, is never a recipe for success.

12:48 PM  
Blogger Peabody said...

Thank you for this. I'm thinking about quitting my rescue work because of the constant anti-breeding message from our group. They generally have more homes than dogs available. They've rescued a few mixes and related breeds lately. There seems to be enough money and volunteers to rescue even the heart worm dogs. I think I'd qualify as one of the breeders you'd appreciate.

The shelters in my area are importing dogs from other regions of the country and from over-seas. I sold a pup to folks who sit on the board of their local humane society because you can't get a quality hunting dog from rescue or the shelter. Even if you could find one of decent breeding, if you don't lay in certain training before six months of age, you've wasted the potential of the dog.

Anyway, there is no overpopulation of dogs in my region. There is no overpopulation of my breed nationally. Yet the rhetoric from the local shelters and my own breed rescue paints me as the bad guy. I'm the one who spends over a grand on pre-breeding screenings AND actually spays and neuters if I find a problem AND sells my dogs very carefully AND takes any one of them back at any time for any reason AND microchips each one with a chip that lists me as the alternate contact to make sure.

But I think you need to think about how broad the brush of "puppy mill" and "backyard breeder" has gotten. Every time I turn around, there is "anti-puppy mill" legislation that effects me and my two litters a year. Many of those back yard breeders are serious hobbyists who produce a litter every few years to replace what they have lost to old age.

The commercial breeders don't breed if there isn't a market, and the hobby breeders take from that market. THE issue for all dogs in this country is we are importing puppies from Mexico and Thailand and Korea and who knows where else for retail sale.

As much as I despise "puppy mills" I wonder if it's better for the dogs to be born in a US puppy mill or a Mexican one. These laws are driving the little guys out of the business, and the big guys overseas (former commercial breeders in PA, for instance now find it easier and more profitable to become puppy brokers). It's just getting worse for the dogs.

6:12 AM  

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