Archive for December, 2009

You’ve won a 2 week an all-expense paid trip to scenic Bosnia!

December 31, 2009

I was an election supervisor in Bosnia.    I happened to be ‘in the right place at the right time’ and was asked to apply for the position.  Here is how it happened.

I was doing some program development for CHP International in 1996 when we got a broadcast fax asking for people with both election supervisory  experience and experience in a crisis situation overseas—-& Howard Raik, my ‘boss’, laughed ans said, “Robyn! That’s you!”

Guilty.  I have been a judge of election in the City of Chicago  for over 20 years, and, due to my experience in Malawi, I was uniquely qualified.

I didn’t know if I wanted to do it.  I mean, there was a war going on.  But Howard said I had to apply.  It would be a trip of a lifetime.  Really?

The Chicago Tribune even interviewed a few of us:  “Yes, I am from Chicago, and I am here to see that you have a free and fair election.”  Right….  & as the Chicago Board of Elections  said, “If there’s anything they will be able to recognize, it’s fraud…”

So I did. The organization looking was the United Nations, & I would be a UN Volunteer.  I would be working for the Organization for the Security  and Cooperation in Europe.  They were really looking for lawyers, but they couldn’t get enough volunteers. As the news  of  bombings was reported, the lawyers were  dropping out.

I was also grooming dogs at the time. It was September. Although September is not a busy time, the person I was grooming dogs for gave me grief  because she wanted me available. She did not want to tell her clients they had to wait because I was  working on a democracy issue in Bosnia.

I barely knew where Bosnia was.  I knew where Yogoslavia was, but at the time, there was still confusion of what would be called what.  Not only that, I could not find much on the internet.  It was 1996, and any info available was rudimentary.

‘They’ called me a week ahead of time, told me to go to O’Hare airport, and gave me the flight number. They told me my name was on the list—just bring my passport.  I had an electronic ticket.  We flue to Paris, and someone held up a sign after we cleared immigration there, and led us to another flight—to Split, Croatia. From there, we were assigned, and those going to Banja Luka (the capital or the Republic of Srbska in Bosnia-Hersegovia) got on another bus, and  after what seemed about  two hours (it was actually more like 6 hours, but I was sleeping), we got to our next staging area.

The OSCE with UN soldiers began out preliminary  training. We were given  first aid kits, radios (which never worked), election supplies, and our per diems in German Marks.  I am no mathematical whiz, but you learn to calculate values quickly, because we paid for living expenses in Marks & were given change  in Dinars.

We were  introduced to our interpreters & drivers, & they took us to apartments that were rented for us.  Banja Luka is a good size city, so I really lucked out.  There was a lot to see and do in the city, and we were free to walk around—as so much area was paved.  Many people who volunteered were in more rural areas. They could not go out of their hotels because so much of the area was mined.

The first actual day we  were in Bosnia, we went for preliminary training. We were told how we would be trained, how we would get election supplies, where we would be assigned, and what our actual duties were.  This session did not last more than a few hours.

We went out to eat, sometimes joined by our interpretors & drivers, every night.  Someone had told me that the Serbs always smoked, even during dinner.  It was true. Cigarette smoke was all over.

The next day, we went for  ‘land mine training.’  Much of the world’s governments have banned the  manufacture and use of land mines—but  not the Untied States—because we have manufacturers here.  The problem with landmines is that they are rarely mapped:  ‘fighters’ just sprinkle them around. They are not collected after the war is over, & so many innocent civilians lose limbs.  We were all given maps of the country which showed where landmines were laid down, and shown the pins of landmines.  These devices are very small—the size of poker chips—& you’d never see the pins, once they are buried.

The next  day, we met our counterparts & saw where  we’d be working the election.  I was assigned to Celinac, a rural community in the mountains.    We were also given some training on using the radios. The problem was, however, that  the radio signals don’t go through mountains, and so they didn’t work.

That night, there was a demonstration in downtown Banja Luka.  We did not know the details. It was not to advocate boycotting the elections, and it was peaceful, but the tension was palpable.

The following day, we got more training on the logistics of how the election—to be held over  2 weekend days, would  be handled.  There were about  20 political parties on the ballot.  All  with ‘socialist’ something in their names.  We met with some of the ‘party regulars’ who would be allowed to oberve.  I sort of joked about how they coulkdn’t say anything, & said, “NO Kibbitzing,” and they totally understood what I meant.

I asked my interpreter how people could tell which party from which, and she told me that  party people went out and visited.  Another thing to keep in mind was that in many places, unless people had satellite dishes, they did not get TV or radio. They were eager for information.

But what I was most curious about was that all urban housing in Banja Luka had been  ‘public’ housing—owned by the (former) government of Yugoslavia.  If you wanted to own property, you  could own rural property, but—to prevent speculation & inflated ‘land rents’—the government owned the land.  Most people don’t realize that this is how many urban areas around the world are.  You can get a 99 year lease, and build on a plot, & this would be your hedge against inflation.  Our capitalist government isn’t too keen on that idea—-although  anyone who has bought a condominium on Native American land owns this way.

I had brought craft materials with me.  I was sure I would find a woman’s group, and, as it happened, my interpreter knew of one.  Everyone I was staying with had laughed at me for bringing the stuff: buttons, beads, embroidery thread—but the women’s group was overjoyed to have the stuff. I bought doilies and a lace curtain from them.  They were also selling sweaters, but they weren’t ‘me’.  Iwas able to inform the others in my group, and they  also went to the women’s center to buy  crafts.

In any case, the election was held over the weekend.  Any place in the world, it starts out the same.  You get up early & set up the election ‘station’  people are assigned job tasks.  My ‘job’ was just to observe & answer questions.  We actually had soldiers in uniform—with guns, thanks to the UN, from the Swiss Army.  Yes—there  actually is a Swiss Army, and they wear a sort of purple  camouflage pattern.

It was amzing how orderly things were, and also how a turnout we got.  In the end, it was over 90%.  Problems? In that part of the world, with a high degree of macho, many men wanted to vote for their wives.  Even though they had been told that this would not be allowed, several still tried, and it was up to me to tell them that that era was over.

Sunday was a miserable, drizzly, chilly day, and things were going vey slowly.  I realized that the problem was that, with so many ‘scoalist parties’, people could not find their party on the ballot.   We has an oversize sample ballot in the hallway, and what I did was tell people to  look at that oversize sample ballot, & either count from the top how far down their party was, or how far up their party was from the bottom, so when they got in the room to vote, they would be able to find their party easily, and  things would go more quickly.  & it did.  At one point, we ran out of the spray used to  spray fingers to indicate people had voted so they would not vote elsewhere).  I told the  Bosnians to just fill the bottle with water.  It was 3:p.m. Sunday afternoon.  We realy had to go through the motions at that point.

Everything went smoothly.  After the polls closed, with soldiers still out in the hall, we counted the ballots.  Over 90% had voted for 1 party. Amazing.  There were election supplies left over:  tape, pens,pencils, mainly office supplies.  I knew they’d be trashed if I brought them back to OSCE, so I just handed them out.

The party regulars had planed a dinner party for after the counting was over:  pickles,  roasted lamb, and lots of slivovitz and vodka.  We all were really tired & wanted to get  back to Banja Luka, but they insisted, so we sat down for about 1/2 hour & ate & drank.

We were given Monday off, but debriefed on Tuesday. Everything went very well. Then, OSCE & the army guys wanted the left over supplies back. As most of us were Returned Peace Corps Volunteers, we told them we had all given the stuff away.  Also, being Americans, we wanted souvenirs.  I took photos, but  that wasn’t enough.  One of our group had T-shirts made, with the OSCE (organization for security & cooperation in Europe) logo, but with the  words “Operation for Spreading Confusion in Europe” under it.  But the best thing I got was the OFFICIAL SWISS ARMY KNIFE—and it is even inscribed “Peace keeping forces Bosnia-Herzegovina 1996” The best souvenir.  I was only able to get one. they ran out.

To get out of Bosnia—we had to  go to Croatia, and that was an over 10 hour bus ride.  Bosnia had been trashed. There was evidence of the war everywhere.

We flew to Paris and had a 4 hour layover.  I badly wanted to see the Eiffel Tower.  I was advised to not even try, because the  metro system was slow, but I did, and I got within a mile of it, and it was great, and I returned to the airport and flew home.

The end.  Nobody in America really cared.

The American Kennel Club & Integrity…omg

December 25, 2009

I have been grooming dogs since the  late 1960s.  Our industry is the pet industry. There are several trade publications that  anyone can receive for free.  You just have to sign up to get them.

One of these magazines is Pet Age.  Clearly, they aren’t about making policy. All they do is report the facts.  The facts are, as reported in Pet Age, December 2009, on page 8 in the ‘Briefs’ section :  The Hunte Corp. (Goodman, Mo.) in conjunction with the American Kennel Club (New York…actually—Raleigh, NC, but I’m quibbling) hosted a free health clinic for professional dog breeders Sept.3—4.  Nearly 100 adult breeding dogs received heart and joint exams as well as grooming services during the clinic.

This is the same American Kennel Club that  publishes the Gazette for the hobbyists/fanciers, and  which regulates dog shows & trials, maintains our studbooks, and has a huge marketing campaign  trying to get people to insist on AKC papers.

Since they are really the ‘only game in town’ (nobody really trusts the United Kennel Club for their studbooks, & the Continental Kennel Club—which has a post office box for an address—that the puppy mill breeders use when their  records are so bad even the AKC won’t take their money?  Puh-lease…), the hobby breeders have to hold their noses & continue to register with AKC…but  the way it works is that hobby breeders are members of kennel clubs.   Kennel Clubs MAY become members of the AKC, and they then elect delegates to the AKC to represent their interests at monthly meetings…& no delegate has brought this up at a meeting!  At least not yet.

The excuse (I mean the explanation) the AKC gives for allowing the professional breeder  to mass produce puppies & not keep them in  stress free surroundings?  Hobby breeders can’t keep up with demand for puppies.

If there is anything that would make you  address your own sanity, it’s the idea that both the ASPCA & HSUS (NOT a humane society, but a lobbying organization) do more to try to warn the public about puppy mills than the AKC.   The AKC is not going to bite the hand that feeds it—& currently, the hands are puppy mills, providing way more food than the hobby breeders.

Notice, the demand is not for adult dogs—but puppies.  We know for certain that in some breeds: Basenjis, Shiba Inus, Jack or Parson Russell Terriers, that  for every puppy sold, one ends up in rescue.   The rescues tend to keep statistics.   There are several reasons for this.  One reason is that the types of people who are attracted to certain dogs are not honest with themselves. They are not introspective, and are attracted to the dogs ‘ conformation—its looks— & don’t really understand the temperament or personality of the breeds.  But another reason is that hobby breeders are not only not screening their potential buyers carefully enough, they are selling intact puppies that can be easily bred when mature.  Go back & read my blog on Integrity & being a purebred dog fancier & humane activist.  Naive  hobby breeders who think that everyone has the same level of integrity as they do have just assumed that puppy buyers really love the breed so much that they would never jeopardise it.  They might not even know they are  jeopardizing it  if  the hobby breeders don’t address  what they are doing to ensure the future of the breed, genetic testing, etc.

Unfortunately—what is happening is that—to stop mandatory spay/neuter legislation, hobby breeders will have to join up with lobbyists for puppy mills (who have so much more money), in many states—-to be able to continue  maintaining the integrity of their breeds.  Most are libertarian in their political dealings:  that is, they don’t want to become involved. What will happen is that they will be restricted and stop breeding.  The fact is, in many places—the legislation is really fair:  they limit breeders to keeping no more than 20 breedable dogs. What kind of hobby breeder would need more dogs than that?

In the meantime, if we fanciers don’t address what the AKC is allowing, none of us will be able to afford  genetically sound purebred dogs.  We either have to ask the AKC to come up with a registry class for the poorly bred  puppy mill purebreds, or accept the idea that  many breeds will not have viable gene pools due to so many dogs being carriers or genetic defects.  It may be happening to Bedlington Terriers, due to copper retention in their livers—but the puppy mills won’t bother with Bedlingtons.  All  you Shih Tzu, Yorkshire Terrier, & Chihuahua fanciers—are you going to ignore this?

A Bit of A Revolution….

December 10, 2009

I was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Malawi in 1992.  People  who are not  travelers & volunteers  often wonder about what we do.  There are a bunch of books that RPCV  (that would be Returned Peace Corps Volunteers) have published on  their ‘experiences’.

2 very good books are Land Without Time, but John Sumser, who is RPCV Afghanistan.  His account is  truthful and humorous, and you understand from his description of his time of service that most of us are not do-gooders, but adventurers.  Paul Theroux also wrote, My Secret History, which contains his account of volunteering  in Malawi.

For the most part, our lives are pretty mundane except for the aggravations caused by lack of infrastructure, lack of  real support from Peace Corps staff, and  constant cultural  & language based misunderstandings.  When you are a Peace Corps Volunteer, you learn the difference between a problem and an inconvenience.

When I was in  high school (I graduated in 1971), it was difficult to get real information about social and political dynamics of  Africa—indeed—about anyplace not either Europe or America was extremely exotic

.  It’s not that there was no body of literature.  It’s that the way our educational system is set up in America.  Anything that doesn’t relate to European culture and history is ignored. I stumbled across an article about the Yoruba of Nigeria, in an American Heritage magazine, & the impact it had on me was dramatic.

Since then, I know that there are English literature teachers  teaching from Achebe’s Things Fall Apart (another classic), but ‘back then’, we were taught that Africans had no culture, no language, no history, and the white people who enslaved them actually did them a favor by civilizing them.  Hard to believe?  I also came of age during the Viet Nam War, and the stuff we were led to believe about the Viet Namese (not loving their children, stuffing their diapers with bombs and throwing them at soldiers) was also quite amazing.

White Americans tend to think we have the market cornered on intelligence, maturity, and sophistication. and integrity.  We are the new Russians.  Arrogant &  ignorant on the ways of the world.

I wanted to major in Black Studies & Forestry in college, but my parents wouldn’t hear of it.  So, I became a dog groomer.

Years passed.  I went to Tanzania in 1985.  At the time, they had a 90% literacy rate, because Julius Nyerere put all his development money into education—-but nothing into infrastructure.  A great place for a safari, but a frustrating place to live.

2 years later, I went to Kenya, with Operation Crossroads Africa, Inc.  I spent about 4 weeks, with other American students, making bricks at the AIC Girls Inland Primary Boarding School in Kajiado, in Maasailand.  That was an awesome experience.  We thought we were making bricks for a classroom building, but I quickly realized  we’d maybe have enough bricks for an outhouse (I’ll write about that in the future).  Our value was, really, that the Africans had never seen white people (wazungu) do physical labor.

Anyways…Malawi.    I ended up  majoring in anthropology in college , and concentrated my research on topics  relating to East Africa, with a bit of Indian studies thrown in.    I got into grad school, graduated with concentrations in land use & community development. There were no jobs, so I decided that was the time to join Peace Corps & get some international experience. I had vague ideas about a career in either foreign service or development work.  Still naive…

After I got back from Malawi, I worked as a consultant for a friend’s educational company. What his company did was contract with Peace Corps & hire the trainers who trained Peace Corps Volunteers in their countries of service.  At the time, he did this in Senegal, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Honduras, Costa Rica, Paraguay, and a few other places.

One day, we were working, and my friend got a phone call from the General Accounting Office. They were auditing Peace Corps contracts.  The auditor wanted to know why he opened an account in Honduras, and closed the account 3 months later.

My friend told the auditor that the project there was completed, so he repatriated the money.

The auditor didn’t understand…sort of implying that he was laundering money.    I remarked that the guy had probably never been a Peace Corps Volunteer & had his money devalued 30% overnight.

Peace Corps volunteers aren’t paid, but they do get a living stipend.  It is deposited directly into a bank account, and you are expected to pay your food, utilities (if they are available), clothing, transportation, & expenses out of that account.  Peace Corps  makes sure you are provided housing & health care.   I don’t know if it is still true, but the money is transferred into your account in local currency.  In the case of Malawi, this was the Kwacha.  You were advised to , once  the transfer was made,  change  this into dollars. There  generally was no charge for this, but you had to go down to the bank & stand in line, & this could take up the better part of the morning or afternoon.  & I never did it because  the Kwacha had been stable for over 20 years:  3.3 to the dollar.

I had heard rumors that London Club (this would be the European donors–the colonialists who have propped up the African governments they  formerly managed) was strongly urging devaluation, but it was just a rumor.  Radio was censored in Malawi.  You might get the BBC for 5 minutes at dawn or dusk, and it might be mentioned.  Some of the elites had satellite dishes and had access to CNN—but when did I see  elites?  Newsweek magazine? Please.

But anyways, things were not going well on the ground.  I was an urban planner, and I had been slated to work on a United Nations Development Program scheme to provide recycling services & trash pickup in several squatter communities.    Not only would this create jobs, but if the communities go themselves organized, they would have  more access to  improved water services.  This involved doing a bit of community organizing, and I knew exactly  the people to do it:  the Homecraft Workers.   These were women, trained as social workers (of sorts)  who were sort of community grandmothers.  They were very highly respected in their communities.

The problem was that NOBODY did ANYTHING that the MALAWI CONGRESS PARTY didn’t tell them to do. It was sort of comical.  I had been given permission by key players in the government. They wanted the UNDP money—they were prepared to take all the credit for the community improvements.  However… trouble was brewing among the loyal opposition, and  at just about the time I had the meeting with the Homecraft Workers, a bunch of Malawi Young Pioneers (you know—the ‘regulars’—the employees of the machine) got beat up.  It was clear to the expatriates in town what was happening,  but the Homecraft Workers were not going to make a move until they were directed to by a Malawi Congress Party bigwig.  & they were laying low.

So, there I was, with essentially nothing to do besides nag people to pay their development fees (part of the reason I was there, in Blantyre, was because there was a problem with the concept of transparency and respect for rule of law…this isn’t just Malawi.  When I first got there, my counterparts—Luka & Nkoma—, told me I was from America—I didn’t know what it was like.  I told them, “Actually, I am from Chicago. We’ve had a single party system for over 50 years.  I know exactly what it’s like.”)

I was in a ‘tail wagging the dog’ situation, where of my staff of 40, 35 were spending virtually all their time either  trying to sabotage any improvement to the system or flat out not working. But that’s another story.

So, I got up one morning, turned on the radio, & the news is that the currency has been devalued 30%.  & since my money was in Kwacha, not dollars, 30% of it had essentially disappeared.  Peace & Calm , Law & Order prevailed…

That’s how it started.  This was on Monday.  I went in to work & told Luka  and Nkoma what happened.  Oh, well, life goes on.   So does the rumor mill.  In a country with only 35% literacy, & only 15 % of households owning radios, you get ALL your information via rumor.  Nobody really knew  how this was going to impact us all,except that hard currency was going to be extremely dear.

On Wednesday, I went to the Polytechnic to see the weekly download of the ABC (American) news feed, & on my walk back to my office,  there were  truckloads of men in work jumpsuits  driving around shouting, “Strike!”.  By the time I got back to the office,  the rumor was that middle managers salaries were being raised 30%.  Ok, that’s about 200 people in the entire country. What about the regular folks?  Nobody knew…& they were innumerate anyways. That’s why there was tension

The next day, Thursday,  all hell broke loose.  Those workers driving around  shouting “Strike!”  Were from the industrial park.  The rumor was…later that  Wednesday afternoon, Carlsburg Beer workers went out, & the rest of the plants  fell like dominoes…they were all right next to each other, so they all went out.  Our  office campus was about a mile away, and when I got to work on Thursday morning, we had hundreds of people milling about. We were the local authority—-just Blantyre City government.  But when you’re illiterate, you don’t know from city or country—-all you know is government.  & suddenly, there was military, with tanks and guns, on our campus.  We were in the midst of a general strike.

I tried calling the Peace Corps office in Lilongwe (which was about 2 hours away in a fast car, or 6 hours by bus), but the lines were busy, so I called the USAID contact at the embassy.  I told her we were having a general strike, and  she said—I am not joking, “What’s a general strike?”

It was obvious that no work was going to be done that day. Anyways, I was going to go to Zimbabwe in 2 weeks, & I needed dollars…and another charming thing about banking in Malawi was that they’d only let you take $100 out of your account at one time—so I had to go every day to accumulate my now  expensive dollars.

I got on a bus (the buses were still running), & halfway to  the CBD (that would be downtown business district), the bus stopped, & people started getting off.  The street had been blocked by flagpoles (this is also  interesting—via the Malawi Congress Party ‘hotline’—they’d get the ‘regulars’ out to put up flagpoles with flags of the country of visiting dignitaries from other African countries…we were expecting some bwana from Tanzania).

I took a photo of this, and noticed hundreds of people walking  away from the business district. Whatever, I was going to the bank.  Along the way, one of my staff  was coming my way.  He asked me where I was going, I told him, and he laughed, and said, “Robyn!  The bank’s not open! There’s shooting in town!”

I didn’t hear any shots. We were outside Queen Elizabeth Hospital  at the time.   Midway between Blantyre ‘city hall’ (my office) & the bank.  He kept walking east, I was still walking west.  I took maybe 10 more steps & heard the shooting, and realized I had to get to a safe place.

I walked to Phil & Sharon Erros’ apartment, about 100 feet more. Sharon, a nurse, was at work, but Phil was at home because he had been working on an independent project.
“There’s shooting,”  I said to him, as he let me in.  ”  I’ve heard.  What do you think we should do?” he asked me.

“Let’s call the Peace Corps Office & see if they are going to evacuate us.”  I knew they weren’t.  Blantyre is in a valley.  The only 2 roads into town would surely be blocked.  But we had nothing to do, so we called, & the Country Director told us to just stay there.  I don’t think he believed us.   Malawi was the calmest country in Africa.

Now, remember, the government owns  THE radio station, so there is just regular programing.  NO TV.  Nothing. All you can do is sit.  The bullets were flying quite close to the house…& this went on till about 1 in the afternoon.  I was getting antsy. When it had been very still for a couple of hours, until about 3, I told Phil I was going to walk home.  As I was leaving, Sharon came in, from the hospital. They had been sort of under lockdown, but now NOBODY  was on the streets.

It was about 2 miles to my house, but that’s what I did.  I walked home, filled the bathtub with water (you do that  in case they shut down the water works), took all my decorations off the wall & packed my big bag,  hung around, read a bit, & went to bed.

Friday morning—it was dead out. I  decided to go into work.  The campus was dead except for my department.  My employees showed up!  At least my key people.  So there we were.  I told Luka & Nkoma I was bored, and that I didn’t want to stay around all weekend,  and that I was going to go to Zomba (Zomba is a college town about 30 miles away, and I had friends there).  They both decided that it might not be safe out on the street for a mzungu, and  decided to check around & see if the buses were even running before allowing me back on the street.

The coast was clear, so I went to the bus station & on to Zomba.  My friends, Sam & Florence Chikwembani, had been in grad school at Northwestern. That’s how I knew them. and Sam was  totally beside himself.  It turns out the  newspaper—the government paper—was reporting on the rioting.  So was the BBC.   As Sam pointed out to me, this had NEVER happened in Malawi.  We learned that the word had spread to BIWI—the industrial park in Lilongwe, and there were demonstrations (rioting?) there on Friday.  So. of course, after the excitement died down (by Monday),  Peace Corps wanted to know how I knew…& I had to tell them that I live with these people, duh!

The upshot?  The London Club–particularly the British office of Overseas Development Assistance (their version of USAID), froze all foreign assistance.  That put a stop to several development programs.  They were pushing for free, multiparty elections and a free press, & would not resume aid until changes were made.

USAID?  nothing. That’s not how we work.  In fact,  there was a drought, and people were starving, & I bought empty USAID  food bags in the Limbe market.  Where was the corn that was in those bags?  The government of Malawi transferred the food into their own bags, and gave it to the starving people, courtesy of Dr. Banda, the Life President.  All the Peace Corps volunteers knew this was going on, but the  elites—U.S. govt. embassy & USAID staff were oblivious.  They were doing business with this decaying government as though nothing was amiss.

So, the  ‘revolution’ petered out, and the exiles remained mostly in Zambia.

Elections didn’t take place until 1996.  I returned for a brief visit then, and people were optimistic. The economy was thriving and there were several newspapers.  I asked Luka & Nkoma which paper they trusted. They told me none of them.  You still had to read between the lines.

Malawi isn’t the most corrupt country in Africa.  However, I am in no position to say how transparent  government is.  I still live in Chicago, and we still have a single party system.

Why I support rescue…but choose purebreds:

December 1, 2009

I decided to ‘reframe’ this topic because some people just don’t ‘get it’.

Whether people who spend a lot of time saving animals want to believe it—or not—people choose the pets  they have  by making decisions.  Usually, the decisions are  based on notions and ideas that make no sense at all.

For example, there are people who will always  choose a shelter dog if they can add a pet to their household.  This is really very compassionate, but what they are  often doing is allowing irresponsible breeders to make a choice for them. These irresponsible breeders, who either allow their pets to breed because they are ignorant  and ‘don’t believe in neutering’, or  who breed on purpose, for ‘beer & cigarette’ money, have  convinced themselves that  they are not responsible for  the animals they’ve brought into the world once they become unwanted.  They really don’t care.   They don’t even think they are ‘breeders’ because they are not making money! They are allowed to get away with such irresponsible behavior because…instead of forcing them  through either peer pressure or law   enforcement to be responsible, the  ‘humane activists’ instead  concentrate on taking care of all the unwanted animals and finding homes for them.

Well, not all the animals. The ‘humane activists’  barely make a dent.  But as Margaret Mead said, “It makes a difference to that one starfish (or dog, as it were).”

In actuality what happens is that when the breeders are no longer able to sell their  dogs, and the economics of  breeding changes—they stop.  It happened  with Poodles and Afghan Hounds in the 1970s and 1980s,  with Soft-coated Wheatens in the 1990s, and it will ultimately happen with Labradoodles, Puggles, and Pit Bull Terriers in the next few years. The shelters will be inundated, people will stop paying top dollar for the puppies, and the breeders will stop.  Maybe they’ll go on to another breed or animal. You never can tell.

When I started  learning about purebred dogs and breeding good dogs, I  learned from hobby breeders who were, for the most part, ethical. They  really wanted their peers in the fancy to believe they bred good, sound dogs, and they really wanted to ‘better’ their breed. They valued the respect of their communities.  In fact, they had to, or their peers would not breed to their dogs or help them sell their puppies.

Thing is, the culture varies from breed to breed. For a long time,  breeders of Dalmations, Harlequin Great Danes, Old English Sheepdogs, & the Merle Collies would euthanize deaf puppies.  Nobody really wants a deaf dog, and this was part of being a responsible dog breeder.  Demand was so great for the breeds, and puppy buyers were so naive, that  in many cases, otherwise responsible hobby breeders would sell dogs without AKC papers. This meant only that offspring could not be registered.  it didn’t mean the dogs were not bred.  But they  naively thought that the dogs would not be bred as they would have no monetary value.

I worked on and off for  foundation Miniature Schnauzer breeder, Dale Miller.  In the early 1980’s, it was discovered that Min. Schnauzers carried the gene for juvenile cataracts. This meant that there was a degree of statistical certainty that  a good per centage of dogs would  be blind in 1 or both eyes by the age of 3 years.  Since the hobby breeders loved their breed more than they loved individual dogs, they started a program of test breeding stud dogs to bitches that were blind.  Some breeders had to totally revamp their breeding programs.  But what of the resultant puppies, who all carried genes for blindness?  The breeders initially sold the puppies without AKC papers, explaining to puppy buyers that the puppy they were buying might go blind (& and giving them the name of a veterinary opthamologist who would remove a cataract at a discount), and they definitely carried genes for blindness, so they should not be bred.

Unfortunately, many of these puppy buyers who  said they understood all this, had no integrity, and , even without AKC papers, were breeding these dogs!  Or, they’d return to the hobby breeders and ask for the papers so they could more easily sell their puppies.  So…..the breeders started neutering the puppies at a very young age.  Younger than they would do otherwise.  & what of those dogs  who carried blindness, now in the gene pool?  Any  dog purchased from a  pet shop or puppy mill (they do quite well selling over the internet via http://www.nextdaypets.com ) carries those genes.  May go blind.

The members of the Portuguese Water Dog Club of America, many of them fanciers of other breeds, saw what happened  to other breeds when individual buyers were allowed to make  decisions that involved integrity issues, and they have the most stringent code of ethics of any breed club.  You do not get a breedable Portie without co-owning the dog with the breeder.  You are asked to return your dog to the breeder if you can’t or won’t keep the dog.  The breeders can breed as many dogs as they can sell—–but if they want to have access to breeding dogs that others own, they have to play by the same rules, and take back dogs they’ve bred that become unwanted.

If you go to http://www.dogplay.com you will see that most  ‘parent’ clubs—the clubs whose mission it is to protect their breeds—have codes of ethics.  Some involve not breeding dogs until they are OFA & CERF  cleared. Some involve not breeding merle dogs to other merle dogs (due to the link with blindness & deafness), and many mandate that breeders be responsible for the dogs they breed until those dogs are dead.  This is not all breeders, and not all clubs, but this is what  breeders who love dogs do.

Believe it or not, many  hobby breeders support breed rescue and  humane societies. The Saluki Club of America has a ‘humane purse’ that goes to the owner of the Best-of-Breed winner at one of their specialty shows.    However, we are not totally getting this message out to all the puppy buyers.

It is shocking to me the number of  wealthy people in this country, purebred dog lovers,  who throw tons of money  at humane societies/shelters that support mandatory spay/neuter.

The ‘conventional wisdom’ is that middle class, law abiding people who love their dogs will comply with the law, have their pets spayed or neutered. & the problem will be solved.  But it won’t be solved, because the  people doing most of the backyard breeding, who don’t love their dogs enough to test for genetic defects  and who don’t screen potential puppy buyers to make sure they can legally keep a dog, afford to keep a dog, & who will train a dog & be responsible pet owners, won’t comply with the law.  They  will never be discovered, as the law will not be enforced (witness that illegal drugs are never eradicated by law enforcement), or they will be in rural areas or out of state.   They post on Craigslist in the pet section  every day.  Law enforecement  ignores them.

What’s even  worse, is that to be a breeder, you will have to pay for licensing, as the USDA does now—and many if not most puppy mills are  licensed.

That means that in  a very few years, mandatory spay/neuter or not,  those of us who are purebred dog fanciers will either be priced out of what hobby breeders charge (  I could not afford a Scottish Deerhound or a Norwich Terrier at this time), and the only purebreds we will be able to afford will be from the commercial/puppy mill type breeders.  Keep in mind they are not all horrible places with dogs left in filthy stacked crates.  Hunte Corporation, the premier puppy mill, has a cleaner kennel than most hobby breeders operate.  The difference is that hobby breeders  care about the future of the dogs, and the breeds, and Hunte just cares about getting paid.  It’s not a matter of scale of  operation, but of  ‘philosophy and mission.’

So, how ironic that the wealthy,  who  support the mission of shelters and rescues, but are also purebred dog fanciers, believers in planned breeding, support organizations that want to make it damn near impossible for them to acquire healthy, sound, well-bred dogs.  Do they not realize that the average fancier may have only 1 or 2 breedable bitches, may have a litter  every 2 or 3 years, and may very will live within city limits?  In fact, the AKC, which is quite capable of doing a survey of where  fanciers live—is doing nothing.

For those of you reading this who believe that  in fact most breeders  do not really care about ethics or integrity, and that it really makes no difference, it is the ‘luck of the draw’ whether you are able to buy a well-bred dog (because who has time to do the research?)…you may be right.  If you ask the average dog lover if  they care, and if something should be done to help  people wanting  purebred dogs to find  well-bred dogs,  they would say they’d want that, because they don’t want to buy  a dog from a puppy mill.

It is unfortunate that  the people who care the most and who would be affected the most are so discouraged by the facts and  resist organizing  to address the problem.  I  find it very disheartening that the  most well-off  hobbyists/fanciers won’t spend the time or money, and keep deluding themselves about the economic well being of the ‘market’ for their pet puppies.  This is why the gene pool remains small—even threatened in some breeds.  Maybe that is capitalism at its finest:  that there are more Pit Bulls, Puggles, and Labradoodles than there are Scottish Deerhounds, Skye Terriers, and Toy Manchester Terriers.

For those of you reading wondering if  the whole issue makes any difference in the general scheme of things….it’s part of the broader issue of integrity,The Golden Rule, and expectations about transactions and honesty in capitalist society.  The lack of integrity got me thinking at a very young age about how society is organized, and what I could do to  make integrity important.  So—off on a tangent, it’s why I  decided to study anthropology, why I accepted an assistantship at the Center of Urban Economic Development so I could study urban planning & policy, and why I became a Peace Corps Volunteer.