We are losing the war…in spite of the new bans on puppy mills: Have you Googled Your Breed?

Ch. Scenario's Razzle Dazzle, JC (Dazzle) Saluki,  on the left, Bebop Whippet, on the right.

Ch. Scenario’s Razzle Dazzle, JC (Dazzle) Saluki, on the left, Bebop Whippet, on the right.

I wrote this article in 2008, and it was published originally in a Sighthound magazine.  I am not a dog breeder. I am a dog groomer, and I groom mostly pet dogs. In fact, if you (dog breeders) have not got a waiting list for your puppies, I may have helped you sell your pet dogs. I have referred puppy seekers to you. I have bought your pet dogs and turned several of them into champions and obedience title holders.
Unless you operate a boarding kennel and/or groom dogs, you don’t know what’s going on outside the fancy.  I had ‘Googled’ several breeds ( to find links to parent clubs) and the first site that came up was http://www.NextDayPets.com.

I recently was grooming dogs at a major pet shop chain—in an upscale demographic area, and I realized the issue I am going to tell you about is a little more serious than I originally though.

To give you some perspective on this, I want to site an article published in April, 2008 by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities[1]. Briefly, it states that since the late 1980’s households with incomes over $148,000 have increased their incomes by over 80%. Those with household incomes in the $100,000 range have increased incomes by about 30%, and those like me, with household incomes under $50,000 have remained relatively flat. I urge you to check out the report for your state.

What does that mean to YOU—a hobby breeder? Who buys your puppies? Have you been to a specialty show recently? What would you guess is the average (mode) age of most of your exhibitors? Where do you think new fanciers come from? Are there enough to maintain a gene pool in your breed?

One problem that fanciers have is that humane activists are painting all breeders, hobby or commercial, with the same broad brush. Admit it. You know in your own clubs that there are fellow ‘hobby’ breeders who always have a litter, offer stud service to any bitch owner, and pooh-pooh the idea of testing for genetic defects. They don’t ask people who come to buy a puppy if they own their own homes (rescues often ask for a mortgage document), if they can meet everyone in the household to make sure they all want a dog, if they can afford grooming and veterinary care, when they will find time for training, or who will be the primary care giver. As long as we tolerate that lack of interest in our dogs and the puppies we breed (breeding out of love for the breed—or so we say), we are not going to change the hearts & minds of the humane activists. It matters not a bit if your bloodlines are excellent and your dogs are free of all known genetic defects if you don’t screen homes carefully and put contracts for neutering on your pups sold as pets, and ask that they be returned to you if they are not wanted.

A foundation Portuguese Water Dog breeder told me that the breed was started in the U.S, with less than 50 dogs. Hardly a gene pool. Yet, with careful breeding practices, and agreement on the ethics of what was being bred and sold, the breed is no longer in danger. The Portuguese Water Dog Club of America has one of the strictest codes of ethics of any parent club. They mandate that if you want to participate in breeder referral, you have to adhere to their guidelines. This includes taking back an unwanted dog you’ve bred within weeks of the dog becoming unwanted or the club fines you. How do they enforce this? The culture of the club is that they all want to protect the breed. Breeders ask people tough screening questions, and screen homes to make sure they can afford to care for a PWD, and let pet buyers know why puppies come with neutering contracts, or are being sold neutered.

We fanciers  have to market better, and more responsibly. There are very few good homes for pet Afghan Hounds. The late Fred Alderman of Dynasty Afghans used to make potential puppy buyers come out and spend a day grooming with him. He rarely made a bad sale. Do YOU do that?
Do you offer a rebate to a puppy buyer once they show you proof of spay/neuter, or proof of graduation from a novice obedience class? Would you consider refunding ½ the purchase price if they titled the dog? Do you invite pet owners to your picnics and fun events? Do you support your breed’s rescue? Do you know if the veterinarian you have such a great relationship with is on your side?

The puppy mill breeders have slick websites, and have learned how to market on the Internet. A novice fancier will have a hard time finding you on the Web.

The three main issues we fanciers have are:
1. How to compete with the puppy mills for buyers;
2. How puppy mills get your blood lines, and
3. Educated elites (in that $200.000+ household income range) are choosing hybrids….’deisgner’ dogs, being told by veterinarians that they are healthier.

I’ll address the puppy mill issue first. Some breeds, we know, are genetically vulnerable. There are fewer than 1,000 of the breed registered with kennel clubs providing studbook services every year. While I understand that the fanciers want to turn this around, breeding more dogs is not going to solve the problem if you don’t have the fanciers who want the dogs.

The top 20 breeds are always available at the Petland stores, including scent hounds. How do you think the puppy mills got their original breeding stock? If they didn’t but a dog from you directly, you sold a pet, didn’t mention neutering, the people decided the dog wasn’t for them. They didn’t call you (or maybe they did and you were too busy or didn’t have room for this pet dog you put out into the world), so they either put an ad in the paper or on Craigslist and some very nice people who happen to run a puppy mill got the dog—with AKC papers! The nice puppy mill folks might have even come to your house and bought the dog directly from you, but you didn’t want to be nosy and ask what their plans were for the dog, or they answered all the questions perfectly. Now, your blood lines are being sold to whomever has the cash. Last time I checked, the 2 Basset Hound Rescues in Illinois had over 80 dogs. Ask them where the dogs came from.

Now, if you think withholding AKC papers until the dog is neutered will stem this irresponsible breeding—guess again. As I said, the corporate chain pet supply store I worked at is in an upscale area, where household incomes are well above the $250,000 category. This is often correlated with advanced education. In the first two weeks I worked in the store, every new puppy client (over 20) was a hybrid designer mix:
A ‘Shnorkie’. ‘Goldendoodle’, ‘Shihpoo’, ‘Maltipom’. For every one of these designer hybrids, that’s a purebred dog that did not get placed. Don’t be smug, Deerhound Fanciers: all it will take is some marketing genius to breed a Deerhound to a Goldendoodle to make ‘doodles’ calmer. None of us are immune, especially not if a dog appears on TV or in a movie, and a person who breeds dogs as livestock gets a hold of our breeds. The AKC is out of the picture on this. Maybe in another demographic, people are demanding AKC papers at the pet shops, but not in my ‘hood. Why did these people make these choices? I know for a fact that many owned purebred dogs with genetic issues, and they spent a lot of money with veterinarians. When that purebred dog died, the veterinarians suggested that purebreds were too inbred and not genetically healthy, and that mixed breeds have hybrid vigor (never mind that your vet might have had a mere five minutes of genetics. DO YOU KNOW HOW YOUR VETERINARIAN FEELS ABOUT PUREBRED DOGS?

For all those who say that those people who are so unscrupulous aren’t breeders, I hate to tell you this, but if you own the bitch at the time of whelping, that makes you (them) the breeder. The only thing you’ve got going for you is your integrity. That’s the only difference.

So what do we do now?

In Chicago, aldermen recently  the notion of mandatory spay neuter. Bob Barker, came to talk. We had no celebrities (someone mentioned Bill Cosby) on our side. Fortunately, a few informed people were able to make the case that we would not stem the tide of dog bites or unwanted animals because the people breeding the most don’t even take their dogs to veterinarians, and many others are bred outside the city.  It took us almost  eight years to get the law banning sales of commercially bred  pets  passed.
Whew! That was close! What would make tremendous sense is for you to start micro chipping every dog you have & every puppy you sell—-, and then demand that when dogs enter shelters, they be scanned & the breeder given the opportunity to redeem the dog for a small fine, or pay a larger fine for having the shelter adopt out (or euthanize) the dog. I am sure the puppy mill industry will jump right on this—because they are also convinced that their dogs don’t wind up in shelters. Since chipping is less expensive than neutering, who wouldn’t think this practical and a good compromise?

Another thing you have to do is check with your specialty clubs and find out how visible your websites are. You will have to pay for a ‘pay per click’ service, to get your contact info above http://www.nextdaypets.com . If you have money for a trophy fund, you have money for this. I am aghast at the number of clubs that have money for all sorts of frivolities, and not for marketing—lest you fight over who sells a puppy. Right now, it’s none of you!

Have you insisted that your rep to the AKC address the realities of what’s happening? That they provide more services to puppy mills than hobby breeders?
I am just a dog groomer. By an accident of fate, I got a graduate degree in urban planning and policy. You need to know, that due to land rents and the cost of energy, never mind the complications of a financial market that was allowed to flimflam people unfettered, it is going to be harder for middle class people to be able to afford to properly take care of a dog. It will get worse before it gets better. I choose to groom dogs because of integrity issues. I choose purebred dogs because I wanted dogs of a certain structure and temperament. I didn’t want a surprise. Will you try to address this so I will continue to be able to afford a purebred dog?

[1] Pulling Apart: A State by State Analysis of Income Trends, by J.Bernstein, E. McNichol, & A. Nichols, April 2008, Center on Budget & Policy Priorities, available online.



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