“Keeping Our Boat Afloat”—or the end of the Purebred Dog Fancy


My Saluki as a young dog.Sold as a pet, he finished his AKC championship in fewer than 10 shows.

My Saluki as a young dog.Sold as a pet, he finished his AKC championship in fewer than 10 shows.

Two Northern Illinois Kennel Clubs are  sponsoring a  round table discussion about how to keep the sport of  showing dogs (I believe this would include performance) active and viable.  The session will be held Saturday, July16, after Best in Show  at Blackhawk KC.

I will not attend, because I don’t have  a dog to show. Actually, I have  one dog in Rally (and one of the clubs has no performance events), but I am glad others are as concerned as I am.

Purebred dogs are in trouble. Even discounting the physiological problems of the  brachycephalic dogs,  many breeds do not have viable gene pools.

I was going to start this rant another way, but two occurences shocked me into having to address perceptions.

I compete in Rally, with  a purebred dog.  I noticed that mixed breed dogs are listed in the catalogs as “ALL AMERICAN DOG”.  Does that mean that the Chesapeake Bay Retrievers, Boston Terriers, Coonhounds, and Alaskan Malamutes are NOT “ALL AMERICAN DOGS”?  Why aren’t mixed breed dog listed as either ‘mixed breed’ or ‘unknown’? What genius thought up this slap in the face to the fancy?

I often respond to posts  on Craigslist from people looking for specific breeds (I also flag sellers…no animal sales or breeding are allowed on Craigslist—it is to rehome older pets, but this is a great example of ‘the law of the commons’ and people having no integrity).  A girl was looking for an Australian Shepherd.  I responded that, since no animal sales or breeding are allowed on CL, that she should contact  the Australian Shepherd Club of America, and be put in touch with hobby breeders.  I also told her that, since ethical hobby breeders take their dogs back (and no puppy sales are allowed on CL), that the only responses she’d get would be from commercial breeders or scammers. She responded to ME that U didn’t know what I was talking about, that she had done plenty of research, and would not buy from a breeder because they only breed for money.  I  responded that she was mistaken, that hobby breeders breed for the betterment of the breed and  do genetic testing, and where did she think purebred dogs come from, if not breeders?  She told me she knew what she was doing & to mind my own business.

So…my fellow dog purebred dog fanciers….so much for the AKC marketing, “Buy from a breeder,” as this has clearly backfired.  The  conventional wisdom is that we inbreed dogs for looks, and don’t care about soundness (yet, the designer dog breeders and their “F1 crosses” seems to make a lot of sense to those buyers who believe that crossing  two breeds eliminates genetic defects).

I have been ‘active’ in the fancy, on and off, since the late 1960s.  My  first  ‘show dog’ was an Afghan, or, rather, I should say he had a great pedigree, but  he wasn’t really show quality, and, as my parents weren’t really interested, nobody mentored me.  I went to the New York School of Dog Grooming, rather than college, because I knew I wanted to work with dogs.  I was taught by Don Doessel, who actually got Louis  and Seme Auslander started in Miniature Schnauzer.  I was later mentored by a dog groomer who learned to groom Bedlingtons from  Charlie Praeger, and Airedales from Mareth Kipp.  I have worked on and off for Dale Miller (Barclay Square Miniature Schnauzers), and  for Jocelyn Slatin (Jamboree Airedales and Soft-coated Wheaten Terriers).  I was a member of the Afghan Hound Club of Greater Chicago in the 1970s, and really promoted the idea of rescue and breeders taking responsibility for all the dogs they breed, but I was ridiculed, so I dropped my membership.  It was all for the best.  Having Afghan Hounds, I realized there were very few good pet homes for long haired dogs, and I wasn’t going to be wealthy enough to have enough property or time to support a breeding habit.  & who wanted to associate with people who felt that once they sold a dog, their responsibility ended?  I know that  the ‘culture’ varies from breed to breed….but this is how puppy mills get dogs of your breeding:  buyer can’t  keep dog, you don’t take dog back, commercial breeder (Hunte Corp?) gets dog, & the rest is history….

It  just got to the point that I knew, if I wanted to retire with any level or  economic security, I could not afford to campaign a dog.  Where did I get my wacky ideas? From the breeders I worked for. In fact, Fred Alderman, of Dynasty Afghan Hounds, had a rule: If  you had never owned an Afghan  and wanted one of his dog, you had to spend a day grooming with him.  He didn’t  want to sell you a dog & later hear you didn’t know how much time it would take, or the equipment you would need, or how often it needed to be done.  If—after a day of grooming, you didn’t want an Afghan…no harm, no foul.  Yet, how many   ‘ethical hobby breeders’ even  tell a pet buyer what kind of brush to buy?  Or say anything about obedience training being a must?

I’ve helped a few breeders grade puppies, and judged a couple of matches, but the AKC  has no use for me. They’d  rather support a puppy mill breeder as a judge than a non-breeder who knows the standards and can interpret them.  Why?  You know why:  the  whole thing is about registering puppies.

&–what is a puppy mill?  There is a lot of disagreement on this, but—-to me—it is the breeder  breeding dogs without a thought to bettering the breed.  It doesn’t matter if they have one bitch or  1,000.  If you are not breeding for the betterment of the breed, you are part of the pet surplus problem.

I ultimately did  go to college, and I ended up with a master’s in public policy.  BFD.  I’ve also titled dogs in conformation (a Saluki whom the breeder didn’t think was show quality finished in  fewer than 10 shows), obedience (an Afghan  and a Whippet both nationally ranked), rally, and  lure coursing.  I, too, am THE FANCY.

Why is the fancy in trouble?

  1.  There is no longer a middle class.    When I started  showing dogs, as a teenager, ‘land rents ‘ were much lower.  Housing, for middle class people, was 20—25% of their take home pay.  Now, 35% is considered average.  Don’t get me started on  health care or energy costs.  You need an expendable income to be ‘in dogs’, so  how many people can afford to keep even  four breedable bitches?  & you notice, their children are not  becoming breeders;
  2. There is a huge disconnect between  fanciers and veterinarians.  Yes, some fanciers are veterinarians, but, as a dog groomer, I have worked for several animal hospitals where not  one veterinarian was a fancier. They  disrespected the fact that  many  dogs had grain sensitivities—and it is now a major segment of the pet industry.   that was us!  Us dog lovers, talking to each other at  conformation classes and shows!  We developed grain-free & specialty  dog foods—not veterinarians! They  don’t  suggest pet owners  check for  discoverable  genetic problems  before breeding their dogs, and they are the reason  people switched from dog collars to harnesses and flexis (god forbid they’d suggest—-training).  One practice I worked for  actively partnered with puppy mill outlets.  So—-why  do fanciers continue to  support veterinarians who don’t understand or respect them?
  3.   Our marketing is for shit.  Due to our integrity, we’ve supported research into genetic defects.  This is not purebred dogs—this is DOMESTIC dogs.  Yet, veterinarians will not disabuse  pet owners of the idea that  designer dogs are not HYBRIDS.  Now, for every purebred Poodle I groom, I groom over 100 designer dogs:  Doodles, Shipoos, Maltapoos, Cavashons, Bernadoodles…and Pomskys.  Pomskys!  Why not a Keeshond or Norwegian Elkhound?  & people are paying more for the mixed breeds than they would a purebred.  I  was attending   a specialty show of a breed, and at the same location. I walked into another  specialty  of another breed, just  to watch…and several people asked me what I was doing there or if I was lost!  This  was a breed I had considered owning, no more!  Also, th public doesn’t understand that most of our dogs are house pets!
  4.  We have allowed naive  ‘humane activists’ to  own and define the rhetoric. Open admissions shelters would not have to be high-kill if the ‘No-kill’ were honest.  & when you buy dogs from commercial breeders, it is not rescue.  I consider myself a humane activist, but I do not support rescues that disrespect hobby breeders.  Our dogs are not the ones that end up in animal shelters….but the only way to  prove this is to push for—on a state level–mandatory chipping of dogs & cats with the breeder’s contact info.    This could easily be done by contacting anyone who posts puppies or kittens for sale on Craigslist, EBay, or any media.  & it can be done by encouraging people to become volunteer humane inspectors.  When  the do-gooders who support  shelter pets  shout, “Adopt, don’t shop!”  they are letting all the backyard breeders off the hook—and they are the ones causing the pet surplus.  You can find them on Craigslist any day.
  5.   We do a poor job of policing ourselves.  We  all know of hobby breeders whose yards are a mess, who  don’t sell pups with contracts or  explain what grooming tools or methods are needed for the puppies they sell…and who won’t take a dog they bred back.  Remember, the Obamas got  their  two Porties who had been returned to their breeders.  When they got Porties, for once, we didn’t see a flood of Porties hitting the market. Why?  the PWD  breeders saw what happened to  other breeds, and closely hold them….and  follow through. They also explain this to pet buyers.  The culture varies from breed to breed.  I am a Saluki and Whippet fancier, and  all  our breeders (who are not mentally deranged) take their dogs back—no matter how old.  Yet, I’ve been told, that for every Shiba Inu or  Basenji that is AKC registered, statistically, one goes into rescue.

So, what can we do to save the fancy?

  1.  Everyone has to be on the same page.  You have to have all your puppies on contract to be   co-owned until neutered or titled, and you  better be sure you have  the funds to  enforce a legal contract.  & if you can’t  find good homes, and know you can be selling to renters, or  people who really don’t have the time or funds to take care of a dog (or who you know plan to give your puppies as gifts), YOU are the problem.
  2.   Dog show entry fees are outrageously expensive. There was a time that I’d enter  both conformation and obedience.  Not any more.  &—the biggest insult—that Rally is considered an ‘overlay’ event with a totally different entry fee—is offensive.  Because other clubs do  it is  a terrible reason—and this is what is preventing people from  showing their dogs (even if they did have some extra cash).
  3.   Your club must sponsor events to get the public involved.  Ask a local pet shop manager if you can set up a table on weekends and do  information on various breeds and activities.  This is  how you can inform regular folks  about  what  ethical breeders do.  See the following suggestion—-pet  fanciers of your breeds  are the best marketing.
  4.   Show some respect for people like me—who are not breeders—but fanciers and pet buyers!  The Greater Chicago Whippet Club is now made up almost entirely of pet owners not showing dogs!  That’s right!  Sure, some people still race, and lure course, but of our paid up members,  I’ve been told only  one is a breeder.  Yet, we know  we have to support  hobby breeders.  In fact, the American Whippet Club events  always  attract a lot of pet owners.  We have  agility, obedience, rally, classes for spayed/neutered dogs, a parade of rescues as well as champions, and  do major  fund raising for our national networked rescue efforts.
  5. Your matches should be sweepstakes.  In fact, what’s up with an entry fee being $27, but someone offering $10 for Winner’s dog or bitch? What kind of sense does that make?   Here’s an idea:  encourage  exhibitors to bring items for a bazaar.  For every class win, give a  ticket, for Winners  and Best of Breed, etc, give more tickets, and allow people to choose their own prizes to commemorate the win!
  6. It’s time to demand that  dogs be genetically tested before they are bred. To not test, and then state you have never had a problem, is disingenuous.
  7.  The AKC needs to be confronted on how they spend out money. Who cares if those puppy mill dogs go to another registry? So what? They are not a part of our gene pools!  To stop printing the Gazette, and go in favor of licensing products (harnesses—really?  Only sled dogs and guide dogs should wear harnesses!)  Yet,  not  branding of martingales—the best collar for most pet dogs…what’s up with that? Do they even know anything about safe dog handling? It’s really a slap in the face to us all.  The AKC would not even need to change anything. All they would have to do  is do what it says on their  registration papers:  no 3rd party selling.  I can’t think of any greater disrespect to the fancy than this.  I saw in a dog magazine that someone thought the AKC should get all  money collected for entrance fees & dole it out to us. Really? The foxes guarding the henhouse haven’t done enough damage?  I have to wonder if these old white men are all just field trial people who don’t have a personal relationship with any dog!  But what are our delegates doing in New York?
  8. . I suggest every fancier get a copy of Malcolm Gladwell’s book, “The Tipping Point” which is a great treatment of how ideas become conventional wisdom.
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2 Responses to ““Keeping Our Boat Afloat”—or the end of the Purebred Dog Fancy”

  1. Tali Says:

    I left AKC not because I don’t care about my dogs, but because I do. I am a hobby breeder, and AKC puts too much emphasis on registration over quality. Basically you can have a defect ridden, temperamentally deficient animal, but as long as it has AKC papers that is all that matters. A dog of supreme conformation, excellent health and temperament is out of the question if it has no AKC papers. The shows are a joke now. Once upon a time they meant something, but these days its just a fancy beauty show. It kills me.
    You think you need laws to force breeders to chip dogs and that proves they aren’t the problem? No one forces me and I tattoo all my dogs so they can be returned in the event the owner cannot be reached. You can’t force people to care or do things. Even before we tattooed, we had a contract asking return of dogs in the event the owner couldn’t keep them. This was 20 + years ago. The whole “puppymill” thing bugs me too. Its a made up word. There are only good breeders and bad breeders. But the minute you say you breed dogs people point and gasp “puppymill”! They don’t care how responsible you are, how well you care for your dogs, or that you only want to leave the breed(s) you love better than you found them.
    I appreciate dog fanciers, buyers, and all, but you must stop pointing and gasping at breeders, because it only bites the good ones. Incidentally, I love long haired breeds. I breed Lhasa Apsos, and I educate every buyer on proper care and grooming, since I do my own. Yes, grooming is another of my hobbies. It isn’t hard or time consuming. Many people like long haired dogs, but small ones.
    I agree purebred dogs are in trouble, and mixes are no healthier than purebred dogs. ANY dog, from any breeder can be born “less than perfect”, since they are living things and genetics are very complicated. We have to stand up and protect our breeds, or our grandchildren will grow up believing maltipoos etc are purebred and will look at you like you’ve lost your mind if you mention a Maltese or Poodle. We are all that stands between the breeds and extinction.
    Sorry for the long response, but I feel we need to get these things out in the open.

  2. Tali Says:

    I found this blog, believe it or not, because I have the pleasure, or misfortune, of owning the most wonderful Lhasa I have met since I was younger, from a breeder other than myself, however, she is completely unhousebreakable. I have never seen this before. I will not send her away though. Naturally, after reading the article on dogs that won’t housebreak and finding it to be genuine and honest, I began to read some of your other posts.

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