Breeding Immorality

Once again this year, the Westminster Dog Show attracted millions of viewers eager to see which dog will garner the bluest of ribbons.

Also once again this year, millions of discarded and unwanted dogs will be executed in overcrowded shelters, far away from the glaring lights of cable television.

Yes, “executed.”

Softened, palatable euphemisms like “put down” and “euthanized” serve only to assuage our guilt and placate our vanity. Even the term “destroyed” offers a clean escape. It depersonalizes the “destroyed” by implying it is just a thing, and not a being.

When we are talking about the staggering numbers killed annually, perhaps we must concoct semantic exit clauses, or else we risk facing the stark reality of our own complicity.

The Humane Society of the United States estimates 4 million dogs and cats are executed each year. It has to be an estimate because the numbers are so large, the process so widespread and the reporting so minimal. That works out to a dog or cat killed every 8 seconds. Of the approximately 6 million dogs and cats that enter shelters yearly, 60% of dogs and 70% of cats will be killed.

This is the dark side of animal breeding.

Meanwhile, the lights shine on breeders parading their prized “stock and trade” around the floor of Madison Square Garden. The eye is fooled, heart strings tugged and our vanity caressed. But complicity is the problem. The grinding machinery of death found at shelters around the country is inexorably linked to the vainglorious displays at the Westminster Dog Show, and at hundreds of lesser dog and cat shows held nationwide.

Those shows, and the breeders they help to sustain, condemn millions of unwanted dogs and cats to a short, distressed and ignominious stay in a crowed county or municipal lock-up before the gas or needle is finally administered.

For each specially bred dog and cat, sold for hundreds and sometimes thousands of dollars, another dog and cat is condemned. For each time a pet is purchased from the dog and cat breeding industries, that is a shelter pet’s hope quickly dashed—hope for a rescue and a family and, at long last, a home.

It is easy to point the finger at the breeders. Particularly vile are those callow profiteers running the gulag-like puppy mills that feed consumers’ insatiable desire for animal accessories, fad breeds and future drop-offs at the local pound. According to a startling exposé by the New York Times, the venerable American Kennel Club often sells off its “A.K.C.” seal of approval without much in the way of oversight or concern for the welfare of dogs. Their primary concern is the business of breeding, which is not surprising. Dogs are often kept in horrific conditions, stuck in small cages and never allowed to run, their sicknesses untreated and their lives reminiscent of livestock at factory farms. There is a reason they are called “puppy mills.”

Of course these are the horror stories and some A.K.C.-certified breeders work hard to be known as “responsible breeders.” But the question remains: Is it possible to be a “responsible” breeder when millions of unwanted dogs are killed each and every year?

The small, caring breeder is, just like the “high-volume breeder,” plying his or her trade to meet growing demand and, despite periodic stories of shocking mistreatment and abuse, that market grows and grows as dog shows and celebrities parade around the latest  in “cute” and “cool” and cuddly. A dog carried by a celeb or a touted at Westminster is little more than a consumer product meant to appease the stylistic preferences of the impulse buyer.

Breeders and buyers must face facts. Simply put: each dog purchased is taking the place of a dog that can be rescued. It is a one-for-one proposition. A dog bred and sold condemns another dog to death.

The same applies to cats, their breeders and the shows they also indulge in. Feral cat populations swell each mating cycle and, because many cats are free to roam their neighborhoods without being spayed or neutered, millions of unwanted kittens and cats are also executed, their short, brutal lives often punctuated with a sad disposal at a landfill. There are cats languishing at your local Pet Smart right now. But still people breed and inbreed hairless cats because they are “cool” and quirky.

If, indeed, the desire is to acquire a companion, is there any justification possible for buying a bred animal? A strong case can be made for “working dogs,” those breeds best suited to herding, guiding the blind, police and rescue work. However, beyond that specialized need, there is no good, ethically-sound reason for buying a dog or cat when so many are about to die. Right now. Today.

All else is mere vanity.

A dog or cat acquired for some ephemeral, esoteric or stylistic reason is nothing more than a vanity plate for a car, the latest handbag or some other banal consumer expression of “who I am as a person.” Chihuahuas, bulldogs and pit-bulls all sit atop the list of the latest “in” things. But down at your local shelter there are dozens upon dozens of dogs who also sit atop a list—a list of those about to be killed and discarded with no one to mourn their passing. Some are from the very “in” breeds that saw their “novelty” quickly wear off as the realities of upkeep and responsibility rendered them unwanted and disposable.

Once again this year millions will cheer on the latest “champion” of Westminster, its owner and breeder ready to reap the rewards of a dog well-bred. But there will be no reward for those dogs without “papers” or hope. They will wait in vain for a home until the inevitable arrival of the reaper.

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'Breeding Immorality' have 14 comments

  1. February 13, 2013 @ 10:36 am snorre

    here’s my story from January:

    I was walking my dogs the usual route this evening when I found an abandoned puppy struggling in the gutters. When I picked him up he stopped yelping. His eyes were glued shut and he had sores. The owner/torturer had obviously just decided not to deal with the poor guy, so they left him for dead just up the street from our home, where people walk around. It’s shocking that noone else had stopped to deal with him. He had crawled out of a cardboard box and was just laying helplessly in the gutter, crying. I took him to the Shelter on New York Ave, and they promptly put him to sleep.
    RIP, little man.
    I found an abandoned puppy in the past who wasn’t looking so hot, brought him to the same shelter. He met the same fate, but at least in the embrace of a loving, giving and selfless shelter worker. This little guy was brown, a shepherd type with short hair and probably 2 months old.
    I’m disgusted with the monsters who can do this to such a sweet and innocent animal. This little guy was simply crying for some dignity. For this little puppy to know that humanity is possible and that the world isn’t only dark hell might have let him feel at peace as he fell asleep. One can only hope, right? Either way, no doctor could have saved him. He wasn’t responding at all. He was severely de-hydrated. He was young, probably the runt of the litter. He had boils and a massive tumor looking thing coming out of his belly. Both of his eyes were so infected that they were sealed shut. His breathing was deep and irregular. His bones were poking through in odd places. He was badly emaciated. The doctor pinched his skin and it didn’t move at all, it just stayed pinched, like a tiny accordion.
    A sweet little thing, but way past rescue.

  2. February 13, 2013 @ 6:33 pm jane

    It hurts me everytime I see someone with their cute puppy that they have paid for from a breeder with no understanding of what they are doing and the system that they support. Those of us who work in animal rescue see the outcome – dogs dumped in shelters, in the street or taken to the vet to be killed because they grew too big or are no longer amusing. These cute puppies are then full grown adults – who wants them? There must be something wrong if they were abandoned, right? And how can I show off to the neighbors with a shelter puppy? Oh but its ok, I can buy a pedigree off the internet for so little money. Or I can be ‘responsible’ and check the breeder – well just so you know some of the best known breeder routinely breed close family members. How do you want your dog to look? You like pugs? So you like dogs who are bred to not be able to breath or run. So called ‘breed standard’ German Shepherds – bred to look like frogs and have hip and back problems. It may sound harsh but when you deal with the reality of lovely healthy dogs being killed every day THAT is reality. So don’t buy dogs while they are dying in shelters every day, please.

  3. February 14, 2013 @ 7:32 pm Sandy Gray

    It’s something to think about!

  4. February 15, 2013 @ 11:12 am Joe Niederberger

    Responsible breeding is NOT the cause of the surfeit of unwanted dogs in the country. Who wrote this illogical article anyway? Dog breeding through the centuries has given us the delightful variety of dogs we now enjoy.

    All the unwanted dogs we have now come from two main sources — low-value “puppy mills” and irresponsible people who make ill-considered pet selections, do not get their pets neutered, and let them run free or even encourage unmanned “back yard” reproduction.

    Don’t let this ill-considered appeal fool you — good breeders are a dog’s best friend, and illogical appeals that attempt to trash them (like this) are just part of the problem.

    I have absolutely no problem with anyone desiring to adopt a pet from a shelter. I applaud them. But we need to support the good responsible breeders too.

    Good breeding of animals and plants is one of the great achievements of humankind, don’t let anyone convince you otherwise.

  5. February 15, 2013 @ 5:23 pm Ron Butler

    Thank you Joe, you beat me to it. What a bunch of soft-soaped garbage aimed at pulling the heartstrings.

    The author claims that the overstocked shelters are “inexorably linked” to AKC breeders. What a massive jump into illogical thinking that wouldn’t pass a 100 level logics class. Your blaming AKC breeders for those shelter dogs? What about the general population that wantonly breed their pets whose off-spring end up in the shelters? It is not the AKC breeders that are the puppy mill producers.

    AKC breeders are to stop the breeding of their purebred lines of dogs, so that the dog population can become a true mixture and hodge podge collection of genetically screwed up animals? Why and what do you think has created the problems with what some people see as problems breeds today? Not the AKC breeders.

    This was the some of the most nonsense garbage written about dogs and the AKC that I have ever read.

  6. February 15, 2013 @ 5:34 pm admin

    I suggest you read the NY Times expose linked in the story. Here is it again: Safety Concerns Stoke Criticism of Kennel Club. It shows that AKC certification for puppy mills is a problem. Also, I didn’t even explore the copious scientific data showing that breeding and inbreeding is causing severe health problems in a wide variety of breeds. I suggest a basic primer on genetics to help you cope with stark reality facing many of these breeds. Also, do a little research on shelter pets and drop-offs and the high number of bred dogs that end up dying in shelters once the novelty of a puppy wears off.

  7. February 23, 2013 @ 12:43 pm Joe Niederberger

    Here’s the problems with your logic:

    1. Good breeders and good breeding practices are not identical with the AKC or the Westminster Dog Show. You conflate them into one mess.

    2. Its arrogant and offensive to be so preachy as to insist people make the choice *you* feel is best, when it comes to choosing a dog. I doubt my words will sway you, but there it is — you are just another moralistic scold in this piece, preaching to the choir. No one else cares. If I knew enough about the choices you make everyday I no doubt could find other choices I find morally superior.

  8. February 23, 2013 @ 6:20 pm admin

    Thanks for reply, Joe.

    1. As I assert in the piece, I am simply not sure it is possible to ethically breed dogs or cats with such a massive overpopulation problem. Period. I know it it not popular. I know it is “preachy.” But I cannot see how anyone churns out dogs or cats with a dog or cat being executed at shelters nationwide…every eight seconds. I “conflate” because the overpopulation problem is one big, inter-related mess. The growing number of breed-based “rescues” (which try to find homes for the discarded oversupply of specialty breeds or those dogs discarded because the novelty wore off) is a direct result of the fad breeding that contribute mightily to this problem. I will not apologize for my outrage. People breeding and selling dogs (save for the working dog exceptions I concede in the piece) and, even worse, people breeding and selling cats, are in serious moral peril given the 4-plus million dogs and cats executed yearly due to oversupply.

    2. Not to say that this is the exact moral equivalent as human slavery, or the right of women to vote, or any number of moral/ethical choices that society has deemed unacceptable over the course of the last 200 years, but your point does force me to ask the question: where is it acceptable to preach regarding immoral choices people make? To each his own? How about pedophiles? To each his own? If NAMBLA thinks it is wrong for me to impose my moral values, should I remain silent? How about someone breeding dogs for fighting? Or torturing animals for pleasure? Or how about the impending extinction of wild rhinos? Chinese men are unhappy with the size and performance of their genitals. To solve this, they pay top dollar for rhino horns. Rhinos are, therefore, disappearing with increasing speed. This is their choice. I think it is immoral for all rhinos to disappear because their culture, traditions and sexual “needs” demand that rhinos die. Am I, therefore, prohibited from proclaiming my displeasure? I say “no.” I am willing for some to call me a “moralistic scold.” So be it. The same goes for this tragic, grinding machinery that sees millions of excess animals executed while people choose alternatives based on transient, ephemeral preferences of style, based on the need to be hip or cool…or because they want a dog as a status symbol. As to my day to day choices, I am admittedly hampered more and more each day as I try to lessen my impact on the natural world. My consumption, my diet…what I am willing to buy and eat and do are daily conundrums. Still, I am often making “selfish” choices. Avoiding selfishness is a daily task. And don’t underestimate people. Many, many people care about it.

  9. February 24, 2013 @ 12:23 pm Joe Niederberger

    A responsible dog breeder is one who knows their customers and simply won’t place a dog with someone they think may be inappropriate, and one who offers unconditionally to take back a dog if any problems or unforeseen situations whatsoever arise. That’s the type of dog breeder I have known and supported.

    Your comparing such a person to a pedophile or a Rhino poacher is silly beyond belief, and in many ways. It won’t help your case at all with most calm thinking people.

    Are you upset by all the unwanted, abused, and abandoned pets: dogs, cats and others? So am I. My answer is to point the finger where it belongs, not where it doesn’t. Support responsible breeders.

  10. February 24, 2013 @ 1:09 pm admin

    Sorry, Joe. I think you missed my point.

    I was not actually comparing pedophiles with dog breeders. I was asking when it is acceptable to register moral outrage. What are the limits? Where is the line? These are comparable insofar as they can be regarded “personal choices.” Are all “personal choices” sacrosanct? If you want to keep it limited to dogs…how about dog fighting? It is okay to be outraged with dog fighting? Is it possible to be a responsible dog fighter? If not, why? Once, it was widely accepted. Now, not so much. It is this process of change that I was trying to get you to think about.

    Clearly, I am asserting that it is not possible to be a responsible dog breeder, full-stop. Massive oversupply = ethical problems for those who breed (thus contributing to oversupply) and those who, if they want a companion animal, do not need to buy breed dogs when millions of unwanted dogs are executed each year. Of course, I have marked out what, by today’s general standard, is an extreme position. Obviously. But I do so because I not only believe it to be true, but also because this is the way movement occurs on moral issues in social systems throughout history. Someone has to refuse to accept what is widely-thought acceptable to begin the process of change. I am not alone in this, btw. Sentiment is slowly growing. I think more would reject bred dogs of they knew about the massive factory of death churning at shelters nationwide and considered the alternative. Don’t buy a bred dog. Save a dog on death row.

  11. February 24, 2013 @ 4:03 pm Joe Niederberger

    You can “register” whatever moral outrage you want, my point is that its counterproductive if people can’t make sense of what you are saying. The tragedy of unwanted pets as I see it, is that they come into being, are misplaced, abused, ignored and abandoned in the first place. They are, every one of them, going to die at some point; thinking that their deaths are *the* tragedy is also a crucial mistake you make in my view. The real tragedy is the either (1) they came into being
    without sufficient reason, or (2) they were misplaced.

    For the tragedy I speak of, we can blame irresponsible breeders, owners, even the entire advertising industry if we want (for stimulating ephemeral wants.)

    Good dog breeding, though, is an art that goes back thousands of years. Its absurd, not just extreme, to try to place blame there. A well bred dog that is carefully placed with a responsible new owner is the ideal.

  12. March 5, 2013 @ 12:19 pm Kirk Hill

    Joe’s arguments sound very much like those of gun culture advocates: reduce everything to individual choice and let the chips fall where they may. You can shrug off the the terrible suffering of dogs (and other animals) as just the way things are as gun advocates do when asked what to do about Newtown. Welcome to Hotel Despair. STOP THE BREEDING.

  13. June 2, 2014 @ 11:19 am Amensej

    I personally think that there is an overabundance of all animals in the pet trade. Snake being released in Florida, same with the giant snails. More birds in sanctuaries, welfare centers and rescues than I care to count, besides the overwhelming overload of dogs and cats that are in shelters and being killed daily. Yes, part of the problem lies with the breeders. If we don’t breed anything, eventually the animals will stop being killed because there won’t be anymore. Responsible breeding, yes, there are some that do practice it and do care about the animals that they place in new homes. However, those are few and far between in the massive scheme of things. Cats and dogs average life spans range between 10 and 15 years, with some living as long as 20. Parrots on the other hand average 15-80 depending on breed. This makes the dog and cat crisis a drop in the bucket. Throw in that there are 90x’s the number of normal vets compared to avian certified vets (a must for parrots) and you have a big problem. But I digress. The PROBLEM is LACK OF EDUCATION and impulse buying. How many times have you heard that someone got a pet and said later that they didn’t realize how much work it would be? How many times have you heard that “i didn’t think it would get that big” or eat that much, be that hyper, or that destructive? This is the biggest problem in my opinion. I understand peoples lives change. Kids are born, people get married and divorced, buy a house, or have to move into an apartment. But when I hear that someone didn’t do their research before getting an animal, and then get rid of it, I want to scream, and throttle them. I volunteer at a welfare center, I take my own birds to schools, and functions where we can raise awareness of the issues. I have 2 adopted cats and an adopted pitmix. So yeah, I have seen the issues. I see my mother-in-law, break her back taking care of the animals that are constantly dropped in her area. Dogs, cats, mules even horses. She works as a waitress and all her tips go into a box for spays and neuters, and several of the vets in her area fix the owies these animals come in with at a discount. Education is the key. Research the animals you want, wait 6 months before you buy one. Spend time around one that you want, and make a list of all the bad traits said animal can have. Then look at that list and ask your self honestly “if MY animal did that, what would I do?” if your answer is get rid of it, buy a stuffed animal ffs

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