By Erika N. Chen-Walsh
In 2009, the Illinois legislature introduced identical bills simultaneously in both the House and the Senate regarding the licensing of dog breeders. The bills, as proposed, were problematic in multiple ways, ways that would adversely affect all dog breeders and would impose onerous burdens on responsible breeders as well as irresponsible breeders. In spite of multiple revisions and improvements, neither bill reached the floor for a full vote in either chamber in that legislative session.
Legislation affecting dog breeders is being proposed all over the country right now. These bills vary dramatically in their specifics. And there are bills that seek to impact diverse issues regarding dogs, not just dog breeding. The issues introduced in the Illinois legislature included banning cropping and docking except in the cases of medical necessity, prohibiting the use of gas chamber (carbon monoxide/carbon dioxide) euthanasia except by licensed veterinarians, allowing courts to prohibit contact with animals belonging to protected parties in orders of protection, requiring cross reporting between state agencies investigating child abuse and neglect and animal abuse and neglect, and making it a felony to be a spectator at a dog fight.
Suffice it to say that virtually all breeders responsibly involved in purebred dogs object to laws that are overly burdensome, poorly written and targeted at the wrong breeders. On the other hand, tougher laws and better enforcement are needed to improve the treatment of animals. Under current federal law, it is considered humane to keep a dog the size of a Beagle in a cage the size of a dishwasher, and never, ever let it out its entire life. We need to do better.
There is a bright line between commercial breeders (puppy mills), backyard breeders and responsible breeders. Within the fancy, there is no bright line test to verify that an individual breeder is ethical and responsible. Not every breeder adheres to the same standards of care, the same scrutiny of puppy buyers, the same rigorous examination of breeding stock, the same willingness to accept dogs back after placement, or the same ability to put the welfare of the dogs produced over financial considerations.
There are dog breeders who are active in their kennel clubs, who show regularly, participate in performance events, finish champions and enjoy all of the prestige that goes along with those activities. And some of those breeders keep their dogs in cages more than 23 hours per day. Some of them have more dogs than are permitted in their municipalities so they do not vaccinate for rabies because rabies vaccines must be reported to the county. I have heard of a prominent breeder of a northern breed in another state who has “euthanasia parties” where she puts to sleep those dogs that are retired from the ring and from breeding. There are breeders and handlers who perform unlicensed surgeries without anesthesia.
Many breeders fail to adequately socialize their dogs, resulting in dogs that are shy or shy/aggressive to a fault. In 2007, a Sloughi bit the race secretary at a lure coursing trial so severely that the woman required reconstructive surgery to her hand.
There is the unforgivable ignorance of genetics. Many dog breeders lack a fundamental understanding of Mendelian genetics. The superstitious clinging to mythology regarding genetic defects will cause the ultimate demise of some breeds, and breeders who choose to bury their heads in the sand, hoping that Tinkerbell will appear with a healthy dose of fairy dust to wish away genetic diseases and the propensity to bite people may be the worst abusers of all.
Who makes an issue of these people? Where does the responsibility of each and every breeder to the betterment of his breed require him to give voice for the welfare of the dogs that cannot speak for themselves? Why do breeders so seldom call their colleagues out on violating the code of ethics of their parent clubs? Why do they not make criminal complaints when they know or have reason to know about situations of neglect or abuse? Why is there such pervasive recalcitrance that breeders turn blind eyes to the misdeeds of their friends and acquaintances and the suffering of the dogs in their care?
Dog breeders do not want to be legislated, but as a group, we have failed to police our own. If dog breeders acknowledged the problems that we all know exist, we could participate in creating solutions to those problems. We could focus our efforts and the national dialogue on the real offenders, the entities responsible for the most egregious mistreatment of breeding dogs: puppy mills and backyard breeders.
The solution to eliminating puppy mills is no great mystery. Stop the sale of puppies in pet stores. Without pet stores, puppy mills have no clients. Why aren’t breeders working harder to educate consumers about what is behind pet store puppies? And why are we not working harder to pressure stores like Petland to follow in the wake of its more ethical competitors, PetSmart and Petco, by voluntarily refusing to sell puppies?
The current movement in the legislatures nationwide has not been hijacked from breeders. Breeders have been sleeping at the wheel by choosing to remain, at best, reactive, leaving the problems unaddressed, and passing the buck. If we want to have a voice in proposing solutions, we need to shake off our collective coma, acknowledge the problems that exist, and face them in a frank and productive way.
Tinkerbell is not going to appear with a tonnage of fairy dust to fix this. We are going to have to step up to the plate ourselves. Otherwise, we deserve to be legislated with burdensome laws and we will be.