Friday, April 13, 2012

The Animal Rights Culture and Implications of Canine Legislation:

There is an unfair stigma associated with owning a purebred dog – someone asks you a question about your dog, and you find yourself having to justify your decision to purchase a dog, and not rescue one. It does not matter if you researched the breed thoroughly, if you compete in breed specific events like dog shows, or if you donate your time, money, and your dog’s DNA to canine health research. No, none of these factors come into play when you get the dreaded question, “Is he/she a rescue?” There is nothing wrong with rescuing dogs. On the contrary, providing forever homes to animals in shelters or rescues is a wonderful and noble cause. However, why does the good of rescue trump the good of supporting a specific breed or breeds?

The stigma is there, and the trend is apparent on multiple levels. Many families now refer to the act of purchasing a puppy from a breeder as “adopting from a breeder,” and it’s no coincidence considering we live in a culture that exalts adoption of homeless animals while condemning breeding. In fact, the very language of “adoption” vs. “ownership” humanizes our pets. It is no coincidence, either. Animal rights groups push heavily to shift the language used when referring to our pets. No longer does a family own a dog, but the dog is part of the family, a “furbaby,” as some say. In the sanctity of my home, I consider my animals to be family. To the public, however, the language I choose to use is one of ownership. I own two dogs: one I adopted from a local shelter, and one I purchased from a breeder. Most people do not realize the true agenda of the animal rights movement is to take away ownership rights and instead create a guardianship – essentially giving animals the same legal rights as people, the implications of which are simply terrifying. Recently, headway was made to stop this in Missouri with two measures – one promoting proper legal status of animals, and the other promoting responsible breeding - both passed Missouri committees and are now awaiting votes by the Missouri House of Representatives. Unfortunately, this headway is just a drop in the bucket as vague animal rights legislation is currently pending in numerous states. Often times, this legislation is masked with good intentions, and the potential loopholes go unnoticed.

Log into Facebook and take a look at the over 36,000 people who have “liked” the Stop Puppy Mills page. Perhaps you are one of them, or maybe you know one of the fans of this page. The term Puppy Mill is a loaded term, one that connotes concentration camp like facilities where dogs are bred with little to no regard for animal welfare, and money-hungry breeders treat animals as commodities, disposable only when their reproductive organs fail, and profits run dry. With mental images like this, it is quite easy to click the like button on that page. In the same vein, it is easy to vote to support legislation that promises to end Puppy Mills by limiting the number of dogs a breeder can own. Or to vote yes on a measure claiming mandatory spay and neuter laws will reduce the number of animals in shelters.

On September 11, 2001 terrorists attacked the United States. In the days the following the attacks, brave men and women searched for survivors, but there were places humans could not go and rescue crews relied on specially trained search and rescue dogs to find survivors, and recover victims. How is this related to animal legislation, specifically “Puppy Mill” bills? The first rescue dog to enter the Pentagon after September 11 was trained at Deep Run Farm, a breeding and training facility for Labradors located just outside Fredericksburg, VA. What you will find at Deep Run Farm is a fulltime staff devoted to the training, wellbeing, and breeding of numerous Labrador Retrievers. When I visited the farm there were over 60 adult dogs onsite, 30 puppies, and a litter on the way – breeds onsite included Labradors, Norfolk and Norwich Terriers, and Affenpinschers, along with a handful of other breeds. The farm itself is the ClubMed of the retriever world – an all-inclusive facility with activities (or training) from agility to waterfowl retrieving, situated on over 100 acres. Continuing with top notch all-inclusive service, an onsite canine chiropractor keeps dogs limber, the breeding program is led by a renowned reproductive vet, and the training program is held in such high esteem the kennel owners’ and the dogs they bred were used in a demonstration for the Congressional Sportsman’s Caucus on Capitol Hill. Beyond the plush settings, the knowledge and love of animals found at this kennel is unparalleled – with countless champion hunting, show, obedience and agility dogs, along with service dogs and rescue dogs – serving as testament to their success. Is this a Puppy Mill? The animal rights movement would probably say it is based on the variety of breeds bred at this one kennel, the number of dogs on premises, the number of litters on the ground each year, and the number of intact dogs there, including many used for stud.

The animal rights movement, led by groups like the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), routinely lobby for legislation to limit the number of intact dogs a breeder can own, limit the number of dogs that can live at a kennel, limit the number of litters a breeder can breed each year, push for mandatory spay and neuter laws for pet owners, and much more. Responsible, well-respected experts, like Deep Run Farm, would be considered high volume breeders, perhaps even a Puppy Mill by the masterminds behind the animal rights movement. When in actuality, successful dog enthusiasts, like those who breed top hunting dogs, provide a haven for animals and devote their lives to bettering specific breeds – both in temperament, structure, and health. When a person reads “Stop Puppy Mills” on a social media outlet, or worse, their ballot, are they going to know the current animal welfare laws in place? Will they realize their state most likely already has laws in place protecting animals, laws simply needing to be enforced? Will the person read the full bill they are voting for, or be able to place the initiative into a meaningful context where the full implications of the law are understood? Doubtful, and the groups waging heavily for such legislation do not want voters to be informed on the issues, they want voters to read or hear the words “Puppy Mill” or “Breeder” and think of neglect and greed, not places like Deep Run Farm.

A perfect example, are the bills currently pending in the Iowa Senate to significantly restrict “commercial breeders” abilities to continue to own and breed dogs. Current Iowa law defines a commercial breeder as “anyone who owns at least four intact dogs or cats and receives a consideration for breeding.” Under proposed legislation, breeders would be forced to adhere to strict permitting guidelines, specifically when permits expire or are revoked. To further infringe upon breeders rights, permits could be revoked without hearings, under these bills. If a commercial breeder’s permit were to expire, the breeder would have only 45 days to obtain a new permit, or get rid of (by giving away, euthanizing, or selling) dogs, or sterilize their dogs. The American Kennel Club (AKC) is adamantly opposed to this legislation, because these bills would make it virtually impossible for small hobby breeders to continue to breed dogs.
Another example is Missouri, where in 2010 the animal rights movement fought heavily to ban Puppy Mills under Proposition B. As they pushed for the ballot measure to pass, the groups relied heavily on depressing images of neglected animals in cramped cages to pull at the heartstrings of voters. They told voters under this bill animals would be required to have access to food and water, and dogs would have enough room to stretch in their cages. Based solely on these ads, it seemed like a good bill. Food, water, room to stretch are all good things, but these things were all current law (actually, current law required animals to have sufficient room to stand, turn around, and lie down, and the ballot measure weakened that, requiring the animal only be able to stretch).

In ad campaigns, the animal rights groups rely on depressing images of neglected animals to pull at the heartstrings of voters. These groups employ celebrities to tout their message of “helping” animals to the public, as seen in 2008 with the farm animal bill in California, and still today with donation solicitation campaigns produced by groups like HSUS. These tactics are working. Deceptive emotional campaigns are pushing legislation to limit the rights of citizens, give government overreaching control, and hurt responsible breeders. Citizens are seeing these images, and supporting causes that at first glance, appear to be noble. Unfortunately, the implications of animal rights legislation are lost in translation as emotional campaigns are pushed forward, and ballots are cast based on what a voter thinks is the “right” or “moral” thing to do.

As a society, we are told by the media and advocacy campaigns that buying animals is bad. Why is it bad? The anti-breeding side says because it contributes to the homeless animal population. Does it? When done responsibly, no. Many responsible breeders sell dogs on contracts stating they must be returned to the breeder if the owner can no longer care for the dog, and this holds true for the life of the animal. That’s a big commitment on the breeder’s part to ensure none of their dogs wind up in shelters. However, as a society, we are told these very breeders are the reason dogs are in shelters. Responsible breeders also do not sell dogs with unlimited registration or breeding rights to the average pet owner, nor do they export intact dogs. No responsible breeder will simply charge more to grant a buyer breeding rights. Instead, puppies sold with breeding rights will be hand selected, only the best puppies in the litter worthy of this registration, and sold to thoroughly vetted homes, typically where the puppy will be actively shown or compete in some other venue. Often times these puppies are sold on contracts stating they must not be bred until a certain age, nor should they be bred without obtaining a variety of health clearances. However, most people looking to buy their next pet do not know this, nor do they know the resources available to find a reputable breeder. Educating the public about irresponsible breeders is important, but giving pet owners the necessary tools to find responsible breeders is critical. Legislation that hinders breeders’ rights may sound nice at first glance, but it can be detrimental to responsible breeders – the very people, like those who run Deep Run Farm, that invest so much to promote the health and well-being of purebred dogs. Protecting animals starts at the grassroots level by educating the public about responsible breeding practices, the responsibilities of pet ownership (particularly owning intact dogs), and finally, perhaps most important, by enforcing current animal welfare legislation on a local level. Headway made to educate the public locally will expand to have a regional impact, eventually spreading nationwide, and reduce the number of dogs in shelters.