The Dog World Is Coming Apart At The Seams And We’re Chasing Our Tails
What is the dog worlds common enemy?
I wrote an article a while back called: Choosing the Right Dog: Breeders vs. Shelters. I wrote this article in hopes that everyone who read it would read between the lines. Sometimes my tone doesn’t always suit who’s reading my opinions. In the article I shine light on the obvious downfalls of both entities, I was hoping both sides could admit their faults and improve to better the lives of the dogs around us. I concluded the article with a shot at the title and the two subjects in it (Shelters & Breeders), it read as follows:
Contrary to the title, it’s not about breeders vs. shelters, for they’re only at odds against the animals best interest. It’s about dogs entering into a life and a family they can be comfortable with. No matter which you choose, shelter or breeder you are giving a dog that doesn’t have a place to call home or a family to call his own, just that. And the shelter mix and purebred dog, alike, will thank you all the same, with immeasurable love and unwavering loyalty.
However, I think the between line comprehension was missed. I also should point out I have used the word “shelter” to describe any program that saves and homes dogs with no place to go.
What’s important is we begin to set the ground rules for a new dialogue about dogs on this planet. I’m calling out all breeders, shelter personnel and rescuers, so listen up. (veterinarians, dog trainers, pet store owners, groomers, dog walkers etc.…. you should all listen too). In order to solve this dog population crisis, real dog lovers need to take their hands off of each other’s throats, sit down together and discuss how we want the future of the canine/human world to look. There are quite literally lives at stake here that hinge on our problem solving ability and we are failing them on a grand scale!
Puppy mills, backyard breeders and their supporters are our common enemy and they are at large and thriving. As a citizen of this earth, a business owner, a dog breeder, dog trainer and an animal lover, I can confidently say that the real dog lovers around the world need to take a giant step back and reevaluate their tactics to better the lives of our canine counterparts. We owe them. And we owe them more than most people think! These animals were the first ever to be domesticated and before that, they were one of the few species that directly evolved with us and aided in our own evolution. They provided us with countless things we had trouble providing ourselves, at the time, from sanitation to alarm systems to comfort, dogs were our most valuable ally and faithful family members. We grew as humans alongside our dogs. They are as much, if not more, a part of our culture and heritage, than any other animal or technology. So, we should always be on their side.
In order to be on the side of dogs we need to stick together with a common objective. We need to end the, constant and on-going, murder of dogs by the thousands, we need to educate the public on what it takes to raise a dog as a family member, we need to be well versed in discussing the core differences between human and dog behavior and how to get along with our furry cohorts. We need to have a dream. And that dream has to be that anyone who wants a dog should be able to have one, they are fundamental to human life. WE NEED A PLAN!
I don’t have it all figured out but I want to lay out some groundwork. We must eliminate the common enemy. The common enemy has large facilities where matted, fecal covered, urine soaked dogs, live in rusted cages, producing endless puppies with no socialization, no regard for health, temperament or breed improvement. And even less regard is given to caring for the parents of these puppies. Puppy mills operate on a business model based on quantity. This model is a time tested method of making money and it works. This fight isn’t going to be easy and it’s time to fight fire with fire.
Wake-up breeders, you’re running a business, it’s time to gather up your arms and double down. Many breeders out there, breeding high quality purebred dogs and selling them to great homes, guaranteeing health and doing almost all the right things. And that’s the problem they are doing almost all the right things. The problem is, they breed for hobby and love of their breed but not for profit and not for the love of all dogs. Many of them don’t do it for a living and they don’t care if they make money, which in theory is fine but we are losing the war. And we need funding. We need the funding to come from dog lovers. These breeders are dog lovers and too few of them are supporting the fight against the common enemy.
Many of the breeders I speak of are heroes already. They themselves are working their fingers to the bone providing the world with dogs that perform an endless array of tasks, most of which can’t be performed by humans or machines. But, they are doing it for the love of a specific breed and we, as dog lovers, are being undermined by capitalism. It’s time we realize we can’t beat the common enemy by sitting on our moral high horse.
Speaking of moral high horses, the people atop the largest horses are hurling the biggest stones. Shelter personnel, rescuers and supporters, I’m talking about you. You’re attack is, and has been much too broad and your creating far too much collateral damage with your tactics. It’s hurting the overall picture. Face it, numbers don’t lie, you’re not making the dent you should be. You’d think after years of talking down to people and convincing them that if you buy a dog from anywhere but a shelter you’re a murderer would work, right? Stop shooting yourselves in the feet. Writing reputable breeders off and refusing to work with them isn’t the way to initiate progress, in fact, it’s a sure fire way to create stagnation and opposition. Ad’s, like the PETA ad, stating buying a dog from a breeder kills a shelter dog aren’t only harmful to the cause, they are borderline insane. And on top of that they don’t fight the common enemy.
The solution needs to start with us, the dog lovers; an open dialogue between quality breeders, shelters and rescuers. This solution goes right along with one of my favorite dog training quotes, “It’s simple, not easy” (if someone has the first source of this quote I’d like to know). But, all we need to get this started is three things. Ammunition, a weapon to fire that ammunition and love. First, ammunition: In our case the ammunition is simple; our ammunition is knowledge. Once people fully understand the history of these great animals, as well as the tasks they provide each day, such as, detecting cancer, leading the blind, finding bombs, providing emotional support, laughter joy, love etc. and so on, the list is limitless, people will understand their worth. Along with their worth to us, people need to understand that they, like all animals closely related to humans, (yes they are related to us), feel. Dogs feel…. they feel pain, they feel isolation, they crave a family/a partner, they love. Feeling is what sentient beings with emotions express and countless studies reveal dogs have a full gamut of emotions. In my opinion the only thing they don’t share with us is a symbolic consciousness. And while that sets us apart from the rest of the animal kingdom, it makes us cruel on a large scale. With that consciousness comes a duty to disseminate knowledge and we are failing miserably.
People need the knowledge of how to care for a dog, what issues arise with certain breeds, health and temperament issues need to be common knowledge. We need to spread information to dog families and potential dog families a better understanding of a healthy diet (human and dog). The public needs to know what it costs to own a dog. We also need help in areas which are a bit beyond my scope of expertise.
As breeders, shelters and rescuers we can only do so much and this article hopes to implore you to do as much as you are able. Here is a list of some things that we can’t control directly but should try to influence, this of course, is not everything but it’s a good place to start from:
1) All of us who like (you don’t even need to love them for this) dogs and want them here on the planet, need to change. There are people who don’t care if dogs are out and about in society. I’ll call them neutral on dogs. Then there are people who are against dogs being out and about and really don’t care if they exist in the public sphere. I’ll call them anti-dog. It is very, very easy to sway a neutral dog person into being an anti-dog person, if you are encroaching on the neutral dog person’s enjoyment of common areas. So, keep your dog on leash where it should be, don’t let him pee on everything, make sure any behavioral problem is being worked on with a trainer etc. Make your dog an ambassador for the species, turn the neutral people to dog lovers, it’s a much more difficult but ultimately more rewarding endeavor.
2) Public policy: dogs should be allowed most places and they are not. More and more places are becoming dog free and dog spots are becoming isolated area where dogs are allowed. Dog parks are a relatively new phenomena. You know that dog parks used to just be called parks! A place where human and dog were meant to play in harmony and enjoy nature together. The more “dog parks” the less dogs are invited into the common areas of real life.
3) Specific breeds shouldn’t be persecuted against. Breed specific legislation has to stop. I am going to call on the AKC for the first step. They have to recognize the American Pit Bull Terrier as a breed of its own. The breed was created here in America. Part of the reason the breed has gotten out of control is that pure bred American Pit Bull Terrier is being altered with no consequence and without the public’s knowledge. Pedigrees limit tampering by back yard breeders and puppy mills. Also, it’ll be the first step in eliminating mixed breed dogs from being lumped into “pit bull” bite stats.
4) Private policy: Insurance companies must cover dogs! They must. I’m aware there are 4 million dog bites. That is partly our problem. As dog professionals we need to make people more aware and able to minimize the rate dog bites before they happen. Right now roughly 1.3% of people get bit. That’s too many. It has to change.
5) The AKC needs to be changed, revamped, revitalized and more focused on the well being of dogs, not just registration dollars. DNA tests should be necessary on mixed breeds as well, and the ability to register dogs shouldn’t be based on whether or not the breed is pure. Something needs to act as a scientific database to monitor dogs’ health, growth and ancestry in this country. The AKC is simply the best equipped to take on this challenge. I’m aware it is against their “pure breed” mantra, but it’s time to adapt. I’m not supporting the addition of new breeds on a large scale but simply the ability to register mixed breeds and produce pedigrees.
6) Vet care costs need to drop. Just like health care costs for people, pet care costs are high (not as high as human health care, thank “dog”). But, on the flip side awareness of our family dogs needs to rise. To many “accidental” injuries, obstructions, dog fights, dog bites, bad toys etc. send dog to the vet. If we stress education, good nutrition and exercise, and stay away from useless tests and drugs we’ll be better off.
7) Continue the charge and the fight to spay and neuter stray dogs. We have enough trouble finding puppy mill dogs forever homes, let us not allow nature to add to our issue.
Next, we need a weapon in which to fire our ammunition. A way to disseminate knowledge on a grand scale. And before you all start yelling “the internet obviously,” the internet is a platform but the number of viewers comes from the real world. And in order to be in exceedingly visible places you have to pay. So, I’m sorry to say, in this country and our global society, the weapon we need to fire our knowledge is money. We need money to support an effort to weed out bad breeding practices. We need money to support or oppose pending legislation that has to do with dogs and to fight back against lawyers assisting the common enemy. We need money to save dogs that really need saving, we need money to care for animals that need care. When puppy mills fall and shelters thrive the tide will have been turned. But in order to make the switch we need to support the shelters now. Along with shelters thriving on the elimination of puppy mills, breeders too will be forced to hone their craft. Quality will be the driving force in the market not price point. Puppy mills are killing us on price point. And they are looking on smiling and laughing their way to the bank, as the shelters and rescuers clean up their messes for free.
Breeders, you need to work to improve the health and temperament of your breed, you need to support other breeders that do the same. Even if their dogs are not just like yours or just as you would like. As long as the dogs being bred are healthy, cared for and improving the lives of their buyers, be supportive. Also, support and elevate your local shelters and canine rescues. Let them know you are a breeder of quality. Show them you have a contract that doesn’t allow your dogs to be placed in shelters. Take back unwanted dogs from your breedings and work yourself to find them homes. Don’t further burden people who have their hands full.
Charge premium prices for premium products. If you are breeding for hobby and can afford to give the dogs away, charge anyway. Donate the money to shelters and rescues, they need it. Look at the price point of high quality dogs and demand you get the same. Competition in the market will do the rest. Don’t undercut. Cheap dogs can be found everywhere, purebred dogs have a quality to uphold and we need money to fund continued support for breed specific testing and training as well as funding to understand inherited and genetic dog specific health issues. Donate to breed specific rescues or shelters that have no or low kill practices.
Shelters; realize that good breeders are doing these things I listed in the previous paragraphs. Stop slinging mud. Explain to people that there are many quality dogs out there and as long as your adopter isn’t supporting a puppy mill, you support their decision. Work closely with trainers to modify dog behavioral issues that need fixing. Charge more for your puppies and less for your adults. And for “Dogs” sake loosen up on the restrictions for adoption. Not everyone has a fenced yard and no children. Not everyone wants to be a part of the dog movement, outside of simply owning a dog that they can love.
Change your business model and demand a higher price for your puppies. You compare them to the quality of purebred dogs all the time. Put your money where your mouth is. Charge a premium for a puppy, people WILL pay it. It goes to a great cause. That cause is finding all these poor adult dogs great homes. Not everyone will work for free, but many people will work for a small percentage, if it covers cost. If rescuing dogs becomes cost neutral or even makes a little bit of money for the person helping, more people will get involved. Who knows, once you start charging market prices for dogs you could be in a position to hire a trainer to make dogs more adoptable or dare I say more profitable. The more resources you have the more dogs you can save!
If selling puppies isn’t your strong suit let the experts do it, shelters and rescuers should look to sell puppies at pet stores. Beat the puppy mills to the punch. Instead of attacking the livelihood of business people, by eliminating pet stores and breeders, compete with the puppy mills. Offer a morally superior product to pet stores. Populate the local pet stores with shelter dogs. DNA test puppies and people will gladly buy. It’s a win, win. Pet stores should do their part and look to shelters first, and respectable breeders next. Pet stores should pay more money for their stock, work with breeders and shelters to offer support for the dogs you sell and guarantee them as we do. I’m sure the pet stores can work out a mutual guarantee to replace an animal in stock if one has to be returned for any reason.
Lastly, as this whole article seems to suggest, we need some love, compassion and understanding. All of us are different, much like the dogs we breed, save, support, care for and love. Not everyone is going to tackle a problem from the same angle but we should all be careful the angles we choose don’t create crossfire. Too many great dogs get put down, too many good breeders go out of business, too many shelters can’t find enough people or money to stay afloat and too many puppy mills and pet stores that buy from them exist. It’s time the “dog lovers” of the dog community band together, it’s time for a significant shift in dialogue. Someone wiser than me once said “The enemy of my enemy is my friend.” Even if couldn’t sway your opinion on dogs you can’t deny the facts. The battles are being fought poorly and the current strategy, in my opinion, isn’t working to better the lives of dogs but only to create a constant struggle between breeders and shelters/rescuers while the enemy operates with impunity under our noses.
Founder of Hayes Haus Kennels, Brandon Hayes grew up in Massachusetts and is no stranger to the dog world. He's been working as a dog trainer for 15+ years and breeding German Shepherd Dogs since 2009. In his free time, he enjoys coaching wresting at Triton High School.