How Many Dog Breeders Do We Really Need? by Dr. Marc Bekoff

shelter dogsA recent essay in the magazine called All Animals titled “Taking a Stand: Breeders Join with The HSUS to Combat Puppy Mills” published by the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) about conscientious and responsible dog breeders caught my eye and made me think deeply about how many dog breeders we really need given the large number of dogs who currently are living and dying in shelters. The HSUS now has a Breeders Advisory and Resource Council (BARC) that is concerned with conscientious and responsible dog breeding and also with helping dogs living in hellish conditions in puppy mills. Good for them.

Twenty-five percent of dogs who enter local shelters are purebred

According to “Taking a Stand,” conscientious and responsible dog breeders breed “happy, healthy dogs in clean, humane conditions,” whereas puppy mills are notorious for breeding dogs in incredibly inhumane conditions. While I have no doubt at all that there are breeders who really do care about the dogs they breed and while I am 100% against puppy mills, I would have thought that the HSUS would take a stronger stance against bringing more dog beings into the world given that there are millions of dogs in shelters in the United States and about 60% of them are euthanized every year for a variety of reasons, including some dogs sadly will not be able to adjust to a high quality life in a home. Interestingly enough, about 25% of dogs who enter local shelters are purebred, so being a purebred dog doesn’t guarantee a cushy life. Furthermore, I’ve been told that 25% might be a low estimate because of the possibility that breed rescue groups adopt dogs before they are officially recorded. Be that as it may, 25% is not an insignificant number and being a purebred dog is no guarantee of a good life.

Let’s make breeding a win-win for dogs and people

It’s essential to have reasoned discussions and debates about dog breeding and not insulting exchanges, while fully recognizing that it’s highly unlikely that dog breeding will totally disappear or that breeders will be told to close shop. We need to focus on redirecting the business of dog breeding and initiate radical reform, as my colleague and fellow Psychology Today essayist Mark Derr puts it. We shouldn’t be breeding for qualities that appeal to humans but do nothing for the dogs and we surely shouldn’t be breeding dogs with anatomical, physiological, or genetic maladies that guarantee highly compromised lives, pain, suffering, and early deaths.

One might argue that the very limited and very carefully monitored breeding of “service dogs” who need to have specific skills to help the relatively few humans who need them and who will also be allowed to have high quality, good doggy lives, should be given serious consideration. Of course, dogs from shelters can also be trained to help humans who need them.

I surely cannot cover here all of the different views on this possibility or others that might favor very limited breeding, however, the vast majority of dog breeding as we know it today could easily be curtailed and reformed with no loss of dogs who suit the wide variety of people who want to share their homes with these wonderful beings. It would be a win-win for the dogs and the people involved.

BARC members fear for their jobs

In the article to which I refer, I also read that “Most of BARC’s members have asked that their names not be released, fearing publicity could cost them their positions as show judges or damage their relationships with breed groups. But McGriff says someone has to come forward, and it might as well be her; she isn’t currently showing animals or judging.” Ms. McGriff is Kathryn McGriff who breeds Clumber spaniels in the Washington, D. C. metro area. Good for her.

Don’t look to the AKC for support

While I was reading the article about conscientious and responsible dog breeding I thought that the American Kennel Club (AKC) would be a good place to look for support especially for putting an end to irresponsible breeders and puppy mills, but I was misled on this assumption. It turns out that the AKC is known to “lobby intensively against even modest improvements to the welfare of puppy mill dogs.” The AKC also “panders to the interests of large commercial breeders—who supply the bulk of its registry revenue—even though smaller-scale, high-quality breeders make up most of the organization’s membership.” You can read the HSUS’s report against the AKC here. Be aware that it will likely depress you as it did me.

While I fully understand that many people make their living by breeding dogs and that these businesses will continue to exist, I’d expect that humane societies across the board would and should very strongly urge people who really care about other animals to adopt dogs who either will be killed or live out their lives in captivity and not support the breeding of yet more dogs, at least a quarter of whom will eventually wind up in shelters anyway. I also fully realize that this essay might upset people who want purebreds from known lineages with papers, however, let me emphasize again that reasoned discussion and debate are essential given the millions of dogs who die because of the choices people make about the companion dogs with whom they wish to share their homes.

Adopting a dog from a shelter is the compassionate choice to make and I’m sure the dogs who are chosen will be forever thankful for people who make this decision. Given the millions of dogs who live and die in shelters and who desperately want and need safe homes in which to live and to thrive, breeding should be strongly curtailed and very carefully monitored. As I wrote above, this would be a win-win for the dogs and the people involved. What could be better?

Original article published in Psychology Today

ABOUT MARC BEKOFF

Marc BekoffMarc Bekoff is a former Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Colorado, Boulder, and co-founder with Jane Goodall of Ethologists for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. He has won many awards for his scientific research including the Exemplar Award from the Animal Behavior Society and a Guggenheim Fellowship. Marc has written more than 200 articles, numerous books, and has edited three encyclopedias. His books include the Encyclopedia of Animal Rights and Animal Welfare, The Ten Trusts (with Jane Goodall), the Encyclopedia of Animal Behavior, the Encyclopedia of Human-Animal Relationships, Minding Animals, The Emotional Lives of Animals, Animals Matter, and The Animal Manifesto: Six Reasons for Increasing Our Compassion Footprint. In 2005 Marc was presented with The Bank One Faculty Community Service Award for the work he has done with children, senior citizens, and prisoners. In 2009 he became a scholar-in-residence at the University of Denver’s Institute for Human-Animal Connection and a faculty member of the Humane Society University. In 2009 he also was presented with the St. Francis of Assisi Award by the New Zealand SPCA.

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