A Dog is a Car is a Computer is a Tennis Racquet -- NOT !
This is in response to the NAIA article "Adopt Don't Shop ‚ A Dog ?", http://www.bestinshowdaily.com/blog/adopt-dont-shop-a-dog/, which I consider to be outrageous and offensive to every breed rescue worker, generic rescue worker, or shelter worker. It's just as offensive to those many highly responsible breeders who don't deserve to be classed in with the backyard mini-mills and the large scale puppy mills. It represents an agenda every bit as fanatical as PETA's agenda, only at the opposite end of the scale.
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This article is mainly about terminaology of "adoption", "family member", and "rescue", with some minor points rebutting anti-shelter and anti-rescue diatribes.
Author Brinkley first rants about "money wasted" on flying dogs on private planes. First of all , anyone who earns money has a right to spend or donate it as they please. People waste money on all sorts of things, from fancy shoes that injure the wearers feet to SUVs that guzzle fuel and belch poison into public air. Yes, it might ultimately prevent more dog deaths to spend that same money funding free or low cost Spay/Neuter clinics locally , the program that in the long run does the most to reduce shelter intakes, shelter deaths, and to reduce the need for public pressure to prohibit dog breeding. Or to provide free or subsidized dog training classes in the community, a program that reduces owner frustrations, dog abandonment, and dogs causing problems to others in the community. . Or to provide free lifetime dog licenses to dogs who are S/N, microchipped, and have earned CGC . As for plane trips, almost all of these are private pilots who are making the trip anyway for other reasons and who have space for a crated dog or dogs to "hitch-hike". Similarly, rescues often set up a bucket brigade or "overground railroad" of a series of people each doing car transport for a "leg" of a long journey. Again, this is private people choosing to spend their own time and money.
Let's get our definitions straight, straight out of the dictionary (Webster's ).
"Adopt" means (1) "to choose and bring into a certain relationship, especially that of a member of one's own family" and (2 ) "to take into one's own family by legal process". True enough that second definition doesn't really apply to dogs in that there is no requirement of court approval, and generally no attorneys involved, as for legal adoption of children. Shelters and rescue agencies do generally do some degree of screening of applicants , which varies from modest to severe . Child adoption agencies tend towards fairly severe screening of applicants.
The idea of a pet as a "member of the family" is NOT some brainwashing by machiavellian shelter and rescue people. It's something that survey after survey shows to be the attitude of an overwhelming majority of Americans who have dogs or cats. Surveys show anywhere upwards of 80% and often much more. People say this just as much about the dog or cat that they bought from a breeder (or a prior owner) as they do about a dog or cat obtained from rescue or shelter or a stray who came and stayed.
Likewise for people who refer to a dog as a "fur kid" or similar term. Maybe their "skin kid" might object , but many human children speak of their dog as being a "sister" or "brother" ("brother from another mother" ?), while the rest speak of the dog as a "friend".
It's an expression of a quasi-parental feeling of affection and responsibility for the welfare of another sentient being, a being who can feel suffering or joy and who returns affection.
Moreover the pattern of obtaining an animal and turning it into a family member goes way way back in human history , back to the hunter-gatherer societies. James Serpell has a review of pets in tribal societies in his book "In the Company of Animals". In many tribes young animals are taken from the wild, often breast-fed, treated as a cherished member of the family, sometimes treated better than actual (human) children of that mother. These pets are well fed, and never killed or eaten (even though wild animals of the same species may be hunted eagerly), often shares sleeping space of the humans, are individually named named, and are mourned when they die.. This pattern is even more evident for individual domesticated animals, especially dogs and is not based on that animal's performance of useful work (although a dog's help in hunting may be valued and a dog's body warmth on a cold night may be appreciated)..
"Rescue" (1) "to free or save from danger, imprisonment, evil, etc. " (2) "(in law) to take a person or thing out of legal custody by force."
Now it's certainly true that to rescue someone from a burning building is really dramatic, puts the rescuer at considerable personal risk , and that burning to death is a particularly horrible way to die (ask St Joan). Rescue from drowning is also pretty dramatic and dangerous to the rescuer. But a dog who is in an Animal Control shelter is very much at risk of death, and calling it "put to sleep" (no dreams, no re-awakening) doesn't change that, nor does calling it "euthanasia" change that. It's really "execution" of a senient being who usually has committed no crime at all. It's really "murder". The percentage of shelter dogs who are killed varies from AC shelter to shelter, but it's a very serious risk in most, worse than the risks of one round of "Russian Roulette". The mode of killing also varies, with some shelters still using asphyxiation (carbon monoxide or lethal gas). At best the dog dies by lethal injection, a method currently being questioned as perhaps too cruel to be used on our very worst human criminals. So it's clear that removing a dog from such a position of risk of being executed (murdered) is indeed rescuing that dog. And every dog removed from an AC shelter means more space and time for another one to have a chance at survival.
"Property" and "owner" These designations do NOT mean that the "owner can do whatever he likes with his property" (as one of Michael Vick's buddies said publicly about Vick's treatment of his dogs ---- an exceptionally strange remark coming from a person whose grandparents or great-grandparents were slaves. ) Almost every type of property is subject to some degree of legal regulations.
Real estate is subject to zoning laws and may be further limited by CCRs in the deed, by easements, and rental use is heavily regulated. Your real estate can be taken away from you by "eminent domain" or can be "seized" for drug crimes alleged to have occurred on the property.
Your car is subject to considerable regulation, from emissions limitations to rules of the road (sane people recognize that rules of the road are essential for the safety of all). Your car may also be "seized" if usd to transport illegal drugs. And you have to have your car emissions tested (in California) , and you must pay a yearly registration fee (tax) and the fuel you feed your car is regulated and taxed.
You cannot burn down your own house that you own (that's the felony crime of Arson, with or without a side dish of Insurance Fraud), though you can take your paid off car to the wrecking yard to be destroyed, you can take an ax and give your computer 40 whacks (you will not be immortalized in verse and song), and you can in a fit of rage smash your tennis racquet (but not over the head of your opponent or the line judge).
If you take an ax to your dog, people who know about it will be horrified and will ostracise you, and you will go to prison where even the child molesters will probably consider you to be depraved.
In many ways the legal limitations on what an owner can do with inanimate non-sentient property are greater than the limitations on what one can do to a family member. Removing a human child from its parent or guardian even short term takes quite a bit of doing and only happens in cases of substantial neglect or abuse.. Parents have huge discretion in how they treat their children. Termination of parental rights requires either consent of that parent or court hearing and decision. Spouses or Registered Domestic Partners (term varies in some states) can unhitch only through court action even when both consent, and the relationship of both with their children will continue to be under court jurisdiction. The United States Supreme Court has declared that the right to form a family is a fundamental right. That includes the right to choose to have children or not, the right to choose whom (and which race and which gender) to marry. So far, admittedly , it does not include the right to have a dog or cat. The Americans With Disabilities Act does protect the right of a person with any disability to have a Disability Assistant Animal, and I doubt that the Supremes would disagree.
So those who really want to have a lot of discretion and control over their dogs should prefer the "member of the family" concept to the "chattel property " concept.
Currently it is true that the legal position of dogs IS as "property" , specifically as "personal property" as distinguished from "real property" (real estate). Yet there's some distinctions made and some changes in judicial attitudes. At the very least dogs and other pets are being treated as a very special kind of property, one not measured solely by market value. (Historic note : originally in common law, a dog was considered to have no value whatsoever. And in common law, wives and children were treated almost as property of husband / father. And slaves were as much property as a horse or cow. )
In the area of negligence and willfully inflicted injuries, dogs (and other companion animals) are treated differently from other property. If someone damages your car and the costs to repair or replace it exceed its market value, neither your own insurance nor a court award (when it's the other driver's fault) will exceed it's market value. But if your dog is injured (or killed) through someone else's fault, the court will award all of your vet bills even though they greatly exceed the dog's market value (which for most dogs is very low) . If you carry veterinary insurance, the amounts allowed for treatments are not limited by the dog's market value.
(And as further proof that most owners do NOT regard their dog or cat (or horse or ???) as simply property , how many of you have spent huge amounts (thousands in some cases) on veterinary care for a pet, possibly to buy an extra year of life for an elderly pet. (If you are a first time pet owner, use your imagination here).Not to mention or add up what we spend on dog toys, pet walkers, day care, etc.)
In the some areas of law that concept is changing even more. This is particularly evident in the area of wills and trusts, divisions of property in inheritances, and divisions of property upon divorce.
Most states (California being one of the first) now have legislated provisions for creation of Pet Trusts in your will, allowing you to leave assets in trust for the care of your surviving pets, as administered by a human trustee. If a will specifies that a particular pet is to be euthanized, that provision if challenged is likely to not be enforced ; judges find various excuses to invalidate that provision (unless there's a very good reason to euthanize, such as the dog is terminally ill, near end stage, requirirng difficult care, or the dog is dangerous unless expertly handled by the dead person). If you die without a will, if two or more heirs want the dog, the treatment is likely to be similar to that described below for divorce.
In property divisions in divorce, a pet is not simply treated as property, not even as unique and indivisible property (eg a painting by an esteemed artist). Ordinary property with two or more equal claimants would be appraised and one claimant would buy out the others or an auction between claimants held or the item sold and proceeds divided. Not so for pets. Often the court will award the pet according to which claimant has the greater history or greater emotional attachment, thus according to the personal values of the claimants. (Or the dog might go to the parent who gets physical custody of the children because the children are very bonded to the dog.) In divorce cases some courts have stated a decision based on "best interests of the pet", a concept essentially the same as that used to decide disputed child custody. (I don't know if there are any cases dealing with visitation rights, nor any awards of financial support for the pet.)
Less disputative couples (married or not) sometimes work out a shared custody and/or visitation scheme because neither wants to be deprived or deprive the other and because the pet has a strong bond with both.
As to what problems and "baggage" a dog may come with, the degree of evaluation at shelters varies but nowadays the better ones all have at least a part time vet to do intake medical exams and most shelters use some form of behavior testing (the predictive value of such testing can be questionable for some test elements, more useful for others).. The shelter may also have information from the surrendering owner , the accuracy and relevance of which can vary. Because a shelter environment is so different from and more stressful than a home environment (only Kafka could describe what this may seem like to a dog : change "K" to "Kanine" in the opening sentence of " The Trial".), a dog's behavior at a shelter is likely to be less normal than his behavior will be in an average adoptive home. A dog who gets in home foster care in a rescue organization will get a more realistic behavior evaluation, more predictive of post adoption behavior, and the people in the foster home may very well have done a lot of medical and behavioral rehabilitation work.
Let's not forget that a puppy bought from a breeder will also come with "baggage". Some baggage is genetic, and even the most diligent breeder can only screen parent dogs for some of these issues (it's a moving target as genomic testing advances). Some baggage is behavioral if the breeder has not provided enough socialization. The puppy buyer might choose the wrong breed or the wrong puppy for the buyer's own personality and lifestyle, though the best breeders are pretty good at trying to prevent this and trying to guide the prospective buyer to a better choice.. Let's not also forget that you can be handed the most perfect puppy in the world and you can then make a lot of mistakes in the coming weeks and months, thus creating a lot of baggage.
Most puppies and dogs require ongoing training and management throughout their lives. They require owners to put in knowledge and effort and time. Beginners have to get knowledge from books, videos, good web sites, and (best of all) the guidance of human mentors. And from the dogs themselves : "be Jane Goodall in your home and yard" as behaviorist Patricia McConnell likes to say.
A crucial issue in this article and the "owners' rights / breeder's rights" agenda is that it fails to distinguish between genuinely responsible breeders, who do indeed "dedicate their lives" (and fortunes and honor) to their dogs and their breed, as opposed to the many undesirable dog manufacturers , ie the large scale puppy mills and the backyard mini-mills to whom dog breeding is simply a way to make money.
I am NOT saying that responsible breeders shouldn't be trying to stay financially sound, to try to break even or actually make some profit. Most of our most dedicated breeders are people of moderate means who cannot afford to take a lot of red ink. Some work terribly hard at their "day job" to subsidize their dogs, as indeed to plenty of non-breeding pet owners. Some have as their theme song "St Peter don't you call me, I can't go yet : I owe my soul to the feed store and vet." And many dedicated breeders also spend added money taking back dogs they bred whose buyers no longer want them and "re-homing" them to appreciative adopters. They also participate in their club's Rescue program and foster dogs whom they did not bring into the world.
What seems to get overlooked in discussions of finances and whether or not "a profit is without honnor" is that the dedicated breeders would be better off financially , would be able to get better prices for their puppies and more mature dogs, if the mills were closed down. This is simple Adam Smith supply and demand , with the mills (who don't "waste" money on quality food, vet care, genetic screening, etc, nor on showing and performance competitions) able to churn out product at much lower cost and sell at lower price and / or higher profit.
If the dedicated and responsible breeders really want to protect themselves against intrusive legal regulation or abolition, they need to create and publicize (educate the public) Standards of Practice, ie define what a good breeder should do and should not do. These standards must clearly be for the benefit and welfare of dogs they keep and the puppies they produce and of the people who buy those puppies and become guardians of them.
Dedicated breeders who love dogs should be making common cause with rescue people and dedicated shelter workers. Not that there will always be agreement as to details, of course, but there does need to be alliance for the benefit of dogs and against the "evil empire" of the "dark Satanic mills".
By the way we need an established term for dedicated and responsible breeders. I don't think "hobby breeder" is really good, because it downplays the aspect of responsibility for the welfare of others. Collecting stamps or antique clocks is a hobby, building model airplanes or ships in bottles is a hobby. Breeding dogs is a Lifestyle , a Calling, almost a religion. I would go for the term "responsible breeder" as the best single adjective term, but I am surely open to other ideas.
I've written on my web site about why the good breeders should not be blamed for bad breeders, bad owners (dog dumpers), etc. See my article http://dcn.org/~pamgreen/blaming_breeders.html which is a rebuttal to the argument that "buying a puppy means killing a shelter dog". Actually I think that dogs obtained from breeders are a "gateway" to adopting another dog from a shelter or rescue and vice versa that adopting a shelter or rescue dog is a "gateway" to getting another dog from a breeder. Few people have only one dog in their lifetime and many have more than one dog at a time.
Personally, I never scold or shame someone who has bought a puppy from a good breeder. I congratulate them, suggest a few favorite books, and I tell them I am happy that this particular puppy will never need to be rescued because they are this dog's responsible and loving guardians.
See also http://dcn.org/~pamgreen/fanatics.html for a discussion of how the owners' rights / breeders' rights fanatics like NAIA are just as harmful as the animals' rights fanatics like PETA. Fanaticism precludes rational discussion. Extremism breeds bad laws too.
There's a legitimate concern raised in this article about possible disease risks from dogs imported from Third World countries without veterinary exam or quarantine. But the answer would be to impose appropriate exam , quarantine, and / or vaccination requirements. This is not really rocket science. And by the way , the state of art and standards for shelter medicine have come from zero to sophisticated over the last 15 years or so since the first Shelter Medicine program was begun at U.C. Davis School of Vet Med. As to whether there have been any actual cases of Rabies from imported dogs, surely the Centers for Disease Control would be the best place to look for reliable statistics. The travels of Katrina rescues within the US probably has helped spread heartworm, but global climate change has spread heartworm vector mosquitos to a much greater extent.As for those countries where eating dogs is a common practice and sanctioned by the dominant culture, I and many in the US would love to see this abolished (and likewise horse eating), as a matter of deep personal belief . But the dominant culture of India would love to see eating cattle abolished, as a matter of sincere religious belief . The Muslim nations and Israel would love to see pig eating abolished, as a matter of sincere religious belief. But considering that the UN Declaration of Human Rights (and women's rights) is ignored and unenforceable in many parts of the world, I haven't much hope that dog eating is going to be abolished any time soon. Yet anyone who would begrudge any dog someone else manages to rescue from this fate has to be extremely lacking in compassion.