Blaming Breeders Indiscriminantly

a totally unjust mode of thought

A most unfortunate and unjust tactic of some very well intended Rescue people is to demonize and blame all dog and cat breeders for the deaths of pets relinquished to the animal shelters. Underlying this blanket blaming of breeders is a failure, a refusal, to distinguish between highly responsible breeders and various other kinds of less desirable and less responsible ones.
In this article I attempt to rebut some of this blanket blame the breeder mindset. I begin with a quote that appeared on a rescue list I am subscribed to, then my reply, then a response I got that assumed that of course I am one of those evil breeders and then my responses to that response.

Don't Blanket Blame Breeders

'Buy One, Get One Killed'
When you buy an animal from a pet store or a breeder, you're responsible for a new member of the family! You're also responsible for the death of an animal in an animal shelter who needed a home. If you want to bring an animal into your life, always adopt from an animal shelter.
             post from someone on a rescue list I subscribe to

I have to say that I think that this kind of GUILT TRIP message is a very deplorable tactic for the shelter rescue movement to use.

For one thing , it equates pet stores and puppy mill or backyard breeders with serious and responsible breeders. Yes, the large scale puppy mills are dreadful, causing untold misery to the parent dogs and all too often selling puppies into homes that are impulsive, ignorant, irresponsible , etc, thus homes that put pups at risk for later discard into the shelter. All too often selling puppies who are unsocialized , have poor temperament, and/or have health problems , thus puppies who will be little joy to their owners however well intentioned. Yes, some of the backyard breeders are just as bad. Yes, we must educate people to refuse to buy from such sources and thereby keep them in business. BUT to assume that every person who breeds dogs is doing it badly is simply inaccurate and unjust.

There are plenty of very responsible breeders out there who breed to sustain and improve their breed or lines in respect of attributes they understand and consider important (which can be health, temperament or working qualities, or appearance/structure) and who carefully socialize every puppy. Breeders who are equally careful to screen and educate every potential buyer, helping them to pick a dog who is well matched to their personality and lifestyle and guiding them to understand the responsibilities of ownership. Helping them to raise that puppy well and educate the pup to be the wonderful dog it was bred to become. Breeders who are wise mentors to those who get dogs from them, and often just as willing to mentor those who got a dog from anyone else or anywhere else. Breeders whose contract demands that if the puppy buyer is ever for any reason whatsoever unable or unwilling to keep that dog, the dog must be returned to the breeder. These breeders will take care of their own , thus their puppies should never land in the shelter unless the owner totally dishonors the contractual commitment. Many such breeders will also rescue dogs of their breed and sometimes other dogs as well. Some are highly expert and gifted trainers who run classes open to anyone who seeks to learn.

For another thing, this approach overlooks that a given pet seeker could have some extremely valid reasons to want or need a pet of a particular breed or genetic selection line. President Obama would be the poster boy for this : he put his priority on his daughter's medical welfare in terms of her allergies ---- and I defy anyone to say that this is morally wrong for him to do. (He also was given the chance to receive a dog whose behavioral qualities had been evaluated by someone he trusted to know the breed well, the late Senator Kennedy.)

Yes, in many breeds you can find a member of that breed in a shelter or in a Rescue somewhere if you are willing to wait and willing to travel , but you need enough dog knowledge to be able to judge temperament. You would have to be willing to wait and travel if you sought a dog from a genuinely responsible breeder too, but the breeder can be a huge help in selecting the right pup. . Those getting a dog through an experienced Rescue will usually get sound advice and help from the program. An experienced Rescue will have evaluated the dog behaviorally and will match-make carefully between dog and adopter. Those getting a dog direct from a shelter may not be getting much help and advice from the shelter ; this can vary greatly from shelter to shelter. Likewise the degree and value of the evaluation performed by the shelter and the quality of match-making can vary a lot. Someone who is a real novice in dogs could rightly feel that they are not qualified to select wisely from a shelter. If the novice does not have the help of a more experienced person to select from a shelter, that novice would be well advised to go to either a Rescue or a really responsible breeder.

Those needing a dog who has a special set of inherited behavior capabilities or working drives probably would be most likely to obtain same by going to a breeder who has a long record of producing those qualities. Those who need to be able to begin early in training a dog for a special purpose have a legitimate need to start with a puppy. However in other cases, it is easier to judge the required qualities in a dog who is already mature or getting there, and in some cases training for a purpose can't begin until the dog is at a stage of mental maturity.

When people seeking a dog of my breed tell me that they are getting or have gotten a puppy from a responsible breeder in my breed, instead of scolding them or GUILTing them, I tell them that I am happy that this particular puppy will never need to be rescued from a shelter because this puppy has a responsible owner. I offer to be available for advice if they ever want it (and that is often why they have called me in the first place, because I am respected as knowledgeable about my breed). and I also suggest that at some future point they might want to consider being a foster home for a rescued dog or consider adopting a rescued dog, preferably one of altered opposite sex to their puppy. I probably should also suggest that after their puppy is at least 4 months old and fully vaccinated (later for parvo succeptible breeds like Rotties) they might consider being a once a week volunteer at their local shelter, which might well benefit them and their own dog by being an opportunity to learn additional training and behavior modification skills. These modes of interaction might also lead to the people later adopting a second dog from the shelter or getting some shelter dogs placed with people they know. Of course I DO discuss the benefits of spay/neuter for the puppy, for the household, and for society at large. THIS puppy will neither land in the shelter nor produce puppies who will land in the shelter. Furthermore, at the very least, I have caused the people to think of me and of Rescue as sane people worth having as allies and friends. The mode of vituperative blaming those who get a nice pup from a good breeder as being responsible for another dog's death will only convince them that Rescue people are insane, fanatics, arrogant, and to be avoided in the future.

Blanket blaming of breeders also makes enemies of many of the responsible breeders. They quite rightly regard such attacks as the attacks of fanatics who are intent on ending all dog breeding. Instead of becoming allies to the Rescue movement, such breeders are forced to become bitter opponents. Responsible breeders should be enlisted as allies to the effort to regulate, reduce, and eliminate the puppy mills and the commercial backyarders. They won't be allies unless they feel safe that their own very well run and very responsible efforts to preserve and protect the continuation of good quality companion dogs , working dogs, and (less to my own taste) beautiful dogs is respected and protected. Right now it saddens me immensely to see that many breeders I respect, breeders who are my rescue collegues in some cases, have become so traumatized by the "animal rights" fanatics that they now view any regulation of animals or animal breeding as being aimed at their destruction.

(note : all the above applies equally to cats and kittens, or many other species of pet , but the calls that come to me almost always center on dogs , usually dogs of my own breed. Those involved in rescue of other critters, you can modify what I've said to fit your own situation.)

Of course we should continue to encourage people to adopt their next pet from a shelter or a rescue group, and we should praise and honor those who do so. But we will be more effective by stressing the genuine benefits to the adopter and to the pet , rather than by guilt tripping the potential adopter or demonizing all breeders indiscriminantly. There are many legitimate advantages to adopting from a shelter or a rescue, but these don't apply equally to everyone and for some the disadvantages outweigh the advantages. . Our advice must be honest and honorable. For some, the needed advice is that on how to distinguish the genuinely responsible breeder from all the rest. Don't forget that if no one ever breeds another litter, in 15 years we will all be living dogless lives.

We do NOT win ourselves allies in the battle to save pets by SHAMING or GUILTING people. that only alienates them and convinces them that we Rescue people are a bunch of NUT CASES or at any rate very unpleasant and hostile people.



part 2 : further discussion with "buy one, get one killed"

I sent a somewhat shorter version of the above arguements to the person who had written the "buy one , get one killed" post. She responded with a remarkable set of assumptions about me. I will

Pam, since you are a breeder, I'm not surprised you feel this way. The bottom line is that for every animal you sell, one does die at a shelter. Millions of animals are purchased every year, millions die in shelters.
          from "buy one, get one killed"

and my own response :

I am NOT a breeder, not for the past 50 years or more. I only do Rescue and have done so now for over 20 years. I do Rescue for Bouvier, for Bouv mixes, for "Bouv Pretenders" (similar in looks and behavior) and occasionally for dogs of related breeds (mostly Giant Schnauzer). Anyone who checked out my site would be able to see this. Anyone who checked out my reputation and history in the Bouv community or Rescue community would know this. (Now it is true that over 50 years ago I did breed a couple of litters of Min Pins, but it was a different world then and every puppy I bred was either kept or went to a friend of myself or my family and lived a wonderful life in that home as a cherished pet.)

But I do have friends who are tremendously responsible breeders, some in my own breed and some in other breeds (mostly other herding breeds). These breeders are ones who select carefully for temperament and trainability (and in some cases for specific working ability and trainability, eg herding , police, search and rescue) and for health (using best tools currently available to them, which is a moving target as more DNA tests become available). To tell these breeders to cease breeding would throw away genuinely valuable lines of dogs that might well be irreplaceable. Additionally I should add that most of these highly responsible breeders are very good at educating every person who contacts them about responsible dog ownership, puppy socialization, reasons not to do casual breeding, etc. Very few to none of their puppies will ever land in a shelter and the education they give to those who contact them will also act to decrease the chances that any other dog those people ever obtain will later be discarded or will produce an accidental or casual litter. These breeders are a force for good. They also breed relatively few dogs compared to the commercial breeders selling via pet stores and internet. And oh yes, by the way, most of the serious responsible breeders DO require S/N for most of the pups they sell ; they require S/N for all sold as pets or considered to be of less than excellent quality. Many will retain a co-ownership on those they consider potential breeding candidates so they will continue to have some influence on the dog's development and on whether or not the dog is ever bred. (Note : for working lines, often it is not possible to properly evaluate the dog's real merit for that type of work until the dog is mature and has had some training. I speak as one with some experience and competition success in quite a variety of working events, including tracking, herding, protection sports , and of course formal obedience).

If the responsible breeders were to be driven out of business or kept from breeding, meanwhile the less responsible breeders selling to pet stores or over the internet would continue on their merry way, being even more financially successful without the competition and education provided by the no longer active responsible breeders. Since these breeding-for-bucks breeders do zero education of their buyers and are more likely to be selling unsocialized or undersocialized puppies and puppies with serious health issues that will become apparant later on, the puppies they sell are at much higher risk of being later discarded into shelters. Worse yet, some of these breeders will require the buyer of a bitch to breed one or more litters that must be returned to the original breeder for sale to other gullible buyers.

You overlook that there will always be people who crave a puppy and some who insist on one (sometimes for quite valid reasons). Do you want them to get an internet puppy or do you want them to get one from a responsible breeder who will continue to act as their mentor as long as they want her to do so ?

Yes, there are puppies in the shelters, some of whom are good pet prospects and some of whom are trouble and tragedy for themselves and for adopters. It depends on what the shelter is willing and able to do so far as foster care outside the shelter environment.

Some shelters even have decent foster programs that will ensure that those puppies get adequate socialization (which they would not get at the shelter) and that they are not exposed to the huge disease risk that they would encounter in the shelter.

But puppies who are actually kept in the shelter from 5 or 6 weeks (or even earlier) onwards to adoption are generally NOT very good adoption candidates for the knowledgeable adopter because of the disease and socialization issues, and they are a big gamble for any adopter as to their adult behavioral qualities and physical attributes.

Also puppies who land in the shelter usually have pre-natal and post-natal care that is every bit as bad as the typical puppy mill and have had as little attention to genetic selection for behavioral qualities and health issues as the typical puppy mill puppy.

Let's not be hypocrits about how glorious it is to get a puppy from the pound rather than taking the effort to find a genuinely responsible breeder of a breed the buyer has carefully researched and found well matched to their own personality, lifestyle, etc and then waited patiently for that breeder's next litter. Let's not be unrealistic about the likelihood that the pound adopted puppy will later be re-cycled back to the pound (same pound or another one) because the pup was obtained cheaply (easy come easy go) and casually or impulsively. Read some of the research on factors affecting risk that a dog will be relinquished to a shelter at some later date.

What I know is that it is absolutely ESSENTIAL to DISTINGUISH between the truely responsible breeders , whether a modest sized minority or a tiny one, versus the commercial breeders.

By the way there is still another category whom I term the "friends and family" breeders who produce one litter from their very nice girl dog who has proven well behaved and well adjusted despite owner's usually limited knowledge of training and behavior and a male of similar qualities owned by themselves or someone they know, with that one litter being earmarked for adoption by their friends and their family members. Such litters are almost always home reared and get extensive socialization because all the friends and acquaintances come over to play with them. Such pups tend to make excellent pets if their people have even a moderate amount of knowledge and put reasonable effort into their upbringing.

Why not rescue cats and dogs from a shelter and sell them? You'd still be making money.
          from "buy one, get one killed"

Since that is exactly what I have been doing for over 20 years, you are not only "preaching to the choir" but (given the influence I've had in my breed and via my web site) you might well be "preaching to the rabbi".

However, like most rescue people, I find it quite impossible to make any money this way. Yes there is an occasional dog on whom I get "black ink" but the majority are "red ink" and some are hugely "red ink" because of need for extensive expensive vet care. See Hazel's story on my site in the Rescue section. She is far from the only one who has needed a lot of special care and who never brought in any adoption fee.

and as to the big bucks a breeder might make. :

I'm not privy to the account books or financial flow of anyone but myself. I've got some info on a few friends. Some of the good breeders I know such as the late Dr Erik Houttuin MD made very good livings from their profession and so were able to sustain as much loss as needed on their breeding. I know that Erik donated a number of his working bred Bouvs to Police departments, his only reward being his huge pride in their success. Others such as Dr Denise Mankin DVM earn a decent living but not enough extra to heavily subsidize a hobby, so they need to limit losses or break even. Some such as my Obed and Rescue mentor, Ellen Haro (Greenfield's Belgian Shepherds) also do (did, she died last year) a great deal of rescue, some for their breed and some for other dogs, so any profits they might make off breeding go to subsidize rescue ; Ellen's husband was a college professor, so they didn't have a bunch of extra income. Ellen ran a lot of dog training classes and did some grooming and some boarding, which probably helped financially to subsidize rescue and breeding.

Maybe there are some CPAs or people working at places like H&R Block who actually know what a large sample of people who breed dogs do or don't make off of their breeding activities.

I do know a lot of breeders who really don't want to know for sure what this hobby is costing them. Likewise a lot of rescue people. I remember one time the receptionist at my vets offered to tell me the total of my billings at that vets that year to date , and in mock-horrified tone I told her "don't you dare !"

Again you have to distinguish the serious hobby breeder from the small scale commercial backyarder or the large scale puppy mill. You are right that some backyarders are making their vacation money off the dogs. The large commercial farms are making better money than the same work and facility could make off some other form of livestock such as chickens.

If you tell me that you want to prolong the line of whatever animals you breed, well that's a bogus argument, too,
         from "buy one, kill one"

It might be termed bogus in regards to those breeding only for beauty show criteria , without regard to any other criteria, if you consider (as I do) that this is a very shallow and inappropriate criteria. But it is NOT bogus in the least for those whose lines were bred for some specific working purpose (eg herding, SAR, police) or were bred with careful attention to behavioral qualities (sound temperament, easy socialbility, good trainability) and/or sound health.

It's very telling that breeders funnel hundreds of thousands of dollars into Petpac
          from "buy one, get one killed"

Equal or greater amounts of money get funneled (by anti-breeding fanatics) into PETA and other organizations whose stated goal is "one generation and out" = ending of domestic animals altogether. Turn em back into the tiny amounts of wilderness that humans have not yet destroyed (with human over-breeding) to compete with the genuinely wild and often endangered species who depend on that habitat for their survival. Never mind that the human-dog symbiosis goes back at least 15,000 years (actually there are more recent archeological finds of dog-shaped , ie non wolf shaped, remains in conjunction with human remains in Belgium dating to 37,000 years ago), It's possibly 150,000 years ago if you believe the mitochondrial DNA evidence. If it really is 150,000 years ago, alliance with proto-dogs could be the reason that CroMagnons prevailed over Neanderthals . (I joke that proto-humans developed spoken language so they could give commands to proto-dogs.

I won't even mention the various scandals about PETA financially or their killing of "rescued" animals.

PETA certainly represents an extremeist and fanatic view. PetPac may well be at least somewhat extreme towards the other end, towards the view that there should be no regulation or legislation concerning dogs and dog breeding or dog welfare whatsoever. Extremeists shouting at one another rarely produce any useful analysis or solutions. It's no longer a potentially productive debate, but just a war of extremes.

I don't know why anyone would buy a purebred dog or cat these day considering the incredible number of genetic problems associated with purebreds
          from "buy one, get one killed"

Anyone doing a deliberate mating of dogs or cats (or anything else, including humans) has the opportunity to use the best current genetic testing technology to reduce risks of genetic disease.

For those diseases that have carrier tests (to detect the heterozygote carrier state) for single gene recessives, it's possible to avoid ever producing an affected dog by avoiding matings in which both parents carry the same delecterious recessive. The Basenji breeders pretty much eliminated a nasty form of anemia some years back when a blood test (not a DNA test) became available. (In humans the existance of carrier tests for some really nasty diseases such as Tay Sachs has been found in recent years to have reduced the incidence of children with such diseases.) However there are other situations in which breeders don't use the tools available.

You are right that inbreeding does increase the chance that an offspring will inherit the same delecterious autosomal recessive from both parents due to both having common ancestry. Any closed population results in some degree of inbreeding, more so if there are a few "popular sires" (ie overused sires) as this reduces the effective population size. However for autosomal dominant genes or for X-linked recessives, the degree of inbreeding doesn't matter.

In contrast, dogs produced by random matings or accidental matings have never been tested for anything. There are plenty of delecterious genes that are common enough in several breeds or even many breeds that random mating is still a big risk. Tested mating can be less of a risk.

Hip dysplasia is a real risk for ALL large dogs except racing Greyhound lines (severe selection against it, plus selection for huge thigh muscles which hold the hip in stability ; both of these are side effects of selection for racing ability). Serious purebred breeders can reduce but not totally eliminate the risk of HD (a polygenic trait, ie many genes affect it, plus a lot of environmental contributions) by use of x-ray screening with OFA or Penn-Hip evaluation of those x-rays. These breeders also advise their puppy people to keep the pups lean and keep their muscles well toned, which environmentally helps reduce risk. (Some also advise vitamin C supplementation as believed to be somewhat protective). the accidental litter or puppy mill or backyard litter has almost always been from parents who were not x-ray screened. But the unscreened Golden mates with unscreened Rottie and their (non-purebred, non-inbred) pups have a worse genetic risk than the pups of a screened parent purebred litter of either breed.

as to cats :

I must say that purebred cat breeding is more of a why-do-it mystery to me than is purebred dog breeding. Except for Siberian cats which genetically lack the protein in their saliva that is the main cause of people being allergic to cats. Anyone who chooses a Siberian for that reason is well justified as it's currently the only way they can have a cat. (but research is going on at UC Davis on this topic , aided by purebred Sib breeders). BUT what is very interesting is that at the Feline Genomics conferences held at UC Davis, led by Dr Leslie Lyon DVM, the purebred cat breeders attending are far more serious about tackling genetic problems in cats and funding research on same than I've observed most purebred dog breeders to be. Of course Dr Lyon is a powerhouse evangelist for feline genetic research. Dr Lyon found and sequenced the gene mutation that is responsible for polycystic kidney disease in cats (common in cats of Persian descent, including random bred descendants), a disease which commonly cuts life expectancy in half but which is not detectable in the young cat, not detectable at usual time of sale, usually no symptoms until cat is several years old and likely has already reproduced (if it is intact). Within about 6 months she had a useable DNA test for this gene which soon became commercially available. Of course this test is more likely to be widely used if people buying or adopting cats refuse to take any cat that has not been tested. This is an autosomal recessive gene that doesn't do it's damage until middle years of lifespan.

So many of things you list, Pam, are very commendable. Good for you! But first and foremost you are selling a dog, which, as I said in the beginning of this, kills a dog at the shelter.  You could have rescued a dog instead and charged the same amount of money that you get for the one you brought into the world.
          from "buy one, get one killed"

I currently (Feb 2010) charge $350 ($400 as of June 2010) adoption fee for my rescued Bouviers (altered and vaccinated). That's a breed where the number of waiting adopters very much exceeds the numbers of available dogs. It's an amount that corresponds to cost of S/N at private vet plus HW test plus vaccinations and maybe also a fecal float. This adoption fee is two to three times what city and county shelters are charging for an altered and vaccinated dog.

To really cover my median costs, I'd need a much higher amount. I'd need to be charging pretty much what the pet stores are charging. For an older animal who often comes with behavioral baggage or health issues. Do you really think that competes with an irresistably cute puppy ? Get real.

Let me know when you find a Rescue that is able to command $1000 and up for its typical rescue dog. and sell me a bridge while you are at it.

Most rescues run on donations to cover the large amount of red ink. A few have one or more leaders who are affluent enough to be their own principal donor.

Most Rescues charge at least twice what the pound charges, often more. So why are people not flocking to the pounds to pick up these wonderful bargain dogs ?

Now of course if pet stores and internet sales were outlawed, then the whole financial picture would shift. I don't see this as likely to happen. If so it would have to be at federal level : little item in the Constitution called the Interstate Commerce clause.

You are right that a lot of the people who come to me to adopt state that they want to "save" a dog. That is great. But some state that they just cannot or don't want to pay what the serious breeders are charging ($1000 and up). That's a red flag to me that these people might not want to spend money on vet care for a dog they already own. (Every vet has horror stories about pets with utterly cureable problems whose owners are unable or unwilling to pay for treatment. In some cases the dog is lucky enough to go to a Rescue instead of going to the Great Kennel in the Sky.) So to those "don't want to pay" people I give a graphic description of finding themselves at 3 am in an Emergency vet clinic with a Bouv with bloat (gastric dilation and volvus) being told that good news is that there is at least a 2/3 chance that the vet can save the dog and it can live a normal life from then on, but bad news is that it will cost several thousand dollars for the vet to do this and that the owner needs to decide in the next 10 or 15 minutes , and oh yeah, if they don't want to have the vet do the surgery, then it's essential to euthanize right now because otherwise the outcome is 100% fatal and it's a horribly painful way to die.

if I only accepted animals already S/N and HW negative and vet checked, $300 would perhaps be a break-even price. And if I am willing to euthanize any animal who becomes seriously ill or has any behavior issues or is in any way going to be hard to place, I could keep losses on those unfortunates down.

You might look at some of the articles I've posted on my site concerning legal reforms that could greatly reduce pet abandonment and death.

I have long advocated statewide or nationwide three tier licencing fees. High fee (more than cost of S/N) for adult dogs who are intact but do not pass a simple training test (AKC's Canine Good Citizen test would be an appropriate standard), about a quarter as much for dogs who are either altered or have passed the training test, and rock bottom minimum fee ($5 or 10) for those who are both altered and pass the training test. This would put the backyard breeders and the large scale breeders out of business. It would NOT put the responsible small scale purpose-minded/breed-improvement-goal breeders out of business, as these people would do the modest amount of training needed and would get their dogs certified.

For cats the three tiers would be highest fee for intact and intact would be required to be 100% indoor/confined (eg kennel run with climb-proof top on it) , moderate fee for altered indoor-outdoor, and minimum fee for altered indoor-only . Maybe also give the minimum fee to bone fide barn/stable cats who are altered, kept for rodent control, and on a farm or stable appropriately zoned.

I've also advocated that all pet stores be required to do pre-sale S/N and micro-chipping and that a legally specified health guarantee be created giving buyers some specified substantial remedies for infectious disease developing within scientifically determined incubation period post sale or genetic disease that would have been preventable through testing available at time the litter was bred.

I've taken a lot of time to respond to your concerns. actually I will probably use these posts as basis for an article to add to my site. I am just as opposed to the demonization of those breeders who are doing their good faith best to use current knowledge to produce lines of pets with good companion pet qualities (behavior and health) as I am opposed to the large and small scale commercial breeders.

(And now, dear readers, you have just read the article that resulted.)

All of this being said, I heartily encourage you to give serious consideration to looking for your next dog or cat at your local shelter or through a Rescue.


Related topics :

site author Pam Green copyright 2003
created 2/21/2010 revised 7/18/2010
return to top of page return to Site Index