Domestic Dogs and Cats
a symbiotic relationship with their humans
Most current legislation (such as California's AB 1634) regarding dog and cat breeding has serious methodological flaws, often written without real evidence as to the sources of the problems addressed and often seeking to regulate or punish the wrong people , but even more serious is the philosophical flaw that these legislations (and their authors) do not respect or ratify the symbiotic (mutually beneficial) nature of a good pet-person relationship. That is not to say that neglectful or abusive relationships don't occur, as clearly they do, but to abolish the pet-person relationship does not make sense for either the pets or the people.
In this article I only address dogs and cats and emphasize that vast majority that are kept as pets, ie for personal companionship. I do NOT address issues of food animal livestock (which generally do not benefit from their domestic condition, unless you consider a short life under poor conditions to be better than never being born at all) nor of horses (which can be cherished companions with a very good life or can be exploited sports livestock with a short and stressful life).
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In addition to the MANY serious FLAWS in AB 1634, there is an over-riding philosophical problem with this bill that makes it TOTALLY ABHORRENT to most sincere and responsible pet guardians. This bill is designed by an author whose avowed goal is to end the symbiotic relationship of people with domesticated dogs and cats.
There is an IRRECONCILABLE DISPUTE between those who see the relationship of pet dogs and cats as being MUTUALLY BENEFICIAL and therefore want this relationship to continue on ever-improving terms (when the humans uphold their end of the "deal") and those who view it as "EXPLOITATIVE" or harmful to the animals and therefore want to end all ownership or custodianship or guardianship of all domesticated animals and either have them turned loose to attempt to survive in the wild or become extinct by forbidding all further reproduction.
Dogs have been in a mutually beneficial relationship with humans for at least 12,000 to 14,000 years as shown by archeological evidence. From the DNA evidence, it may be that the process began ten times that long ago. One theory has it that wolves began to "self select" for tameness (or at least for less fear and less "flight distance") towards humans when they discovered the opportunities offered by human food left-overs. Certainly the fact that dogs have flourished and become widespread while wolves have narrowly escaped extinction would tend to suggest that the relationship with humans has benefitted dogs while the lack of same has not benefited wolves.
In any case, (today in the USA) the relationship between a family pet dog and its human family is normally one of MUTUAL ENJOYMENT. Anyone who watches a dog greeting a human family member after an absence (such as the human going to the mailbox for 30 seconds) can hardly doubt that the dog enjoys the presence of the human Yes, that relationship can go wrong and the humans can be neglectful or abusive or a particular dog become incurably dangerous, but the remedy for that is NOT to eliminate pet dogs but rather to educate humans and legally require them to act in a responsible and beneficial manner towards their dogs and to severely punish neglect and abuse whenever it is found. (One could say in comparison that the relationship of marriage (and similar legally unofficial relationships) can be and should be one of mutual benefit, though the relationship can be exploitative and the divorce rate shows the relationship to fail the needs of one or both participants as often as it succeeds, yet no one is argueing that marriage should be abolished.)
Likewise the relationship between many working dogs and their humans is one of mutual benefit (at least when the human holds up their end of the deal).
But my main emphasis is on pet dogs. Family companion dogs do a marvelous job of keeping their humans happier, healthier , and mentally better balanced while the humans give the dogs companionship and play as well as the mundane necesities of food, shelter, and health care. Some of the health benefits to humans are well proven by research, such as the better survival of heart attack patients who live with any kind of pet. The value of dogs willing work in assisting humans with various disabilities is well known and yet we may only have begun to discover their full abilities in these regards. Because there are so many cases of pet dogs appointing themselves to be seizure warning dogs and to give other forms of handicap assistance, without any consious training from the human involved (though I think the humans almost certainly are giving praise and other rewards when the dog offers these self-invented behaviors), it is clear that the dog is getting some kind of enjoyment out of doing these useful things.
Cats have only been domesticated for a few thousand years, and in some senses are less completely domesticated than dogs are. But there is no doubt that the relationship of house-cat and human family usually is mutually beneficial (when the human keeps up his end of the bargain) and that pet cats keep their people happier , healthier, and more sane than otherwise.
As rodent control in stables and on farms, the cat's services are both enjoyable to the cat and so valuable to humans that there have been societies that have worshipped cats for this reason. (I think worship may be going too far, but the cats think it just barely goes far enough.)
So any piece of pet animal legislation that purports to promote pet animal welfare MUST begin by RATIFYING and AFFIRMING the VALUE and SACREDNESS of the SYMBIOTIC RELATIONSHIP between dogs and humans and between cats and humans. This relationship is to be PROTECTED and PROMOTED, not eroded and abolished.
To that end, any legislation regarding dog and cat breeding or dog and cat sterilization MUST recognize that without responsible breeders there will be no more puppies and kittens with the temperament and behavior qualities to become good pets. Good breeders must be protected, while the not so good ones are discouraged or restricted. A good breeder , defined as one who produces puppies or kittens with the qualities needed to become good pets, is one who raises litters inside the house, socializes them appropriately , and does appropriate basic training (puppy pre-school and kitty kindergarten, if you like those terms) , and who selects parents on the basis of good behavioral qualities and normal health and absence of those genetic health problems that can be detected with current technology. (Note well that current technology will be changing rapidly now that the dog and cat genomes have been sequences. Within another decade or so we can expect to have DNA tests for many of the more serious heritable health problems, rather than the few tests we have today in 2007.)
Now it is just plain impossible to do this kind of rearing for good socialization and pre-school training if one is breeding on a large scale unless one is set up with professional staff and plentiful volunteers to do rearing in the manner that the various Disability Assistance Dog organizations do. Large scale breeding should be presumed to be suspect as not likely to produce happy healthy pets unless it is done as some kind of service dog program and typically these programs are run by organizations that qualify as 501c3 non-profit organizations.
The Legislature must REPUDIATE the view that domesticated dogs and cats should be turned loose into natural habitat or should be made extinct by elimination of all breeding.
Very few dogs have any hope of survival if turned loose into a "natural" habitat. The vast majority would die horribly within the first month and for the rest their lives would become "nasty , brutal, and short".
From the point of view of human welfare, any surviving feral dogs would be a disaster. They would be a reservoir for Rabies that would be more dangerous than the current main reservoirs of skunks and bats. Being better able to prey on livestock than on wild prey, they would be a serious plague on livestock ranches. Having far less fear of humans than a genuinely wild animal, packs of feral dogs would be a very serious danger of attack on children and even on adults. The "big bad wolf" is afraid of humans and avoids them, but the first half dozen generations of feral dogs will be sufficiently unafraid to possibly consider humans as dinner or as competition for territory.
Cats do go feral far more easily but we find we have troubles enough from the already large populations of feral cats. Adding more is a bad idea.
Feral cats are another Rabies reservoir, as well as a reservoir for Toxoplasmosis. Feral cats threaten many bird species that are having a hard enough time surviving. While feral cats may be considered useful in preying on rodent pests, when they do so they are competing with legitimate wild species who need those same prey for their survival. Feral cats tend to displace bobcats and kit foxes and other fox species , as shown by Dept of Fish and Game studies. The following animals (list supplied by a friend who did a search of the scientific literature) are California Endangered species and would all be happy to eat those rodents :
Furthermore there is AN EVER-DECREASING SUPPLY OF "NATURAL HABITAT" due to the EVER-EXPANDING HUMAN POPULATION. This destruction of natural habitat by humans is the most serious threat to the survival of legitimate wild species, with the pollution and climate changes caused by human populations also being a serious threat. (Not to mention those species that have been exterminated by human predation, ranging from passenger pigeons and dodos to the near-extermination of wolves.)
So if those who think domesticated animals should go back to their natural habitats were sincere , they would begin by spaying and neutering themselves or rather they would refrain from producing any children and would leave their land or money to any of the natural habitat preservation trusts. They would be seeking limitations on human breeding and would be seeking reduction in human population sizes. (Note : reduction of human population sizes is desirable for many reasons, but turning dogs and cats back into wild animals is NOT one of those reasons.)
Please do NOT legislate about dogs and cats without FIRST doing a lot more rational analysis of where the real problems are coming from and when (IF) you do legislate remember to include a Preamble that AFFIRMS THE MUTUALLY BENEFICIAL RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN PETS AND PEOPLE . Design any legislation to PROTECT those relationships that are knowledgeable and responsible as well as loving and to protect the activities of those breeders who are properly attentive to producing pets of good behavioral qualities and good physical health.