Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Reconsidering my silence

I've been reluctant to add my voice to those in print and the blogosphere that are reporting or just plain talking about the new First Puppy, Bo. But over the past couple of days, a few things have happened that have prompted me to reconsider my relative silence.

First, I've been conversing by email with two Portuguese Water Dog devotees, both of whom I know to be very reasonable, intelligent people. They have polar opposite views of the new attention being paid to their breed. One person views the Obamas' acquisition of a PWD as an opportunity to educate the public about responsible breeders. The other fears that publicly sharing their breed expertise will result in their being harassed by animal rights extremists like these folks.

Second, I received an email yesterday from a person who clearly has yet another point of view. This person decries the fact that the Obamas chose to acquire their re-homed dog from a responsible breeder, rather than from a shelter or rescue group. The email (which I am reproducing without the sender's permission, because she certainly didn't ask my permission before sending it to me and a whole bunch of other people) says, in part:

"Is anyone else as outraged as me? I mean you'd never know given the lack of coverage in the media today. Why isn't this headline news? We need to let it be known what their family has just done. Michele has not kept her word after stating that they would be adopting their pup from a rescue? ... They have just created hundreds of puppy mills. Puppy mills here and most assuredly, around the world ... Don't we have any more reputable, thorough, and unbiased reporters and activists any longer?"

We do. Which is why I respond thus:

1. Activists, by the very definition of the word, are not unbiased.
2. The Obamas' first priority, very rightly, was to find the right dog for their family. Hopefully, they have -- they've certainly done everything right so far. Not only did they take the time to research breeds; they also sent the dog to a trainer using these methods for his initial schooling.
3. Although the Obamas' acquisition of Bo may not have directly saved a life, they've done the next best thing: making a donation to the Washington Humane Society. That donation will certainly go a long way toward making other, less fortunate dogs' lives better.

Lest anyone think that I am completely biased in favor of responsible breeders, let me add another thought. I think that some in the fancy who fear that animal rights extremists want to eradicate not only purebred dogs but also dog ownership in general need to consider ways that they may have inadvertently fanned such extremism. When certain breeds have so many wrinkles on their noses that the hair and folds on those noses cause corneal ulcers (I had to write about that recently. Not fun) ... when another breed's top line is so slanted that the dog looks as though it's squatting when it's actually standing ... when the same sires keep getting used over and over again to the detriment of the breed ... things need to change.

I'm no expert on genetics, even though the subject fascinates me. But anyone who took high school biology with me knows that I had considerable difficulty understanding how Gregor Mendel figured out the genetics of beans; the genetics of dogs are beyond my comprehension for the most part. Fortunately, there are other people who are far more comfortable and conversant with the subject. The solutions that some of them propose -- sensible, careful outcrosses -- make sense to me.


Debi said...

The animal rights activists are always claiming that going with a well bred puppy from a reputable breeder sentences a shelter dog to death. Where is the logic in thinking that not getting a pure bred that is a great match for a family with allergies would directly translate into getting a shelter dog instead? The more likely result would be no dog.

My puppies are placed on spay/neuter contracts and I will take them back for any reason for life. Why does that make me the bad guy?

Susan said...

It only makes you the bad guy to people who compare apples with oranges. Dogs from responsible breeders like yourself generally don't end up in shelters; it's usually the puppy mill dogs and other unfortunates that do. That said, I don't think it's coincidental that so many breed clubs also have active rescue committees; that's certainly true of our local Golden Retriever club.

Anonymous said...

Where do "Puppy Mills" get their breeding stock in the first place?

Susan said...

Good question. What do you think?

Debi said...

I do my best to make sure they don't come from me. Fist of all, I don't ship puppies. New owners (the entire family)must come for an interview when puppies are 5-6 weeks old. Families return each week until the puppies are ready to go to new homes. No one gets registration applications until I receive proof of neutering, and yes, I do call vets and check. I keep in touch with my extended puppy family. I send birthday cards, training tips, updates on feeding, etc. I make it very clear that I am always willing to answer questions and provide whatever help new families need. Most of my families have been on my waiting list for months and we've talked many, many times before they can take a new puppy home

Susan said...

Debi's response epitomizes that of a responsible breeder.

Unfortunately, sometimes even the best of intentions don't work -- such as when owners don't honor the return clauses of their contracts with their puppies' breeders. I know of one breeder who was brokenhearted to find that one of her puppies had grown up and had become a stud at a Missouri puppy mill. The owners had not neutered the dog and had sold him rather than return him to the breeder. The breeder tried to buy the dog back from the puppy mill but was unsuccessful.

Roxanne @ Champion of My Heart said...

I wrote about my disappointment on our blog, and I do plan to write Obama a letter, offering some pointed analogies to express my dismay.

BUT, I'm not nearly as anti-breeder as I used to be when I volunteered at a municipal shelter with a high euthanasia rate.

As I've become more of a handler (vs. an average pet owner), I've met many amazing breeders. I see how much they do for their pups. I see how expensive it is to do well (both in time and money). I see how much they care and stay involved.

So, while I think a key moment is lost, the Obama's solution isn't the worst one in the world. Who among us wouldn't consider a pup that good friends helped find through someone they trust?

And, as you say, they did what was best for their family.

Susan said...

You're right, Roxanne: the Obamas' opportunity to adopt a dog from a shelter or rescue group was lost. But their actions created another opportunity: to help the public differentiate between responsible breeders and those who are not so responsible. When that difference is understood, maybe fewer dogs will find themselves in shelters or in rescue, because fewer people will patronize pet stores and puppy mills. That day couldn't come soon enough for me, much less PWD breeders who are being contacted constantly by puppy brokers and would be pet owners want a PWD now, right now.

I've gotten dogs from responsible breeders, and I've adopted dogs from shelters. I don't think either source is necessarily superior to the other; each offers advantages and disadvantages. What's crucial here, I think, is what both you and I are trying to do: to put aside the hype and hysteria and lay out the facts of not only the Obamas' choice, but also the pro's and con's of each dog adoption option.