Organic, Pasture Raised Puppies?

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Watched the movie Farmageddon last night. Could not help but compare the “one size fits all” legislation that threatens local, family farms with recent legal developments in the world of small scale dog breeders. USDA regulations aimed at high volume agribusiness ( this includes puppy mills) must be reformatted for the very different business model of small, local farmers ( and dog breeders). These commercial and local businesses produce the same “product” – eggs, milk, spinach, puppies – in name only. That’s where the similarities end.

Puppies raised on a scale small enough to allow individualized handling, appropriate exercise, and healthy social lives are as different from puppy mill dogs as is fresh produce found at the farmer’s market from the trucked in variety found at the big box stores. Regulations and prices appropriate for “Big Ag” are just not scalable for small farms and breeders alike. They are not the same business model. Not the same relationship with the consumer. Not the same experience or end product. Ultimately, a different endeavor altogether .

It has never been more important for ethical dog breeders to distinguish themselves as an entirely different “industry” from high volume operations. The public are increasingly swayed by the animal rights extremist rhetoric of all breeders as exploitative. Fighting onerous government regulations on a legal level is certainly an important part of preserving our ability to breed dogs, but not everyone feels called to advocacy. There is much that breeders as individuals can do – even without traveling to the courthouse. Setting ourselves apart from disreputable breeders is vital.

Becoming more visible in our own communities as approachable and knowledgeable is an important part of demonstrating what an ethical breeder is about. Volunteering at our local shelter, nursing home or rabies clinic would serve to open up opportunities for (constructive!) discussion and connection. Offering to teach a mini segment on dog care at the local elementary school or summer camp helps the public experience hobby breeders as human, reasonable and community oriented neighbors. We must become creative in finding ways for the public to understand the difference and the value of local, qualified breeders. It is this public, these neighbors, that will be ultimately drive how ( and if) we pursue our passion.

15,000 Puppy Owners Didn’t Find Us…

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Commercial dog breeders from Amish community speak out at Elkhart County Plan Commission.

This is a pretty routine article about commercial, large scale breeders but I post it here because the last bit caught my eye…

In Elkhart County there are at least thirty commercial breeders that are registered with the U.S.D.A. By state law a commercial breeder is a person with at least 20 unaltered female dogs, who sells at least 500 dogs a year. Commercial breeders are required to register with Indiana State Board of Animal Health.

My math puts that at 15,000 puppy buyers that weren’t served by small scale hobby breeders. The desire is apparantly out there. Ethical, hobby breeders must be more accessible to those looking for a puppy. Networks of local, qualified breeders, visible in their communities would provide buyers not just with a new puppy, but also with education, support and a safety net should that pup ever need to be re-homed. We must take pride in our roles as the go-to source for pups. Preventative rescue…

Dogs are Good for You – Go Figure…

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Talk about a "feel good" moment!

Pet Therapy: How Animals And Humans Heal Each Other : Shots – Health Blog : NPR.

The evidence continues to mount for what we all already know – being with a dog feels good. Just underscores the importance of the dog as companion and points to the focus ethical breeders must have on the pet puppy and its people. More important all day long than a 5 point major! And the sense of satisfaction lasts a lot longer…

Local Network of Artisan Breeders….

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In a recent email commenting on what the writer saw as my artisanal approach to dog breeding (local, small scale, expert) she posited “Why can’t we do for dogs what we’ve done for bread?”. I looked up artisanal and came up with this definition:

“Artisanal” indicates something that is hand-crafted in small batches with a great amount of care that is not industrialized in any way, shape, or form.  The making or crafting of a particular good or service is viewed as high art, and it should be carefully treated as such”

Great way to frame the work of the hobby breeder…

The Local Dog Breeder, Reinterpreted

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Well raised pups make the best pets

I wrote this article ( The Local Dog Breeder, Reinterpreted) for the most recent Australian Shepherd Journal. I’m posting it here for anyone who is interested. It essentially synopsizes my thinking about how hobby breeders can be an even more potent force at helping to keep shelter numbers down…

The following are some quotes from the article.

We have an image problem. The purebred dog and its breeders are in trouble. Animal rights activists, in their purported efforts to reduce the numbers of dogs in shelters, are pointing an accusatory finger at all purebred dog breeders. They make no distinction between mass producers, backyard operations and hobby breeders. They are waging a war for the hearts and minds of the public and gaining ground each year…

…in spite of all the energy, time, money and commitment the majority of us hobby breeders put into doing this breeding thing the right way, the public’s perception of us continues to erode. We are increasingly being painted with the same brush as puppy mills and the likes of Michael Vick. We are alternately puppy factories and dog show snobs…

…The propaganda has worked its magic on us as well as the public. We have internalized the notion that reputable breeders do not breed pets and our message to the public often reflects that. Our blame lies only in having allowed unscrupulous breeders to dominate the pet market. Imagining we are doing the right thing, we have actually stepped away from being part of the solution…

…Historically hesitant to market ourselves as professionals in the area of pet breeding, we fear being seen as “in it just for the money.” Stepping away from this responsibility is not a principled answer. This is a stretch for most of us, allergic as we are to the idea of breeding pets in any deliberate way. We cringe at the very suggestion that we focus our breeding programs on the pet market, but we must. We owe it to the dogs. They deserve to be born and raised in capable, humane hands…

…If we can harness just some of the ribbon chasing determination of thousands of highly motivated, educated, ethical breeders and redirect it towards chasing accolades for accomplishments that would benefit the pet market, we would have an inextinguishable force that redefines pet breeding and helps keep dogs out of shelters at the same time…

Read the complete Local Dog article here.

FurBaby Evolution ?

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I know what MY puppies would do to this pink crib/crate bumper set...

Where does this Furbaby, Pet Parent thing come from?

What causes humans to anthropomorphize to such a level that it seems caring and right to line dog beds with pink appliqued baby bumpers instead of clean straw? To project their own emotions, culture and interpretations onto domesticated animals? According to pet industry surveys, just over half of pet owners will buy their pets a Christmas present this year. While I’m quite sure dogs enjoy novel stimuli and interaction as much as anyone, I feel pretty sure they still have a religious belief structure that does not yet embrace Christmas! Advertisers, having already conquered our children, have turned to our pets in the hopes of wresting yet another dollar out of our pockets. Given the FurBaby climate, I’m sure we’ll all be a bit poorer soon!

What is it about dogs that turns us so mushy?

The lead article in last Sunday’s New York Times magazine , entitled “Can the Bulldog be Saved?” shines some light. It was, generally,  a rather predictable discussion of how damaging breeding for extreme traits is to purebred dogs ( I must agree), but the bit of the article I found relevant to the Furbaby issue is this comment by a Bulldog owner:

…the breed brings out a particularly strong parenting instinct in many people. “Even as adults, bulldogs look almost infantile — like plump little babies,”

It was followed by this from James Serpell, the director of the Center for the Interaction of Animals and Society at the University of Pennsylvania.

Serpell says that our human tendency toward anthropomorphic selection — which he defines as “selection in favor of physical and behavioral traits that facilitate the attribution of human mental states to animals” — is partly responsible for the modern bulldog’s predicament.“We have, to some extent, accentuated physical characteristics of the breed to make it look more human, although essentially more like caricatures of humans, and specifically of children,”

Interestingly, the author goes on to observe:

Advertisers and animators have long recognized that giving an animal big eyes and a big head is a surefire way to endear it to humans. When Walt Disney created Bambi, the studio wanted the character to be an accurate depiction of a deer. But when the original Bambi sketches were deemed not “cute” enough, Disney shortened Bambi’s muzzle and made his head and eyes bigger.

I have often noted that it seems as soon as a breed splits into working and companion lines, the muzzles shorten, backskulls broaden and limbs thicken. The tendency towards neonatal traits often includes lower set ears, larger eyes and a more dependent personality. A study on the domestication of the Silver Fox introduced an intriguing discussion on the possibility that the gene mutation that allows domestication ( not all animals have it) carries with it the genes for these more juvenile body types – a domestic phenotype, if you will.

These excerpts from a National Geographic article on the domestic Fox farm research project encapsulate the idea

Domesticated animals are known to share a common set of characteristics, a fact documented by Darwin in The Variation of Animals and Plants Under Domestication. They tend to be smaller, with floppier ears and curlier tails than their untamed progenitors. Such traits tend to make animals appear appealingly juvenile to humans. Their coats are sometimes spotted—piebald, in scientific terminology—while their wild ancestors’ coats are solid. These and other traits, sometimes referred to as the domestication phenotype, exist in varying degrees across a remarkably wide range of species, from dogs, pigs, and cows to some nonmammalians like chickens, and even a few fish.

Fascinatingly, researchers working on the domestication project found that…

 Selecting which foxes to breed based solely on how well they got along with humans seemed to alter their physical appearance along with their dispositions. After only nine generations, the researchers recorded fox kits born with floppier ears. Piebald patterns appeared on their coats. By this time the foxes were already whining and wagging their tails in response to a human presence, behaviors never seen in wild foxes.

Some domestication researchers believe all these changes are linked solely to the gene mutation, while others point to what they believe is the unavoidable influence of the human handlers in choosing future breeding stock for the project.

Why do we see these physical changes so drastically in the dog and less so in other domesticated animals? In a 2004 Nova article, A Potpourri of Pooches,  I found this explanation…

Another part of the reason is that dogs’ bodies, particularly their skulls, undergo a major transformation between newborn and adult. (The skulls of newborn cats, by contrast, are already of adult proportion, which, along with less zealous breeding, may be one reason why the domestic cat is not nearly as motley as its household nemesis.) These physical changes are wrought by genes turning on and off at different times. By toying with the timing of nasal growth and other stages of development, breeders have engineered an assortment of canines worthy of the creative powers of Maurice Sendak.

While I have no issue with breeds being developed both mentally and physically to best suit their jobs, it is clear we have to be vigilant to avoid extremes that may compromise quality of life. I think this must include special attention to understanding and respecting what comprises a normal, healthy social and behavioral life for our pets. It just may include snoozing under the porch and rolling in deer poop –  which does do such a number on those cute pink dresses, darn!

Fur Baby – Not!

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Aaaaahhh! This “furbaby” thing drives me crazy!

I'd rather be eating something yucky...

Furry Babies, Inc is a pet store chain that capitalizes on our loving yet frequently confused relationships to our dogs. Furry Babies, Inc. keeps its puppies not in crates, mind you, but in baby cribs set up all over the pink, nursery themed store. You will go home with your ribbon bedecked “bundle of joy”. Last but not least, their financing plans will also actually help you build/repair your credit ( talk about one stop shopping!).

The stylist prepared puppy photos show wide-eyed puppies, dressed in frilly tutus, sophisticated dinner jackets and lil’ slugger t-shirts. The “babies” are surrounded with seasonally appropriate pumpkins and gourds and accessorized with orange bows and hats. As my nausea abated, my indignation grew…

who says we confuse babies and pets?

Dogs are not babies. While I’m a big believer that the job of dogs as family pet is important and valid, framing that role as nothing more than a furry, human child does only damage. This infantilization of dogs is a not only a disservice to them, it is a danger. Treating dogs like little furry babies completely disrespects the needs, proclivities, and perspectives of their own culture. We humans have a strong tendency to look at other peoples, species and cultures through our own rather limited lenses. We seem to need to assign our own attributes to those that are “other” so we can relate to, understand and sometimes even control them.

Am I human enough?

Our relationship to pet dogs is complex. We no longer view them as livestock yet, even though they are dependant on our care and companionship, they are not our children either. Our default response to them – a confusing mixture of Furbaby ( the word itself illustrates the conflict) caretaking, expectations for Lassie loyalty and Rin-Tin-Tin bravery. That the domestic dog ends up with any grasp on sanity is a testament to their remarkable adaptability and resilience.

As a child, one of my favorite movies was Francois Truffaut’S “L’enfant Sauvage” ( The Wild Child), a true story about the attempted “domestication” of a boy who had been raised (by wolves?) in the forest. I’m reminded of that child’s despair and confusion as he was “helped” to become a “civilized human” when I watch some of our domesticated dogs try to make sense of our culture with its alien social norms, rules and customs.

While we are all love our human babies (well most of the time! ), one of the big shocks of parenthood is how unlike the Hallmark card bliss and sweetness babies really are. There are days ( weeks?) that Bundle of Joy thing can be pretty elusive! This same shock and unpreparedness comes to puppy owners who have been similarly misled about the realities of puppy rearing ( put a gun to my head – I WILL not say Puppy parenting!). While there were days I thought I might need a shelter to take my kids to ( just kidding, C. and D. – I love you!), shelter relinquishment is sadly all too often the “solution” for  frustrated puppy owners who had no idea what they were getting into. We do dogs no favors when we allow them to be portrayed as something they are not. This leaves their owners unequiped to provide their pets with species appropriate handling, communication and expectations. The result is, in my opinion, tantamount to cruelty.

The Furry Babies, Inc. puppies don’t know the difference between a crate and a crib. They, no doubt, find tutus and ribbons useful chew toys. Their parents likely spend their lives in high volume breeding facilities where they endure, at the other end of the spectrum, an equally damaging of lack of respect for the culture of dogs.

“The animal shall not be measured by man. In a world older and more complete than ours, they move finished and complete, gifted with extension of the senses we have lost or never attained, living by voices we shall never hear. They are not brethren; they are not underlings; they are other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time, fellow prisoners of the splendor and travail of the earth.” Henry Beston, naturalist & author (1888 – 1968)