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…

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)

The Power of Face to Face

Had a wonderful time at a small, specialty conformation show this weekend. Enjoyed reconnecting with my “tribe” of breeders, exchanging news, ribbing each other, bantering about our dogs, our hormonal states, our children and what wormer seemed to work best with that last litter of puppies. In the familiar bustle of preparation ( hurry up and wait!),  the laughter and the borrowing of shears and spray bottles, it was easy to overlook the newcomers hovering by themselves ringside and tentatively wandering through our set up areas. Occasionally, some – braver than others – would come up and introduce themselves and ask about puppies or club information. Most watched quietly from the wings and finally wandered off back to the agility rings or their cars.

In retrospect, I realize we, both as a club and as individual breeders, missed an opportunity to connect with interested potential puppy buyers, those new to our breed  and those just curious about the games breeders play. There they were – standing there – wide open to an invitation to join our “tribe” or at a minimum to feel less alienated from breeders as a group ( our image could surely use a face lift).

And we blew it – we let an opportunity  to educate, inform and connect pass by.

An opportunity for the public to meet local, ethical, reputable breeders face to face.

An opportunity for the public to actually pet the breeding stock they might then choose to get their next puppy  from.

It’s these kinds of opportunities that brokers and puppy mills don’t have. This is where our strength lies. This, our local presence, is what we need to capitalize on if we are going to try to help keep pet breeding out of disreputable hands. And dogs out of shelters.

So, given how busy we are at shows, how much we enjoy catching up with each other, how distracted by the competition and the camaraderie we are – is there a way we can do a better job of not leaving the public feeling like outsiders at our events?  Continue reading

What, No Puppies?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I just added the text below to the “Available Puppies” page on my web site because I won’t have pups till the Fall. Potential puppy “people” clicking on our available pages are really seriously looking. They need their next step to be a click away – preferably in the right direction! I added the URL’s directly for the breeder’s directories ( not the home page) of clubs I am associated with, so clients don’t get frustrated wading through the club news and event calendars that we often feature most prominently. I don’t want to lose them back to Google and a broker…  Continue reading

Rescue and the Spigot

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Just want to say this now, before we get too far into this discussion – I am not a purebred, bought from a breeder snob. I have spent my whole professional life working with the owners of all sorts of dogs and although I happen to be smitten with the  purebreds I breed, I do not believe (other than some level of predictability) they make any better or worse pets than crossbred dogs. I am not, by any stretch, anti rescue. I think homeless animals need to be rescued, but I do not think rescue efforts alone can turn off the spigot that keeps filling shelters.

As dedicated, ethical breeders, I do believe that we can help to reduce the flow on that spigot, by carefully placing dogs, offering support and providing a safety net for the dogs that we breed. Most of us already do a pretty good job of that, but I think we can do it even better. We have a responsibility to do so. It’s like rescue from the other end – prevention.

I don’t have the answers, just some ideas that I know will take quite a bit of fleshing out and tweaking before we know if they are even implementable. More next time…