Thursday, January 6, 2011

In which I get into dog politics

As I mentioned yesterday, one of my friends just bred her dog. She asked me if I thought she was a bad person for breeding her (far from show quality) boxer, and I didn't know what to say.

I have strong but mixed feelings on dog breeding.

Both Bailey and my childhood dog Kahn were adopted from our local (kill) animal shelter. I intentionally chose to adopt mixed breed dogs both times (yes, even as a seven-year-old). For one thing, purebred dogs are more likely to be plucked out of kill shelters by rescue groups and I wanted to save a dog from euthanasia; for another, Bailey and Kahn were exceptionally cute. I also felt that mixed breed dogs had some advantages over purebred dogs.

I will be the first to admit that my anecdotal evidence is not valid scientific evidence. However, I will say that Kahn was exceptionally healthy for a large dog: he was 16 when he got arthritis and had to be put to sleep. Aside from a bee sting (which cleared on its own before we could get him to the vet), he never had a single health problem before the arthritis. Bailey just turned 8; although he has a nervous stomach and some allergies, he is an otherwise very healthy large dog with great joints and teeth, and is routinely mistaken for a 1- or 2-year-old puppy. I believe both dogs benefited from hybrid vigor.

On the other hand, both Kahn and Bailey grew much larger than predicted by the animal shelter. Both times, we thought we were getting 30-40 pound dogs, not 65 pound miniature ponies. We had no idea what to expect of their temperaments, coats, or exercise requirements. (Since both dogs were what my old vet Dr. Hot referred to as "a mix of every type of dog you'd expect to jump a fence in [a questionable Austin neighborhood]", we should have probably expected the following: strong prey drives, athleticism, and exceptional guard dog abilities.) Both dogs grew double coats that were not ideal for the allergy sufferers in my family. There were times when unexpected problems (Bailey's worship at the altar of non-stop barking, unexpected small animal aggression issues in both dogs, questions about whether mixed breed dogs by their very nature violate homeowners insurance rules against pit bulls) made us question whether or not we ever should have gotten dogs in the first place.

My experiences owning Bailey as an adult and helping raise Kahn as a child led me to my current position on dog breeding and adoption:

  • The ideal first dog is an older dog from a shelter or rescue group. You won't have to worry about its personality changing or it suddenly growing a double coat. Frequently, older dogs have had some (or lots of) training. Older dogs are (generally) a lot less work, and a lot easier for beginners. (Yes, they love you just as much. OMG. Seriously.)
  • Since just about everyone will ignore that advice (because OMG puppiez!!)(I am also guilty), I think there are two other good options:
  1. Research dog breeds that suit your lifestyle (think 10 years from now, not just 10 minutes) and buy a puppy from a reputable breeder.
  2. If you are a bit more flexible in terms of your requirements, adopt a puppy from your local animal shelter.
  • Please don't get a purebred dog from a breeder on the side of the road. Please don't get a puppy from a friend-of-a-coworker who "forgot" to get her dog spayed. While I'm sure both are probably perfectly nice people, they are contributing to the problem of unwanted dogs in shelters. Please, please don't buy a dog from a pet store.
  • Unless you know what you are doing and have an exceptionally healthy, high-quality, purebred dog, your dog needs to be spayed or neutered. The dog will be healthier and you will be saner. Bob Barker would thank you. Don't breed your purebred dog unless you have prearranged, well-screened homes for the puppies.
All of this is a long-winded way of asking you, Internets, how I should tell my friend I think she's made a terrible decision? How to I (gently) advise her against breeding her dog again?

"Millie" has always been a fairly responsible dog owner (aside from not spaying her dog). She loves her dog the way we should all love our dogs, and takes excellent care of her. I have no doubt that the puppies and mama dog will get proper veterinary care, and that Millie will do her best to try to find good homes for the pups. On the other hand, Millie's giving one of the puppies to her brother, who is notorious for keeping dogs until they are no longer puppies and then losing them or giving them away. She's also not entirely sure that she has homes for the other puppies.

I am not allowing myself to meet the puppies, because I'm afraid that with our new big backyard and Abe's love of boxers, we'll end up with one. I am not immune to puppy kisses.



Anonymous said...

I think once she realizes that she can't get rid of the puppies she will probably stop. I mean, it's great to pawn them off on family and friends, but how many times can you do that? I almost sounds like she's trying to impose them upon friends. Which is no bueno. Growing up I always had police dogs (my dad was a cop) and they were typically pure bred German shepherds, which meant they all had horrible hips and all sorts of other inbred problems. I understand breeding for the cases of needing a certain breed (police, fire, rescue work) but saying that, I also know most mix breeds can be trained well for that too.

I think it's a huge shame when someone takes on such an undertaking, because it does take quite a bit of effort to breed dogs, but there are so many other lovable dogs out there who need someone to love.

PS - a friend of mine in the Austin area has an adorable mutt that she has to give away bc she is moving, so if anyone is interested, please contact me!!

Kim said...

A-TO-THA-MEN, SISTA! I couldn't agree with you more. I will ALWAYS adopt from shelters or rescues. Always. Period. I used to think it was fun that my aunt and uncle sometimes bred labs, but now I realize that they, too, are backyard breeders.

My whole thing is, with the pet population as it is, and good pets being put down every single day because they can't find homes for them, WHAT IS THE USE IN BREEDING MORE DOGS? I get the really reputable championship breeders. But most breeders don't fit this bill.

People don't realize what they're getting into when they start backyard breeding. They think they can sell the pups for a cheap penny and move on. They don't factor things like veterinary care and the time and money involved in finding homes, let alone GOOD homes.

I think you should definitely say something. Maybe in person, but maybe by e-mail. Just caution her and give her some good information on why being a BYB is a bad idea. If she needs the cash, it isn't a great moneymaker. If she needs the affection, there are plenty of dogs out there already that need affection.

If you want me to read the e-mail before you send it or to bounce ideas off of me, let me know. I'd be glad to help.

Hillary said...

This makes me really sad. Your friend is being really irresponsible. I'm sorry. I don't mean to sound judgey. I should probably stop before I start to rant. I just hope those puppies (and puppy mama) don't suffer because of Millie's horrible decision (seriously - not spaying or neutering a pet? Who does that?!)

Crystal said...

Hi there,

Just found your blog and think it's great :)

I totally agree with Hillary. This is very sad for me and I think it's very irresponsible for anyone to backyard breed. Dogs are not toys, nor will they stay "cute chubby puppies" for long. Backyard breeding is for selfish people who have no regard for animal welfare or pet populations, in my opinion.
I hope your friend won't go through with it.

To be honest though, I DID get my dog from some random lady in the North of France and he's a mixed breed. He had a ton of health problems and the trashy breeder asked me to take him home at 5 weeks. I couldnt let him suffer with her, so I did. He required expensive surgery at 6 weeks old and I had to bottle feed him. A lot of other people wouldn't have taken the time or the money to do so because these kind of puppies are seen as "throw aways". I cant save all the backyard bred puppies, but I made my dog's life a much better one than what he would have had.

Sorry for the long winded comment, but it's a subject that I'm particularly passionate about!

angelasw said...

I also agree with Hillary. There are far too many dogs and puppies sitting in shelters, pounds, and kill-shelters for something like this to be responsible or ethical. Our dog is an adopted stray purebred and he is wonderful; pretty much the greatest dog ever. My youngest sister's dog is a living room love child mutt and he's wonderful. Dogs and puppies are living things, animals, not commodities or cute, fuzzy objects.

*end rant*

ps: love your post!

Deidre said...

It's such a hard thing to tell a friend that you don't support their choices.

I think you'll probably have to word it much like you did in this post "You're a great dog mama and the relationship you have with your puppymama is great, but ....." and then list your concerns."

good luck!

mrs.notouching said...

I couldn't say it to my friend.. not into her face, cause I am such a chicken... maybe she can read this? Because it really is not ok.

Unknown said...

I try to keep my yapper shut about other people's business, but dog breeding really really REALLY bothers me and I always end up saying something passive aggressive to people with new purebred puppies like, "Oh, did he come from a pure breed rescue? No? I've heard about those. They're great, but I adopted my mixed breed adult dog from a rescuer and I call him my first born but he's slowly dying from lymphoma so now take him to expensive chemotherapy treatments with a veterinary oncologist every two weeks even though I have two human children in diapers. Where'd you find your breeder?"

I know. I'm just letting my love for dogs justify being a total asshole. And that said, there's a family down the street who bought two Chihuahua puppies as a gift to their 3yo daughter to celebrate her potty training(!). Within a few months they'd given them to the L.A. pound where they were likely killed. I never said anything. I just seethe when I see them.