Thoughts on breeding: readers respond, part II

Dogs of all ages are available for adoption.

Several weeks ago, as part of my series on the No Kill movement, I posted an article questioning how breeding dogs and cats can be a responsible act. At least at this time, when millions of animals languish in shelters, 10,000 of whom are put to death every day. The article was met with such strong reaction, I posted a follow-up entry highlighting readers’ comments and my responses.

Weeks later, the debate still rages on. And I do mean rage, so I’ve decided to devote one more column to the topic in hopes of fostering a respectful discussion.

First, I want to acknowledge the readers who pointed out that many breeders are stanch animal advocates, often volunteers and donors to rescues and shelters. I applaud that whole heartedly. Of course, that doesn’t mean I have to agree with all the decisions they make. We can agree that loving animals, volunteering, donating time and resources are all positive actions, but disagree about the value of breeding dogs and cats at this time.

No matter what your view is, let’s keep talking. Communication is crucial to solving this problem.

Several readers wrote to say that the option to buy a certain type of animal is very important, and that there will always be a demand for purebred puppies. I very much understand where that comes from, as I too have my favorite breeds. Choice is generally a good thing.

But philosophically, I’m in a different place. I don’t agree that we have to meet that demand — at least not now in our current crisis situation. Puppies aren’t like personal pan pizza, made to order, with little going to waste. For starters, they don’t pop out one at a time. Litters yield unpredictable quantities — there’s unavoidable “excess.” And even if you could produce just one at a time, is it acceptable to continue producing when so many are in need?

Perhaps another unpopular thought: I don’t believe people have a right to a particular kind of dog. I get that that’s not very American, not very freedom of choice, but neither is the death penalty for an innocent animal. I’m not talking about eliminating all choice — there will still be literally millions of animals available in almost every age and breed — I’m just talking about making a dent in the amount of suffering.

With that, the latest reader comments — and my responses:

Brent said:

“17 million people are looking for a new pet every year, but only 8 million animals end up in the shelters. So where are the other 9 million to get their pets — even if we adopted them all from the shelters right now? Even right now, with the number of pets killed in our shelters annually, we would HAVE to breed pets in order to meet the demand.”

My response:

I think right now, the statistic we need to be most focused on is the 4 million animals being put to death in shelters each year. I realize there will always be people who only go to breeders to acquire a pet. But I also believe there are many people who go to breeders simply because it seems like a good idea or because they really don’t know or it hasn’t occurred to them that they can get an equally as rewarding companion from a shelter. It’s our job, at this point, to educate potential dog and cat owners about the great animals available there, including puppies and purebreds.

Truly, I can’t wait for the day when we have no available shelter animals. When 9 million people are turned away from shelters because there are no animals to adopt, I will be the first one to praise responsible breeders. But in the meantime, shelter stats as they are, I believe the right thing to do is stop adding to the population of companion animals.

Anonymous said:

You can raise hackles and play the blame/shame game all you want but it’s going to be a disappointing life. You will never, ever, eliminate the tradition of purebred dogs in this country so you might as well come to terms with it. There are legions of breeders you call irresponsible–along with the owners who buy from them–who volunteer enormous numbers of hours and amounts of personal resources to rescue, cleaning up the messes of others and saving dogs just like you do. They make up a huge army of volunteers in this country and work in many ways for the welfare of all dogs as well. How about if they stopped all those efforts? Would that make you happy? Prove a point for you? Then you’d be left fighting the real irresponsible breeders and careless pet owners all by yourself. These wild, fantastic statements and accusations do nothing but provoke and alienate, waste and drain energy, and steal time away from the animals about which you profess to care.

My response:

Why would abstaining from breeding — at least until this epidemic is under control — mean abstaining from volunteering or donating money and resources? You can do one without the other. Let’s breed all the Scottish Deerhounds and Boxers and Shih Tzus we can when we have waiting lists of people wanting a companion animal. Until then, let’s — all of us concerned about animal welfare — work together to end the misery, boredom, and loneliness for so many shelter dogs and cats.

Jordan said:

“I dont like the fact that it is stated in the article that people should stop breeding because they are adding to the shelters…. animals are being added to the shelters because of irresponsible owners. These people should not given a pet at all.”

My response:

Yes, it’s the responsibility of the owner to care for any animal he or she has bought or adopted. But I do think everyone involved in intentionally bringing life into the world plays a role in the issue. Why not, at least temporarily, focus on finding homes for those who desperately need them rather than creating more animals to find homes for?

So am I suggesting that we provide fewer options for people looking to acquire a new dog or cat? Or that because some irresponsible owners have helped create a devastating situation in this country, responsible owners need sacrifice a certain amount of choice?

Yes.

Perhaps that’s not fair to responsible owners. But what’s going on right now is infinitely less fair to those who have absolutely no choice. Moreover, some people — maybe not all, but certainly some — would turn to adoption if breeder puppies were not available, thus helping to alleviate our shelter crisis.

Jordan goes on to say:

“It also makes me wonder if the author feels that people should stop having babies as well… I mean there are millions of orphans in the world that need homes and are not getting homes because people want their own baby. I think it very much is the same thing with animals. People want to pick out their own puppy because its there family…. just like people want to have their own baby. If you dont think people should stop having babies, then I thinks its wrong to say that breeders should stop breeding. After all, people are more important than pets.”

My response:

You’re not the first person to bring up the idea that dog breeders are no different than human breeders. But I have a few issues with the analogy, among them:

  • The vast majority of people do not have babies to sell or give away. The goal is usually to keep them and raise them themselves. Breeders, however, do so with the intent of finding homes other than their own for the animals.
  • We are not actively killing 10,000 children a day. And, great efforts are being made, both domestically and around the world, to discourage people from having more children than they can care for.
  • At a certain point in their lives, humans are generally able to take responsibility for themselves and exist without the aid of guardians. Dogs and cats, less so. We are morally bound to keep them in our homes and provide for them their entire lives.

I know more people are going to agree with the commenter than with me on this, but I have to come clean: I don’t think people are more important than animals. Just as important maybe, but not more. I don’t think people deserve to suffer less than animals. I don’t think because we’re stronger (in some cases) or “smarter” or evolved with opposable thumbs that we are intrinsically better than other animals.

In fact, I believe we have a responsibility to protect, rather than exploit or harm them. Too animal rightsy for many, I know, but I would apply the same logic to humans. Just because one is stronger, smarter, or wealthier than the guy down the street, it doesn’t mean one should treat him any less respectfully or compassionately.

To bring this full circle and to state again for the record: Breeders are not puppy millers. That’s not — never was — my argument. My stance is simply: There are better ways to improve the chances for shelter animals than adding puppies and kittens to the population. At this time, when 10,000 adoptable dogs and cats are put to death each day, the focus must remain on spay/neuter, adoptions, and education, not increasing the number of animals who need homes. Homes that could go to a rescue animal.