Monday, June 1, 2009

Style Over Substance

Make no mistake; things are changing in our life with dogs. New laws are coming and they are heading our way. Initially, “animal-limit,” “breeder-restriction” and “mandatory spay-neuter” legislation was successfully passed on city and county levels. Now, it is sweeping the country in state-wide initiatives. This week, such a bill will go before the full California State Senate. If it passes, with a few exceptions, all dogs must undergo pediatric sterilization. And if you are partnered with a dog who is an exception, you can be permanently denied the right to ever be again if you are cited for any of a number of local ordinances such as: Allowing a dog to bark, not displaying his license tag on his collar and walking him on a leash that’s longer than the length specified in the municipal code. Similar state-wide legislation has been proposed in Florida; House Bill 451 is heading to the Legislature.

The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) are putting their enormous bankrolls behind these legislative agendas. In an incredible irony, their goal of ensuring the humane treatment of animals will actually cause millions more dogs to be put to death. Upon being confiscated from their people the great majority will immediately fall into the killing hands of the lethal injectionists in overcrowded shelter systems. But, according to these highly respected voices for animal safety, a quick and painless death is a better fate than living with a person who has three or four other animals or one who won’t license or one who, like many medical professionals, are concerned about the side-effects of pediatric sterilization and who will not spay or neuter a puppy.

It is estimated that 10 million dogs are put to death in United States animal-control and sheltering facilities annually. HSUS and PETA contend that overpopulation is the problem. Pointing their long fingers at “puppy mills” they conduct raids, looking like heroes as they pose for photos with the wretched bodies of imprisoned procreators. Sadly, those “rescued” dogs don’t find forever homes; they are destroyed.

But if we were to really look at this tragic situation, we might actually come to realize that other forces actually hold it in place. We are a nation of consumers who demand the right to own what we want. It is we, the American buying public, who drive the demand for dogs. Breeds become popular; colors and cross-breeds come into fashion. We “buy,” “own” and “have” dogs and we will pay almost any price for the look and style we want. A lot of “product” must be produced to fill this ever-growing consumer demand. When you think about it, puppy mills and other breeders-for-profit wouldn’t exist without that demand. If we saw the canine-human partnership to be the privilege and blessing that it actually is, we wouldn’t much care what a dog looked like. We wouldn’t be using them as symbols of our taste, style and success.

Our style-over-substance mentality presents another problem. An estimated 10 million additional dogs are privately euthanized annually due to the cost of their medical care or because of their behavior. Genetic defects and diseases are being bred into dogs at such a rapid pace that the offspring of some breeds can inherit over 50 of them. Fewer than ten percent of these sometimes life-ending problems can be tested for. Breeders pair up dogs and bitches without knowing what heritable flaws they will give to their offspring – that won’t be known until puppies fully mature. But by then, those dogs won’t be able to pass on their genetic hardiness. By law, they will have been sterilized. And so will the dogs who prove to be emotionally stable and affable companions, able to tolerate child’s play, learn the ways of the human world and prove impervious to the behavior extremes and personality changes that result from the stress of social isolation, confinement and understimulation. Those dogs won’t be able to produce more like themselves. If market demand for the pretty, popular, stylized dog endures and HSUS and PETA continue to influence our legislators, the ideal dog—a healthy, smart and well-adjusted canine—will become extinct.

1 comment:

funchy said...

I know these logs scare dog professionals, but it's coming to a point where something radical must be done. Millions of dogs a year are put down in shelters. I live in a less-enlightened local area where neutering is "unnatural" and dogs are left to roam. Every spring another batch of mutts starts to leave neighboring farms. Some are hit by cars. A lucky few might get homes. The rest are picked up by Animal Control (at taxpayer expense) to be euthanized. Shelter kill rates at most city shelters are more than 50%.

I also live near Lancaster County, PA -- one of the biggest puppy-mill counties in the country. My local pet shop sells their malformed, sick, unsocialized puppies for $500-$1000. There are so many people breeding in their back shed, it's beyond comprehension. This floods the market, isn't good for the dogs, and generally brings the gene pools down in quality.

I live in an area where it's still ok to put the new family dog on a 6' heavy chain outside day/night in all weather for the rest of his life. If, in his desperation, he's howling all night long and waking up the neighborhood, the owners don't care.

Bottom line: if there weren't so darned many irresponsible dog owners, we wouldn't have to consider regulating everything. The public has had countless chances to educate and change, and some people refuse until it becomes a law.

Just so you know I'm a proud owner of a AKC poodle and a shelter lab X, not some wingnut who won't own a dog. I love dogs. I feel it's in dog owners' best interests to see dogs treated as more than objects. It might even open doors for dogs which are often banned from apartments, stores, and some public spaces; if we expect better behavior out of dog owners, dogs won't be turned away as a "nuisance".

Just my 2 cents worth.