February is Westminster Kennel Club month for anyone who breeds, exhibits or owns purebred dogs. It is THE celebration of our passion, the two nights a year that we get our World Series, our Kentucky Derby, our Super Bowl. It is now also the beginning of "slam the purebred breeder" season in America. In the UK, it's the Crufts Dog Show in March.
For the last several years there has been an irrational and nasty outcry after every televised show and after appearances of the BIS winner. PETA, HSUS, almost every shelter and almost every "rescue" (not related to AKC or Kennel Clubs of course) in the country have determined that any dog in a shelter is a direct result of me, you and any of us who occasionally breed a litter of well bred purebred dogs. They are sure that if we never bred another litter, the shelter populations and rescue populations would dry up! Never mind that there are shelters and rescues in the NE US that are importing dogs from other countries as well as other parts of the US, never mind that the majority of dogs in shelters and rescues are mixed breed dogs, never mind that the majority of dogs that are surrendered have been because of behavioral issues, economic issues or illness issues. Never mind that the vast majority of dogs in shelters and rescue are young adult dogs. Never mind that statistically over 80% of dogs in the US are already spayed or neutered and it would be physically impossible for the purebred breeders in the US to populate the shelters and rescues with the numbers of dogs that are in them right now.
On the surface, one has to wonder where the dogs in shelters come from. Let's take a look at ONE small shelter and analyze it's population:
Cats - 20
Dogs - 22
Of the dogs listed, 16 are listed as mixes. There are two of the remaining 6 are listed as "Australian Cattle Dogs". While I have no doubt there is a lot of cattle dog in these two, their ears and size and bone reflect a mix, IMO. There is a Chihuahua, a border collie, a white GSD and a beagle that are truly identifiable as breeds. That is 81% mixed breed, 19% purebred. Of the population of dogs - 8 were surrendered, the rest either strays or transferred from other shelters, because this one is a "no-kill" shelter and had room. Of those surrendered the reasons ranged from owner lost their house to behavior issues, "too much dog", "barking" (border collie), "ran away". NOT one of these dogs was in the shelter as a result of a purebred breeder abandoning animals at the shelter. If one were to look at most of the pets on shelter websites and those internet adoption sites (As an aside, why is it okay for rescues to use the internet and not breeders?) the vast majority of dogs are either stray mixed breed dogs or dogs surrendered due to either behavior issues, owner's illness or death, and loss of homes. How are any of the above issues related to purebred dog breeders? While anectdotal, I can honestly say I do not know a single person that I regularly show with who has refused to take back a single dog they have bred. Let's truly look at those "purebred" dogs that are on those pet adoption sites. If it has pointy ears and legs even remotely short - it's a corgi mix. If it's black, it's a lab mix. If it's small it's a chi mix. I even saw three Sussex Spaniel mixes today - except one looks suspiciously like a golden mix, one doesn't look a thing like Sussex and the other actually could be, or it could be a Boykin! If random bred dogs are the best, why does anyone care what the mix is? I've never understood that.
Next let's take a look at the origins of rescue. Back in the early '80's when animals were euthanized in the 10's of millions, not a total of the 3 or 4 million that takes place now, purebred dog breeders began to go to shelters and look for dogs of their breed and mixes of their breed. Being responsible doesn't just mean how you care for your own dogs, it means caring for your chosen breed as a good steward does. We took those dogs, cared for them with no donations, with no celebrities cheering us on, with no one chiding us or berating us to, but because we felt it was our obligation to give back to the dogs that had enriched our lives. Again, among my colleagues, most of us don't take money when we rehome a dog we've taken in. I, personally, have the new owner donate to our local shelter.
Within the next 10 years "Rescue", as we know it now, became fashionable. The large AR groups such as HSUS, ASPCA, and PETA realized they were looking at a cash cow and a great rallying cry for their "cause". Who doesn't love puppies and kittens? Who doesn't want to help abused and abandoned animals? Pictures of abused and abandoned animals began to litter the airways as well as print messages. Try as I might, I cannot find any "Rescue" groups that were actually in existence prior to 1990. I suspect there might be some, but cannot find them. Of course HSUS was around, PETA was a fledgling group and the ASPCA was still pretty much dedicated to taking in and placing dogs. ASPCA is now big business and contends as well that purebred dog breeders are the culprits. Most appear to have sprung up in the 2000's. RESCUE was and is a result of purebred breeders supporting their breeds, period.
While I don't doubt there are many passionate, well meaning, loving, earnest people who rescue, I also do not doubt there are many who see it as a nice little business. I know many people who spend their time and their money to help place dogs from shelters. Two of my nieces fall into that category. They post and forward pictures of Bully breeds (unfairly categorized as viscious) in alarming numbers. Yet all those pictures and pleas are on the internet. The newest PUPS bill being pushed claims that only puppy mills use the internet. Laws that are in place to suppress purebred breeding and how our dogs are cared for do not, as a rule, apply to "rescues".
We are at war now, make no mistake. I have Pembroke Welsh Corgis and Sussex Spaniels. Currently there are fewer Sussex Spaniels in the world than there are wild Pandas! People who come to me for a dog are doing so because they know what they are going to get. They are people who appreciate the purpose and the consistency of a purebred from tested and well socialized parents. They appreciate the years of research and dedication that is behind each litter. They appreciate the health guarantee and the hours & hours spent with each litter as it grows.
I will never denigrate a dog from a shelter or rescue. My dogs are lucky, they are born with an owner. But the people who come to me would more than likely never have gone to a shelter in the first place. They are looking for something specific in their companions. Let's be honest, though. There will always be dogs in a shelter. A person with no family dies, a family looses their home, a dog is adopted without forthought. Dogs and cats are in shelters because of people problems, not breeder problems. There is room for both random bred and purebred, as I've said before.
I'm proud of my dogs and I'm proud of the dogs I've produced. Just today I heard from the owner of one of my boys from my first and only Sussex litter. It makes my heart sing when he tells me what a grand dog he is, that he is showing the correct Sussex behavior when they go for walks in the woods, that he's retrieving well in the house. I'm proud when I see the beautiful dogs that my Pembroke Welsh Corgis descend from and when I see that "look" in them as well. I take equal pride when I hear from the lovely family who adopted my last rescue as well. She is blossoming in their care. Remember the next time you see an article blaming breeders for shelter dogs and dogs in rescue that we are as concerned about them as you are and more than likely we were there first.