Posted on 06/01/2009
An Obituary For Words
by Cindy Cooke
You can't really ban a word. In fact, an attempt to ban something often backfires, particularly in the United States, where we don't like people censoring our speech. So I'm not going to tell you not to say "puppy mill". I'm going to give you some very good reasons for not using that phrase.
I speak to a lot of dog clubs and frequently hear dog breeders supporting so-called "anti-puppy-mill" laws. When I ask these people to define "puppy mill," invariably the definitions given include:
. People who "overbreed" their dogs;
. People who don't take care of their dogs;
. People who have too many dogs;
. People who breed dogs "just for money"; and
. People who don't take health issues into account when breeding their dogs.
Let's look at these definitions in turn. What is "overbreeding"? In the wild, most canids can only reproduce once a year. Most domestic dogs can have two litters a year. When I first became a dog breeder, it was almost a religious belief that no female dog should be bred more than once a year. We were told that it was important to "rest" the uterus between litters. Today, however, thanks to advances in veterinary medicine, we know that an uterus is actually damaged by the elevated progesterone levels that occur in each heat cycle, whether the dog is pregnant or not. Veterinary reproduction specialists recommend that dogs be bred on their second or third heat cycle, that we do more back-to-back breedings, and that we spay the dogs at around age six.
The "overbreeding" argument also treats reproduction as something that female dogs wouldn't do if they had a choice. Dogs aren't people - female dogs actually want to be bred when they're in heat and, with few exceptions, enjoy raising their puppies. It's not an unwelcome event for dogs.
People who don't take care of their dogs are already guilty of a crime in all 50 states. There is nowhere in the United States where it is legal to neglect or abuse dogs. Sadly, a small minority of all dog breeders - commercial, home and hobby - commit neglect and abuse. Some of these do so out of ignorance, some out of laziness, and some out of meanness. All are already breaking the law. It just needs to be enforced.
One of our biggest problems now is that animal radicals insist that every dog be raised like a hothouse flower. One bill proposed this year would have required every kennel to be air conditioned. Many owners of working dogs prefer that their dogs be acclimated to hot weather so that they can work when the temperature goes up. Likewise, sled dogs in the north often sleep outdoors in the snow. Dogs can live and thrive in a wide range of environments. The Arctic Circle, the jungles of Africa, and the deserts of Arabia have all produced breeds of dogs that can live happily in conditions that might not suit all dogs. It is important that we not let activists redefine the needs of dogs to the extent that we are forced to provide a brass bed and a down pillow for every animal in the kennel!
What is "too many" dogs? Most of our breeds were developed by wealthy people who kept large numbers of dogs. Hound breeders traditionally kept good-sized packs, and early show breeders did as well. Now that our sport includes more mainstream people - people with jobs or people who need jobs - it's hard for many of us to keep large numbers of dogs. There is no inherent link between numbers of dogs and neglect. People who have the resources to keep big kennels provide a service for all of us, particularly if they maintain a good number of useful stud dogs.
Breeding dogs is expensive, and getting more so daily. It's just plain silly to pretend that none of us needs the money generated by puppy sales and stud services. Without that income, the vast majority of middle class breeders could not afford this sport. When our sport was solely in the hands of rich people, it was the norm to sneer at people in "trade", and part of that attitude was handed down to us with the culture of our sport. Today, however, the majority of us in the sport are "in trade", in the sense that we have to work to support ourselves. Our dogs must, at least in part, support themselves or most of us would have to get out of the game.
We have among us a small but vociferous group of people who think that breeders only care about producing great hunting or show dogs, and nothing about health. In fact, I've never met a breeder who wasn't concerned about the health of his dogs and the health of his breed. Most health problems in dogs don't have simple solutions, so it is only natural that breeders are often going to disagree about how to address health problems. When there's no right answer to a question, then breeders who follow a different path than you might choose are not necessarily wrong or unconcerned. I know that many believe that commercial breeders don't care about health, but the fact is that their professional organizations provide some of the most sophisticated health seminars in the country for their breeders.
Twenty years ago, animal activists created the phrase "puppy mill". Back then, it was only applied to commercial breeders, and then only to those who were breaking the law by neglecting their dogs. In a futile attempt to placate activists, many hobby breeders adopted the term "puppy mill" and used it to separate "them" from "us". It was a mistake then, and it's rapidly becoming fatal today. Every one of these so-called "anti-puppy-mill bills" has a definition that could easily include breeders of hunting and show dogs. Every time you use that phrase, you're contributing to the idea that dog breeders need to be regulated out of existence.
The message we need to send to America is that purebred dogs are good, not just because they have pedigrees, but because of their predictability, and that people should shop at least as carefully for a puppy as they do for a car. We don't need to help the animal radicals spread their message by using their favorite term: puppy mill.