Yes, it is true, I was a breeder. More on that in a bit. For the people who don’t tend to get past the first paragraph, I’ll say this first: I do not think breeding is right; I think all breeding should be stopped. My reasoning for this is multi-layered, and I’m not going to go into it here. The simple fact of the world being overcrowded and people killing 10 million former companions every year for being homeless, that should be enough, though it is a fairly shallow reason. Neva said it beautifully on my recent “One-sided partnerships” post.
Horses, dogs, cats, and other animals don’t owe us entertainment and service simply from the accident of their birth. Likewise cows, chickens, and other animals don’t owe us their bodies or their eggs or milk simply because they were born into servitude and born into those bodies. Just as children don’t owe abusive parents silence and respect simply because they were born to them.
I’ll leave it at that. It isn’t the main point of this post, after all, but it is still a point that can never be made too many times.
This post is inspired partially by my own reaction to certain statements in the general AR community about breeders, which I’ve always passed off as my residual identification with breeders. Most of my inspiration to actually post about this came from a recent comment Mary Martin made on my “is it my anger, or their fear?” post.
[…] I am choosing to befriend and coax–even my “enemies”–rather than alienate them. Then, at least I have a long-term chance at educating them, and maybe someday they’ll do something with that education: like align their actions with it
Now, if you read Mary’s blog at all, you know that one of her main goals in life is to end Greyhound racing, so it is easy to imagine that she is thinking of the Greyhound racers (and breeders) when she speaks of enemies. I don’t know for certain, and I haven’t asked; it is more likely a general statement, not just Greyhound breeders.
Thinking of Mary and her fight against Greyhound racing leads me to what I’m going to talk about tonight. Breeders. Dog breeders specifically. Me. Well, I’m not a breeder now, but I was a dog breeder for about 10 years of my life.
I’m not going to talk about the people running puppy mill farms, or the “backyard breeders”, or the ones breeding dogs to sell to labs, the dog fighters, the Greyhound breeders, or any of the obvious abusers. Many of you might think this leaves no breeders to talk about, but you’d be wrong, by a large margin.
For what it is worth, pet shops are supplied almost exclusively by puppy mills and backyard breeders, who are really just scaled down versions of puppy mills. Even when I was a breeder, I constantly advised everyone I talked to that they should never buy from a pet shop because they were then supporting puppy mills!
Breeders, the ones like I was, are what we called “conscientious breeders.” I think that term still applies to this subset of breeders, though obviously I don’t agree with breeding at all, now. (see first paragraph.) A contradiction? Perhaps. Many probably think I’m doing something wrong by making a distinction between the different breeders, but I think they’d be wrong about that. From now on in this post, when I say “breeder” I’m talking about the “conscientious breeders”, the ones like I was, the ones that are in the majority in the dog world I inhabited.
You see, the “conscientious” breeders really do love their dogs. I speak from experience. My own, as well as my experience of the many breeders I knew during my ten years in the “dog world.” There are a few myths out there about us that should probably be debunked.
One of the first is that breeders are only in it for the money. That’s a joke, it really is. The only people who ever had money were the ones who were independently wealthy. Oh, I’m sure there were a few here and there who managed to make something from it, but in general, anyone who got into it with the thought of earning a few bucks quickly learned better. People poured money into their dogs and got very little back in terms of “profit”. And yes, we loved our dogs.
That’s another myth. That breeders don’t love their dogs. Have you ever talked to a breeder? Wait, most of you have “talked” to me. I love animals no more now, now that I’m vegan and an activist, than I did back then, when I was a breeder. Misguided, yes, I was. Lacking in love, no. The breeding of a specific type of dog is a labor of love, as odd as it seems to us, as animal rights activists. The genetic problems, the 10 million homeless animals killed every year, how can that be a labor of love? They’re blinded by their love, is how. They feel there is something so special about their certain kinds of dogs, they are compelled to make sure these traits aren’t lost. It isn’t completely logical, but the emotion behind it is real. I can understand their viewpoint, because it is exactly the path my thoughts would take back then. I no longer agree with it; I see the logical fallacy now, where I didn’t before.
I’ve forgotten the rest of the myths, so instead I’m going to explain why breeders are sometimes our best allies in the fight for companion animals and could be more so in the future if we stopped treating them like enemies.
First, you might be surprised to learn, breeders are almost as anti-breeding and pro-spay and neutering as we are. They are just as anti-puppy mills and anti-backyard breeders. For those shaking their heads in disbelief, all I can say is that I speak from 10 years experience as a breeder. The reasoning is pretty simple – breeders are very much into specific purposeful breeding. In some ways this is for purely selfish reasons, having to do with “dog world” stuff I won’t bore you with, but at the same time, breeders are conscious of the overpopulation in the world. The breeding they do is consciously with a purpose and it is, in its own way, fairly regulated. The contracts they make their buyers sign generally include a spay/neuter contract, with exceptions for specific puppies. No, this isn’t perfect, but it is a far cry from the puppy-factory that they will be just as vocally opposed to as animal rights activists are.
Second, rescue. Breeders work hard at keeping “their breed” out of the shelters, and they network extensively to save individuals they have reason to believe is of their favored breed. While this may very well make you think less of them for their favoritism, the truth is that they do help get individuals out of the shelters, which lightens the pressure on the other animals. The other part of that truth is their connections, their strength in rescue, is going to be specific to their breeds. In that sense, it is no different than you or I choosing to save cats or dogs or frogs or whatever species we have the most experience with, the best resources to save.
Third, they really do love their dogs. As Mary sees, though we are fighting against certain aspects of what they do, the only way we’ll ever get them to see our point is by approaching them through their love of dogs. I’ve seen breeder websites where they talk about “crazy animal rights people” who, as best they can tell, want to make owning animals illegal. While that isn’t far from the truth, since viewing and treating animals as property is a pivotal problem in society’s attitudes towards animals, it is far from what is in their minds when they say/write/read/hear it. That statement sounds to them like we want to make companion animals illegal, and without any context, that takes on a sinister cast. We look like the haters, from their perspective, and they become the dog lovers, the protectors against us, the animal rights activists.
It is all perspective. We won’t convince them of anything as long as we point fingers and call them animal haters. They know they don’t hate animals, so it pretty much invalidates any other point we might have to make about breeding, from their perspective.
Which isn’t to say we shouldn’t hate on those who deserve it. And there are plenty of those. Not everyone in the dog world I inhabited was actually a conscientious breeder, but within our breed circles, and sometimes extending to other breeds, we knew who was in it for the dogs and who was in it for themselves. Let’s not miss our opportunities to form alliances where it counts – in saving the lives of animals.
I’ve only covered part of the picture, of course. I haven’t talked about the money we poured into genetic research, the strict standards we had (self-imposed within our community) with regards to forcing everyone to be up-front about certain genetic issues in our breed if they wanted to advertise their dogs, their kennel. There are many things I haven’t talked about; I simply wanted to present a perspective of dog breeders, the dog breeders like I was, that I have concluded that the majority of people think don’t exist. When I find myself cringing at things people say, people who are fighting the same fight as I am, I can only imagine how those who aren’t animal rights activists react. People who we could form alliances with, if we weren’t alienating them.
I am more than willing to answer questions people have of my experience, and especially if they want to figure out how to reach and reach out to breeders. I still have a lot of contacts, especially among Portuguese Water Dog breeders.
Oh, did you miss it before? I don’t think breeding is right, and I think all breeding should be stopped. I also think that people don’t hate animals, just because they haven’t learned to look critically at the things they were taught to believe about humans and non-humans growing up in this human-centric world.