Thanksgiving is now behind us, and judging from comments I’ve gotten in response to the innocent question, “How was your Thanksgiving?” it would seem that heated discussions over the dinner table were as much a tradition in some households as the turkey and gravy. Religion and politics, the standard bearers of topics one is never supposed to bring up at gatherings, have been joined by a new subject to avoid, the highly volatile issue of (wait for it) dog ownership. Because I write about dogs, like-minded dog owners were probably more than ready to share with me the discussions they had with an “adopt-don’t-shop” or HSUS-supporting relative during Thanksgiving.

Their experiences were anecdotal, to be sure. One in-law was described to me as being visibly horrified that someone in his family had bought her purebred dog from a breeder (I think the phrase, “the color drained from his face” was mentioned), while someone else’s aunt was livid that her doodle wasn’t considered a real breed. Disgust was served fresh, and the last person that any of these adoption/doodle advocates would listen to was the one person in the room who was probably the best informed: The experienced dog fancier.

We’ve heard this before, haven’t we.

I’m about to veer off course to explain why I’m often struck by the “connectedness” between seemingly unrelated events.

The week after Thanksgiving, I published two unrelated posts several days apart on National Purebred Dog Day’s Facebook page. One had to do with “tea cup” breeds, while the other dealt with a color in Golden Retrievers referred to as “English Cream.” Both posts elicited vigorous debate.

“English Cream” had supporters who steadfastly maintained that English Cream wasn’t just a color, but a different – and better – type of Golden Retriever, while in the teacup post, comments were made by people who knew people who were button-popping proud owners of  “very rare” teacup Poodles, Chihuahuas, etc.

No ethical breeder dedicated to their breed purposefully breeds a "teacup" puppy. And not all  puppies are "teacups." Some are merely premature puppies sold by unscrupulous people to uninformed buyers. Their health problems are significant and include hypoglycemia which can cause seizures and death,  liver shunts, hydrocephalus, heart problems, and respiratory problems. Friends don't let friends become a market for these poor little souls.

No ethical breeder dedicated to their breed purposefully breeds a “teacup” puppy, and not all tiny puppies are “teacups.” Some are merely premature puppies sold by unscrupulous people to uninformed buyers. A “teacup” dog’s health problems are significant and include hypoglycemia, liver shunts, hydrocephalus, heart problems, and respiratory problems. Friends don’t let friends become a market for these poor little souls.

The response was swift and decisive. The majority of Golden Retriever owners expressed their opinion that the English Cream color was a simple marketing ploy to hype a lighter color variation found in the breed.

The opinion of fanciers who own breeds impacted by the “teacup” size was the same: “Teacup” was nothing more than a gimmick to sell tiny dogs bred by litter runts. In both instances, the proud owners of English Cream or Tea Cup dogs failed to be persuaded by opinions at odds with their own.

The “Thanksgiving people” and the “Facebook people” had more in common with each other than just downplaying the opinions made by people far more experienced than themselves. People who cling tenaciously to a belief even in the face of compelling evidence to the contrary have puzzled many of us, so last year I did a little research and learned about “cognitive dissonance. This, however, felt different, and I don’t think cognitive dissonance entered into it. It wasn’t so much that the “Thanksgiving people and “Facebook people” pooh-poohed the knowledge of experienced fanciers, because they did recognize their experience. It’s just that they put greater value in the “knowledge” of people who’d gotten to them before anyone else did, people who seemed to have a ghostly influence over them.

“Exhibit A” could be the plumber who worked on my dishwasher last year. Surrounded by my dogs in the kitchen as he fiddled with the motor, he told me of his plans to breed the two mixed toy breeds he rescued off the street the year before. Why? Because his uncle, a family legend, had once told him that females become better pets after they’ve had puppies.

Palm-to-face plant.

Don't get squeamish on me. We've all seen this.

Don’t get squeamish on me. We’ve all seen this.

As the plumber described his uncle, I could picture the man vividly. With his shaved head, badass tats, and tree stumps for arms, he cut quite a figure to an impressionable kid, and every word from the man’s mouth was gospel. Breed a bitch to make her a better pet? You betcha. It makes perfect sense.

It’s not a great a leap to visualize the person who has decided to get their very first purebred dog, someone as far removed from the dog fancy as I am from Neptune but no less impressionable than my plumber was as a kid. Our puppy buyer knows next to nothing about the dog fancy, breed clubs, or how to find an ethical breeder invested in their breed. So what do some of them do? They turn to the Internet or Craigslist. They find a breeder, visit the house and meet both parents of the puppies. The breeder is kind, and the puppies are so stinking cute. The breeder is charging a lot of money for a puppy, and to the ill informed prospective buyer, this must mean the breeder knows what he’s doing, right? Without any knowledge whatsoever about health tests, contracts, soundness or breed standards, our puppy buyer is going to equate cash with quality, and hang on every word the breeder says. There’s just nothing like making a lasting impression through the wallet which ultimately becomes emotional.

No one likes to think they’ve been fooled because they failed to do their homework; rather than concede that they paid a lot of money for a dog that is an unsound size, unaccepted color, or different in some other manner (and not in a good way), they dig in their heels to support the “emotional logic” of their purchase.

I “get” how this works because I’ve seen this in the dog fancy, too, though in a far more benign way. As fanciers, we may become educated, if not proficient, at evaluating structure and movement over time, but if we’re being really honest, our notion of ideal breed type is remarkably similar to our first real show dog’s type. It’s possible, if not probable, that that first dog may not have been a great specimen, but like our first romantic love, he or she shaped our heart, if not our taste in dogs.

If it true that you never forget your first, let’s think about an entire generation of people now in their twenties and early thirties who make up a big part of the dog adoption movement. Is it a coincidence that as children, many of them played with “Pound Puppies?” Take a look at the packaging in which these toys came. Is it any wonder that many in this generation equate “breeder” with overpopulation and dogs in shelters?

Pound Puppies were a hugely popular toy sold by Tonka in the 1980s. Their popularity inspired an animated TV special, an animated TV series, and then a feature film. The toys generated sales of $300 million in 35 countries over five years and continued to be popular in the early 1990s. They were produced again in the early 2000s, discontinued in 2002, but resurrected by Hasbro Studios and aired on The Hub in 2010. - See more at: http://dogknobit.com/?p=7311&preview=true#sthash.954BYbTB.dpuf

Pound Puppies were a hugely popular toy sold by Tonka in the 1980s. Their popularity inspired an animated TV special, an animated TV series, and then a feature film. The toys generated sales of $300 million in 35 countries over five years and continued to be popular in the early 1990s. They were produced again in the early 2000s, discontinued in 2002, but resurrected by Hasbro Studios and aired on The Hub in 2010. At one glance, you see the word, Purebred, Pound, and Needs a Home.  Mission accomplished.

The video below is of a project dubbed, “Sirens of the Lambs.”  This past summer, a converted Somerset farm truck in Great Britain was filled with screaming plush animal toys and driven around parts of the UK by a man wearing farm clothes. By using cute stuffed toys, who do you suppose this concept targeted?

I don’t think I’m suggesting anything new when I opine that as fanciers, we’re not doing a good enough job of getting to people first, and I don’t just mean children, but as long as I’ve brought up kids, now is a good time to mention that it’s not like we don’t have “tools” that will appeal them.

The majority of the dog fancy’s demographics is women, so let’s get to these girls before they become women. American Girl dolls are expensive, but immensely popular among eight-to eleven–year–old girls. They’re bought primarily by grandmothers, aunts and mothers who see the dolls as educational toys, if not an investment in a future collectable. If you’re hoping to shape a young girl’s perception of purebred dog ownership, what’s not to like about the dolls below?

 

The American Girl doll with a Dalmatian - and there are more that include other breeds

The American Girl doll with a Dalmatian – and there are more dolls hat include other breeds

The NAIA has a children’s book called, “If I Ran the Dog Show,” illustrated in Dr. Seuss style.  The Pollyanna in me thinks that each of us should donate a copy of this book to a library in our town, if not to our schools. Volunteer to read it at a library, perhaps with your own purebred dog in tow. How about gifting one to the children of friends and family?

It feels counterintuitive to promote someone else’s Kickstarter campaign when I’m in the final stretch for National Purebred Dog Day‘s effort, but “A Puppy’s New Home” should get some support. I don’t love the illustrations in the books, and I wonder if the project leaders have reached out to breed clubs, but they’re on the right track and need to hear from us. They have three days to go and are $3,000 short, but I bet we could make a dent. If you donate, be sure to tell them WHY.

Now, on to the adults.

How many of you have ever come across a “puppy finder” Internet web site that make your skin crawl?  The kind of site I’m writing about makes you want to shower after seeing it.  News flash: If you’re a breeder, you should have a listing there.  On second thought, even if you’re not a breeder, you should have a listing there. I’m writing about the importance of being the first person to reach someone.  How can we reach the prospective owner if we don’t go where where they go?  This is no time to be a snob, this is a fight for the survival of our breeds and our ethical breeders. Make it easy for anyone interested in your breed to find you first before they find a substandard breeder.  In my view, every breed club should have a listing plastered all over the Internet, and in every hard copy dog magazine that someone standing in line at Petsmart might pick. This isn’t lowering our standards. This is rolling up our sleeves to fight back. Let me be blunt. If you’re too proud to do what it takes to save our dogs, consider where we’d be if our breeds were too proud to do their jobs for us.

 

{ 3 comments }

Dogs, Dallas and Ebola

October 21, 2014
Thumbnail image for Dogs, Dallas and Ebola

My house is pulsating with activity this week as we prepare for an event that’s been on the calendar for a year: The first wedding in the family in over 30 years. We’ve foreseen wondering what to pack for a black tie wedding held out of state. What we didn’t anticipate was speculating as to […]

Read the full article →

Not Your Father’s AKC

October 9, 2014
Thumbnail image for Not Your Father’s AKC

When Bill Clinton was president and in the throes of his “Monica Difficulties,” I happened to hear a radio interview of someone whose name I never did catch.  I could picture the man shrug as he opined that no one should be shocked by Clinton’s behavior around women because that’s just who he was. In […]

Read the full article →

Conduct Unbecoming?

September 17, 2014
Thumbnail image for Conduct Unbecoming?

How easy do we make it for novices to know what’s acceptable behavior at a dog show? How easy do we make it for the person without a mentor or accessible breeder to know what is preferred conduct? Are the people who whelp puppies in their motor home at a dog show in violation of […]

Read the full article →

How To Feed a Dog That Won’t Eat

September 2, 2014
Thumbnail image for How To Feed a Dog That Won’t Eat

It’s something we will encounter at least once in our lives as dog owners, and in my opinion (possibly because of a cultural heritage that associates food with comfort and love) it’s one of the most frustrating of all problems. Our dog won’t eat.  What on earth do we do? Thirty years ago, we didn’t […]

Read the full article →

Guest Column: Saving the Sport

August 22, 2014
Thumbnail image for Guest Column: Saving the Sport

Note: This week, I’m posting a guest column because the inherent message of this article is too important not to share with everyone who has a dog, friend, neighbor, acquaintance or relative. The author, Tray Pittman (whose kind permission I have to share it)  wrote the piece in response to a couple of incidents involving Shelties […]

Read the full article →

Piper and Justina: The Same Difference?

August 13, 2014
Thumbnail image for Piper and Justina: The Same Difference?

It’s never a good idea to weigh in on a contentious issue without knowing all the facts, and I may come to regret doing exactly that as I write about the on-going saga of “Piper,” the Shetland Sheepdog. But first, I want to tell you about Justina Pelletier. Justina had been undergoing treatment at Tufts […]

Read the full article →

Everything Old is New Again

July 31, 2014
Thumbnail image for Everything Old is New Again

Last weekend, I was sixteen again. Richard Nixon was President.  A man walked on the moon for the first time.  Sirhan Sirhan admitted to killing Robert Kennedy, James Earl Ray plead guilty to killing Martin Luther King, and Ted Kennedy plead guilty to leaving the scene of the fatal Chappaquiddick accident.  Sesame Street debuted on […]

Read the full article →

Bad Behavior Gone Viral

July 11, 2014
Thumbnail image for Bad Behavior Gone Viral

Something unfortunate happened at a recent national specialty that was later described to me by a fancier of the breed.  As the story goes, someone had sent an anonymously written letter to the board of the breed’s national club, as well as to every judge approved for the breed. The letter systematically dismantled the attributes of […]

Read the full article →