There are just a couple of days left to the year, and I’d love to end 2012 by figuring out why I felt such contrasting emotions at the AKC/Eukanuba National Dog Show. It was a fabulous experience with so much to offer a dog lover, and while I reveled in the sights and sounds around me, I couldn’t shake the sense of impending loss, an urgency that I should absorb every moment around me while I still could. There were times during breed judging when I almost felt as if I was watching the last carrier pigeon on earth fly towards extinction.
Or, as I put it in my own head: Woman, what is wrong with you?
I’ve had the feeling for a while now that as dog fanciers, we’ve been the proverbial canaries in the coal mine, the “ants” over which a magnifying glass could be held to see what happens when a part of society feels too much heat from the sun.
My suspicions alarm me.
I no longer feel that we’re “at war” only with animal rights activists, or that we’re in a simple struggle to keep shelter and rescue folks from going down a similar path. I’ve come to decide that our problem is bigger. Much bigger, and I fear that we’re at a tipping point.
The experience of owning a dog in America is changing at a cultural level, the “rules” of ownership rewritten by groups with agendas that are either anti-breeder, anti-purebred, shelter-dog-or-nothing, or even tacitly anti-dog. The “drip drip drip” of their message has seeped into society’s subconscious in a way reminiscent of how feminism tinted our views of a working woman’s value: Back in the day, a woman with children was often asked, “Do you work, or are you just a mom?” I sometimes think the 21st century’s version is the stony silence leveled at a person who’s just said they bought their purebred dog from a breeder, the moment charged with disapproval because shelter dogs died as a result of their “shopping, not adopting.”
I wonder if we haven’t reached a tipping point because changing social mores have blended with economic uncertainties.
Might we be on the brink of revisiting a time when only the wealthy owned a well bred dog – but with a twist? A hundred years ago, the less affluent aspired to own a purebred dog to signal that they had “arrived” in society because they could afford to buy one. In the next go-round, however, the rich might be resented not because they own a purebred dog bought from a breeder, but because no one should. When a political climate which benignly fosters resentment towards the rich merges with the sentiments of the shelter/rescue world, could the price be paid by the diminishment, if not the demise, of breeders and their purebred dogs?
Certainly the path to such dire and extreme times would be paved with resentment, but would it start with indifference? Does it trouble anyone else that there’s been no collective outrage outside of the dog community at legislation resulting in the deaths or “dumpings” of countless innocent dogs? Does it strike anyone else that if the same legislation impacting dogs and their owners were applied to human beings, most of them would be immoral, if not illegal? If done to people what breed specific legislation has done to dogs, surely it would be called racism. Property seized from the homes of law abiding citizens is a violation of the fourth amendment, but when the “property” is, or resembles, a Pit Bull Terrier, it’s done under the cloak of “dangerous dog ordinances” as it was recently in Sikeston, MIssouri. There, at least three dogs were seized within a week despite their owners’ insistence that they were in compliance with current laws. And why have bad owners gotten a pass while responsible hobby breeders have been lumped together with horrendous, for-profit mass producing breeding farms?
As I write, there’s an on-line petition asking Congress to make mandatory the spaying and neutering of all family pets unless their owners have a breeder’s license. So far, only 15,852 individuals have expressed their support in letters and e-mails, and if there’s language spelling out the requirements of a breeder’s license, I sure haven’t found it. But think about this. Imagine if every citizen in a city the size of Corinth, Texas (population: 16,000) voted to force you to spay or neuter your show quality pet?
Is it me, or are we seeing more of the following occurrences happening in our communities?
- A family’s lawsuit says police didn’t need to shoot & kill “Rosie,” the family Newfoundland;
- A family is horrified as a police officer shoots and kills their beloved dog and then tries “clean up” evidence that was caught on video:
- On Christmas Eve, Chicago Police let a family dog out of its backyard, then shoots it;
- A Commerce City police officer fatally shoots a restrained dog.
When local law enforcement can’t be trusted to exhibit good judgment with a dog, how can it not impact society as a whole? Have too many among us drunk the animal rights Kool-
aid? Is the media negligent by sensationalizing dog attacks, perpetuating the myth of overpopulation and ignoring the erosion of liberty? Has money so corrupted us that scarcely an eye was blinked when the Humane Society of the United States endorsed convicted dog fighter, Michael Vicks’s efforts to own another dog?
What’s happened to us?
Dog fanciers are sometimes accused of being out of touch, snobbish and uncaring, their show dogs useless, overbred and ignored (if not abused) in pursuit of a ten cent ribbon. What
have we done to discourage this perception? Why do so many people choose to accept as fact the inaccuracies presented by animal rights groups or municipal shelters while ignoring more credible sources such as the Center for Disease Control or NAIA?
When did we start feeling more than thinking, and whatever happened to a balanced approach using both logic and emotion?
In one hundred years, the average “joe” went from wanting a purebred dog of his own to wondering what their point is. While we were busy defining breed standards, special interest groups were defining us, and much of the public bought it. Did we drop the ball in communicating what purebreds and dog fanciers are about?
Earlier, I alluded to the contrasting emotions I felt at Eukanuba. Up until now, I’ve mentioned only the negatives. Now I want to explain why Eukanuba also left me feeling cautiously hopeful.
They did everything right. The theme, “Celebrate Dogs” appeared on every piece of signage and literature, and at the risk of sounding contradictory, I felt wistful because I took those words to heart. As I looked at the various breeds around me, I marveled at their diversity and how much we stand to lose if even one of them is lost because of bad legislation, an indifferent or misinformed public, or rescue elitists who feel our time has past.
We dog fanciers are a stubbornly independent and resourceful lot – and that’s the problem. While we were out “doing” our thing, others were “doing“ to us.” While we were driving to a national specialty, running titers, re-homing a rescue dog, fighting bad legislation, researching pedigrees, scheduling a CERF exam, conducting a home check, swabbing cheeks for DNA, whelping litters, taking a conformation class, tube feeding, building an agility course, mailing OFA x-rays, setting up ring standards, scaling a dog’s teeth, volunteering, writing a check to an animal charity, road working, clicker training or delivering dog food to natural disaster victims, the culture changed. It elevated the importance of homeless dogs over well-bred ones and failed to recognize that one group need not be sacrificed to save the other. There are homes for both, and often it’s the same home.
Eukanuba “celebrated” all dogs, mutts and purebreds, by showcasing their talents in agility, obedience and rally competition. After the public marveled over the athleticism of dock diving dogs, the cheers coming from the dog show near by enticed the curious to check it out. To get there, however, they had to walk by the Meet the Breeds venue showcasing over 160 breeds and their enthusiastic owners.
It seemed to me that what Eukanuba recognized – what we all have to recognize, is that if we’re to continue breeding quality dogs, let alone having dog shows, we need the support of the public in ways we’ve never needed it before. The public votes. They buy tickets. They influence the next generation of pet owners. They turn on the TV to watch a dog show on Thanksgiving Day, and they watch the commercials. Maybe they’ll buy the dog food they saw advertised. They can write a check to PETA, or switch the channel when an HSUS commercial comes on. They talk with their neighbors. They get a family dog. Will it be a shelter and rescue dog, or a purebred bought from a responsible breeder?
We can influence their choice, but we have some decisions to make. Now. Will we continue on as if nothing has changed in our world, or will we come to terms with our need for public support? Will we realize that we can no longer leave the dirty work of fighting bad legislation to someone else, or will each of us finally get involved? Will we cut back on breeding plans because there’s no one left to buy our purebred puppies, or will we mentor a junior, usher a scout troop around a dog show, or stop in at a dumb friends league and say, “I’m a responsible breeder and dog fancier, how can I help you?” Will we make Eukanuba’s “Breeders Stakes” the most popular event of the show by standing three deep as we support our fellow breeders in the ring, or will we go shopping at the vendors, instead?
Which way will society tilt?
We’re in trouble, big trouble. There are solutions, and at least one national dog show, Eukanuba, is doing something to address it, but can I trust my fellow fanciers to step up? Can I trust my community to support my civil rights as a dog owner?
Maybe the conflict that came home with me from Orlando is inevitable when one lives in conflicting times fraught with mixed messages; the public loves Meet the Breed venues but is told to hate breeders; purebred dog breeders are disparaged, but inventors of designer breeds make more money than ever before; the Department of Agriculture is entrusted to pass laws affecting responsible breeders, but hires as one of its attorneys a former animal rights litigator; dog ownership is declining, but dog-knapping is up 70%.
It’s easy to tip over when off balance.
Which way will we tilt?