The University of Colorado in Boulder is an astonishingly beautiful campus, in large part because it’s nestled against a 290 million year old sandstone formation called the “Flatirons.” These “iron” shaped rocks are numbered as they run north and south and have always been popular with climbing enthusiasts.In my opinion, they’re never more beautiful than when low-lying clouds intersect them on a gray, drizzly day, but Colorado climate is a funny thing. One morning some years ago, the Flatirons inspired awe even among native Boulderites when first light revealed the rocks covered in a heavy dusting of snow. It was the Fourth of July.
From the 1950s until the time I attended the university, the letters, “CU” were a painted fixture on the third Flatiron. Enthusiastic rock-climbing students repainted the letters annually, and the huge yellow letters could be seen from any place in the city.
Midway though the 1970s, however, the first wave of environmentalism saw a waning of tolerance for “tagging” on natural resources; sometime during my junior year, the letters suddenly vanished overnight. According to some Internet sources, the City of Boulder painted over the letters, but I know better. The letters were concealed by my best friend in school at the time, a world-class rock climber, and the first real “greenie” I ever knew. The letters had always rankled my native born friend, and he often swore he’d do something about them. One day before sunrise, he pounded on my door and informed me with immense satisfaction that he and a friend had spent the night covering the “CU” with brown paint. Half asleep and irritated at having been woken up, I didn’t believe him.
With daylight, however, came the evidence that the letters were indeed gone. My friend had made good on his word.
It’s been thirty years since my friend “did the deed.” The brown paint has eroded some, but if you know where to look, you can still see the faint “CU” from any point in Boulder.
Recently, I was a vendor at a craft show. I’m a little embarrassed by this tiny business of mine. I regard myself as a Writer to the bone, and there’s just nothing cool about making breed specific doorknob signs even though my writing is what sells them. Nevertheless, the signs help buy dog show entry fees and keep my dogs in their favorite treats. The business is Internet based, but a couple of times a year I attend craft shows for the sole reason of chatting with John and Jane Q Public. The Publics aren’t dog fanciers, animal rights zealots, or morally superior rescue advocates. They’re just everyday pet owners, many of those pets purebred dogs. By chatting with these people, I get a sense of what they know - or don’t know – about issues that matter to dog fanciers. As it turns out, it’s not much.
PETA has passed its “sell by date” and most people now dismiss the group as a bunch of kooks.
The Humane Society of the United States, however, continues to bamboozle the general public. A lot of us have come to regard the core of HSUS as a group of shrewd, well dressed suits who’ve glommed on to the money and power to be had through an animal rights agenda, but the public doesn’t see that. I can’t help but speculate, however, that as influential as the HSUS has become, excessive lobbying activities, deceptive fundraising, ”creative” tax returns and a change in political fortunes will tarnish its halo in time. If and when it does “lose its bloom,” there are those ready to step in its place.
Interestingly, the “recycled dog” movement fills any gaps left by HSUS, and in some ways, I sense that rescue advocacy may equal, if not eventually surpass the HSUS as a threat to ethical, responsible purebred dog ownership and breeding. Presently, the rescue world is mired in layers of unaccountability, inaccuracy (see Humane Relocation and “Overpopulation”), and money-making schemes dressed up as altruism. Seductive because it feels so good to save animals, this movement is harder to pinpoint precisely because it doesn’t have a Wayne Pacelle or Ingrid Newkirk.
At its core, HSUS has gone corporate and uses emotional bait to drive its minions and fund itself. Nevertheless, it has a soft underbelly bloating with greed, and I suspect (and fervently hope) that its tactics will make it vulnerable with time. The core of rescue activism, however, is emotionally and ideologically charged, its advocates tougher to reach with facts as they wonder how any of us can love animals and still be indifferent to the suffering of rescue dogs? As yet less organized than the HSUS, rescue groups have a grassroots “feel” and are harder to incriminate. There is but one Humane Society of the United States, but hundreds, if not thousands, of rescue groups, and money is being made by many of them in the name of rescue. Pet relocation is big business, but when a company like P.E.T. is described as “safely transporting dogs from rescue groups to their new homes,” who with a heart could object? ”Adoption” is a loaded word when rescue dogs are being sold at “humane sourcing” venues where pet stores partner with rescue groups. In reality, many shelters and rescue groups have become unregulated pet shops, and yet in many states like my own, “overpopulation” shelter numbers are going up because dogs are being brought in from out of state.
The general public doesn’t know any of this.
The people I run into at a craft show go to work, pay their bills, raise their kids, feed the dog, and on weekends they might watch football or NASCAR on TV (or go to a craft show). They are not like “us,” presuming that most of ”us” who are reading this right now are plugged into the dog world in some way. They don’t go to dog shows or participate in performance competitions. They don’t read dog publications, join dog clubs or talk with other “dog people.” A couple of times a year, they might watch a dog show on TV; maybe they’ll attend a puppy kindergarden class at Petsmart when they get a new dog – but honestly, are they likely to run into any of us there? They’re busy with their lives, and unless something threatens their interests, they don’t much want to know.
These are the people we need on our side if we’re to protect dog ownership in general, and the dog fancy culture in particular. We need them.
How can they help if they don’t know what we know? How can they know if we don’t tell them? And if you can’t share what’s bad about HSUS or shelter zealots in the time it takes an elevator to go from one floor to another, perhaps it’s time to educate yourself so that you can. Visit NAIA, Humanewatch, and the AKC legislative pages to arm yourself with factoids.
It’s increasingly apparent to me that our fight with the animal rights agenda will not be won by any one organization, or even by organizations joining forces with each other. Animal rights groups have had too much time to go unchallenged and they’ve successfully impacted veterinary schools, law colleges, the media, and legislation. On our own, it will take us at least as long to effect the same influence. As I see it, we need average pet owners with us if we’re to reclaim the conversation about purebred dog ownership, and it falls upon each of us to make that happen. I talk with my customers at craft shows. You can talk with your in-laws, a neighbor, or the person buying dog food at the grocery store. It might be one sentence that worms its way into a brief conversation (I see you’ve got a Collie. A shame what animal rights groups are doing to Collie breeders). It might be three words: “HSUS. They’re bad!” But say something you must. If not you, then who?
Our purebred dogs are our best PR, and there’s no better way to engage people than by getting out among the public with them. They are natural conversation starters and a dandy way to guide a conversation in the direction that talks about groups that threaten their existence. Some people might not listen, of course, and a few might challenge you, but they’ll hear. The next time they see an HSUS commercial on TV, they’ll have the memory of someone telling them that less than 1% of donated money actually helps dogs. The next time they consider adopting a rescue dog, they’ll recall that someone told them that lots of shelter dogs are imported from Mexico, Europe and Puerto Rico – and that one litter of imported puppies was found to have been spayed and neutered before their eyes were even open! (a sickening piece of information I learned at the recent NAIA conference).
As dog fanciers and hobby breeders, what we do is a lifestyle. If ethical hobby breeders are legislated beyond reason, they’ll stop. If we can’t sell our well-bred, carefully socialized, health tested puppies because the market is saturated with rescue dogs, we’ll stop. Once our dogs die of old age, we won’t replace them, we’ll sell the van or motorhome, and we’re out. We say we love our breeds, but if we’re not breeding them the way only hobby breeders do it, what will happen to our breeds?
One person at a time, we share facts and point out the skeletons in the closet. Figuratively speaking, we point out to them the “CU” letters on the Flatiron. Once they know where to look, they’ll always see it. Put another way, they’ll never be able to “unsee” it again.