Post image for Hold Your Nose and Protect Free Speech

The owner of the NBA Clippers, Donald Sterling, got himself into some hot water recently. A conversation he thought was private was recorded by his girlfriend, a woman born about the time Sterling married his current wife of fifty years. The comments, said to be racist, lead NBA owners to call for a vote removing Sterling as an owner; if three-quarters of the league’s owners voted to have him ousted, his team could have been sold to new owners. At the eleventh hour, however, Sterling surrendered control of the team to his wife who intends to negotiate with the NBA for a forced sale of the team. Either way, Sterling loses his team.

If Jeopardy had a category of “public figures who wish they hadn’t said or done something that went public,” Sterling would hardly be alone:

  • Reality show, “Duck Dynasty” family patriarch, Phil Robertson shared his views about race and homosexuality in a GQ interview last December leading to a suspension from the show by A & E Network; 
  • In April, Co-founder of Mozilla CEO, Brendan Eich, was fired by forced-resignation after his $1,000 donation to a California ballot initiative barring same-sex marriage five years ago was made public; 
  • Legendary television host, Phil Donahue, was fired from his prime-time MSNBC talk show in 2003 during the run-up to the U.S. invasion of Iraq not because of his ratings, but because his views were a “difficult public face for NBC in a time of war,” according to an internal MSNBC memo;

Does anyone else notice a trend here? Is anyone else concerned by it?

I’m not bothered that people say idiotic things; I’m bothered that individuals are losing their jobs or having something they own taken away from them because their opinion rubs against the grain.  In my view, Sterling is a jerk, but being a jerk isn’t a felony, nor is it a crime that demands his property be confiscated. As dog fanciers and purebred dogs owners, we should be very concerned about these reactions.  We above all people should defend the rights of our fellow citizens to be stupid, ignorant, or hold viewpoints at odds with society because we very well could be targeted next.

Wait.  We already are.

Meet “Piper,” a purebred dog. When Piper’s owner and breeder went to a recent National Specialty without her, she hired a pet sitter to care for the dog.  Unfortunately, Piper escaped from the pet sitter and got lost, but was later turned over to a local animal shelter which discovered her microchip. As required by law, the shelter attempted to contact the person to whom the chip was registered  (Piper’s veterinarian), but because this happened over the Easter weekend, the clinic was closed. After three days, Piper’s owner still hadn’t been located, and since no one had come forward to claim her, the dog was placed with the local breed-specific rescue. Up until now, nothing untoward has happened.  It was when Piper’s owner got home from a week of showing that things got ugly.

After learning that Piper had been taken to the animal shelter, her owner contacted the shelter and was told that Piper had been turned over to the local breed rescue.  The local breed rescue, however, refused to give Piper back to her owner because, in their view, she no longer owned the dog.  After supplying proof of ownership in the form of pedigrees, veterinary records, and even an offer to pay for a DNA test to prove lineage, Piper’s owner was still denied possession of her own dog.
Why? Because the mindset of the rescue group, indeed, the mindset of most rescue and shelter groups, is that all breeders are bad, owners who don’t spay or neuter their pets are bad, and that neither should be allowed to own their own dogs – or any other dogs. Ever.

One of these is not like the other

One of these is not like the other

Those of us who’ve been watching the growing impact of animal rights and over-zealous rescue groups aren’t surprised in the least by this horror story.  We’ve been saying for years that the dog fancy has been the proverbial canary in the coal mine used to reveal just how far the rights of one group can be eroded by the moral indignation of another –or in this case, the rights of a dog fancier being trampled by an over-reaching rescue group.

There’s something else a lot of us have been saying: As we go, so goes the rest of society.  There isn’t much difference between taking away someone’s legally owned basketball team or their dog because what they say or do for a hobby offends someone. Have we come to a point in America where being a jerk (or a responsible breeder) is grounds for confiscation of private property?

It seems so.

We now live in an era where we either fall in line with politically correct thinking, or face the consequences.

Personally, I think the better way to deal with an abhorrent or unpopular opinion is to let “logical consequences” take their course. Legislating behavior changes little where it counts – the heart and mind of an individual. Society tends to make life miserable for those swimming upstream against current thinking – just ask any kid about peer pressure. Those who found Donald Sterling’s comments repugnant could have spent their hard earned dollars supporting a different basketball team.  Door receipts would have fallen, revenue would have tanked, and in the end, Sterling probably would have had to sell an unprofitable team compounded by a loss of face.  Stripping the team away from him simply makes Sterling a victim, instead.

The market is a stellar place to see “logical consequences” in action. Look what happened to Duck Dynasty following Roberton’s remarks: The show saw a 28% drop for its fourth season premier in 2013. When Robertson was suspended, however, the controversy sparked increased interest in the show and ratings went back up. Had Robertson been ignored and left in place, my guess is that viewership would have withered and the show ultimately dropped for sagging ratings.

Unlike the way the Duck Dynasty and Donald Sterling flaps were handled, animal rights and shelter zealots have had to approach their “problem” differently because it’s counter-productive to attack the people who are your market. Put another way, don’t offend the customers who buy your “product” (shelter dogs) even though many of them supplied “the product” by dumping them at shelters in the first place. Far more rewarding has been the vilification of all breeders by placing blame for the mere existence of shelter animals squarely at their feet and giving the public a pass.

For good measure, PETA and HSUS intend to legislate all breeders out of existence by making dog ownership and breeding a political hot potato that legislators dare not drop.  It’s working. Retailers in San Diego and Los Angeles now have to get their dogs, cats, and rabbits from city or county animal shelters, humane societies, and nonprofit rescue groups.  A city council in Illinois also passed a similar resolution, and just this past week, Rhode Island House Bill 8205 sought to limit all Rhode Island dog owners from owning or harboring any dog older than six months of age that hasn’t been spayed or neutered. Though this last resolution has been tabled for now , a national trend is evident here.

Years ago, there were people within the dog fancy who predicted that we’d find ourselves in a bad place one day, but they were outnumbered by people who pooh-poohed such thinking as alarmist, and yet here we are. There are still people within the fancy making predictions, and I fear they are on to something.

A fellow fancier and I had a chilling conversation last week in which we discussed the state of dog ownership. Figuratively wearing her “Carnac the Magnificent” hat, my friend predicted that the day will come when it will be considered morally reprehensible to own a dog. Any dog.  Society will frown upon the “enslavement” of another sentient being, and “tethering” a dog to our wrist with a leash will be as abhorrent as chaining a human being to the bumper of our car while we shop inside a store.

Be careful with what you think is far fetched. Public scorn is happening to ethical breeders now. Owners who bought their dog from a responsible breeder are getting shunned now. Laws forcing people to neuter their dogs are being passed now.

My friend’s futuristic scenario explains the “why” behind her predicted loss of our rights as dog owners. What happened to Donald Sterling and Piper’s owner reveals the “how.”

I’m becoming persuaded that there may be two kinds of moralists in the world: Those who see the world as it is, and those who see the world as they think it should be. I don’t happen to believe that it’s moral at all to sacrifice the freedom of one group to realize the goals of the other, not especially when one person’s vision of Shangri-La criminalizes the special bond between person and dog. If, as the expression goes, the road to hell is paved with good intentions, then the loss of free speech and private ownership comes disguised as moral outrage.

Protect the rights of the likes of Donald Sterling?  Hold your nose if you will, but protect his freedom of speech we must.

{ 32 comments… read them below or add one }