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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 }

Sharon Fremer May 24, 2014 at 5:03 pm

Brilliant as always! The threats we dog owners face loom ever larger. We must be constantly on guard!

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Susi May 24, 2014 at 5:17 pm

Awwww, Sharon, you’re too good to me – THANK YOU!!!!

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Stephanie Horan May 24, 2014 at 8:28 pm

The thing that ticked me off about Donald Sterling was the fact that he made his remarks in a PRIVATE conversation, not knowing he was being recorded, which was then made public by a slut of a “girlfriend”. How many of us have NEVER made a racist or politically incorrect remark in private? Would we survive if it was recorded and paraded around so that everyone could hear what sleazy scum we really were? Having said that, I continue to hold on to the belief that the Aristas won’t win in the long run, and that attitudes to dog owning will turn around eventually, because people want dogs in their lives, and they will get them. Doesn’t mean we should stop fighting their insanity, and it will be a long and bloody fight, but those of us who want animals in our lives will win. We will.

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Donna June 10, 2014 at 8:03 pm

Stephanie, I agree with your sentiment. If we cannot vocalize our thoughts to people we trust, then we are truly doomed. My own thoughts are not always 100% “politically correct” but that doesn’t mean they are not valid. I certainly hope that the pendulum swings back the other way — sooner rather than later.

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Susi June 10, 2014 at 8:20 pm

I just came across your blog through one of your older posts. I have an online dog treats and natural remedies website. When I read your post here, I was drawn into your assessment if the recent Sterling case and the comparison to similar situations where our freedom to think what we want is being trampled. I plan to visit your website regularly. Thank you for your thought-provoking observations.

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Susi June 10, 2014 at 8:27 pm

I appreciate your thoughts, Susi! It’s getting increasingly difficult NOT to see parallels between politics, political correctness, social mores of the decade, and purebred dog ownership and ethical breeding. I wish I could go back to writing humor pieces about living with an unusual looking breed, but honestly there are times it feels frivolous.

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Rita Rice May 24, 2014 at 8:56 pm

Sterling wasn’t arrested or prosecuted for his actions -that’s the point of free speech -we have the right to say what we want without legal repercussions, short of endangering lives. The right to free speech doesn’t free us from the repercussions of our actions. Sterling’s actions endangered the franchise and were in violation of the contracts he signed as team owner – he is rightfully suffering from his actions.

I’m sorry, but I don’t see the correlation. The Ammendment that protects free speech has nothing to do with the current political climate.

AR groups are entitled to their opinions -as we breeders are entitled to ours. The AR groups are doing a better job in the court of public opinion than we are. These facts have nothing to do with free speech. We need to do a better PR job – start acting out against animal abuse, and taking back our rightful position as the true lovers of animals, and working to preserve our rights at the same time.

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Susi May 24, 2014 at 9:21 pm

I suppose it depends upon whether you’re the person getting “screwed,” or the person doing the alleged screwing, Rita. The owner of Piper was the dogs’s self-described breeder, and for this, her dog was withheld from her even though she’d done nothing illegal. As I see it, her free speech cost her her dog. And while I didn’t bring politics into this conversation, it seems to me that free speech does have something to do with the current political climate when critics of the President are accused of being racist when there’s no evidence of it beyond their criticism of the policies of a political person who happens to be of color. As for the animal rights groups doing a better job, I think it’s easy to be perceived that way when you’ve infiltrated the Department of Agriculture (Susan Conant), the head of the Internal Revenue Service (Lois Lerner) is a card carrying member of the HSUS and turns a deaf ear to congressional calls to investigate the Human Society of the United States, and the media is in your back pocket. This isn’t to say we as dog fanciers, we haven’t mis-stepped (a lot), but just one really ambitious, aggressive and unfailingly honest reporter could damage, if not bring down PETA and HSUS, while another could expose the scandalous schemes of some shelter and rescue groups. I’m not ready to hang a halo on Wayne Pacelle or Ingrid Newkirk just yet, Rita.

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Susi May 24, 2014 at 9:02 pm

A good many people are most irritated about the same point you make, Stephanie: The conversation was a private one in which one person didn’t know the other was recording him. It makes him no less vile, but as I see it, neither does it make him a criminal. Some feel that because Sterling wasn’t arrested or prosecuted for his actions, he DID enjoy free speech, but having that right didn’t free him from the repercussions of what he said because it made the franchise look back and possible violated the contracts he signed as team owner. I have no idea other than that the whole thing feels wrong to me.

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Ricka Smith May 24, 2014 at 9:34 pm

Got to think about apples and oranges here … don’t think we can equate Sterling with Piper – or Duck Dynasty or even Phil Donahue … corporate censorship vs a law which, in the case of Piper’s owner clearly discriminates against constitutional rights of due process and personal property ownership.

A corporation or an association who agrees to pay you as an employee or to grant membership in an association in which you agree to meet certain standards of conduct does have the right to disassociate you if you violate the terms of contract. Different circumstances than losing a dog and having a self-appointed individual refuse to recognize your rights of ownership.

Good article, food for thought.

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Ricka Smith May 25, 2014 at 2:20 am

I don’t believe there was ever a question of Sterling’s having done anything “criminal.” There is some question as to whether he knew he was being recorded as well. In any of these cases, Sterling, Donohue, Duck Dynasty, et al, were, in effect, biting the hand that fed them. I can remember a time not too long ago when untoward personal behavior could get a person fired from a job in a bank, or as a teacher, etc. This isn’t new.

The so-called breed rescue in Ohio is another issue entirely – they are acting in a manner which does violate a person’s right to due process under the law, and in violation of property rights – now, it just remains to be seen if anyone has the will and the means to bring this case to trial …

As a parting thought, let me say that the idea that Sterling’s girlfriend is a “slut” is offensive to me as a woman – but more to the point, her own personal relationship to this man doesn’t mitigate the fact that what he said was offensive and bigoted. It was bound to call into doubt his fitness to own a sports franchise comprised of persons of color.

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Susi May 25, 2014 at 10:40 am

I’m not sure where “slut” comes into the conversation with regards to Sterling and I’m assuming it came from a newspaper account, but she could be Mother Theresa-like and it wouldn’t change my take on the situation. I honestly don’t know the law in the state where this happened, and my impression is that the legality of recording a private conversation varies from state to state, but it “feels” like he was set up – and aren’t there laws regarding entrapment? That said, sure, the guy is a jerk. What I find more interesting is the emphasis on Sterling in comments made to the article when I think the dog story is the more shocking element of it. I certainly hope she takes the rescue group to court, they richly deserve to lose their shirts. I keep thinking of the poor dog who just wants to be with her owner.

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wallyj May 25, 2014 at 12:38 pm

” 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. ”

The natives in Canada are already at that point. Their dogs run wild.
The free-spirit dogs gather in packs and occasionally eat their children.

Luckily, most Canadians have the intestinal fortitude to ignore that.

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judith fester May 25, 2014 at 1:10 pm

AMEN ~ I am a victim of a local Shelter Director who hated breeders. I was a registered CFA show/hobby Persian cat breeder.

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Rachel May 25, 2014 at 1:59 pm

“Slut” was brought into the conversation by Stephanie Horan in the SECOND comment on this post.

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Susi May 25, 2014 at 3:41 pm

Gotcha

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Mike James May 25, 2014 at 2:04 pm

How did the lawsuit play out? I’m no attorney, but it looks to me as if you very obviously have a remedy at law. There’s no question who owns the dog, who has the dog, and how they acquired it. Expensive and aggravating, I realize, but it would be helpful to the cause of the dog fancy to pursue this matter, and you might even end up owning a rescue shelter.

And slapping those people down would just feel good.

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Susi May 25, 2014 at 3:41 pm

Now wouldn’t THAT be something, Mike……to end up owning the shelter. The last I heard, no one knows if Piper is well or even alive. A. page has been set up to help with court costs at: http://www.gofundme.com/941kuk, and I find the whole thing just mind boggling. I can’t even wrap my head around this outrage and as you said, it would feel WONDERFUL to see this rescuer lose her shirt over an outright theft of someone’s dog.

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chienblanc4csi May 26, 2014 at 6:52 pm

I agree, it’s cases like this one that must be capitalized on, even if it costs us all a little money and time. These folks are out of control, and still celebrated as “heroes” by way too many people.

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Tom Mahoney May 27, 2014 at 11:40 am

I don’t believe that under Ohio law, the actions of the shelter can be considered theft. They complied with the requirement of attempting notification and got no response. As I understand it, according to Ohio law, that means that the dog has no legal owner.

Is this morally reprehensible? Absolutely. Is it Illegal? I don’t think so. Law and morality can be far apart.

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Susi May 27, 2014 at 11:48 am

You could be right, Tom, and others have suggested as much. What I find baffling is that morality aside, the mandate of a shelter to find good homes for its charges and this shelter determined that the dog’s “previous” owner and breeder was unfit, but why? I think most of us on this side of the argument can deduce what’s going on here.

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Mike May 25, 2014 at 3:07 pm

I don’t think Sterling did anything wrong, period. He didn’t use the horrible n-word in his conversation and if he doesn’t like black people, so what? I don’t like Eskimos but I don’t hate them and if I wanted to own a whaling ship manned entirely by them and I had the means then I should be able to do just that. Or maybe he just doesn’t like this personal tramp running around with people that have AIDS. He should be able to do that too.

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Susi May 25, 2014 at 3:33 pm

Mike, Mike, Mike, don’t you know we’re all supposed to link arms and sing Kumbaya as we learn to love our brothers and sisters? It’s “freedom” only if others approve of your choices, if they don’t, you’re can be anything from a racist, homophobic pig to a rednecked, prejudiced misoginist.

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Jay Kitchener May 25, 2014 at 3:10 pm

I wonder why you didn’t include Paula Deen? If I recall correctly, she was “held responsible” for something she said a long time ago. Yes, I get the part about entertainment contracts and all that, but still. As an openly gay man, even I think “political correctness” has gone too far in today’s society.

Just last month, dear friends of mine were turned down at their local shelter outside of Boston because they were honest. They admitted they used to own show dogs and even bred a litter once. That killed the sale real fast. It’s just as well, because my friends were shocked by what they saw and how they were treated. They were not allowed to walk through the shelter to choose a dog, rather they sat in a room and dogs were brought to them one at a time. All of these dogs were mixed breeds of unidentifiable breeds, and all of these dogs had been brought up from the southern states. My friends were truly shocked. It only made matters worse for them when they asked the shelter staff, “Where are all the dogs from the local community?”

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Susi May 25, 2014 at 3:27 pm

I should have included Paula, Jay – and for the reason you cited, I didn’t. The story of what happened to your friends is one that replays over and over again all over the country. I hope your friends tell everyone wide and far what happened to them because it’s truly shocking to folks who still don’t know any better. I’d be tempted to regard the whole shelter scene as a scam if I didn’t know dedicated individuals working at good organizations. It makes me wonder why the “good” shelters haven’t joined forces to reveal and shut down the bad ones…..

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Ricka Smith May 25, 2014 at 4:39 pm

Susi, what if we look at the situation this way … you are employed by an old established institution, could be anything from an exclusive club to a high end brokerage … Now, we
all know that there is always a “morals clause” involved in those kinds of organizations – and if you put a foot down “wrong,” in a way that is going to even hint at offending a prestigious member or client, you know that you’ll be gone. I think that is what we’re looking at in terms of Sterling (he signed a contract with the NBA to be able to own a franchise). The ability of “Duck Dynasty” to produce revenue for their employer depends on their ability to attract customers for the sponsors who buy advertising time on their show; the Duck in question there got a couple of weeks suspension, while whoever he is under contract to decided how damaging his statements were to the network, and they lost sponsors, etc. Paula’s problems started with a law suit which claimed sexual harassment in one of her restaurants (thrown out of court) and a racial discrimination suit – also thrown out because the complainant did not have standing to bring the suit (she is white) …One of the charges against Paula was that she had wanted to plan her brother’s wedding reception around a plantation theme, complete with “slaves” as serving people. Also a non-issue. If she wanted to do that, and “slaves” were willing to work for her in that capacity, no harm no foul. None of these examples is a matter of abridging anyone’s right to free speech …. the BIGGEST bru-haha that I can think of in recent times (comparable to Sterling in some ways) was the Clinton-Lewinsky thing … which would not have happened if Lewinsky’s friend had not recorded private telephone conversations with her … there is essentially no difference in principle in any of these issues. Not a matter of free speech … just getting caught with your hand in someone else’s cookie jar, saying or doing something that may damage you in the court of public opinion.

The Animal Rights fanatics are abridging many constitutional freedoms, foremost among them their efforts to impose a philosophical ideology which may be tantamount to a religious faith and gives them sect status … they’re trying to essentially change the nature of our social and cultural structures by legislating their personal spirituality into law … there is a fundamental difference between doing that and just a blanket infringing on our freedom of speech. We’ve got to fight them to protect our Constitutional Rights (yes, capital C) but we need to be careful what we call those rights, and we need to be smart enough to know which right we’re protecting …

Now, the issue with us as purebred fancier’s gets a bit dicier, because we are dealing with issues of bigotry which is born out of a very definite ideology regarding the nature of animal status in relationship to human beings … in essence, there is not a bit of difference between Sterling’s bigotry toward African Americans, and Wayne Pacelle’s bigotry toward purebred dog breeders … the difference is the way in which Pacelle, Newkirk and others go about exploiting the public through false claims about the people they *want to put out of business.” Several of my friends have been denied “adoption privileges” from the local “pet rescue” organization … one because his parents were “breeders” and AKC show judges, and the other because she owned intact animals …there is definitely an element of prejudice there, but not an issue of freedom of speech …

Sorry to be so windy …

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chienblanc4csi May 25, 2014 at 6:32 pm

Just last evening I attended my first every-other-month social event that was organized by some long-time fanciers and breeders who wanted a chance to get to know some of the people that we see every weekend, but don’t really “know”. I was quite shocked to realize that there are still way too many people in the fancy who are just as you described . . . “They can’t possibly do away with dogs and dog shows, you are paranoid and alarmist.”

Our state struggled for several YEARS to hammer out a dog breeder licensing bill, battling tooth and nail with HSUS and a fanatical “puppy mill” activist with a very high opinion of herself and tons of money. It was a battle to beat all, but finally we ended up with a state licensing standard, flawed as it is, that took effect 3 years ago. The legislative liaisons among us just sighed and hoped that some day we would be proven to actually BE paranoid, prayed that we were wrong . . . but we weren’t. A conversation last night was eye-opening, a woman who’s bred a very popular breed for 40 years didn’t even know we HAD this new licensing standard, were unaware that it could apply to her in a year when they have larger litters and a couple of “rescue” dogs to rehome, let alone what it does or doesn’t do for the future of dogs in our state.

I keep heart, though. There are signs that more and more people are awakening to the consequences of this desire to legislate everything and everyone just in case there might not be our personal idea of perfection somewhere.

Keep up the pressure, Susi. Now is not the time to relax. Another winner blog!

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Susi May 25, 2014 at 6:51 pm

I appreciate the kind words, Char, and it baffles me whenever I hear accounts like yours from the social event. There are STILL people who just don’t know! I’m the first to point out that most dog owners don’t go to dog shows, belong to clubs or read dog publications, and they’re to be forgiven for not knowing what we know. But people engaged in the sport?

We do what we can’t, don’t we?

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Ricka Smith May 25, 2014 at 8:50 pm

Absolutely right – there is no excuse for the purebred fancy to be so blissfully unaware how far down the slippery slope we’ve skidded … I wonder what these people will do the first time they ship a puppy sight unseen to a buy three states away and someone knocks on their door and asks how many “breeding females” they’ve got.

Susie’s idea for a “National Purebred Dog Day” is genius and I hope it grows and grows and grows …

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chienblanc4csi May 25, 2014 at 9:48 pm

Yep. And this is the whole point of the party, the main organizer is a powerhouse poodle breeder, intelligent, savvy and persistent and very kind. I will be sure to attend the next one, it was a lot of fun, great people. I feel as if the organizers have the right idea – the very definition of “grass roots”. Twenty people at dinner, laughs and shared love of dogs, very fertile ground for those grass seeds.

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Jean C June 6, 2014 at 6:50 pm

Just a couple of questions? What action prevented either the petsitter or the original owner from phoning the shelter or leaving a message regarding the missing dog? And if there is a local breed rescue and my dog is missing, I will be contacting all and sundry for help in finding my dog. Why didnt this happen here?

You haven’t claimed that the shelter placed the dog with the breed rescue in less than the legally allotted hold time for a missing dog. That may vary from location to location, but darn — my dog is gone three days or more and no one calls the shelter to report a missing dog until it becomes convenient for the original owner.

There are some serious holes in this story.

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Susi June 6, 2014 at 7:02 pm

The holes were filled in after publication, Jean. The pet setter’s father suffered a coronary which is how Piper got out and went missing for as long as she did. If I understand correctly, by the time her owner returned, enough time had elapsed to make the dog’s ownership “up for grabs,” but that raises an entirely new set of questions. Rescue is all about finding a “forever” home for a dog, and in this situation, Piper HAD an owner. The owner was also the only home Piper had ever known since the owner was also the breeder, but still the owner was denied her dog by the shelter. This suggests to me that the dog’s best interests were not being served by the shelter which instead chose to make her a “political football.” If you suspect something more nefarious going on here, I’m all ears.

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