In a fight we didn’t invite, dog fanciers have made a few errors in judgment that we’re now acknowledging. Chief among them has been a failure to effectively communicate to the general public who we are, and why dedicated breeders are the best hope for the future of sound canine companions. Early on, too many among us miscalculated the threat posed by a well-funded, well-organized animal rights machine, and when the “adopt-don’t-shop movement” spun off into a life of its own, we assumed in our innocence that its proponents couldn’t possibly mean us when referring to bad breeders. We failed to realize at the time that for these people, there is no such thing as a “good breeder.” Figuratively speaking, we woke up one day to find that ”rescue” had become a new breed of dog, and “breeder” was a new dirty word.
As attitudes go, the fancy at least has consensus in how it perceives the threat. Whatever orbit any of us occupies in the dog fancy sphere, we are in agreement that adopt-don’t-shop proponents want to end all dog breeding, and the animal rights agenda is determined to end dog ownership altogether.
Less cohesive is how fanciers have gone about challenging the mischaracterization of our sport. There’s been no “clarion call to action,” no scheme to galvanize fanciers to come together to undo the damage that’s been done. We are an independent lot, we dog people, and it’s not always a trait that serves us well. Presently, there are hundreds of Facebook pages, websites and e-mail lists working to “take back the conversation,” but they’re acting independent of each other and without a “unifying call to action,” the message becomes diluted. We are, however, learning.
Public response, meanwhile, has been fractured, if not schizophrenic. A rescue dog at the end of the leash has empowered many individuals to assume an air of moral superiority. Others purchase their dog from a breeder, then lie about the dog’s origins rather than deal with the fallout from friends persuaded by the “overpopulation” myth. All the while, the public can’t seem to get enough of purebred dogs as evidenced by the burgeoning popularity of “Meet the Breeds” venues wherever they’re held. It’s puzzling. Are purebred dogs bad, or aren’t they? If the only acceptable purebred dog is a rescue, and hobby breeding is eventually legislated out of existence, one has to wonder where the public thinks future generations of the dogs they flock to see will come from.
Assumptions are made at our peril, and this writer has been as guilty as anyone by supposing that all the mistakes made in this battle have been ours alone. As it turns out, the rescue movement is not immune to basic human nature, and I see hairline cracks in their armor.
Much of the adopt-don’t-shop crusade began with individuals in lockstep about the scourge of “overpopulation,” “the evil of breeders,” and the notion that by adopting a dog rather than buying it, the first two problems would go away. It seems to me, however that the rescue world is steadily fracturing into splinter groups, philosophical differences of opinion between them. Everything about it reminds me of the feminist marches of the 1970s when women burned bras, demanded social liberation and equal pay for equal work, and respect for individual choices. Forty years later, those same women are now in their sixties, and as some of them see it, the movement morphed into something different from where it began. Not everyone from the early days embraces the 2016 version.
Something similar seems to be happening in the rescue world, and if we know where to look, we can connect the dots. Rabid rescue proponents have sucked the oxygen out of the room, but there are reasonable people still engaged in rescue who work independent of breed clubs. If perception is reality, the “rogue” actions of some rescues have besmirched the reputation of all of them; an ugly, on-going legal battle between an owner and a rescue operation in the mid-west hasn’t helped. Incidences of bites by damaged, and poorly placed rescue dogs are growing. Rumors of rescues breeding their own “rescue dogs,” are rampant, and at least one independent non-profit has compiled data that punches holes in alarming “overpopulation” numbers long cited by adoption-only proponents as their “raison de vivre.” Statistics collected by the same organization show that a mere fraction of shelter dogs are purebreds, and that dedicated fanciers are not the source for every one of them.
If more evidence was needed to hint at fissures growing in the rescue movement, it came at the New York Pet Fashion show. The fashion show is always held during the week of Westminster in a host hotel for the dog show, and for years, I assumed that its attendees are “sympatico” with the dog fancy. I quickly learned otherwise when I finally visited the most recent show and spotted an “Adopt Don’t Shop” t-shirt sold at a booth. As I stared at the shirt, a scowl I didn’t realize I had on my face invited the booth owner to start a conversation that quickly turned contentious. We parried back and forth for ten minutes before we heard what the other was actually saying: She supported good breeders. I’ve been involved in rescue. She thought the fashion show made Rescue look ridiculous. I’ve put socks and shirts on my dogs.
This rescue advocate worked hard to form relationships with heritage breeders who occasionally helped her with puppy placements, and she respected their dedication. The t-shirt she was selling, however, is shorthand for, “no such thing as a good breeder” an insult to quality breeders. She knew how she regards good breeders, but hawking the shirt was a failure to effectively communicate to the purebred dog owning community, if not the general public and her own peers, that not all rescues vilify dedicated breeders.
Our opponents in this debate are exposing vulnerabilities. Reasonable people are reevaluating their associations within the rescue world. There are gaps in the media, and they present opportunities for us to share our success stories against the backdrop of greedy, hypocritical, and possibly felonious rescue operations. “Do-overs” don’t come around very around. Let’s get busy.
This piece first appeared in Dogs in Review, May 2016 under the title, Addressing the Adopt Don’t Shop Lobby