Post image for Cracks in the Armor

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. adopt don't shop,anti breeder,westminster kennel club dog show

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 adopt,rescue,purebred dog, westminster kennel club dog show,breederfashion 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

{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }

Julie June 7, 2016 at 2:17 pm

So how do we widen the cracks?

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Susi June 7, 2016 at 4:30 pm

Julie, logical consequences will widen some of the cracks all by themselves, but WE don’t ever stop challenging malarky when we see it. We attend city and country hearings dealing with animal law or ordinances so that our interests are represented. We continue to write informed, respectful letters to the editor or to the authors of anti-breeder, purebred dog bashing articles. We keep up the steady flow of pictures of beautiful, sound, happy purebred dogs on social media. We get the facts, then speak out when a situation like Paul Upton’s or Piper, the Sheltie, is revealed. We engage our neighbors, relatives and friends when the conversation turns to pet ownership, and we get out in public with our dogs to start that conversation. We become ambassadors for purebred dogs, but also, we see ourselves freedom fighters because as I see it, few demographics have had their rights as systematically eroded as the dog owner.

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Jay Kitchener June 7, 2016 at 2:41 pm

You know how I feel about you, and you know how long I’ve been in this fight, so please know I’m not trying to be disagreeable for no reason. I can’t agree that there’s any consensus in the fancy about anything, especially the issue of radical animal rights wanting to end all dog breeding and then all dog ownership. For example, the epidemic of pet shop sales bans–which are really breeder bans–that is currently sweeping the country (about 150 municipalities have now passed these bans) meets little or no opposition from the rank and file in the fancy. Asking them to oppose these bans is often akin to asking them to sacrifice their first born. Most folks in the fancy would rather die than to be perceived as defending commercial breeders. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: The only thing two dog breeders will ever agree on is that a third dog breeder is doing it wrong. The bad guys in radical animal rights lobby know this, and they depend on it. Dog breeders spend their time attacking each other while the opposition gains ground attacking all dog breeding. In my experience, most in the fancy can’t see the forest for the trees.

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Susi June 7, 2016 at 4:20 pm

Awwww, Jay, I feel the same way back, and I take no umbrage that you disagree with my piece because while I see your perspective, I also understand why you’re encountering what you’re encountering. In the different ways we’re fighting to take back the conversation, you have it harder than most because you’re fighting in an arena that will likely be the last wall most fanciers can bring themselves to scale. Why? Because for years and years and years, fanciers were told that pet shops were bad, and commercial breeders were even worse. Most of us belonged to breed clubs with Codes of Ethics that specified that as breeders, we would never sell our puppies to pet shops, ever. Period. It’s difficult to emotionally reverse course for fanciers who still don’t fully understand that in the bigger picture, the threats that face our former “enemy” is the same one facing us. From where I sit, I still think I’m seeing progress because these same people at least now see that there IS a threat when a few years ago, they didn’t. To use your analogy, some in the fancy can’t see the forest for the trees, but at least now they acknowledge that there be evil in those woods.

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Julie June 7, 2016 at 5:13 pm

Jay, the article you posted last week about the latest ban in my own backyard (Solana Beach CA) got views on your timeline……… not everyone posted comments to the actual article. The folks that did post did an awesome job and made beautiful, well thought out points, but politicians look at numbers rather than compelling heartfelt posts. ……….it would have been more effective had the replies been in the hundreds.

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Pamela Martin June 7, 2016 at 5:00 pm

Thank you for this. That’s all.

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Susi June 7, 2016 at 5:21 pm

Gosh, well, Pamela, THAT was easy. You’re welcome – and thank YOU!

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Ginger Black June 7, 2016 at 9:58 pm

The tactic that people are using to get people engaged and enraged is that things are related. Buying a puppy from a breeder actually has little to do with dogs in shelters but to get you engaged and enraged the lock them together in your emotional mind, not your rational mind. So how did a gorilla getting murdered in his home have anything to do with abortion? It doesn’t but zealots of any kind perpetuate these battles so that we argue ad nauseum about nothing. Just like you, if you actually get to have one on one discussions you often find that we may have more in common than all the arguing leads us to believe. Most have trouble believing other than our mantra because our brains delete, distort and generalize info coming at us so that we can only hear the info that we haven’t deleted, distorted, or generalized to fit what we already believe. Changing another’s mind takes some work.

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Susi June 7, 2016 at 10:34 pm

Ginger, would this be another way of saying the “opposition” has perfected the art of “misdirection?”

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Sylvie McGee June 7, 2016 at 10:34 pm

Great article, as always, Susi! I think you’re right – there are fissures occurring. Among the folks I know in my breed’s rescue groups, there’s more and more discussion of reputable rescues and that not all are. And while some are certainly in the “all breeders are bad” camp, a number of us who are actively breeding have kept up dialogue with rescue folks on an ongoing basis, and that creates those spaces in which people can start to see each other, rather than demonize each other.

One of the most exciting things that I’ve been involved with this year has been our national breed club’s health survey. We very deliberately reached out to the pet and rescue communities to include their dogs in the survey – and we had success that we could not have imagined in terms of the number of dogs for whom we received health data. That result is extremely important to us, because it will really help us shape both breeder and owner education, and can inform investments in breed-related health research. But it’s also been very important because the rescue and pet communities have felt included and many expressed their gratitude at being included in the survey. Another crack widened….

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Susi June 7, 2016 at 10:49 pm

Thanks for the kind words, Sylvie, and for sharing what IS great news coming out of your breed club. I learned with National Purebred Dog Day the importance of including all breed owners, not just fanciers, in the conversation, so to speak. When we rub out the proverbial “lines in the sand” that separate “us” from “them,” it deflates much of the anger and resentment from the dialogue about purebred dogs. I will always believe that dedicated heritage breeders are the best hope for the future of sound companion dogs, but owners come in all shapes and sizes, as do their dogs. We need these folks if we’re to beat back those who would rob us of ANY animal ownership. Great comment, Sylvie.

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Lynn June 8, 2016 at 8:15 am

Great article. Here is my perspective. When a person wants a pup they buy a pup. Where ever they can get it the quickest and cheapest. Usually around me (in PA) it is from an Amish farm. I am a dog trainer. So they bring their out of control pups to me as a last resort and when I ask them where they got their dog from, they say ” I know I shouldn’t have…” They want a pure bred dog, but don’t understand about a well bred dog. AKC papers mean a guaranteed good dog. Right? So yes, here is where I do blame the GOOD breeders. We have had our heads in the sand for way too long. I hear a lot of talk about how something needs to be done, but very little interest in action. I have gotten a few meet the breed events to happen, but not a lot of participation. I think every local club, every breed club, should have a committee that makes sure it is involved in it’s community, educating the public.

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Susi June 8, 2016 at 8:55 am

Sing it, sister. I agree with you, Lynn. We dog people are an independent lot, but that’s not a quality that has served us well at a time we need to circle the wagons. I wonder, too, if we’re not suddenly stuck between a rock and a hard place insofar as the AKC is concerned. WE know that the AKC is a registry, and not a canine “Good Housekeeping Stamp of Approval” promising well bred dogs, but at a time the AKC (or many in its halls, anyway) is trying to reverse course by re-embracing purebred dogs again, we need it as an ally, not as an opponent on the same side; diminishing what it can bring to the table by diminishing the dogs it registers doesn’t feel smart to me. That why I’m in ABSOLUTE agreement with you about the need to have greater outreach to the public at an individual and club level. When I started National Purebred Dog Day, one of my goals was, and is, to have a Meet the Breeds venue in every state, no matter how small. Our BEST PR is our dogs, and we’re not doing enough with them to get the public over to our side.

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Carol McElheney June 8, 2016 at 9:01 am

I have been a fancier/trainer of a rare breed (Bouviers) for the past 25 years. I have bred one litter, purchased several and adopted and fostered several. I was Rescue Chair of my local club, assisted by a dear friend who did the “heavy lifting” by actually keeping homeless Bouviers at her home and paying vet bills for them out of pocket. Our club “fired” her because she was a little abrasive and insisted on sterilizing stray Bouvs. I quit that club and they stopped having a Rescue! I don’t know what they did with the $60k they had in their treasury for Rescue. We both joined another regional club. We found that folks who adopted Bouviers almost always went on to buy and show from club members and participate in AKC activities. Our former club just blew its own foot off and stole $60k IMHO.

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Carol McElheney June 8, 2016 at 9:06 am

What I’m speaking of is different from the self-righteous folks who “rescue” from shelters etc mixed breed and then shun purebred dogs and their associated sports. My former club used to offer activities such as grooming seminars, sheepherding, carting and picnics that were of interest to owners of Bouviers wether they had AKC papers or PAL numbers, or were outta the pound. I lost interest when the club stopped helping homeless Bouviers. I still own two AKC Bouvs being shown in AKC events and one 13 year old with a PAL number, adopted from a shelter.

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Vicki Hurley June 8, 2016 at 9:36 am

In my opinion, the key words in this article are “Take back the conversation.” Who are the dog experts in America? Um, that would be the people who own dogs, love dogs, and breed dogs, NOT the group of haphazard crackpots who have absorbed some Ingrid Newkirk. Do not for one second stand for this stuff! The meme at the start of this article is completely unacceptable. If that appeared in my facebook newsfeed, I would write a carefully worded reply that would scorch enamel off an oven. Don’t misunderstand — I would not use vulgar language or profanity, I would not insult or accuse the person who posted it, and I would not manifest wild anger. I would write a clear explanation of the facts (with statistics and links to references) — and take on all comers who want to reinforce the lie. Concerning the advertisement in the shopping mall — I would find out who was the authority in charge of accepting or rejecting advertisers. I would research their rules for accepting or rejecting ads because usually there are some clauses about threats or “hate speech”. I might even check with an attorney. THEN I would go to that authority person and make it VERY clear why an ad demanding people financially damage a legal industry (by boycotting it) because of the lie the ad is promoting is completely inappropriate for their advertising kiosks. No, they probably wouldn’t take it down, but if I could get a large number of my facebook friends to also write to that advertising company demanding that they take it down, I would bet they would think twice before allowing trash like this again. Regarding the shirt. I would make a written complaint to the show management with a clear explanation of why. My dogs and I are border collies (except for the Sheltie in my profile picture). We believe in FOCUSING on the problem until it is solved.

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Susi June 8, 2016 at 10:10 am

Gosh, Vicki, how do you really feel?

Kidding. I love your passion, and it’s that kind of passion that will see us through this, only we need more folks to have it. We need people to challenge, complain, explain, and educate, and I firmly believe each of us is more than capable of doing it, once we find our stride. I admit to using the memes I did because they’re inflammatory to responsible, conscientious, and dedicated owners and heritage breeders, but it’s what passes for gospel among the “opposition” who would see our demise. As for the shirt, well, that one was “fair.” The venue in which it was being sold was rescue, I just hadn’t realized it before I got there. I didn’t like the message, but the seller had the right to sell it. Still, it provided a “teachable moment,” for both me and the booth hawking it.

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yorkshire terrier July 6, 2016 at 3:18 am

Nice place for my yorkies. I have five little yorkie my own. I have excellent videos of them as well.

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