The Age of Volatility

by Susi on August 7, 2017

in Breeders

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Few avocations don’t experience ebbs and flows of popularity over time, but one would be hard pressed to find a pursuit more battered by societal fluctuations than that of the breeder/fancier. If history were to assign a name to the stretch of time facing breeders between the end of World War II and the present day, surely the “Age of Volatility” would most vividly describe the climate in which hobby breeders have had to pursue their passion. How else to describe the extremes of perception of what they actually do?

Following World War II, Midwest farmers struggling to survive crop failures, as well as soldiers returning home from the war, were advised by the USDA to raise dogs as a means of supplementing their income. Roughly sixty years later, the same Department of Agriculture updated its definition of “dealer” to more narrowly regulate the very people it encouraged to breed dogs in the first place. With a lack of foresight, the USDA failed to see potential abuses among breeders interested only in the bottom line, just as it would fail years later to see the impact new regulations would have on dog fanciers committed to improving their breeds, and not their bottom line.purebred dog,Vogue Magazine

Magazines of distinction in the 1930s routinely included classified ads selling puppies, a reasonable and common practice used by respected breeders. Fifty years later, the same dog fancy that had endorsed these methods would frown upon classified ads and regard their use as the mark of a shoddy breeder with dubious motives. Things flipped yet again when home computers became as commonplace as telephones. Breeders became persuaded of the educational value of showing what proper type really looked like in their breed when the Internet enabled them to beam pictures of their dogs across the world in seconds.

Those of us of a certain age will remember a time when the worst thing any ethical breeder could do was to sell a puppy to a pet shop. Most breed clubs, in fact, made it grounds for expulsion. In less than a generation, the animal rights and “adopt-don’t-shop” movement made strange bedfellows of hobby breeders and commercial breeders, both invested in creating a new generation of puppies, but with vastly different methods and goals. Foul was the taste of the pill swallowed by heritage breeders faced with the notion that to protect their own right to breed, they had to protect the rights of others with whom they disagreed to do the same.

Breed clubs were not immune from “dancing with the devil” when faced with an impossible choice thrust upon them by commercial auctions: Should they sacrifice dogs of their breed to a life of relentless breeding, often in substandard conditions, or should they purchase the dogs and become the very market they wanted to dry up?

Bombarded with dire warnings that pet “overpopulation” was out of control, the public was duped into believing that every dog bought from a heritage breeder doomed a shelter dog to lethal injection. Unable to compete with the emotional pull of “saving a dog from certain death,” many fine breeders cut back on the number of litters they bred, or stopped breeding altogether. As stories emerged of rescue dogs creating havoc in families unprepared to deal with damaged dogs, or dogs that bit, the newly emerged rescue industry delighted at having a ready scapegoat, and blamed all breeders for these dogs.

So called “designer breeders” seemingly have gotten a pass. Ignorant of how genetics really work, the public has been persuaded that puppies produced by parents of two different breeds will inherit only the best qualities of each breed, neither parent having been health tested. Evidently, only dogs that have undergone OFA, BAER, CERF certification as well as DNA testing by breeders invested in their respective breeds for decades are unhealthy. And chocolate doesn’t have calories when eaten with Diet Coke.

Recently, several municipalities have passed legislation requiring that shops sell only rescue animals. Given that that over 300,000 dogs a year are imported from foreign countries (Center for Disease Control 2007) to fill demand, the supply of rescue dogs is unlikely to dry up. This can only hurt the breeder/fancier whose “market share” stands to shrink in a public square oblivious to the illogical act of importing more dogs if overpopulation really is an issue.

Breeders have alternately been advised to breed less frequently lest they be accused of being a puppy farmer, then told to have more litters because of a shortage of quality dogs available to families. As if a beleaguered breeder isn’t already pedaling furiously enough to keep up with changing tides, the tawdry issue of money enters the fray. Breeder/fanciers have historically undercharged for their well-bred, well-socialized puppies, even though health tests, progesterone tests, stud fees, AIs with fresh chilled or frozen semen, managed pregnancies, ultrasounds and vet visits aren’t free. Breeders are out even more money if they live in an area that penalizes them with a higher license fee for keeping intact dogs.

Breeders have been criticized for charging high prices, but what is a “stratospheric” price to pay for a purebred puppy when designer breeders get $2500 or more for a “doodle” or “poo,” and neither parent was tested for genetic issues specific to its breed? How much is too much when a rescue group charges $2,200 for an unpapered French bulldog as it recently did in my home state?

As dog fanciers, we admire balance, but in the conversation about dog ownership, a lack of balance is hurting our breeders. Some changes are to be expected with advancements in technology and communication, and hobby breeders use these developments to the advantage of their breed. It’s near impossible, however, to comply with societal expectations that change every few years, especially when they come from other fanciers.

It is a marvel that any heritage breeders are left, and that’s exactly how the animal rights movement likes it.

This article first appeared in Dogs in Review July 2017

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