As many of you know, I recently lost my hero, my friend, my Saint Bernard, Monte. As comparatively fewer of you may know, when I rescued Monte, he was what is commonly known as a “hot mess,” physically and behaviorally. Quite literally even, since approximately 1/3 of his body was an oozing, smelly hot spot. It took my husband and me years to rehabilitate Monte to physical and behavioral wellness. It was a great adventure, and an incredible learning experience for me as a dog mom.
Funny, Chez Lomonaco just doesn’t feel like home without a Saint Bernard. Who will fling slobber on the ceiling or into the vet’s mouth on a hot, sunny day’s appointment? The dust bunnies are like tumbleweeds, reminding us that there is too much space here, it’s too quiet, the water bowls are less slimy.
Despite all of this, Jim and I are not yet ready for a new Saint. Our hearts are aching, and need time to heal.
Despite the fact that we are not currently ready for a new Saint, Jim and I have already began planning for the day when our walls and jeans will once again be graced with slobber, and our hearts blessed by the presence and wonder that comes from living with these funny, sweet, magnificent beasts.
RESCUE OR BREEDER?
If you had asked me previously if I would ever consider getting a dog from a breeder, I would have said, “Absolutely not.” Truly, there are millions of dogs in this country and around the world that are wonderful dogs waiting for a home.
I must admit that losing Monte gave me a different perspective on “responsible breeding.” It’s hard to lose your dog to a birth defect, particularly if there are breeders out there that are testing their dogs for congenital abnormalities and systematically eliminating them from their breeding program.
RIGHT WING, LEFT WING, OR MODERATE?
Last month, I published an entry on Dogster’s Daily Tips Blog about choosing between a rescue and a reputable breeder. I received one particularly colorful email from a reader indicating that I was advocating people purchase their pup from a puppy miller or mass breeding facility. This reader said that there was no such thing as a responsible breeder while pets die in shelters, and that if I disagreed with that sentiment, I should be held personally responsible for finding a home for every homeless pet in the country.
When you blog, you open your thoughts and perspective to criticism from billions of potential readers. Bloggers should not expect every reader will agree with every word they publish. Where there is passion, there is passionate discourse. I am thankful that I have such a wide and diverse readership and appreciate all constructive responses, whether the respondent agrees with me or not.
This conversation led me to think critically about this debate that rages within the pet owning communication, one that is often every bit as tumultuous and ugly as the debate between modern and traditional trainers regarding methodological approaches to behavior modification. I believe that, in this particular debate, we can split people into three primary categories – right wing, left wing, and moderates.
Right wingers have a tendency to prefer purebred (or, in the cases of intentionally bred mixed breed dogs or “designer dogs”, intentionally bred) dogs. This category can generally be split into two subcategories.
In the first subcategory, you have the upper echelon of conformation breeders and adopters – individuals that spare no expense in providing not just adequate, but exemplary: veterinary care, nutrition, socialization. They breed for conformation (adherence to the breed standard), temperament, and perform genetic testing on their breeding dogs to rule out genetic abnormality and inherited illness or disease. They acknowledge that “responsible breeding” is not a profitable business endeavor, but an art and a science that takes serious investment and study to do well. Many study their breeds for decades before breeding their first litter.
Breeders in this category frequently perform adoption evaluations that are only a bit shy of requiring a security check – they want to know about the family that will be bringing a dog home. They take placement as seriously as a parent might choose an adoptive parent for a child. Some require as part of the adoption contract that adopters attend a puppy class with their dog. They will reject unsuitable applicants, even if the applicant is able to afford the purchase price of the dog. They insist that, if at any point in the dog’s life the owners are unable to appropriately care for his needs, that he be returned to the breeder rather than being turned over to a shelter, rescue, or unapproved adoptive home.
Adopters in this category are equally careful. (More on that later in the week, when I talk about my “breeder evaluation questionnaire.”) They research carefully the breeds they are interested in. They prepare exhaustive lists of questions to get information about the breeding program, which frequently reads like a job interview. Many travel (often very long distances) to view the kennel and, once again, to pick up their new puppy when he is ready to go home.
Many breeders and pet owners in this category also choose to rescue from, foster for, and promote the work of breed specific rescues.
In the second subcategory, you have the “any purebred dog is better than any mutt” folks. Again, in this category there are both breeders and adopters. Breeders of these dogs generally do not health check their stock, and will sell a puppy to anyone with a paypal account. They sell their puppies to online brokers and pet shops, or relegate them to horrific auctions. These breeders don’t want people to visit their kennels. They are “in it for a quick buck,” and every dollar spent at the dogs’ expense is viewed as a threat to their pockets. They cut corners. They breed a behaviorally unsound dog that “looks good,” or “acts tough,” or “is fluffy.”
Adopters in this subcategory often select a breed based on appearance, and will give their money to the first pet shop or newspaper ad that will sell them a puppy, preferably at the lowest price.
Left wingers think that anyone who intentionally breeds a dog is murdering shelter or rescue dogs or robbing them of homes. They believe that all intentional breeders should cease and desist planned breedings until every adoptable homeless pet finds a forever home. They believe that there is no such thing as a “responsible breeder,” and are often advocates for mandatory spay/neuter legislation.
Some left wingers may think that many modern standards for conformation are becoming dangerously unhealthy for dogs (this author agrees).
Finally, we have the moderates. These are people that are equally open to both rescue and responsibly bred adoption options. They have blended families of dogs, both rescues and responsibly bred purebred dogs. They are passionately against irresponsible breeding, and passionate supporters of those who are devoted simply to the dogs, not to the almighty dollar. They understand that responsible breeders are not in it for the cash, and in fact that many of them lose money whelping quality litters. They understand that rescue and shelter dogs make great family pets and should never be ruled out when researching and evaluating a new potential doggy best friend.
In the political spectrum of adoption options, what category do you fall into?