It's no secret that I love animals and care deeply about their welfare. The fact that I'm also a writer puts me in an interesting position. I can impart information to help them live better, healthier lives, both physically and mentally. I can try to reach owners and tell them about a variety of issues from cutting edge veterinary medicine to behavior, training and giving their dogs and cats a better life, one in which the relationship is mutually beneficial. What I cannot seem to do, is make people understand the difference between a responsible breeder and what I call a puppy or kitten producer, more commonly known as the backyard breeder. And there is that word: breeder.
It frustrates me no end that everyone is painted with the same brush. Responsible, ethical breeders, do all possible genetic testing before breeding. they take proper physical and mental care of the mother, are present for the birth of the puppies or kittens. They begin socializing the puppies or kittens from the very first day, picking them up gently and putting them down. While Mama Cat teaches her kittens to use a litterbox, the dog breeder sets up the whelping box so that the puppies have a clean place to eliminate, away from the nesting area. Puppies are given a wide range of experiences so that whatever they encounter in life will seem normal to them. Kittens are played with, and both get environmental enrichment.
Ideally, both puppies and kittens are kept until they are 12 weeks old while being socialized and that bond with the human is transferred to the new owner; the new owner is carefully screened by the breeder. There is usually a contract, and the breeder will take the pet back at any time in its life if there's a problem and the owner can no longer keep the dog or cat.
Backyard breeders and puppy mills do none of this. Puppy mills and "Commercial breeders" batch their pups when they're too young to leave their mother and littermates, there is no socialization, no chance to stay clean let alone learn the beginning stages of housetraining. They are trucked to pet stores where kittens are also often on display, with unknown origins.
Animal Rights people call everyone a "breeder." That's like saying all journalists copy each other's work, all car dealers are crooks, all lawyers are ambulance chasers, etc., that all people are the same, well, you get the idea. There is a huge movement to stop breeders. The problem with this is that not all breeders are alike and the responsible ones are being punished. These are the honest people who will follow the rules. What makes anyone think that puppy or kitten producers will follow the rules? If they don't care about the animals they're breeding, except as commodities, then why would they follow rules? And why are the responsible, ethical people being punished because of the others with onerous new laws that various States and communities are trying to pass?
Ethical breeders lose money on every litter. It's a very expensive hobby and one undertaken out of love with the goal of preserving and improving their breed.
If your neighbor is a thief who lands in jail, do you want to have people say that you're just like him?
Generalizations hurt. They hurt those who are doing the right thing and they mislead the general public.
Education is the key but when I write, I find that I'm preaching to the choir because most mainstream publications don't want to publish articles on this issue, unless it's to quote the rabble-rousers. Where is the voice of the ethical breeder?
Overpopulation of animals exists in some places but not everywhere. How can it when various shelters import dogs from other places? If they don't have enough dogs, isn't that the whole point? Isn't it time to shut their doors and find another job?
I should make the distinction between kill shelters where the animals are given two or three days, five at most, and then are killed (euthanized), and No-kill shelters where those who are reasonably healthy will be kept until a home is found for them.
As for mixed breeds, it is the responsibility of the owner to spay and neuter their pets and now allow them to roam and randomly reproduce. The mutts of either species, cat or dog, will be no healther than their ancestors. They, too, carry their genetic traits.
Separating the ethical breeders from the puppy and kitten producers would be a step in the right direction. Let's just "tell it like it is." No one likes to be painted with the same brush as someone else so why can't we accord ethical breeders the same courtesy?
Causes Darlene Arden Supports
The Marcia Polimer Abrams Fund for Canine Behavior Studies at the AKC Canine Health Foundation