Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Purebred Paradox: What Now?

The first four parts of my Purebred Paradox Impressions post reported what I heard at the conference. In this final part I want to offer some opinions about what it means and what we should do. These thoughts are mine alone, not approved by any organization.

It’s a standard HSUS tactic to announce a problem, get others to talk about their announcement, and then use all the talk as a springboard for an attack. It does not matter that there are few real problems or that existing laws would take care of them: They use the talk that they generated together with whatever seemingly awful events or situations they can find or invent to promote the idea of a general crisis demanding immediate attention.

Experts in the field are caught off-guard. Sure, there are some problems – there are problems in every facet of life -- and current law is dealing with them.  But HSUS is talking to people who know nothing about this field -- lawmakers and the general public -- using emotion rather than facts. It doesn’t matter that there is no fire and all the smoke came out of an HSUS spray can. They have credibility and money and they use it to demand action.

Recognize the term 'puppy mill'?  How about 'factory farming'? Those were earlier campaigns and some very bad laws that were the result. Obviously the point of these campaigns is the very successful fundraising that goes on around them.

It’s safe to say that the Purebred Paradox Conference was the opening salvo of an HSUS attack on the breeding of purebred dogs. It does not matter that most presentations were balanced, or that several of them pointed out actions being taken to improve the health of purebreds. It certainly doesn't matter that no presenter that I heard endorsed the idea of laws about breeding dogs (with the possible exception of a couple of the British presenters, who hinted at “regulations.”) The conference raised the profile of purebred health and HSUS will use selective quotes and pieces of the documentary to 'prove' that laws are needed.

Anyone with doubts about the future can check out Wayne Pacelle's blog at

He says: "But perhaps the biggest dog welfare issue in America is the reckless breeding of purebred dogs, which produces an incredible laundry list of inherited disorders, congenital health problems, and welfare concerns for the animals. In The Bond, I take this issue head- on, calling out the American Kennel Club and other breed registry groups for their mania in valuing the exterior appearance of the animals rather than the underlying health and wellness of the dogs."

I don't think he could get any clearer than that. Only the details differ from what he said about commercial dog breeders when the 'puppy mill' campaign started or his thoughts more recently about 'factory farming.'  And only the details will differ in the laws that HSUS and their various puppets will start introducing in the next legislative seasons.

The annual HSUS Taking Action for Animals conference will feature a workshop entitled “Health, Welfare, and Policy in Purebred Dog Breeding,” Speakers are from Best Friends, Humane Society International, and the ASPCA. Less than two months will have passed between the Purebred Paradox conference and this follow-up. What’s next?

We are about to begin a war with the general public over our right to breed dogs. They will be told that we are not stewards of our breeds but that we are breeding for appearance, with disregard for the health of our dogs. Just as they have been convinced that all commercial breeders are puppy mills, they will now be told that all show breeders are only out to win at the expense of our dogs.

How do we fight back? One thing that will not work is to keep shouting, “We don’t have a problem!” Legislators and the public will not buy it. So what can we do to protect our breeds?

1. We need transparency. When HSUS attacked the farmers, their response was to say, “Okay, why don’t you come SEE what we do?” We need to reach out to the public and show them that there are not dirty secrets hiding in the darkness of our kennels. This will not change anything HSUS is doing, but it will help show the general population that the claims are not true.

2. Get informed and get involved. Okay, you aren't a commercial breeder so those laws didn't bother you. You're not a farmer, either. But if you’re a breeder of purebred dogs or ever hope to be one, this campaign will matter to you. A lot. If you’ve been letting other people deal with “all that legislative stuff,” those days are over. We can only defend our rights with INFORMATION to combat the lies that are about to start and NUMBERS of voters who tell lawmakers the truth.

3. Be prepared to make some changes. Forget "We've always done it that way."  Nobody will care how you always did it.  If Velma Voter calls her lawmaker and asks him to vote for HB 666 to stop breeders from producing defective dogs and you call him and say "We've always done it that way," then that lawmaker will most likely decide that a law to make you stop doing it that way would be a good idea. I’m not talking about compromise. I’m talking about improvement.

4. Know what science says about your breeding practices. Some practices that were necessary or at least okay when breeds were being founded (say 100 years ago) no longer make general sense. If you have an exceptional situation so one or more of these breeding practices does make sense for your dogs, then be sure you know the reason and be prepared to explain it so the public can understand it; otherwise don't do it.

-- Inbreeding and linebreeding. To reduce the frequency with which inherited diseases appear, scientists and geneticists insist that we should be outcrossing, not inbreeding/linebreeding. (Linebreeding is a term coined by breeders, but geneticists say it is still inbreeding, though to a lesser degree.) This is a tough one for us. “But my mentor said...” Your mentor was not wrong, but we’re in a very different place with our breeds than we were 40 years ago. We need to change course. They needed consistency, we need diversity. Remember, we may think inbreeding is “setting type” but genetic experts think “not healthy” and the general public thinks “Deliverance.”

-- Use of popular sires. Nobody in the scientific community thinks this is a healthy practice. Even when no known bad trait is passed on, the unhealthy recessives that the sire carries (every animal carries some) will be more frequent in succeeding generations and if something truly terrible is discovered in a few generations it may be nearly impossible to breed away from it. It happened most famously in Dobermans (cardiomyopathy) and we're seeing it now in other breeds.

-- Breeding physical traits that are not good for the dogs. If the trend in your breed is to more c-sections, more of a trait that brings discomfort or danger with type, or anything else that you would have a hard time defending to the public, then it is time to reverse that trend.

I hope the parent clubs involved will be ready for the fight. These breeds are believed by many veterinarians and (in some cases) by the public to be prone to problems due to traits specifically bred into them for appearance’s sake. I am no expert in any of these breeds and have must to be able to explain either why these traits are not damaging to the dogs’ health or what we are doing to change those traits. Again, transparency. If only two percent of your breed is affected by, say, brachycephalic airway syndrome, get the figures to prove it and be ready to talk about it. We cannot ignore these accusations any longer. We must be prepared to defend what we’re doing...or change it.

-- Failing to give specific attention to inherited health in a breeding program. Are you doing the tests that make sense for your breed and line? Do you do pedigree research on health issues?  Do you offer the best health guarantee practical for your breed and encourage your buyers to report any problems? And when the problems are reported, are you supportive?  Put that information on your website, and when you talk to prospective puppy owners or anyone else, emphasize health.

Basically if you can't say 'health and happiness are the primary concern for our breed' then you are going to be on the defensive. The heat will be on for laws to force you to change and that heat is going to include laws that will do much more damage than good.

5. Join your breed's parent club. Support their health program. Be willing to consider specific action to improve the health of the breed. For example, there are breeds with defects so that are so common that they cannot be much reduced: These breeds might need to open their stud books in a carefully planned, scientific program to bring in healthier genes. Neither the public or lawmakers will care about the argument "Our dogs won't be pure anymore!"

Does your breed have something like a 'guide to breeding healthy (name of your breed)'?  They should. Health problems and what is being done to reduce them should be on every parent club’s website.

5. Support the AKC. No, they're not perfect but they're making a serious effort and they're miles ahead of where they were even a few years ago. They are the only organization with the horsepower, the name recognition, and the reputation to go toe-to-toe with HSUS. They cannot do ths without our support and they cannot defend the indefensible.

Change is coming whether we want it or not. If we act now, we can assure that most -- maybe even all -- the change actually benefits the dogs. Our specific actions will help with our defense but the increased knowledge of WHY we do what we do will be even more valuable.

If we do not act, then we will get change anyway. It will be led by those who hate us and don't care at all about the animals and it will be enforced by the ignorant.

Our choice.

Sharyn Hutchens
Timbreblue Whippets