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February 04, 2005

I go off on these obsessive tangents, once in a while ...

And sometimes it's animal welfare issues. Okay, frequently it's animal welfare issues of some kind or other, whether it's more specific -- looking into things like diseases and conditions I might have to deal with at some point, reading other people's experiences with behavior problems we have around here -- or more general, like euthanasia, feeding, the shelter system ... you get the picture.

Today's little O/C vacation was the 'milling' system. What got me started on it was a perennial question, with me -- where the hell did Max originally come from?

See, as far as we're concerned, Max has no history before the month he spent with Barb (Weimer, his foster with Franklin County Humane Society in Indiana), he came in as a 'found on street' dog to her, but clearly there were few or no problems while he was with her. Aside from the occasional reflexive kick-off of his hunt mechanism, he's a model shelter adoption. See, if one of the cats darts across in front of him and startles him, sometimes he'll snarl and start after them, though he never gets to them because they're faster, and all are good-sized and fully equipped; only Tink is afraid of him, and that wouldn't keep her from defending herself if he went way off the deep end. He's smarter than that -- he knows they could hurt him bad.

Incidentally, I write off the chasing to the fact he may well have had to feed himself by snatching squirrels or rabbits -- who knows? He did manage to grab a fledgling robin out of the air once, grabbed a mouse up out of some ivy, and has cornered both a squirrel and a rabbit that doubtless he could have taken if I hadn't pulled him away.

Max may have wandered off from somebody who just didn't have the resources or energy to care for him while they had him or look for him once he was gone -- he's a very energetic dog, and emotionally needy, so clearly he would have required plenty of attention. A person or family with too many kids, too many bills, not enough time ... an elderly person who was growing too incapacitated to care for him/herself ... there are many situations I could understand somebody cutting him loose, few of them having entirely to do with Max himself. Cutting a dog like him loose to fend for himself seems singularly cruel, but it doesn't seem to have done him any long-term harm -- better if they'd turned him in directly to a shelter, there's no way a pretty, well-behaved dog like Max would have been put to sleep even at a kill shelter.

It's doubtful that Max came out of a puppy mill situation, but I guess it's possible. I think Barb would have known, though; as trusting as he is, and as good with people and other animals (not to mention the fact that he's clearly not breed standard Pomeranian, if that's what he is) it's unlikely. But I got off on that tangent today, anyway.

You see, neither Tony nor I have ever bought a pet from a breeder or pet store. Every dog he had growing up was taken in because somebody else didn't want it -- one of the dogs, he and his mother took in when his grandmother was no longer able to care for it, another they found during a snowstorm and nobody ever claimed it.

I never had any pets of my own growing up, though until I was in school there was a stream of outside cats, ending with Blackie -- an unaltered male who wound up on the shoulder of our street with his head crushed by a car's wheel. He was the last cat. Mom and Dad had a Chihuahua named Pepe (yeah, original, I know) when I was born, presumably a purebred. Between having to deal with being displaced as the center of attention and having to deal with an active, curious toddler he was a real joy to be around -- for me, anyway.

When my younger brother was diagnosed with juvenile diabetes, back when we both were teenagers, they let him research and pick out a dog ... who promptly fell ill with parvovirus and bonded with my father, then really never favored anybody else in the family as much as he did Dad for the next eleven or so years.

Robin (named after the British Olympic figure skater Robin Cousins) was also unaltered, a purebred Yorkshire Terrier with horrible flea allergies (this was before the advent of Advantage-style flea treatments, when about all that could be done for Robin was frequent bathing, chopping all the hair off his ass and Prednisone pills). What time he didn't spend lying in front of the heat registers trying to make up for the hair he chewed off because of the fleas, or chewing off his hair because of the fleas, he spent biting the crap out of everybody but my father. Sometimes, he even bit him.

Me, I never bought an animal. My first husband and I took a 'free to good home' cat when he was in the service (who lived over 18 years, well outlasting the marriage). Tony and I adopted Tink from an animal shelter. We took Doodle and Squeek in off the street. Gord was at the shelter where we volunteer, and Max also came from a shelter. By taking them in, that made for five slots at various shelters for five more animals who'd end their lives that much sooner, if we'd just left them or let somebody else take care of them.

I know that with all my animals being foundlings, and volunteering at a shelter, you'd probably get the idea that I'm anti-breeding. I'm not, actually -- but I am for thoughtful breeding toward a purpose. There are responsible breeders in the world, people who breed animals for the same kinds of reasons we adopted other people's castoffs. It's fairly common among shelter and rescue people to resent any deliberate breeding of animals, and I think understandably so -- they deal with all kinds of animals, from 'oops' animals to those bought from the most reputable breeders that the people who bought them just didn't put enough research and thought into, and found they couldn't mesh them with their lifestyles. Most of the people I deal with at the shelter where Tony and I volunteer are more like we both are about it, though -- there's a case to be made for some controlled, thoughtful breeding of dogs, though anything beyond that makes me cringe.

Let me give you a hint about what I think makes a reputable, responsible breeder -- it ain't money, and it ain't about money for them. To breed animals responsibly, people generally have to invest at least as much, if not more more, in grooming, medical treatment and care, research, etc. than they'll ever make on the progeny of their purebred, registered, good specimen animals. They do research into the lines of the animals they plan to breed, and the ones that aren't suitable they neuter and keep, or neuter and sell as pets (or with a contract that specifies they be neutered, in some cases). They agree with the people who take the animals that if anything happens and the animal no longer has its original home, they will take the animal back and, in some cases, they'll even refund part of all of the purchase price because they aren't in in for the money, as I noted.

Now, people who buy an animal at a pet store at the mall and don't get it neutered ... and without any consideration toward whether it's healthy, well-adjusted, psychologically and mentally sound, or in other ways a good specimen of its genetic line allow it go get pregnant or impregnate another animal ... don't ask me what they're into it for. I wouldn't think it was money -- you can't get an awful lot for a pathetically inadequate, non-standard animal, whether it's purebred on paper or not. Nobody who cares anything about breed standard is going to pay for your borderline mutt's puppies, and anybody who knows so little about it they don't care about anything but the breed name (and knows little or nothing about the breed standards, conformation or behavior) isn't going to pay very much. If they do, they're not too bright -- poorly bred puppies aren't worth much.

This applies to kittens, as well, but I really think the backard and mill breeding problem is more extensive with dogs because particular breeds go through fads, unlike with cats. Oh, sure -- occasionally, you'll see a Siamese or a Persian cat in a movie or a commercial, but usually the cats you see in ads, even if purebreds, look like the cats you see at the animal shelter. Tink, for instance, is one of the most beautifully formed cats I've ever seen, and she's a Porch Cat. The ex and I had somebody offer us a couple of hundred dollars for Norman Bates when he was about a year old, because this person bred American Shorthairs and thought he was an excellent specimen that would be good for adding a little genetic diversity to his lines. Bates came out of the front yard of a fellow Air Force enlisted guy's trailer in a trailer park.

There is some snobbery with cats, but most of the people involved in cat shelter and rescue, while moderately savvy about breeds, really don't care much about that. Even without breeding of cats, there would be plenty of strays. Maybe it's because cats vary from one to another almost as much as human beings do, and there aren't that many behavioral characteristics you can breed into or out of a cat, unlike dogs.

I don't know if the same is true with dogs, but anecdotally, it seems to me most of the mutts I've encountered over the years are neutered. Because dogs are more trouble than cats to begin with -- I don't care how you slice it, they take up more space, require more care and cause more trouble when they do cause trouble, for instance with neighbors -- I don't think most average dog owners allow their mixed breed dogs to breed indiscriminately. I know many men have some kind of primitive, reflexive fear of having their dogs neutered, but if they're willing to deal with the aggression and the reflexive indoor pissing that seems to go along with unaltered male dogs -- as long as they don't let them breed -- I really don't care one way or the other. Most dogs adopted from animal shelters these days are already altered by the shelters, so that cuts down on it even more. The average mutt or shelter dog adopter, in other words, neuters or has no choice, or keeps the dog inside if s/he doesn't neuter.

Most unwanted dogs who wind up their lives at a shelter have likely come, whether directly or indirectly, from pet stores. Virtually every dog (or cat, I guess, though it's been years since I saw a breed kitten at a pet store) sold from a pet store is bought from a broker, who buys the animal at auction from a commercial breeder (or puppy/kitten mill operator, to be less delicate). The hobbyist, reputable breeder breeds for his or her own pleasure and for the benefit of the animals; his or her ultimate goal is to enjoy the animal, give joy to the animal, improve the breed and potentially give joy to another owner, if the animal isn't of sufficient quality to continue to breed or to show, but is healthy and attractive and mentally sound.

The backyard or 'oops!' breeder has no goal, s/he simply hasn't thought ahead far enough to consider things like how expensive it is to whelp and raise a litter of puppies, how unlikely it is that s/he would even recover the feeding and medical expenses of a litter, etc. Commercial breeders don't care if the end-user neuters the meat machines they sell, though it would seem to me if they wanted to drive demand they'd see to it their little genetic sports were neutered so they didn't lose market share to the 'oops!' folks. Just my 2ยข worth.

Commercial breeders exist for one goal, and one goal only -- to make as much money for themselves as possible for as little expenditure as necessary. Improving the breed, enjoying the animal or providing any joy to the person who buys the animal are, if they are factors at all, secondary or tertiary factors. Number one is to get the money; number two is to avoid any liability if the animal winds up sick or develops a disease or genetic abnormality that was missed or overlooked during the operation of the extrusion of small mewling fists of meat and bone for the purpose of pure commerce.

Here are a few links on the subject:

Puppy Mill Rescue

This organization rehomes animals taken from mills that are shut down on animal cruelty violations, animals bought from mills for the purpose of rescue, and animals bought at broker's auctions. They're not shrill or strident -- they don't need to be. They show the animals in the condition in which they left the mills, and that's plenty to disgust most people.

What Is A Puppy Mill?

This site is maintained by and for people involved in both mill and breed rescues; the link is to a page that discusses various ideas about what constitutes a 'puppy mill' and some of the things that happen.

Pet Store Animals

A little bit of 'tough love' from someone who breeds for the benefit of the dog, on where pet store animals come from and what you're dealing with when you take one home.

Where They Come From

Information on all sources of animals, from reputable hobby breeders to mills and everything in between.


There are other links out there, of course, but I decided not to post any of the more activist ones, because the ones I already posted -- which aren't shrill, especially, and generally tend to present the 'ugly truth' about the whole thing without a lot of emotional garnish -- are difficult enough to sift through, especially for someone whose only contact with the breeder might be buying the dog (if you actually bought the dog from a reputable breeder).

If you want to find activist links, you can find some off the pages posted. Any site that calls commercial breeders 'puppy mills' is likely to have pictures from one of several high-profile rescues from really disreputable, cruel operations that have occurred in the past decade. There have been cleanouts in North Carolina, Indiana, Missouri and Ohio that have resulted in scattershot enforcement of the relatively weak animal cruelty statutes in the states involved.

To be fair, it's generally not the fault of the animal welfare orgnizations or law enforcement that those who abuse animals this way aren't hit harder -- the laws in most states, especially in the Midwest and near eastern states, treat dogs and cats as chattel and require little more consideration to either farm or house animals than they do a chair. If someone else kills or abuses your animal, they're likely to be prosecuted approximately as if they'd come into your house and ripped your chair, too -- as if the animal were simply property, and any damage focuses on the real replacement value, not any punitive losses.

You are likely, as with a chair, to pay more dearly for abusing someone else's animal than for your own; in some cases or states, you may be seen to have a right to abuse or kill your own animals.

And I suppose, to some degree, that's not necessarily a problem. If you're stupid, cruel or callous enough to mistreat your own animals, it's your problem and, in whatever way you believe the universe works, eventually you'll pay for it. It takes a sickness I can't begin to understand to take on an animal you only want to mistreat, but then some people do it to their fellow human beings, too, I suppose it shouldn't be surprising they do it to animals. Okay, it's not really surprising to me -- just incomprehensible.

But, then, I don't understand acquiring a cat and then spending a hundred dollars or more to mutilate its feet, either, so I guess I'm a step more toward the activist side on this one than the ambivalent. The idea that volunteering for any given animal shelter is, because of people who see animals as a computer manufacturer sees computers, trying to piss on a forest fire is, admittedly, quite frustrating. As I noted, it's somewhat less frustrating when one works with cats, since many of the cats kicking out litters aren't decisively 'owned' by anybody. They're generally ferals, semi-wild cats or strays. Often, if they're dumped, they wind up at a shelter and are spayed before they're out of the building again. Few of them would have any papers even if you could find the original owners, because a relative minority of them ever had papers to start with. They came from the parking lot at SquallMart, or out from under the porch; they wandered across the lot when the people they lived with moved away and didn't take them.

Oddly enough, so much of this is stuff I would never have thought about if we hadn't gotten a dog from a shelter. If we'd bought a purebred dog, chances are (considering how I generally approach these things) we'd have researched it to within an inch of its life, talked to several breeders and gotten references. We wouldn't have wound up with a mill dog, in other words -- it would have been a dog from a decent genetic line, one whose breeding had been considered with some care. We wouldn't have bought from a pet store, or from some germy stall at a hicktown flea market (apparently, selling so-called breed dogs at 'th' flea markut' is all the rage with the mouth-breathing knuckle-draggers in my neck of the woods, these days). Yeah, boy -- that's where I want to buy my dog, at a flea market. About says it all about Ohio, doesn't it?

Oh, I could say lots and lots about Ohio, but I still have to live here. I've already said plenty, anyway -- our animal cruelty statutes and record of prosecution for animal abuse is enough to make anybody involved in shelter or rescue embarrassed. The only thing that seems to be a priority, oddly enough, is making sure that there are restrictions on the ownership of pit bulldogs. Sha' -- cuz everbody knoze them pitz'll kill a baybee! Once they taste blud they ain't wuth nothin', haw haw haw.

Yeah, Ohio's criminalized a breed of dogs because some of its owners are freakin' morons, but it won't criminalize the abuse or killing of animals to the point that the punishment means something or attempt to put any controls on breeding operations within state lines (they have to pay something like $20 and get a certificate; they're only required to have an inspection to acquire the certificate, and there are no inspections after that unless there's a complaint that the municipality or local law enforcement deem legitimate). That oughtta' tell you plenty. Money talks, bullshit walks -- that's what it oughtta' tell you.

Posted by Melinda at February 4, 2005 04:38 PM


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