Breeding Ethics 2

In my last post, I started to analyze the common breeder commandments that are so popular in the show community and in the nannying matron dog world in general. I pick up here where I left off:

Taking back their pups for re-homing if the need arises.
What the hell is this? Dogs have to come with lifetime guarantees now? No questions asked return policies like Walmart and Costco? What ever happened to personal responsibility? What ever happened to discouraging the “try before you buy” mentality? If buyers want a test dog they should sign up and foster a rescue, a much better decision all around for a novice or unsure buyer. This take-back ethic is clearly not a buyer demand but a tool used by other breeders to slander each other.

Even with rampant premarital sex and a nearly absent stigma against cohabitation, divorce rates are still 50% in the U.S. We can’t expect puppy buyers to remain 100% faithful either, despite a much better success rate than marriage (a decidedly more important decision, even if there are more ways a marriage can go wrong than a new pet, but still).

Human babies for adoption don’t have return policies, especially after the cute phase. Neither should puppies. This provision probably does more harm than good, allowing breeders who adopt it to home puppies in marginal homes thinking, “I’ll always take it back if it doesn’t work out” and marginal pet owners making the leap too soon thinking, “I can always take it back if it doesn’t work out.” This provision won’t engender more responsible buyers at all. How could it, you’re giving them an excuse to be worse pet owners.

Now, I’m all for breeders offering value added services and being a resource, but the mandatory take-back ethic is stupid. Breeders should be specialists in creating and selling healthy puppies. Breed rescue and shelters should be specialists in keeping the second hand pet market a viable alternative to new pet purchases and euthanasia. They should specialize in the sales and evaluation techniques necessary to get used pets in to new homes.

But by all means, if this is something a sentimental breeder wants to do, fine. Good for you for offering to take a load off of rescue and shelters. But while a parent’s love might be forever, their legal responsibility should end when their children are adults. So too should a breeder’s legal obligation end at 8 weeks when those puppies go to their new homes.

After 8 weeks, the ethical and emotional considerations aren’t straightforward and become proportionally the liability of the new owner and less the breeder as time goes forward. A much better solution to this particular ethic is a right of first refusal. This would require notification of the breeder and give them the option of taking the dog back before the new owner approached a rescue or other avenue to rehome a dog. It is not a guarantee, it’s not an encouragement, it’s a link for greater communication, and that’s what’s important.

That way, adults can make adult decisions given the specifics of the situation, instead of some stupid and absolute guarantee. Buyers should not expect their breeders to automatically take back partially grown dogs because of the buyer’s own failings. If breeders want a longer and deeper relationship and buyers are willing, they’re welcome to make the take-back arrangement, be co-owners, or any other arrangement. This should not, however, be an adopted ethic.

Religiously testing their dogs for diseases prevalent within their breed.
Besides the really stupid mixture of religion and science in this sentence, I’m all for DNA testing. More information that is true is superior to ignorance and guessing. But religion? No. Religion implies that there is some absolute rules and ethics of what you do with the information, when there shouldn’t be. Religion implies that you have to divine the mind of god and have faith that good intentions are enough.

The “religion” going around makes for people who hold other breeder’s DNA results against them, as if the dogs and the breeders are tainted and evil because a new test results in a positive result for an old disease. This is part of the general human condition where we assign moral judgments to disease (e.g. people with AIDS from sex or drugs deserved it, whereas people infected from blood transfusions deserve our endless pity). You might point out that genetic disorders are inherited, not viral, but such distinctions are immaterial to the ethical slanders that go around matrondom.

More science, less religion, and all will be well.
Not placing pups in pet stores for selling.

What makes pet stores bad places for selling pets?

(1) Pet stores are located in malls where impulse buys are the name of the game. Impulse purchases are not appropriate for living creatures that live 1-2 decades, are self aware, emotional, and highly social.

(2) Pet stores get puppies from puppy mills. Puppy mills are evil.

(3) Pet stores don’t vet buyers. If you have the $, you get the puppy. Setting prices high enough will do well to discourage impulse buys and people financially unable to properly care for a dog, but there is more than money involved, and a clerk at a mall store is probably insufficiently interested in doing much more than manning the cash register.

I wonder though, why couldn’t a new model of pet store work? Why couldn’t good breeders provide quality pets instead of puppy mills? Why couldn’t the obvious advantages of specialization work with breeders breeding well and stores selling well? I imagine that the answer is that it’s just not profitable (enough) to do so.

Any way, bashing pet stores seems pretty easy and justified to me. I’d rather focus on ways to make breeders better or even the shelter system better, the pet store industry could dry up and disappear and I don’t think anyone would mourn its passing.

Placing pet quality animals with spay and neuter contracts.
Again, a nanny ethic, but no harm done. Buyers should be convinced, not forced, to spay and neuter their pets. If you want to ensure this, keep the dog long enough to get it done and sell them spayed and neutered. GASP! What? But it’s hard to sell older pups! And the expense!

Ok, ok, spay neuter contracts are only necessary because the medicine is not able to mesh better with the timeline of selling puppies. If there were a simple shot that could accomplish this, I’m sure the breeders would get it done and advertise as such.

Mentoring new puppy buyers and breeders thoughtfully and patiently.
It takes a village to raise a puppy? Ok, whatever. All the better that breeders share information and keep in contact with buyers. Except for that whole slandering each other non-stop, making up baseless lies and breaking all the “rules” themselves while they persecute others. Remember, Salem was a village too.

So the ethics here are a continuum and there are no easy and absolute answers. For supposedly being a pet loving people, there’s more playing politics (and for what gain?) in dogs than just about any other area I can think of.

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About Christopher

Christopher Landauer is a fifth generation Colorado native and second generation Border Collie enthusiast. Border Collies have been the Landauer family dogs since the 1960s and Christopher got his first one as a toddler. He began his own modest breeding program with the purchase of Dublin and Celeste in 2006 and currently shares his home with their children Mercury and Gemma as well. His interest in genetics began in AP Chemistry and AP Biology and was honed at Stanford University.