Garbage In, Garbage Out

There’s plenty of elitism in the dog world and where you get your dog is as much of a potential status symbol as the breed you’ve chosen or any titles that might appear on a pedigree.

Much of the cachet built in to where you get your pets has to do with the implications the source has about the quality of the pet and/or the quality of you the owner. One of element of that cachet is what your pet source says about the likelihood your pet will end up in a shelter, and for people who pride themselves on shelter adoptions, what wrongs you are righting by adopting.

This is one one of the most surprising pieces of information I’ve found concerning petdom in America. For one, it puts to rest most of the arguments against breeders being the source of the over-hyped pet overpopulation problem. Not one of the reasons on that list has to do with a big B Breeder, and only the last (no homes for litter mates) has to do with someone who breeds.

Those two things are not the same, any more than you’d call anyone who runs a Runner, anyone who swims a Swimmer, or anyone who paints a Painter. The big T Title implies a level of training, skill, and success not common in people who blindly attempt an activity. This isn’t a simple matter of existentialism, it’s a matter of professionalism.

But in the world of breeding dogs, whoever, there’s an image problem. To call one’s self a “professional breeder” risks negative associations with puppy mills. After all, puppy milling is a profession which turns dog breeding profitable by treating dogs like livestock. Making the leap from “professional” to “commercial” isn’t hard, nor is the leap from “commercial” to puppy mill.

So yes, puppy millers and their slightly less problematic brethren commercial breeders would have to be called Breeders, they breed a lot and they make money at it. But they don’t deal with the public, so their image isn’t as big of a factor. That’s what pet stores are for, putting a friendly face on assembly line produced dogs.

“Professional” is out. So we try “Hobby” breeders. That keeps some semblance of being serious, but does away with the negative associations with commercialism. Many hobby breeders spend a lot of their time talking about how much it costs to raise good dogs, how much they don’t breed, and how very distinct they are from a commercial breeder or puppy mill.

But sadly, “Hobby” doesn’t embody enough seriousness. Some people are good at their hobby, but many are piss poor. How many “hobby” photographers do you know (there’s at least one in every family) that haven’t produced one picture that could be sold for more than the frame it would end up in? Since photography is an expensive hobby, many of these hobbyists become quasi-professionals, trying to recoup a little of the cost and maybe save up enough for that new lens. Results vary.

You hear a lot about dog breeders who are supposedly like said photographers. They’re really into the “art” or perhaps the science, and results vary. Just like there are emotionally and ethically charged border wars in the photography world (digital versus film, 35mm versus medium format, Canon vs. Nikon) there are also border wars in the hobby breeder world.

A lot of hot air and verbal bullets are shot back and forth between the different camps of hobby breeders and even within the same camp. Much of that content deals with who is a good breeder and who is a poor breeder and who breeds too much and who breeds for the wrong reasons or breeds the wrong dogs.

What you don’t hear enough of is breeders defending themselves against the erroneous claims that the pet overpopulation problem falls square in their laps, nor do you hear a lot of talk about how good breeders can play a role in limiting the number of pets that end up in shelters.

Looking at the above chart, the answer seems pretty clear to me. Good breeders are ones who find good homes for their dogs. New owners that are not at risk of being evicted or moving; who have interior and exterior space appropriate for the breed; owners who have the time and money to do right by the puppy, even in an unforeseen emergency.

Although most people don’t get their dogs from a breeder, and although dogs that are bought for a fair price from a breeder are much less likely to end up in a shelter in the first place, good breeders can learn from the list of reasons that pets are relinquished and see that the clear means to solve many of those issues is to not sell pets to homes that are inappropriate and under prepared for a pet.

If we bring garbage owners into the fold, we should not be surprised when they return garbage by poorly socializing their animals and ditching them in shelters at the first instance of inconvenience. Garbage In, Garbage Out.

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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.