Animal companionship has numerous documented mental and physical health benefits for humans, and in moderation, there is little harm. But moderation is illusive and harm comes when animals are valued for their misfortune and dysfunction and what being the care-giver of such a poor soul gains their owner. Caring for a special needs animal is daunting and some degree of satisfaction in the task is natural and apt compensation for the difficulty of the task. Alas, some find greater social and spiritual rewards are garnered for owning an animal with greater impairments and thus some seek out or even create such animals.
The dog world is conspicuously filled with unhealthy relationships between people and dogs. Nearly every famous dog memoir is a testament to clinically dysfunctional owners and their impossibly quirky dogs and it’s almost always the dog who suffers–often severely–before the epilogue tries to put a revelational and uplifting spin on the disaster: usually the untimely death of the dog. Any number of well received dog blogs are written by people I wouldn’t trust with the safety of a stuffed animal, but their hand-wringing and bottomless bewilderment at why their high-minded plans keep failing and posts documenting how they almost killed their dog again this week get views and accolades. Many of these idiots hope their diaries of defect will get them the next big book deal with a Hollywood movie to match.
It’s not just the high profile individuals, it’s also the culture. The used dog market has been rebranded “rescue” so people can pretend to be moral crusaders and put mawkish bumper stickers on their Honda Elements so everyone behind them in traffic can appreciate just how wonderful they are. These “Who Rescued Who?” zombies will tell you all about how their dog was “abused,” is fearful of all men and blondes and people with glasses, and explain away any and all faults with this excuse (their abuser must have been a roid-raging myopic Swede), even their dog’s lack of basic training and manners 5 years since their “got you date.” Apparently the “Savior Complex” doesn’t include miraculous cures for dogs, or even a modicum of socialization or any sign of basic progress. All the miracles were done when the people
bought the dog at a discount walked on water and raised the dead and the only thing that need be done after is auto-adulation, advertising, and self-promotion.
It’s not uncommon for people going through emotional or psychological distress to turn to animals for comfort. The “crazy cat lady” is a familiar staple and animal hoarders are common enough to get their own TV show where they always document the psychological break which lead to the mass acquisition of animals in an attempt to fill an invisible void. On a smaller scale, it’s not uncommon for people going through personal turmoil to turn things like animal rescues as a diversion: death, divorce, and disability seem to be apt kindling for a voracious rescue/foster career and dogs that don’t get new “forever” homes so often end up filling up the volunteer foster home until city ordinance or covenant by-laws put an end to the cycle.
Sometimes the sheer volume of blood gushing from the fragile over-worked hearts of these crusaders deprives their brains of oxygen and mental retardation ensues. They start to believe the hype. Not only do they believe that used dogs are better than new (never mind the litany of insurmountable problems they’ll regale you with should you find yourself in their proximity at the dog park), they fetishize the obvious faults of the dogs and rebrand them as features.
A recent conversation concerning my essay on the ethics of breeding Harlequin Danes produced this amazing comment on the DOL forum:
Bringing up ethics in this discussion is really interesting and could take us into an entirely other direction
Anyone who has been around or a part of the human deaf culture knows that many deaf people do not feel they have a disability, a problem, or are lacking in anything. For many in the deaf community deafness is treated as a difference in importance of sensory input and a difference in the way life is experienced, but not necessarily a difference that has a negative connotation. As an owner of both a deaf and a hearing dog I can say that Monroe is as capable of being a well behaved animal, a productive member of our household, and a companion as Bailey is. He is capable in both the arenas of instinct and learned behaviors.
So is it unethical to breed if you know doing so will produce him? I’m not so sure about that. His capabilities are no more or less than another dog, they are just achieved in a different way.
My next great dane will be deaf. I have a strong feeling that every great dane I own from now on will be deaf. As an owner, I appreciate my dog’s deafness as some others appreciate their fawn coat, or their nice headline or their great confirmation.
Do I believe that deafness should be the next breeding fad? No. But I also don’t think it is unethical. I think it is a game of weights and balances when choosing which two dogs to breed.
Beyond the earlier comments which make some bold claims about my post but provide no actual details on why my facts are wrong, this comment is particularly troubling.
First is the implication that if we simply avoid talking about ethics we can avoid having to face the ethical implications of our actions. This is a common theme in the breeding community where the going culture is that breeders should not criticize other breeders, even in the face of real questions of ethics, lest we sully the great sport of dog breeding in the eyes of the public and invite activist lunatics to burn it all down. This is group think nonsense and standing silent in the face of abuse is to tacitly condone and support it.
Second is the conflation of dogs with humans. Deference toward an individual’s desire to define themselves in their own terms and perhaps a good dose of political correctness does not change the obvious and substantial truth of disability. To be blind or deaf in some measure is a problem and by definition to be deaf is to lack hearing, to be blind is to lack sight in full or in part. That sight and hearing are assets and deeply valuable is without question and that life can continue in their absence does nothing to diminish their value.
In humans, where we have highly adaptive and sophisticated means of communicating and comprehending, we can mitigate the impairments of blindness and deafness and our abundant self-awareness allows the blind and deaf to process and move beyond their condition. That some may choose to dis-empower the terms “blind” and “deaf” completely by professing their indifference or denying a “negative connotation” to them is admirable, but to do so universally is dangerous and the implications terrifying.
If blindness is the equivalent of sight than to intentionally blind another causes them no harm. Should we then say that to blind another be it by a hot metal rod or the intentional choice of breeding known to produce blindness with abundant chance is thus the equivalent and simply different than to preserve one’s sight and to make breeding decisions that do the same? This comment suggests as such. Is the ethics of creating blindness and deafness intentionally in animals that have no ability to fully process and move beyond this impairment ethical? Balanced against what, a coat color one finds fashionable?
There are deep questions of ethics here, ones that remain unanswered, but if we are to have an honest and rational debate we can not allow people like “jimsjer” to place vision and hearing on one side of the scale and claim that it balances against blindness and deafness on the other side. They are not equivalents, they do not balance, and to be denied an ability is not superior to enjoying its fruits.
Breeding animals might be seen by some as a sport or even a game, but when the wages are the lives and well being of another sentient soul, we can not be so flippant and callous in how we weigh assets and balance our selection. Look into the hollow and dry eye sockets of the Harlequin Great Dane at the top of this post and tell me if you think that’s ethical.
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