Yay! Comment time is here again. (Part 1: puppy mills)

It’s about time for a comments answerpalooza! Part 1 is here. It’s long, so get yourself a cup of tea.

Wow. I wonder if you realize that what you are *promoting* here is COUNTERPRODUCTIVE to the efforts we have ALL been forced to engage in to keep the ARISTAs at bay?
“A puppy mill is any facility where dogs are bred mainly for the purposes of profit.”
I’m sorry, but that is YOUR OPINION. That is *not* a fact. IMO ‘puppy mill” is a nasty name that *has* no adequate definition, and one that is far too often used as a pejorative towards anyone in competition with us. As in, for many, the definition of ‘puppy mill’ is “anyone who has more puppies than me.” (Insert rolling eyes here.)

You are welcome to tell me I am wrong, but again this will be your OPINION not fact. Arrogant and egotistical as I am, I am not about to say that my opinion on these matters rises to the level of Truth Incarnate.

I rather imagine I’ve bred at least as many Champions and titled dogs as you have, over the last thirty years, so don’t approach scolding me from the position of knowing more because I am not a ‘breeder.’ Nor will you have the luxury of accosting me as a ‘puppy mill’ myself by your standards, at least not as set forth in here, because I don’t have enough puppies, nor do I make anything off of them by the time you subtract my expenses. In fact, I lose money, which would seem to put me in your ‘good guys’ category. HOWEVER, I categorically disagree with you about what constitutes a puppy mill, AND I think this article is not only NOT helpful to our best interests as animal owners and breeders, but will simply serve to muddy to waters further for the poor confused majority of the pet owning public, while continuing to give the ARISTAs a handy pejorative which, I will remind you, they happily hang on us ALL.

Please explain for me, if you would be so kind, just *why* it is that in order to be a Reputable Person, a dog BREEDER must do so as a pauper??! It seems to be OK for a TRAINER to use his skills to make money, no shame attached to that. It seems to be OK for a GROOMER to make money off of dogs, perfectly acceptable. It seems to be just fine for a VETERINARIAN to make his living off of dogs, that’s fine and dandy. It seems to be OK for a PROFESSIONAL HANDLER to take my produce and turn a HEFTY profit, in fact he is lauded as a judicious businessman. But if we, the breeders who make all this possible, who hold the futures of our breeds in our hands; if we *dare* to turn a profit from our sleepless nights and our endless pedigree research, if we dare to get a return on our investment in health certifications and the best vetting money can buy, if we dare to make a dime after all our personal sacrifices in the pursuit of our dream, why! WE are the scum of the earth; we are a “puppy mill.”
Insert rolling eyes AGAIN.

That is so very, very wrong that I can’t even address how wrong it is. I think you maybe need to think this out again. While you are doing so, ponder why it is that breeders must never expect to turn their life’s ambition into a living. To my mind, I would think that was the best of both worlds. Can you explain what it is, exactly, that is inherently evil in producing healthy, happy, well-socialized puppies for discerning and carefully scrutinized homes… and actually being good enough at it that your following makes it possible to turn this into a profitable side enterprise? Please explain why this is a ‘bad thing.’ Seriously.
Respectfully, believe it or not, submitted,
Lenna S. Hanna-O’Neill

When I hear stuff like this my instant reaction is to post something flip.

Awesome! As comments go I give it a “9”–it’s catchy, and I can dance to it.

But that’s not respectful and I want to make absolutely sure that I do address the concerns listed above. So as much as I may be inclined to joke, I’m going to answer this very seriously.

First, some factoids: “Aristas” here is not a mispelled record label name. It is actually “ARista”–a pejorative term for an Animal Rights activist. It’s a label I categorically despise, because

a) it totally backfires–“-ista” has been totally reclaimed from its roots as a terrorist reference (Sandinista) to a term referring to someone who’s very serious about something and is willing to be blunt and snarky about it. Stylista, Fashionista, etc. are a lot more indicative of what the term means now; it’s a positive reference. According to the current way it’s used, I’m very much a caninista or dogista or whatever you want to call me. And

b) it’s SO FREAKING DISRESPECTFUL AND COUNTERPRODUCTIVE. I think that PeTA and the HSUS are run by people who are categorically wrong. I have absolutely no patience or respect for their organizational aims. But the VAST majority of their members are totally clueless about what goes on in the boardrooms–they’re animal lovers who can’t bear the thought of animals being abused. Those people deserve our respect because they’re human beings, and they deserve a respectful analysis of their views and a respectful invitation to change their minds. When you look at responsible breeders and rank-and-file PeTA members, we are on the same side on almost all points. We don’t want dogs in rescue. We don’t want unnecessary euthanization. We don’t want unhealthy dogs in pain. We don’t want unnecessary experimentation.

If we create a completely false us-versus-them campaign, we are doing exactly what they want us to do. A good proportion of what PeTA puts out there (the recent campaign calling for fish to be relabeled “sea kittens” is a great example of this) is tongue-in-cheek looking to get press and get a rise out of people. If we come out hissing and spitting and call ourselves the enemies of PeTA and so on, we are playing right into their hands. And it’s NOT TRUE. We are NOT the enemy of 95% of all PeTA members, and being disrespectful and rude doesn’t help that perception issue.

Second factoid: If you’re reading this and you’re not “in the know” about the breeder/animal rights turf war, you need to know that there is a major movement among some breeders that basically says “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.” I’ve read a whole bunch of stuff about how we need to ally with the commercial breeders, with the more fringe breeding-rights organizations, etc. because if we don’t then the powers that be are going to make sure we can’t ever breed or own animals ever again.

They’re right that the heads of PeTA and the HSUS would like to take away the rights of breeders to produce puppies. But I WILL NOT AND NEVER WILL stand beside people who abuse dogs and who do not treat them the way they should be treated. NEVER. And I think it is dangerously unwise to hitch our wagon, as a body of responsible breeders, to the fortunes of groups that think it’s OK to have a thousand dogs in a converted pig-breeding facility, pumping out puppies as fast as they can.

Now, finally, getting to the meat of the comment (see, I told you to go get tea):

I am pretty sure that the person who left the comment didn’t actually read the whole post it was attached to, because I laid out exactly why the processes of making money and following good breeding practices are so opposed. However, let me say it again, maybe a little differently, so my point is exactly clear.

It is not WRONG to make money by breeding dogs correctly and responsibly. It is IMPOSSIBLE.

Those are two very different concepts.

There’s nothing ethically wrong with making money from animal sales or from responsible breeding. If I am able to breed goats again (I did for a long time when I was younger), profit-making is actually built into the responsible breeding process. Ditto for cows and rabbits and any number of animals that are valued for what they produce (milk, meat, fleece, etc.) rather than who or what they are.

And of course there’s nothing ethically wrong with making money from pet-related or dog-related businesses. Being a responsible business owner means making as much money as possible while providing a desired good or service.

Here’s how dog breeding is fundamentally different:

We elevate the wrong priorities and we follow the wrong processes when we look to make a profit. I talked about this at length in the original post.

If we have profit-making as a goal, we look to decrease raw materials cost and maximize product cost. That’s business 101. So cheaper food, fewer health tests, less money wasted on showing, less campaigning, lower-priced original dogs, breeding all your bitches to the same dog, etc. become virtues.

This is, by the way, exactly how you do it if you’re breeding goats or cows or sheep. You’re constantly running cost/benefit analyses, and if you can get the same amount of weight on a cow by feeding something that costs $7/100 lb as you would feeding something that cost $15/100 lb, you choose the cheaper food. You run the health tests that make sense economically and if you run into a health problem that would be costly to test for you send the whole herd for meat and you start over. You breed each breeding-worthy male as many times as he possibly can be (which also means that stud fees are as low as ONE PERCENT of a comparable dog stud fee), and you breed him to every single female he could possibly improve. And, of course, the vast majority of your offspring are culled, usually for meat, and as quickly as possible.

Only a few are kept to live out their lifespans, those that do are expected to produce the maximum number of offspring physically possible for them to do, and if they get sick or are no longer making money they’re humanely put down or slaughtered. No serious breeder is interested in keeping a flock of ancient and non-productive chickens or sheep or what have you. They may keep a few old “pets,” but they do so knowing that they’re not making a good business decision when they do so. And nobody shows up ten years after buying a goat from a breeder, even the best breeder, and says “My goat had a knee problem when she was ten years old; please give me a replacement.” That would be laughable. When livestock go out the door, they do not leave with any warranties and there is no expectation that the original breeder is responsible for the quality of life of the animal.

The exhibition/showing end of these production animals is also totally different. There’s substantial prize money to make your trip worth while, and huge amounts of business is done at a typical show. Most of the big ones are capped off by a big auction where many animals are sold to the highest bidder, so going to a show, if you are a good enough breeder that you have high-quality animals, is a profit-making or at least break-even (and good advertising) process.

Contrast that to what we do in dogs. We pay through the nose to show (in Danes it cost about $15,000 to finish a dog; in Cardigans it’s less but still way up in the thousands), we are expected to absorb hundreds and hundreds of dollars in health testing per dog, our stud fees are up over a thousand dollars in many instances, the food that keeps them the healthiest is more expensive, we must screen every single buyer and take back any dog that doesn’t work out at any point in the owners’ lives, and we are expected to produce a population of animals where the entire group will live out their entire lives as companions. We give health warranties that are absolutely insane from a business standpoint. We breed our bitches only a few times and then get them expensive spay surgeries; our males are usually bred even fewer times than the bitches. We spend hundreds of dollars on training, hundreds on vet care, thousands on fencing and housing and so on. We spend thousands of dollars keeping our retired dogs (and “retired” usually means the majority of the dog’s life) happy and healthy. We are responsible, if not legally then morally, for making sure that every dog we produce has a high quality of life for its entire life.

And that is why I maintain that you can’t set up a kennel with the aim of making money and still be a responsible breeder. It’s just economically impossible, unless you charge $10,000 a puppy or some such ridiculous amount. And it is ethically very dangerous to make profits any kind of virtue, because that leads you to reduce your raw-materials and production costs.

One final note: There’s a strong whiff, in the above comment, if the idea that I shouldn’t insist that breeders not try to make a profit because if I do so I’m pulling for the wrong team. And that can easily be interpreted to mean that I should, in order to ensure that no animal rights activist get more ammunition, lie to people and say that it’s fine to make money on dogs, sure, good breeders make money.

I absolutely refuse to lie to people. I don’t care how much it helps “the cause,” I don’t care how pragmatic it is. I live in danger of my eternal soul, for very serious, and I WILL NOT lie to people.

And if that makes me a dangerous dog breeder, well, where’s my pin. I’ll wear it proudly.


One thought on “Yay! Comment time is here again. (Part 1: puppy mills)

  1. Wow. Where have you been all my life? 🙂 Yours (at least based on this post) is a voice that I’ve been hoping to hear from in the dog community, but have found sadly lacking.

    Thank you.

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