It’s dog show time again. The Westminster Kennel Club is having its annual competition at Madison Square Garden February 11-12, which is being televised and streamed online to perhaps millions of viewers. 2013′s show is the first since the Pedigree sponsorship controversy last year. You may recall that Westminster dropped Pedigree in advance of last year’s show due to a lack of shared vision on the cause of animal adoption.
Pedigree’s support of animal shelters, and their advertisements on the same theme, didn’t fit in with the prestige and elegance the show likes to project, nor its unwavering belief that for-profit breeders are the only legitimate place to get a dog. It’s true, social responsibility and prestige don’t necessarily go hand in hand. Certainly the culture of purebreds and a concern for the welfare of dogs are at a significant mismatch.
We’ve written about the issue of animal homelessness often enough at Care2, and I put together a thorough primer (focused on dogs) last year. The problem can be easily solved by an educated and socially-conscious consumer. If we all recognized that there are perfectly wonderful dogs looking for homes, whom hard-working shelter staff have done fantastic jobs socializing and providing medical care, we’d be happy to help support their efforts, both financially and by giving these animals the forever home they deserve. Of course, reaching that critical mass of public understanding and support for a sea-change in the way dogs are bred is the challenge.
It’s easy to decry backyard breeders. My family includes two Humane Society adoptees, one of whom is pure mutt, and another with enough beagle in him to maybe pass for purebred (though he certainly doesn’t have the papers to enter a show). He and his sisters were surrendered by the breeders, not, I think, voluntarily. One of his sisters had already lost part of her ear to frostbite. Our own Maxwell has spent years learning that he needn’t cower and shake every time he meets a new person.
If I ever met the people who brought him into the world and did whatever it is they did to him and his litter-mates, I’m not sure what I would do.
We tend to be a little more hesitant, however, when it comes to taking aim at the upscale breeders Westminster and other kennel clubs represent. I can appreciate the political value in finding a shared cause between adopters and those who support breeders. I understand the desire to avoid losing potential allies by painting the enemy with too broad a brush. So we qualify our targets with the prefix “backyard.” We discuss how to find a “reputable” breeder, thinking that a certain segment of the population just won’t consider getting from a shelter, so we’ll try to point them to those individuals in the for-profit dog industry who we believe do the least damage.
It’s kind of like paying lip-service to a billion-dollar oil company because they’ve shaken out some pocket change for a small nature reserve or other publicity stunt. At some point, the pretense collapses under the weight of its own hypocrisy.
Dog breeders, all of them, are bad for the welfare of dogs. Leaving aside the many health issues that come from the intense in-breeding required for maintaining type standards, not to mention recognized pedigrees, protecting dogs will ultimately require getting the message across that dogs are not toys or designer products. This means tearing down Westminster’s portrayal of dogs as status symbols.
Their website explicitly says that their dogs are “the best of the best . . . [all of which came from] dedicated specialty breeders.” There’s a not-so-subtle implication that adopting from the Humane Society or other shelters is like buying a used car, or a cheap knock-off to a designer purse.
Snobbish? Absolutely. But also ignorant, at best, and downright monstrous at worst. They encourage the same pet store and backyard breeder sales they claim to be against, because ultimately the only message they get across is one of incredibly shallow fashion-consciousness.
This isn’t a show for people who care about dogs. This isn’t an organization for people who care about dogs. Supporting dog breeders and trying to portray yourself as an animal-lover is like saying you’re an environmentalist and driving a Hummer. It’s no surprise that Westminster didn’t like Pedigree throwing it in their face.
One day perhaps we can put an end to the large-scale suffering our poor, too-trusting companions have faced on our behalf. But if that’s going to happen, this ignorant culture of purebreds, elegance and exclusivity needs to be one of the first things to go.
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