Feb 032015
 

0711.connery.teeter.LJThere’s a thing going on in the dog world these days.

It’s not a good thing.

It can be hard to talk about objectively, simply because we do all care so very much about our dogs, and the fate of dogs in general.

This ungood thing has become so pervasive that we can be a part of the dialogue whether we realize it or not—and what we say can, all inadvertently, support a viewpoint we either don’t necessarily mean to support.

Ready for the plunge?

Where do you get your dogs?  Do you pay for them, regardless of source?  Do you pick them up off the street?  Do you research and target your breed?  Do you pick them out of a pet store window?  And how do you frame those choices in your mind?  How do you frame other people’s choices?

In my mind, it doesn’t actually matter.  People make choices based on their personal needs, and that’s how it should be.  But a pet’s origin becomes a problem when people with one set of wants and needs choose to impose those factors on other people.  (Or to try to.)

Once upon a time, I acquired most of my animals from where they’d been dumped in the very remote Appalachian forest.  For all of those I kept, I found homes for three times as many.  There was no shelter in these very rural areas.  When we did have animal control it was one man with a pickup truck, dog boxes in the back, and a rifle waiting back home.  Things have probably changed there now, but that’s the way it was then.

Once upon a time…

Tristan's sire

Tristan’s sire

But now my needs are different.  My life is different and what I do with the dogs is different—what I want to do with them is different—and so my dogs usually come from conformation breeders.

I want to have reasonable expectations of health and temperament, and I enjoy the camaraderie with the breeder.  My breed itself is chosen according to the preferences I developed over the years—my love of hounds combined with my need for a slightly smaller dog than those I once lived with.

Meanwhile, though I haven’t ever picked out a dog directly from a shelter, I’ve had dogs that came from shelters with a third party in between.  I also grew up with pups bought from less-than-carefully managed home breedings.  So on the whole, I’ve got pretty decent perspective.

Or I think I do, anyway.

Unfortunately, in today’s doggy gestalt, there’s an ongoing dialogue from an overwhelming number of shelters and organizations, and it goes like this:

 “Rescue dog owners are virtuous and breeder dog owners are killing shelter dogs.”

Yeah, I don’t think so.  And likely this subject deserves its own dialogue at another time, but for now let’s stick with the conversation I started—and for the sake of that, let’s assume that my years of investigation on the matter are accurate: the ugly tagline above is effective but false.  A perfect illustration of the way emotions have been manipulated.  And given that, there’s this:

As fallout from the largely successful and long-term campaign being waged against breeder dogs, the label “rescue” has become remarkably loaded.  In fact, it’s mainly become about claiming virtue cred while simultaneously shaming breed dog owners.

Camo

Camo

Let’s hark back to one of my first comments, about how we can be part of this dialogue whether we realize it or not.  Plenty of people are simply being factual when they use this label, but like it or not, the word has been poisoned, and at this point the usage contributes to the overall gestalt.

What I like to hear is not label, but backstory.

Our Trudy the Babe Brittany came from a shelter via a city friend—a dog with far too much energy for apartment living, so she came to be with us in the mountains.  Handsome Dewey Lake was a feral adolescent;  the man who killed the rest of the dangerous pack saved him, but Dewey didn’t fit with the family so he became ours when we took over his log cabin home.  Camo was a goofy Leopard Cur left out in the national forest to die.  Timid young Akela was left at the dump.  (No shelters in that area, remember).

Baby Strider

Baby Strider.  Baby Me.

Strider the Wonderhound, ever the dog of my heart, was orphaned at birth and raised in my living room.  More recently, shelter dog Rena Beagle came to me in the hopes that a different life would fulfill both her and us (though her illness was unfortunately more profound than anyone knew).

Kacey Cardigan came from a breeder, carefully chosen to suit my newly suburban circumstances.  Jag came from my friend Jennifer Roberson’s Cheysuli Kennels, a show dog with mysterious panics that we hoped I could sort out.  Jean-Luc Picardigan came from Jennifer because he, too, needed special care—brain-injured at birth and severely autistic, he ran agility as therapy.  Belle was also a Cheysuli Cardigan, tremendously talented and ever striving for perfection.

Breeder dogs, those four, but as much in need of the exact right home as any.  As was Connery, and Dart, and now Tristan.

So that’s how I look at dogs in the wake of the very difficult dialogue in play.  Not as labels, but as situations.  Shelter dog means one general set of circumstances, adoption organization means another, breed rescue means yet another, breeder rehome yet another, breeder puppy yet another again…and then there’s always “off the street, couldn’t find the owner” or “in the woods, couldn’t find the owner.” * **

*Microchip your pets.  Update the microchips when contact info changes.

**If you find such a dog, look for the owner.  It takes a stunningly short amount of time for a beloved pet to look as though it hasn’t had TLC for years.  Don’t assume!

Backstory provides context and information.  Labels are words being used for a purpose.

And the thing is, wherever a dog comes from, it is no less nor no more loved, its owner no less nor no more virtuous.

If we’re smart, we all make the choices that meet our needs, whatever they are–knowing that the dog will be happier that way, too.  And if we’re really smart, we’ll actually work together to keep the dog world as a whole as healthy and happy as possible…without putting each other down in the process.

Bonus picture of Tristan and The McPants, because I can.

Bonus picture of Tristan and The McPants, because I can.

  16 Responses to “Gone to the Dogs”

  1. I came across a short ‘news’ clip about a pack of Chihuahua terrorizing a Phoenix neighborhood. Yeah, the visual is impressive. They number around fifteen and are the longer legged Chis favored by some people. Interviews with neighbors and with Animal Control. Then the talking head comes back on to advise we need to spay and neuter our dogs and keep them on a leash.
    What connection is there between your Beagles or my Salukis and a pack of Chihuahuas, except to push a one size fits all solution to a multi pronged agenda?
    I think this subject needs to be discussed seriously and without heat by those who cherish their breeds and those who see no reason for pure bred dogs. Because they are ALL dogs, no matter how tall or short or fabulous

    • “…except to push a one size fits all solution to a multi pronged agenda?”

      Exactly so.

    • A pack of chichi dogs. That cracked me up. I suppose it would not be as funny if they were after me!

  2. So strange–in horses it almost seems the other way. The most common idea seems to be geld geld geld unless you have a really nice AND registered horse. All of our horses are registered and most are show quality. The registration really helps with their value, too.
    My dogs are mutts–one shelter dog and one accidental litter dog, but I just wanted pets and have no competition plans. If I did, though, I’d be looking for a registered dog of a particular breed that was suitable for my competition plans. Good breeders, it seems to me, do a service to the dog (and horse) world by providing quality animals of a particular type….

    • I was thinking of horses as I wrote this. I think one critical point is that horses are costly enough and big enough that potential issues are more in everyone’s face. A problem temperament is more dangerous, a problem conformation is more significant…and a horse who was meant to do a certain thing and can’t is a much more expensive pet…

      If I wasn’t doing specific things with my kids, I don’t know what choices I’d make. But the thing is that I adore Beagles. I like having them. And if I’m going to have them I do want a decent temperament. So even then, I think I see myself going to a breeder.

      • I agree–I’d go to a breeder if I wanted a particular dog, too. We wanted a German Sheppard type, but we actually wanted it a little diluted…so we looked for a crossbred…and there are a lot to choose from…so that really doesn’t support the good breeders, but we also wanted low cost since we wanted a pet not a competition dog. Logic sort of mushy there…

        • It makes perfect sense to me (and didn’t you get a nice dog while you were at it!). You knew what you wanted and you found the best way to get it–it doesn’t get any better than that. There’s no reason anyone should feel obliged to support a particular breed/breeder, either–I hope my comments didn’t come across that way. The point is the opposite–we each have different ways of filling our need for a canine companion, and by golly, that’s OKAY! It’s just that because some people have decided it’s Not Okay, it’s time to reframe the conversation–avoid the label, and go for the meaningful backstory.

          • What you said makes sense. I really don’t get why people are slamming breeders–but maybe they get confused with puppymills vs. breeders…???

          • Nah, they’re not confused. They’re simply waging war on all breeders, blaming anyone who breeds, no matter how carefully, for the plight of dogs who aren’t as lucky.

        • There are some good cross breeders, people who are working to produce a better dog in some ways…maybe better tempered, better runner, taller, stronger.They health test and they breed the best to the best even if they might be using two different breeds.

          • I can only hope we’re talking about bringing a dog into a breeding line to create vigor rather than, say…puggles…

          • Increase vigor, expand dangerously small gene pools, remove inadvertent dangerous health problems…such as the Dalmatian issue, which was corrected by outcrossing to a Pointer. Of course it took a long long time for some of the Dalmatian breeders but that’s another issue.
            I heard recently of a Pekingese/Chin accidental breeding, with the offspring keeping their Peke natures but longer legs, a bit longer muzzle. The owners are thrilled to have the appearance they wanted with fewer negatives

          • Yes, I was thinking of the Dalmatian thing, too. (It’s me on the laptop, not signed in!)

          • Your laptop must be in another time zone. I saw 1AM on the e-mail and freaked

          • I think it was probably midnight. The laptop is correct, so who knows how it ended up later!

    • But you still do have horse hoarders and horse rescuers…sadly too often the same person.

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