Thursday, 5 December 2013

Breeding Difficulties part three - Breeders, and what to do about it all

In the last couple of blog posts, I've talked a lot about dog breeding, and the problems associated with it. In this final part of my epic trilogy. I'd like to briefly discuss the people responsible (and I do use the term very loosely) for producing puppies - breeders.

You can, I think, break breeders down into several types (rather than, say, their component atoms, which readers of my previous blogs may suspect would be my preference). Let's start with the type most commonly encountered by vets in general practice: the 'responsible' breeder.

'Responsible' breeders

The reason we encounter this type of breeder more frequently is, sadly, not because they are more common than any other type, but simply because these are the breeders who do everything possible for the pups that they produce - vaccinations, worming, flea treatment, nutritional advice, hip scores (or whatever test other the breed needs to pass to make it's suffering less than it otherwise would be) - and so they're the ones who come to the vets. Often. Very often. In general practice, you'll often be on first-name terms with them.

'Responsible' breeders occupy a strange position in many veterinary practices; generally liked (or at least tolerated) by practice owners, and largely resented by all the other vets, nurses and support staff - and by resented, I mean that their faces are likely to be pinned to a dartboard in the coffee room.

Here's the problem in a nutshell: breeders bring in a lot of money to the practice - both directly and indirectly, because if they like you, they're going to recommend you as the vets to go to. They are well aware of this, and as a consequence of this they frequently feel (not entirely without reason) like specially valued customers, which usually translates into them behaving as if they own the practice.

Responsible breeders have a tendency to be inpatient with (if not downright rude to) the receptionists, nurses, and junior vets who have the temerity to obstruct them in their quest to be immediately seen by the senior partner. They'll assume their particular problem is going to be more important to the practice than any other client's, and they'll be very ready to write a complaint letter if it isn't treated as such. They'll expect vets to drop everything to kowtow to their wishes, and they will usually hold the views of younger vets in disdain.

I can't tell you how many times I've heard some variant of the mantra 'I've been breeding dogs for thirty years, young man,' , with the strong silent implication that my own decade or so of treating sick animals every single day of my working life preceded by five years at university is worthless in comparison to this enormous achievement. Being my usual diplomatic self, at times like these I bite my tongue rather than point out that it's really not too difficult to produce a dog (if you're not familiar with the procedure, the main requirement is to have two dogs - ideally of opposite sexes, but I am clearly not an expert in such matters, as I am often reminded). Even if they personally haven't been breeding dogs for very long, they will almost certainly be accompanied by a friend who has been, and with whom every single statement you make as a vet must be checked and verified.

Now, I'm being unfair here, because for every two obnoxious, rude and demanding responsible breeder, there is one that is extremely pleasant (yes, that's the correct ratio as far as I can make out). Not only that, these are, and I mean this genuinely, people who care about what they are doing. They care about the puppies that they breed, and the mothers, and they want to see them go to good homes. They want to do the very best medically for their animals, and they would be horrified to think that they were causing any degree of animal suffering at all.

However horrified they might be, however, they are most certainly causing suffering. Quite apart from the severe, dreadful misery caused by inbreeding (which I wrote about in part two of this post), for every puppy sold to a new home, there is a dog in a rescue centre denied one. A dog that will either ultimately get put to sleep, or will spend the rest of its life in a kennel. Every single puppy. They don't mean to cause misery, but I am here to tell you that even the most caring, responsible, well-read and clued in breeder is causing it nevertheless.

And these are the good ones.

Irresponsible Breeders

If responsible breeders are likely to find their faces on dartboards in vet practices, then irresponsible ones are more likely to find their way onto the toilet roll. Irresponsible breeders don't really care about vaccinations, or worming, or nutrition. All of those cut into the profit margins. They care about mum, in so far as they need the bitch to keep producing puppies, but when she's past breeding age they'll pass her on, or put her to sleep (vets are not very commonly involved in this last procedure).

Irresponsible breeders are the type who lead to situations like my first blog post. They may attempt lip-service to the fact that they're dealing with a living creature rather than, say, a money-printing machine, but their actions belie their motives.

Breeders like this are frequently encountered for the first time in the middle of the night, having 'just moved to the area' or 'not registered the dog before', both statements being euphemisms for having run up a huge bill at one of the other vets in the area and having no intention to pay it. It's considered unprofessional for vet practices to inform other vets in the area that such clients haven't paid their bill, but you usually get the idea pretty quickly.

Despite the fact that a single puppy from a pedigree breed would generally cover more than double the cost of a caesarian, irresponsible breeders forget to bring their wallets with them surprisingly often - and frequently find them again very quickly when they are informed they must pay at the time they collect the dog.

Such breeders are the cause of immense amounts of suffering - principally to the deformed, unhealthy puppies that they produce, the females of which are destined to become dog-shaped money machines like their mother, but also to vets and nurses. Being faced with a client that simply refuses to pay and an animal that is in severe pain and in need of a caesarian is every vet's nightmare scenario. Yes, we can, in principle, simply offer to euthanase the animal on humane grounds, but if anyone else can manage to do that an still get to sleep at night, I'd appreciate some tips.

Not only this, breeders of this type are far, far more likely to report your actions to the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons - so for those people who suggested to me, after reading my first blog, that performing the caesarian described without speying the poor bulldog was unethical, all I can say to you is this: not according to the Royal College. Performing a surgical procedure on an animal without consent is very definitely going to get a vet struck off, and so is the 'whoops, the uterus broke so I had to take it out' strategy that has been whispered about behind closed doors.

As time goes on, and I become (yes, I admit it!) more of a fundamentalist about breeding in general, I am starting to include anyone who breeds dogs of such obvious anatomical unhealthiness as pugs, bulldogs, basset hounds and so on as automatically, and by definition, irresponsible (yes, I know pugs are beloved by the internet. I also know that, because of their shape, they suffer; perhaps if you had treated several that prolapsed their eyeballs because they had a nasty coughing fit, you might feel similarly).

Puppy Farms

It is with sorrow that I even have to include this category, as I would have thought these would have died out years ago, but nope, they're still going strong. Puppy farmers are, effectively, irresponsible breeders who have embraced the principles of battery farming, and applied it to dogs.

A lot of vets know very little about what goes on in puppy farms, because the never visit them, and they never hear from the breeders. The first they know anything at all about such places is when they are presented with a puppy that someone has bought from them. Even by pedigree standards, puppies from here are going to be in pretty poor states. Often these puppies are bought on the internet, and while it boggles my mind that anyone could be so stupid as to order a puppy in the same way that your order your shopping, it still happens. Thankfully, a recent petition requesting the banning of the such places by the excellent PupAid charity has very recently topped 100,000 signatures, which means the issue must now be debated in parliament.

I haven't got much to say about puppy farms at all, to be honest, other than to say that they are vile, evil places, which cause about as much suffering and death as anywhere I can think of outside of... well, outside of a battery farm. Which does spur me to make one last point about them - if, like me, you can't stand the thought of a helpless dog, trapped for its whole life and forced into repeated pregnancies to produce animals simply for profit - then please stop and consider what you're doing when you buy cheap eggs, or pork, or veal.

What to do?

Now, I promised that this last blog in my trilogy would be proactive. So far I have, I hope, given a pretty clear indication of the suffering that is caused by the puppy trade. Is there anything that can be done to prevent it?

Well, fortunately for me, I've saved the easiest part of my blog for last. Yes. Yes there is. It's really very, very simple.

I could give some simple advice here about never, ever ordering a puppy if you haven't seen and visited it's mother, and made sure it's in comfortable surroundings, and healthy, and well. Never even think about buying a puppy online, and don't ever, ever get anyone a puppy for a present, no matter how good an idea it seems. But, y'know, typing out the words 'ordering a puppy' makes me feel a little queasy. Here's my much simpler advice (and I warned you I'm a fundamentalist on the topic):

Don't buy puppies. Don't breed puppies. Get your animals from rescue and rehoming centres. Always.

That's it. That's the sum total of my advice. Follow it, and I can guarantee you'll be reducing animal suffering, and you will have a wonderful new addition to your family.

As to the rebuttals to that advice that may have sprung instantly to your mind, then I'll deal with them below.

But... if everyone did that, there wouldn't be any pet dogs! Is that what you want?

No, it isn't, but... don't be silly. Rescue centres are absolutely full. Animals are getting put to sleep right now. Read my blog post Dog #86324.
You know what, if they ever get even close to emptying, I'll change my advice. I suspect that I won't ever have to do that. Don't spring your reducto ad absurdum on me, it's a logical fallacy.

But... I want to know what I'm going to get!

Well, I can tell you what you're going to get with a pedigree dog, but let's not go there. You can, and I hope I'm not sounding rude here, possibly get a reasonable idea of what you're going to get by, y'know, looking at the dog you're rescuing, as opposed to assuming that a dog that you've ordered from a breeder and that doesn't yet exist is going to be fine.

But what if the rescue dog is aggressive?

What if the pedigree dog is? At least the rescue dog will have been screened for its behaviour. The pedigree one won't. I've met plenty of 'well-bred' dogs that took a disliking to my nose too (maybe it's my nose that is the problem here...)

But I want a dog that won't shed any hair, I'm sort of allergic to dog hair. Think of my children!

Well, labradoodles need to be rescued too, y'know. Failing that, buy a better vacuum cleaner, or, if you and/or your child is allergic to dog hair then, am I'm only suggesting this, possibly a dog isn't really the pet for you. I'm extremely uncomfortable with this idea of getting a pet 'to order' - it's this sort of thinking that got dog breeds where they are today, which is to say, suffering.

But... my Brunhilde is amazing, I just want one litter of pups from her.

I understand this impulse. You love your dog. You don't want that to be it when they're gone. Listen, no one in the world loved their dog more than I loved Geri - but I wouldn't have bred from her, even if I had the option. Why? Because there are thousands of dogs like Geri, and yes, like Brunhilde, already waiting for a home. The world doesn't need more of them. It really doesn't.

I'll be happy to answer any more queries, but until then, here's my final word on the subject... once more, with feeling...

Don't buy puppies. Don't breed puppies. Get your animals from rescue and rehoming centres. Always.


  1. Excellent. This all needed to be said.

  2. "for every puppy sold to a new home, there is a dog in a rescue centre denied one. A dog that will either ultimately get put to sleep, or will spend the rest of its life in a kennel. Every single puppy. They don't mean to cause misery, but I am here to tell you that even the most caring, responsible, well-read and clued in breeder is causing it nevertheless."

    I feel the same way about cats. A certain forums members are up in arms when a moggy gets pregnant with cries of "too many in sanctuaries" but are happily churning out pedigrees. If someone truly loves cats, or dogs then the breed shouldn't matter IMO. The best cats are those that choose you, they kinda need to stop choosing me now though or i'll be over run!