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Be forewarned: this is a jumbled array of thoughts and sometimes I will go on a tangent.

I will add photos later.

I purchased a Pom puppy from a little old lady the other day. She’s your quintessential backwater backyard breeder. She is completely ignorant about musculoskeletal problems and heredity.

But she loves her little dogs. And she likely lives on a fixed income and needed the cash more than I did. Come to find out she is a widow of 15 years, and she started breeding dogs to make ends meet when she had to raise two grandchildren on her own.

The breeder’s Pom bitch is 8 years old with a recently developed unilateral cataract. But the dog looked well fed, just funky due to her blown coat, and the dog loved her owner. The dog was bowlegged, and therefore likely had luxating patellas. And since the puppy’s hips looked like the mother’s, I figured I was looking at a hereditary problem as opposed to an intrauterine one.

But most buyers probably wouldn’t have given the animals’ knees much thought because of the way the dogs pranced all about. With their untrimmed toenails clicking and clacking all over the hardwood floors, the dogs danced around their owner’s feet and then leapt into her lap the second the woman sat down. The breeder said she had problems with the mother dog climbing the fence and then getting stuck at the top. Lame dogs don’t willingly climb fences, so obviously this dog’s hips weren’t holding her back from doing what she wanted to do. And I would take wide hips over narrow ones any day. But the breeder had never heard of luxating patellas when I asked, and in all her years of Pomeranian ownership her own vet never thought to educate her about it. And her vet knew she bred dogs because she would bring the puppies in for their first vaccines.

I took the puppy to my vet about 48 hours later and confirmed the presence of severe bilateral luxating patellas. I wasn’t surprised. The knees had felt loose to me, and her coxa vara was so pronounced she could have ridden a horse.

So, why did I buy the dog? At first I was looking to purchase a potential female for breeding. But one good examination of her back legs told me that would be unlikely. I may not be a vet, but I have some common sense and a basic understanding of animal anatomy and physiology. I knew that the woman would likely breed her if she kept her…further perpetuating the orthopedic problems. And if someone else bought her, there’d be a chance that she would be bred, or someone might end up strapped with a really expensive vet bill if she needed surgery in a few years. Can the average puppy buyer in rural southern Virginia afford $2,000 in surgery bills? Maybe, but I knew I could, so I bought her. Besides, I knew she would be good with the kids. Yes, you read that right–I bought a toy breed FOR my young children. But that is a discussion for another day. And my kids loved her. My son continually asked me if we could keep her even though she has bad legs. What sort of lesson would I be teaching my kids if I got rid of a lovely baby animal because it had a relatively minor deformity?

I had recently noticed that my male Pom had luxating patellas, and this was later confirmed at the same vet visit as the new puppy. The vet said my male’s knees were almost as bad. Great. He has already sired a couple of litters. He was another dog I acquired FOR my children three years ago. My sister bought him to use as a stud for her Pom bitches, but when I told her I wanted him for my daughter, she gave the dog to me as a birthday present on the condition I let her use him as a stud.

I had worked at a vet clinic for a few years as a veterinary assistant. The vet always checked small dogs for luxating patellas but rarely recommended surgery. It just seemed like something all small dogs were prone to, and no one ever questioned why it was so prevalent. I don’t know that the vet I took the puppy and my adult dogs to the other day would have even checked the knees had I not specifically asked.

Look at most any breeder’s website or Wikipedia or any other source you can think of on small dog breeds and you will see that “patella luxation” and “small dogs” go hand-in-hand. Pomeranians have some of the worst incidence rates. According to the OFA’s 2011 numbers, out of 559 Pomeranians examined, over 41% of them had patella problems! In 2013, the percentage was still high at nearly 40%. And good luck trying to find a Pomeranian with good knees in Thailand. One study found that 75% of the Pomeranians tested had patellar luxation.

It is just taken as a given that small dogs are prone to having luxating patellas. It is so bad that small dog breeders refuse to cover them in their health guarantees. Based on the AKC breeders’ contracts I have read, they all seem to say that since luxating patellas could be caused by trauma, they won’t provide any guarantees.

Here’s the problem: unless a dog has a hereditary disposition to “trick knees” his patella is not going to pop out of the femoral groove just because he runs up the stairs or jumps off the couch. And it certainly won’t happen bilaterally unless he has STRUCTURAL deficiencies in the first place. Come on, breeders, an orthopedically-sound dog’s joints aren’t going to be popping in and out of place just because he does things ANY healthy dog would and could do. Patellar luxation truly caused by trauma is rare.

“Patellar luxation is not typically a congenital disease. Instead, it is a developmental disorder associated with abnormalities that are congenital in origin. These skeletal abnormalities include coxa vara, relative retroversion, femoral varus, genu varum, shallow trochlear groove, decreased height of the trochlear ridges, and medialization of the tibial tuberosity.

“Patellar luxation is considered a heritable disease process. Therefore, breeding severely affected patients should be avoided.”

Source: MEDIAL PATELLAR LUXATION
Oliver Morgan, VMD, DACVS Cornell University Veterinary Specialists

Here are my thoughts on why this SERIOUS structural defect keeps popping up: breeders have been obsessed for decades with size and appearance to the point that they would linebreed and inbreed to such degrees that weird problems would pop up. And when those weird problems would show up, breeders would alter their breeding programs, inadvertently selecting for bad hips and/or knees. Or maybe simply by selecting for size, breeders were inadvertently selecting for orthopedic problems. Or maybe it was all just a coincidence, but somehow breeders have selected for dogs with orthopedic predispositions to patella luxation. And maybe many breeders were just unaware of the issue because the dog was asymptomatic during the breeding years. It is not like you can pour spilled milk back into its container. I suspect this last reason is why the disorder is so prevalent.

How are buyers supposed to know if the parents, or even the puppies, have this issue? How many breeders of small dogs have the parents AND the puppies checked and then freely share the information? Have you ever tried to examine a Pomeranian’s hips and back legs when its coat is full and fluffy? I can look at a Boxer’s hips as it runs and tell you if it is likely to give you problems, but I can’t do that with a fluffy toy-sized dog. On top of that, spay/neuter contracts and the widespread public awareness campaigns urging (and guilting and forcing) people to surgically alter their pets removes a lot of dogs from the gene pool–dogs that might have great musculoskeletal systems.

Backyard breeders, especially those in low income areas, often depend on the cash they get from selling puppies. They cannot afford to have a large breeding program and/or they are prohibited from doing so because of pet limit laws. Where I live, for example, you can only own 4 dogs or cats. Period. That means if I have three cats, I can’t also have 2 dogs. Someone has to go. So if I have four dogs, and I discover that my breeding bitch is passing on a problem, I can’t just go get another female without first getting rid of one of my pets. And for a lot of these backyard breeders, that is an impossible thing to ask of them. They love their little dogs.

For a little old lady on a fixed income, not breeding her bitch could mean missing out on $3,000 a year (assuming she bred her dog twice and each time the dog had 3 puppies selling for $500 a piece). $3,000 is a lot of money for someone who doesn’t have much in the first place.

And before your hair goes up in flames in righteous indignation because someone uses their dogs to bring them money, is this ANY different than someone raising livestock for sale or for meat? Is a dog an inherently more special creature than, say, a pig?

Personally, I don’t believe one should breed a dog when you become aware that it has a likely-heritable disorder that can greatly affect the dog’s quality of life (and the owner’s wallet.) But I can understand why someone with a low income would do so. I did educate the breeder on luxating patellas and advised her not to breed my puppy’s parents again. But will she stop doing so? I have no clue. And is it really so different from Show breeders deliberately breeding oxygen-starved Pugs or breeding Bulldogs that require surgery in order to reproduce? Is it any different than breeding long-bodied short-legged hounds (ie Dachshunds) that have a 25% chance of developing an excruciating back problem? At least the backyard breeder does it to make ends meet (and maybe to avoid welfare dependency) whereas the “professional” Bulldog breeder does it purely for his or her own pleasure. And come to think of it, I have never in my life met a wealthy backyard breeder. Ever. But I will bet there are some wealthy Show Pug and Bulldog breeders out there.

So, what do we do now? There is no easy answer. If we were to cull all small dogs with a luxating patella from breeding programs, the resulting population bottleneck could give us a whole new set of debilitating hereditary disorders.

Breeding recommendations for dogs diagnosed with luxating patellar should be made cautiously. “Patellar luxation is most likely a complex genetic disease involving several genes,” Roush says. “Breeders can select against the disease by not breeding dogs diagnosed with it, but this isn’t complete assurance.” …

“The dilemma is that while you’re selecting against patellar luxation, you may introduce other heritable prob- lems,” Roush cautions. “As a result, it is important to not cull dogs with quality traits because this could result in reducing genetic diversity. Dogs that carry this mutation also carry other important good genes that breeders may not want to lose from the breed.”

“Ideally, you would not breed pairs that produce puppies with patellar luxation, especially if there is a high incidence and high severity,” Cook says. “As with everything genetically based, you have to consider all factors and strike the best balance of desirable and nondesirable traits when breeding.”

SOURCE

And rather than encourage all puppy buyers to spay or neuter their new dogs, animal rights groups and breeders and veterinarians should give buyers/adopters a checklist to determine whether or not it is worth it to preserve the dog’s reproductive capabilities. It might look something like this:

Is my dog overly fearful or aggressive towards other dogs?
Is my dog fearful or aggressive towards people?
Is my dog jumpy, nervous, or neurotic?
Is my dog obsessive compulsive?
Is my dog difficult to train?
Does my dog have an audible heart murmur?
Does my dog have an irregular heart beat?
Does my dog have difficulty breathing in the summer or during exercise?
Does my dog have musculoskeletal abnormalities predisposing it to hip, elbow, knee, or vertebral disorders?
Does my dog have allergies or an autoimmune disorder?
Does my dog have chronic ear infections?
Does my dog have chronic digestive problems?
Does my dog suffer from hair loss?
Does my dog have vision impairment?
Does my dog have a hearing impairment?
Does my dog have abnormal growths or lesions?
Do my dog’s parents have a history of these problems?

If an owner can honestly say no these questions, then for Pete’s sake don’t encourage them to neuter their pet! Stop spouting the lie that there are too many dogs. There aren’t. There are too many UNHEALTHY dogs and dogs with serious mobility issues, and there are too many dogs with awful behavioral problems that prevent them from cohabiting with humans. If the stigma of home breeding was removed, perhaps more informed and educated dog owners would be helping to improve the health and well-being of future generations of dogs by actively participating in breeding programs. Imagine if a breeder had 25 really good local studs to choose from rather than, say, five.

Of course, this might make the supply of healthy, quality puppies go up…driving down prices and driving down veterinary health care spending. By making it cost-prohibitive for the average person to purchase a quality puppy WITH REPRODUCTIVE RIGHTS, breeders are doing only one thing–protecting their bottom line. It is totally understandable why breeders do it. They have to eat too. But let’s cut the crap and stop the “it’s for the love of the breed.” We all know it is a bunch of hogwash.

Are dogs better off now than they were 40 years ago? How many dogs today go under the knife not just once for a neuter, but twice and sometimes more for various diseases and disorders? How many dogs spend YEARS in chronic pain? How many dogs suffer terrible deaths from cancer or other disease?

When a human suffers, even a child, he or she usually knows WHY they are suffering. They can appreciate the struggle and the suffering if it is for a greater good (like suffering through chemo to be rid of breast cancer.) But when a dog suffers, there is no higher purpose to be achieved. Is the dog’s character going to be improved through suffering? Will the dog be better able to empathize with the suffering of others? Will the dog’s soul be strengthened? Are an extra few years of life for the dog worth a year of its suffering?

One could argue that by caring for the suffering dog and sacrificing of one’s time, labor, and money, the owner’s character is improved. When we see a dog happily chewing a bone despite the amputation of a leg, it can teach us to prioritize and appreciate the little things in life. When a dog has suffered severe neglect and abuse, a human soul can practice compassion and mercy by feeding the animal and caring for its ailments. A bond is formed through care-taking, whether it be with an animal or another human. Maybe that is a supernatural mercy afforded to our increasingly narcissistic and childless society. If we refuse to learn self-sacrifice with our fellow humans, perhaps we can learn it with our pets. Perhaps through our pets we can learn how to be better people.

***

The Pom breeder called me today. She talked to her vet about the luxating patellas and had him check another one of her dogs. She said the vet acted like it was no big deal and he told her that a lot of small dogs have it. I wanted to slam my head on the counter.

Everyone screams about how backyard breeders are irresponsible and don’t do the breed-appropriate health checks, but does anyone question WHY some backyard breeders are so ignorant about canine health? When the man or woman with a DOCTORATE in veterinary medicine doesn’t even bother checking for common orthopedic problems in the first place, and when issues are actually brought to their attention they shrug them off like it is no big deal, is it any wonder that breeders keep on breeding DEFORMED dogs?

Yes, these are deformities. Maybe not grossly irregular ones like missing legs or three eyes, but these are real musculoskeletal deformities that cause the dog’s kneecap to slide around and literally pop out of place. Sure, little dogs compensate rather well for it so long as they don’t get fat, but how much arthritis do they suffer from as the years go by? How much chronic pain do these dogs simply learn to live with?

I read an excellent article the other day that quoted a veterinarian about this very topic of breeding dogs suffering from patellar luxation:

“You know, you people should be much more concerned about the illnesses and conditions that keep your dogs from living normal active lives, like luxating patellas, and other orthopedic issues! VwD [Von Willebrand’s Disease] affect only a small number of dogs, and you can test for it, but the only way you will ever help your breed get rid of these patella problems is to routinely have them checked on all of your breeding dogs before you breed them!”

Veterinarians should be honest with their breeder clients. If a dog has luxating patellas, they probably shouldn’t be bred. And when a veterinarian checks a dog and finds that along with being of good general health it also has a sound hind end, he or she should discuss the merits of breeding the dog rather than spaying or neutering it.

I’ve noticed that there are all sorts of caveats and disclaimers that “reputable” breeders insert into their contracts regarding hip dysplasia guarantees which include:

  • Thou shalt not allow puppy to run up stairs.
  • Thou shalt not allow puppy to run down stairs.
  • Thou shalt not allow puppy to go jogging with you.
  • Thou shalt not allow puppy to jump on furniture.
  • Thou shalt not allow puppy to jump off furniture.
  • Thou shalt not allow puppy to jump.
  • Thou shalt not allow puppy to engage in high-impact activities.
  • Ad nauseum.

And I’ve been researching the various hip examinations to predict the development of hip dysplasia (ie PennHip versus OFA). I’ve come to the conclusion that OFA is basically worthless, and PennHip is downright expensive and does nothing to determine whether or not a dog’s or bitch’s pups will develop the disease…it only shows whether the individual animal on the xray has a likelihood of developing it. So, it’s good for weeding out the particularly bad breeding candidates before you breed them, but that’s about it.

What’s the point of doing expensive x-rays that can’t guarantee much? Let’s say the hips look great, but the dog never does any high impact activity, which is what Boxers enjoy doing. How do you ever know if the only reason the hips look good is because they’ve never been put to the test by real life activity? And let’s say the hips look not-so-great? And yet the dog has no outward symptoms despite engaging in tons of physical activity? And what if the x-rays don’t look great because the dog has engaged in tons of high-impact activity that has done damage? I think this over-dependence on x-rays, especially with OFA, has actually done people and dogs a disservice.

emeliaonback

And so I broke all those rules with my bitch, and now I am also disregarding them with her female pup who was born in June. By God, if she is predisposed to developing early hip dysplasia, I’m not going to do anything to prevent it from happening. My bitch, who will be 5 years old in May, has been running non-stop since a pup. Running hard. Wrestling with other dogs, getting chased (and kicked) by horses, accompanying horses on long, rocky, steep, two-hour-long trail rides, jumping 5-feet-high fences, and generally making a grand nuisance of herself. Other than when she breaks the occasional toenail, she has never limped and so far she has never had trouble jumping, climbing stairs, or bouncing around. She has massive, muscular thighs and a very wide stance when viewing her from the rear.

Check out these photos of Boxers with hip dysplasia:

brunohipdysplasia

This one is Bruno, an obviously neutered and overweight 3-year-old Boxer male. I wonder at what age he was neutered. Studies suggest that early neuter/spay can increase the risk of hip dysplasia development, although the disease may not be as severe. Bruno has hip dysplasia in his left hip, a repaired left ACL tear , and arthritis in his left hip, knee, and in his back. Can we blame this on bad breeding? Maybe. However, since the issues seem concentrated on one side, they were probably caused by an injury and then exacerbated by his weight. I bet money that his problems are mostly caused by being fat, and probably one of the biggest reasons he is fat is because he has no testicles.

Look at that, no thigh muscles:

brunohipdysplasia2

And here we’ve got a Cane Corso pup with the tell-tale narrow stance and slender thighs:

canecorsomastiffhipdysplasia

Based on the animal’s young age, I think we could blame the hip problems on genetics.

Every dog I’ve seen with hip problems (and I’ve seen quite a few), has had slim thighs, a narrow stance, and many times is overweight or was at some point.

THIS is what I think we should look for in a Boxer–slim waist, thunder thighs and a wide stance:

boxerthighmuscles

You want a Boxer that can run, jump, and box with the best of them. If you see a dog or bitch with a “good” OFA or PennHip, and yet it’s got lovehandles, a narrow stance, and thin thighs, to be safe don’t breed it. X-rays are a snapshot in time and can’t substitute for the here and now.

I am sure that the dog blog world had a lot to say about this story three years ago:

The miracle of life made an encore for Edgar and Nina Otto. A year after their beloved yellow Labrador retriever, Lancelot, died of cancer, the Florida couple welcomed a cloned copy into their home Tuesday. They’ve dubbed their doggie double “Lancelot Encore.”

The elderly couple spent $155,000 (as much as my husband and I spent on our first home) for the clone puppy. There were negative reactions from people about it, of course. For example (from the same article):

Dr. Sara Pizano, of Miami-Dade County’s animal services department, told the Miami Herald that for the price the Ottos paid for having Lancelot cloned, “we could do spays and neuters for six months.”

For $155,000, they could have done a lot of things. But their money went back into the economy, so it’s not like it was all lost–most of the wealth was just transferred. Potential wealth, however, was lost, since that money could have been invested wisely–creating jobs and earning capital. But I digress (as I usually do).

This summer, Lancelot Encore became a father (MSNBC):

Lancelot Encore has had a second act of his own — or make that eight, to be exact.

Edgar and Nina Otto’s yellow Labrador retriever, who was cloned from the couple’s late dog Lancelot, became the father to eight healthy puppies on the Fourth of July.

OMG eight dogs died in a shelter that day thanks to the Ottos!

But don’t worry, the Ottos are reputable breeders:

The Ottos mated Lancelot Encore — who is nicknamed Lancey — with a purebred American Kennel Club-registered Labrador retriever that belongs to a breeder in nearby Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.

And it’s not like their dog died of cancer or anything.

“We didn’t expect him to die,” Edgar said of the 11-year-old golden Labrador retriever that fell to cancer in 2008. “He was much too young.”

Too young? The average life expectancy of a Labrador retriever is 10 to 12 years. (Maybe it should be longer, but are the breed’s genetics too messed up?) But seriously, they are reputable.

Otto says their pets, which include several champion show dogs, “are our lives.”

“My wife and I desperately love all of our animals,” he said.

Definition of cull: to reduce or control the size of (as a herd) by removal (as by hunting) of especially weaker animals; also: to hunt or kill (animals) as a means of population control

I have come across various sources who consider spaying or neutering to be equivalent to culling. Here are some examples:

Jennifer Stoeckl President of the NAAC

Wikipedia

Dr. David DeQuick

Beagle forum users

You get the idea…

But spaying a puppy is not the same as culling it, not in a definitional sense nor in a real sense, and it all comes down to economics. A culled puppy is a puppy that will not require food and shelter and veterinary care. A culled puppy does not cost anyone any money. It doesn’t take up space and it doesn’t take up anyone’s time and energy.

A neutered puppy does take up real space and time and energy and money. If someone can only take care of one puppy, selling him a neutered poor-quality one prevents that person from being able to care for a good-quality one. Neutering and placing a poor-quality puppy simply helps the breeder feel better about himself and his breeding program (and maybe even makes him a little money). Slaughtering puppies, even if it is what’s best for the breed, is not for the faint-hearted…and it never is very good for publicity. But let’s not fool ourselves into thinking that removing the reproductive parts of an animal is equivalent to culling it.

I came across this blog after writing the final draft for today’s post. I recommend checking it out since it is very pertinent.

In the beginning Man created the Boxer. He brought together the bullenbeiser and bulldog, choosing particular offspring to be the Adams and Eves and then encouraging inbreeding to create dogs that would breed true to the standard set forth by Man.

And Man said, “Let there be competitions to find the dog who best represents the Boxer breed based on his appearance, temperament and gait.”

And the Champion sire was desperately sought by reputable breeders to breed with prized bitches, producing hundreds of offspring in his lifetime.

The reputable breeders only bred their dogs and bitches to the very best, of course. And over the decades, those professional Boxer breeders produced some show quality and many pet quality Boxers. Those pet quality Boxers often found their way into the hands of BYBs.

The oldest dog breed registry in America, the AKC, developed a special way for professional breeders to prevent their pet quality puppies from contributing to the AKC gene pools: Limited Registration. So, new registration clubs popped up to provide record keeping and pedigree services, thereby helping BYBs to document the bloodlines of their litters and sell lots of puppies with papers for a quarter of the cost of reputable breeders.

But the reputable breeders continued in the tradition of their forefathers: only breeding to better the breed, taking care to choose only healthy, beautiful breeding stock…

So why do the best Boxer breeders have to test for ARVC and aortic stenosis? Why do they need to spend hundreds of dollars on hip x-rays and thyroid testing? What about the high incidence of cancer and the advent of juvenile renal failure? Shouldn’t the bloodlines of professional breeders be much healthier than those of BYBs?

The reason reputable breeders have to spend gobs of money today on health testing is because decades of breeding by reputable breeders has led to an increase in heart and hip conditions in the Boxer breed…to the point that now the only way to be a reputable breeder is to test for conditions correlated with AKC reputable breeding practices in the first place. It’s not as if reputable breeders ever breed their prized stock to BYB stock.

And now Boxer puppies from health tested parents and impressive pedigrees will cost anywhere from $1200 to $2500.

“But it’s worth it!” clamor the breed enthusiasts, “because you’ll save thousands of dollars by avoiding expensive health problems in the future.”

That’s assuming the owner will spend that kind of money on dysplasia surgeries or chemotherapy or echocardiograms. And there’s no guarantee that the $1500 puppy won’t develop a serious inherited condition–you only decrease the likelihood of it.

But let’s say you buy that pricey puppy because you want to reduce the likelihood of bad genes.

And then you neuter him.

Yes, you neutered your expensive, healthy puppy with good bloodlines. He is a decent representation of his breed (just not “show quality,” whatever the heck that means according to today’s judges), and he likely was free of the serious gene mutations that are plaguing his breed and now you have permanently removed him from the gene pool. Good job, genius.

Yes, dog breeding is a form of eugenics. Of course, for a eugenics program to actually work and be practical, it requires culling. However, modern society looks down on the drowning of puppies and has gone so far to make it illegal. (Don’t take this as an argument for puppy drowning, but rather as a simple statement of fact.) Some people argue that spaying and neutering pets is a form of culling, but this just isn’t so.

Because dogs have been humanized to the point of being dressed in clothing and called “my child,” the idea of euthanizing an animal because it is deaf or unable to run due to defective joints is considered to be cold-hearted and immoral.

But do people spend thousands of dollars on a beloved dog’s hip surgeries because it is what is best for their pet? What IS best for the pet?

Or are people spending exhorbitant amounts of money “fixing” their pets’ physical or mental deficiences to assuage their own consciences and give them a few more years with the pets they love? It’s hard to say good-bye to someone or something we love, isn’t it?

Euthanizing a dog with severe hip dysplasia costs about $200 for the veterinary and crematory fees. It is even less expensive if a local animal shelter conducts the euthanasia and the owner takes his pet’s body home to bury. Hip dysplasia surgery costs about $2,000. The procedure helps keep many businesses running and people employed–oxygen and anesthesia suppliers, orthopedic suppliers, veterinary assistants, veterinary surgeons, etc.

But we mustn’t fool ourselves. That really doesn’t mean our dogs’ defects stimulate the economy. A defect can spur innovation, but it doesn’t produce anything that grows a community’s wealth. A dog’s bad hips simply shifts money from one person’s pocket to the pocket of another.

Our dogs don’t understand why they are being put under the knife. Dogs don’t know why they are in pain when they wake up in the animal hospital after surgery. They don’t know why they can’t run and play and jump and do everything their innate nature urges them to do. Chronic and severe pain causes serious psychological harm to humans, and they can understand the reasons behind the pain. But imagine how much more traumatic pain and debilitation is to an animal that cannot understand why.

Since society generally abhors the idea of culling debilitated humans, and because canines have been so humanized in the eyes of many in society, it would only follow that society would abhor the idea of culling debilitated animals. Society has also become rather fearful of death–to the point of rotting on respirators with multiple organ failure at the age of 85 rather than dying in peace and dignity with family under the comforts of palliative care. But each human being has the inherent right to life and the right to choose or reject medical care. But do dogs have that right? Do children? Dog “parents” make the important life or death decisions for their furry “children” just as human parents do for their own offspring. And we should hope that in both cases, the best interest of the ones unable to speak for themselves are being considered paramount.

Humans have children for a variety of reasons, but ultimately parents never want to outlive their children. It’s not natural for a child to die before his parents. But dogs rarely outlive their owners. By humanizing our pets into furry children, it is as if we purposely have offspring we know will die as teenagers. We prepare ourselves for the inevitable death even before we acquire the puppy. It’s worth the pain of loss, though, right?

But if dog ownership (or parentship) is worth the pain of losing a dog to old age at 10 years (the average age of a Rottweiler), why not say good-bye to a 2-year-old Rottweiler suffering from severe hip and elbow dysplasia? Are those 8 years for the good of the dog’s soul or for the owner’s? Does the owner owe those 8 years to the dog, a dog that otherwise would not survive in nature even with the best of survival instincts? Does that dog have an inherent right to die of natural causes while simultaneously being kept alive by intensive human-provided health care? What if the dog dies on the operating table? Should the owner feel guilt for having subjected his pet to the pain of surgery and risk of anesthesia? Or should the owner feel righteous for having done all he could for his dog and it must have just been “his time to go”?

Is it moral to use an animal to fill an emotional need, but immoral to use it to fill a financial one? We need to be honest with ourselves: keeping an animal alive that suffers from debilitating disease is always to fill the emotional needs of the human(s).

“But an epileptic dog can lead a fulfilling life!”

What IS a fulfilling life for a dog? How do we determine if a dog feels fulfilled? What if the time and money spent on a severely debilitated dog were spent on a healthy puppy instead?

We are a nation that euthanizes healthy animals because we insist on keeping the unhealthy ones alive. We insist on keeping biters alive. We insist on keeping stupid, neurotic, mean dogs alive. We don’t have a pet overpopulation problem. We have a problem with keeping defective and diseased animals alive. And in some cases, like the Bulldog, we have purposely bred defective dogs to produce more defective dogs. The very nature of the Bulldog is defective. The Bulldog requires human intervention in breeding and birthing and sometimes even just to breathe. If we didn’t have the invention of A/C, how many people would really be owning Bulldogs?

But the Bulldog exists because people LIKE the dog’s deformaties. And where there is demand, we will often find supply. Let’s be honest–it’s always about the money. If breeding our dogs always costs more than what it makes, let’s face it–we’re producing money pits rather than assets. And our breeding program would very likely be having a detrimental effect on our loved ones.

THINK ABOUT IT. If breeding your dogs always costs more than it makes, you have to make up the difference somewhere–employment, running your own businesses, credit card debt, something. And if breeding dogs is incredibly time consuming and labor intensive, and you are always having to work to pay for your breeding ventures, then you are having to sacrifice your time and money that otherwise could have been spent on your children, spouses, charities, etc. Really, should we saint the reputable breeders who never do it for the money but only for the love of the breed? I almost think so.

But let’s cut the self-righteous crap. You breed because it is a passion, and it is a passion because it fulfills some sort of need or desire you have and you generally enjoy the breeding process. It is all about YOU. Not the dogs. The dogs don’t care about breed standards and show rings. They don’t care about ribbons and titles. They want to be played with and petted and directed and worked. They want to eat and run and rut, and not necessarily in that order.

Those fancy championships and impressive pedigrees are not for them. They are for YOU and every other human who cares about such things. And no, that’s not a judgment. It’s just an observation.

And we take it for granted that this is a bad thing.

Behind the breed clubs and closed registries and conformation shows is the underlying assumption that a relatively small group of breeder elites knows what is best for the breed.

Nevermind that some modern breeds’ standards are very different  from their originals. As judges’ and breeders’ tastes changed (and likely also the tastes of puppy buyers), so too did the standards change. The standards evolved to reflect the tastes of humans rather than what was in the best interest of the dog. Consider the Bulldog or the Pug.

In the interests of improving the health of a breed (and no doubt to ease the pocketbooks of future owners), a Dalmation breeder committed heresy by outcrossing to a Pointer. The goal of this outcrossing was to remove a universally-present uric acid problem from the Dalmation bloodlines. It worked. And the Dalmation breed club had a fit. It took years before the elites of dog breeding were willing to accept these dogs…and it was voted on a relatively slim margin: 55% to 45%. You can read some of the arguments of opponents to the backcross project here. God forbid the bloodlines be tainted, the eugenics program made impure.

A backyard breeder is someone with one or more of the following qualities:

  • ignorance
  • greed

Yes, that’s right. BYBers are ignorant and/or greedy. And by all counts, I would probably be considered by most reputable breeders to be ignorant AND greedy. Only ignorant people breed their dogs without showing them in AKC conformation rings. Only ignorant people fail to spend thousands of dollars on a plethora of health testing of their breeding stock. Only ignorant people breed their dogs for reasons other than the “betterment of the breed.” And only greedy people sell their puppies to try and make a dollar. It is wrong to sell puppies in order to pay your electric bill.

If you have ever bred your family pet because you love your pet so much that you want one of his or her progeny, you are ignorant. You are, in effect, killing a dog in the shelter. I killed six this summer. Six unwanted dogs languishing in an animal shelter died this summer because I brought six puppies into the world.

It works that way with kids too, you know. There are all sorts of unwanted children languishing in the foster care system, and since I brought two children in the world, that means two children in foster care will remain victims to the system and will likely become unproductive, and maybe even criminal, members of society. Of course, no one really thinks like that when it comes to having kids. One’s own biological child does not replace someone else’s offspring. Parents are ultimately responsible for their offspring, and when they prove irresponsible, family and society have to step in and take over the care of the children.

And when a dog owner is no longer responsible for his dog, other people must step in to deal with the animal rather than let it roam the streets because civilized societies don’t like packs of dogs roaming their streets.

But let’s say someone adopts an abandoned child and agrees to take full responsibility for the child, and then that new parent drops the ball and fails to do what he said he would do. Are we now supposed to get angry at the biological mother and father for having brought the child into the world in the first place? Should we advocate the sterilization of humans who would likely make bad parents and produce crappy members of society? Should we advocate the abortion of potential crappy members of society? Or should we hold accountable the person who said he would be responsible and yet broke his word?

“But you can’t compare humans to dogs!” you might argue.

But why not? We have completely humanized our dogs. We take out pet health insurance for our dogs. We pay for accupuncture to relieve their arthritis pain. We dress them up for Halloween and buy them Christmas presents. We leave them an inheritance in our wills. We make excuses when they bite the neighbor’s kid in the face. We spend exhorbitant amounts of money on special diets, medications, surgical procedures, behavioral therapy, doggy daycares, grooming parlors, and even cemetery plots. Let’s be honest here–other than the fact that so many of us forcibly remove the working reproductive parts of our otherwise healthy pets at a very young age, we do treat our dogs like children.

But I digress from the original point of this post–“What’s a Backyard Breeder?”  Prepare yourself, we BYBs are scary folks…

  • “They are the single greatest cause of the pet overpopulation crisis in this country.” ~ Almost Home Dachshund Rescue Society
  • “These are the people that are just breeding for the heck of it.” ~ Low Wider Kennels
  • They are “unscrupulous breeders” who “choose profit over animal welfare” and “reduce homes available for animals from reputable establishments, shelters and rescue groups”. ~ PAWS
  • They are the reason “Americans will kill upwards of 8 million healthy adoptable pets this year!” They are “not responsible pet guardians!” ~ Randy N. Warner, 21st Century Cares
  • Beware the breeders who do not belong to any dog organizations or do not compete with their dogs! ~ Linda Hazen Lewin
  • “BYBs produce dogs simply to make money, contributing to the animal overpopulation problem.” ~ Four Paws, Orlando

(If you have any more good quotes, please leave them in the comment section. This list will be updated regularly.)