Monday, June 24, 2024

ANIMALS 101 – BREEDING ANIMALS CREATES A PROBLEM

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BREEDING CREATES A MASSIVE OVERPOPULATION CRISIS BUT ALSO RAISE SOME SERIOUS ETHICAL AND WELFARE CONCERNS.

A human baby factory is a great business idea…… or did you frown upon imagining this form of exploitation? If this is not ok with humans, how can you justify breeding exploitation for other sentient beings? For this article, we will not address the agricultural breeding of livestock and game or for experimentation, as it is a whole topic on its own.  Today we will focus on breeding, whether by accident or deliberately, with domestic companion animals.

This is a topic I am very passionate about because our root problem in animal welfare stems from this issue. I have shared comprehensively on this topic on THE PAW COMPANY’S Facebook page, but we will touch on the basics here. You can also read my two previous articles on the benefits of spaying and neutering your pets as well as frequently asked questions, myths, and bad excuses.

For years there has been this ethical & welfare debate regarding breeding. The animal welfare arguments usually form the basis for the debate as health should always trump looks, but there is certainly an ethical argument too. The debate has mostly taken place around the breeding of animal for experimentation and livestock production. It is important to reflect on the changes in the genetic makeup of companion animals.

THE HISTORY OF BREEDING

Even since prehistoric times, humans have kept useful animals around the area they live. Over thousands of years, the domestication of dogs specifically has led to distinct types of dogs and breeding for various types of functionalities like hunting, livestock guardians, working dogs, sighthounds, tracking dogs, vermin control, etc. Nowadays many animals have become companion animals and even though many of these functionalities are not needed, those breeds are still bred.

During the mid-19th century when kennel/breed clubs developed, breeding became more intense, and many breeds developed since then. Dogs were now not only bred for functionality but for their unique mutations like shortened legs or faces, colours or textures, etc. Dog shows became a sport where you brag about the ‘’look’’ of the animal, sometimes their skills.

The first recognition of animals as ‘’sentient beings’’ (can experience feelings) which appeared in written law was in France in 1976 and has been included in Animal Welfare Acts in many countries since then. Many of these countries have very strict laws about animal welfare and breeding and they enforce the law, but in SA there is still a lot of work to be done.

BREEDERS & BROKERS

I define breeders as anyone who allows their pet to have litters and then either exploits them for financial gain, for status or gives them away for free or hoard them. So, fundamentally there is no difference for us between a registered breeder, backyard breeder, or puppy mill. They all exploit animals for financial gain and animals pay the price. We divide the breeders basically into 3 categories:

BACK YARD BREEDERS

They have a couple of animals and do nothing to prevent them from having litters. In other cases, pets are deliberately bred so that the offspring can be sold and it is often these cases where overbreeding occurs. Basically, irresponsible pet owners.

PUPPY MILLS

They mass-produce animals in poor conditions. As many as they can, back-to-back as fast as they can.

REGISTERED BREEDERS

Breeders treat living beings as commodities to be genetically manipulated for profit. It is crucial to understand that being registered does not make them responsible. The process for registration is way too easy and something we are working on. These individuals usually have a particular breed and they see themselves as ‘expert’ on the breed. Many also partake in dog shows to brag. It is either love of money or love of status that drives them. Many animals have been confiscated from “registered” breeders, by animal welfare organizations. So, this piece of paper means nothing to us! If we took away the money and status, how many people will continue to breed on purpose apart from the irresponsible owners?

Some breeders claim to be responsible, but when we have a massive overpopulation crisis and killing millions of healthy animals a year (at least 2800 a day in SA), then no breeding can be responsible or ethical. The fact that purebred animals in shelters have drastically increased over the last few years to 25 % and more is a clear sign of a deeply flawed argument.

Also, read about the bad arguments they use to justify the exploitation of animals.

Another problem that helps fuel this massive overpopulation crisis are the brokers and and animal dealers.

BROKERS

These are people who are engaged in re-selling animals. Like a middle-man who adds their profit. This includes pet shops and individuals. If you allow people to advertise on your platforms or at your shop, then you are also part of this problem. Even when you are advertising for your friends/family! We have had people who start an animal welfare organization, but support breeding or breed themselves and some who use it as a front for being a pet shop.

breeding

THE ETHICAL DILEMMA

There should be animal-ethical, political, and society-wide discussions regarding the future of pedigree breeding. Here are a few ethical questions to consider:

  • How far are we allowed to interfere in the genetic makeup of animals through breeding and genetic modification?
  • Is it acceptable to manufacture a dog that fits your wish list?
  • If a baby factory is not ok when it comes to humans, why would this be ok with other living beings?
  • Even though dogs adjust to adaptation relatively easily, should these adaptations through breeding be done for the next fashion craze, and what if the craze blows over?
  • What happens to the animal when the breeder has used them up?

THE WELFARE DILEMMA

Our concerns here are divided into mainly 4 issues, but not limited to just them and in no particular order. This includes, how the animals are kept, overpopulation, health & behaviour, and bad breeding practices.

HOW THEY ARE KEPT

Remember that the breeder mentality sees these animals as commodities and not as companions. Some of these breeders keep the animals in terrible and confined conditions and this is the part that the public does not see, but animal welfare workers witness very often.

HEALTH & BEHAVIOUR

Dogs are monoestrous breeders meaning that they have one breeding cycle per year, however, this can vary between breeds. If a particular bloodline is continuously bred this amplifies both the good and bad attributes of the breed.

Although they have bred the look they want, they have also bred breed-specific health issues for each and every breed. The breeders brag about how they guarantee health, but what they can guarantee is that a Weimaraner’s stomach could turn at some stage, that a Great Dane will have heart problems, that an Alsatian will struggle with hip issues, or that a Bulldog could have breathing difficulties etc.

When used as commodities, many of these animals do not experience play or affection nor are they allowed the freedom of expressing natural behaviour, which is one of the 5 freedoms of animal welfare. Pregnancy and birth in any species come with inherent risks to the mother and the fetus. Repeating the cycle increases the risks. Do you know that some breeders use what we call rape-stands?

Many breeders want the parents to “look good”, so they remove the pups relatively early, so the mom’s mammaries do not sag. Removing them early is bad for the mom and pups. Studies have shown that it is ideal for pups and kittens to stay with their moms for up to 12/13 weeks. They learn valuable behaviour from their mom and if the breeder really cared about that then they would not let them go at 8 weeks or even earlier as the latest trends show, plus the breeder can make sure they get all their vaccinations up to 12 weeks. Letting them go early saves the breeder money. These sentient beings also experience the loss of the pups/kittens as any mother would with her baby. Don’t you think that matters?

BAD BREEDING PRACTICES

How they are disposed of

If they maybe just used the bitch for four years, what happens to her afterward? They can’t possibly keep all of them if they made a business out of it? The average lifespan of dogs is much higher than just 4 or 6 years and the cost of proper care is not cheap. You do the maths. Many of them are dumped at shelters, sometimes even moms with the last litter or while still pregnant. Animals, like some parrots, easily live up to 60 years.

Tail docking & ear cropping

Tail docking and ear-cropping are the practices of removing an area of a dog’s tail or ear. It is purely for cosmetic reasons and is considered cruelty and illegal in many countries, including SA.  In addition to being cruel and unnecessary in addition to the ill effects it has on things like posture, and body language, and how bad you affect their dog-to-dog communication.

Overbreeding, inbreeding & early breeding

Overbreeding involves breeding an animal more than their body can safely handle resulting in detrimental health effects to the mother and her puppies while contributing to the overpopulation. Especially with puppy mills, inbreeding also occurs which can be detrimental for health. Breeding animals way too early is another concern.

Pushing limits

Some breeders push the limits causing extensive health issues for the dogs they are breeding. English bulldogs are a great example of this. Their breeding is heavily restricted in many countries or even banned.

Promoting purebred superiority

When people hear dog breeding, they hear purebred dog breeding. Often a mixed breed or rescue dog is referred to as a downgrade or “mutt”.

Not properly vetting the buyers:

How extensively do you think the breeders, who see these animals as commodities, really vet their buyers? How many breeders drive to the buyer’s house? Virtual home checks are not acceptable for me and follow-ups are crucial if you care about these animals. I believe animals are already in the wrong hands when they are from a breeder, so how can the wrong hands determine what is best for this animal?

breeding

REDESIGNED DOG BREEDS

Dr. Karen Becker a veterinarian who understands the overpopulation crisis and genetics has written about how breeding has deformed once healthy dog breeds. She looks at 8 breeds specifically including what we call the poster child of bad breeding namely the English Bulldog. These are not the only ones though.

“Breeders may consider them ‘improvements,’ but when you take a closer look at how they’re affecting the dogs’ quality of life and longevity, but they’re anything but! Before humans began their “remodelling” project and playing god, dogs like the Bull Terrier, Boxer, English Bulldog, and Dachshund were well-proportioned, generally healthy, and physically active, but not anymore.

Over the years, several breeds have been deliberately fashioned to exaggerate certain physical traits at the expense of their health, longevity, and quality of life. Today’s German Shepherd Dog, with his sloped back and incoordination, is no longer the canine athlete he once was; the modern-day Pug comes with an extensive list of brachycephalic-related disorders that make his health a constant concern.Breeding physically resilient, healthy dogs has been replaced with breeding for the sole purpose of attaining twisted beauty pageant awards, and breeding for aesthetics has cost us the health of beloved breeds.”

As a veterinarian, Dr. Karen has seen first-hand the problems created when dogs are bred exclusively to achieve specific features, without concern for their health, mobility, or quality of life. It is deeply disturbing that, with all we know about the suffering these animals endure, breeders persist in exaggerating their dogs’ physical characteristics, even if it means sacrificing their health, and national kennel clubs condone it.

A note on genetics.  Anyone who knows anything about breeding knows that forcing two dogs that “look good”, to mate (whether they have papers or not) is not a guarantee of a good litter. Stellar genetics needs testing and an understanding of genetics. It is about bloodlines, not looking nice. Often an excuse for the exploitation of animals through breeding is that they care about the future of the breed.

I don’t buy into that narrative. If you are not doing genetic testing, behavioural assessments, keeping pups with mom for 12 weeks, and a whole bunch of other responsible actions then you do not really care about the future of that breed. If you crop ears or dock tails then you also do not care about the animals because it is cruel and unnecessary.

I agree with the Science and Dogs blogger, Caen Elegans, who concludes:

“No dog breed has ever been improved by the capricious and arbitrary decision that a shorter or longer or flatter or bigger or smaller or curlier ‘whatever’ is better. Condemning a dog to a lifetime of suffering for the sake of looks is not an improvement; it is torture.”

We domesticated these animals and created this problem, so it is now our moral duty to fix it and do better for these animals who do not have a voice in the matter. This animal welfare issue needs to be addressed through education, sterilization campaigns, and stricter breeding regulations.

WHAT CAN YOU DO?

  • Sterilize your pets.
  • Keep them safe in your yard.
  • Micro-chip them & put a tag on their collar.
  • Don’t support ”free to good home” ads.
  • Don’t support breeders of any kind or brokers including pet shops that sell live animals.
  • Adopt don’t shop (without physical home checks and sterilization their contracts it is not adoption, even if the organization is registered).
  • If you are familiar with the breeder, then invite them to a shelter with you.
  • Educate others.

Capitalizing on the life of an animal, especially since they don’t have the luxury of a choice, for personal and financial gain is one of the most selfish acts and causes many to lose their lives. Asking people nicely to consider the well-being of these animals doesn’t seem to have quite the effect and for that reason, we are working on legislation to put an end to the unnecessary killing of healthy animals because there are just not enough homes.

Next week we will look at why adoption is the only ethical option!

WHEN YOU KNOW BETTER, DO BETTER!