Monday, June 16, 2014

A Response to KHOI's Story on Responsible Dog Ownership

Several weeks ago, I was contacted to participate in a radio interview about acquiring a dog from a responsible and ethical source. As I am much better with the written word, I passed the opportunity on to someone who could effectively say what my mind is only able to translate into text.  I had high hopes that it would be a huge step towards changing the opinions of casual Iowa pet owners who aren't familiar with puppy mills vs. good breeders.

You can listen to the hour-long program here.

Sadly, my hopes were shattered when it became apparent the program chose to focus on promoting and defending a commercial kennel called Century Farm Puppies in Grundy Center, IA.  Century Farm is a large-scale commercial breeding operation that allegedly "invented" the designer (mixed) breed called the Cavachon.  For those who don't fall for cutesy names, the Cavachon is a mix between a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel and a Bichon.

The promotion of Century Farm Puppies started within the first ten minutes of the program. At 7:23, actually.  Upon pulling into the Century Farm property, the interviewers were impressed by the "idyllic" sight of a well-groomed property, a little pond with a boat, and a few pens of roly-poly puppies frolicking in the grass.  How typical of a savvy businessman - put the highly marketable "product" front and center to impress guests.  Of course, the majority of the farm's 150+ dogs were not out in the pens.  Most of them were in an outbuilding, and the owner of Century Farm refused to allow access to that outbuilding... at least at first.

At 8:31, the interview with Rex Meyers began.  I urge you to listen to the program yourself, but here are several gems from his interview that I'd like to address:

"Everybody wanted a Cavalier but they couldn't have 'em because they aren't hypoallergenic. By crossing 'em with a Bichon, the offspring are always non-shedding and hypoallergenic."

Bichons do not shed, but Cavaliers do.  Breeding these two breeds together in no way creates 100% non-shedding offspring.  High school science students with half a brain cell could tell you that.  Also, people are rarely allergic to dog hair.  Rather, the main cause of allergic response to animals is to their dander, which all dogs have.  There is no hypoallergenic dog breed.

"I shoulda patented 'em, because now they're the #2 most registered hybrid dog in the country."

Right away, it appears that Mr. Meyers' true motivations are revealed... money.  He regrets not patenting his mixed breed, presumably because now other unscrupulous breeders are profiting on "his" idea.  Less money in his pocket, dang it.

"So this way I get to see all the grandkids all the time cuz they're always here playin' and workin' with the puppies. We put money in the kids' college funds every month, and so the puppies can support college!"

Again, Mr. Meyers focuses on the profits of his breeding operation.  I understand that this is his business, but the very ethics of his business aren't something I will ever understand.  Lowering the breeding and owning of dogs to that of owning and breeding livestock is appalling.

My Meyers talked so much about the puppies.  The grandkids play with the puppies.  The puppies go out to the playpens every day.  Puppies, puppies, puppies.  In case anyone has forgotten, puppies come from adult dogs.  I have to wonder if the Century Farm adult dogs get the same treatment.  Of course, when asked if the adults get to experience the outdoor pens as well, Mr. Meyers answered with a high-pitched and tentative "Sure!" and quickly changes the subject.

"The kennels all got central heating, central air conditioning... they get all that special."

You know what else has central heating and air conditioning?  The homes of responsible breeders, where responsibly bred dogs live.  Responsibly bred dogs aren't relegated to outbuildings... they live in the home, like members of the family.  To brag about your breeding stock having access to heating and cooling is really to brag about nothing at all.  That is basic care.

The tour moved to the "luxury suites" for pregnant bitches and newly whelped litters.  The interviewers were allowed to pet the dogs through the bars of their cages.  For the record, I've never had to poke my fingers through metal bars to interact with a dog owned by a responsible breeder.

Eventually the interviewers were allowed to peek into the largest outbuilding, where most of the Century Farm dogs are housed.  The "only difference" between the whelping building and this larger outbuilding was, according to the interviewers, the number of dogs housed in the structure.  This so-called "Honeymoon Suite" where the dogs were "bein' bred" smelled strongly of urine, and the level of barking was so severe that the radio producers had to edit out most of it.  So it stands to reason - if the only difference between the two buildings was the number of dogs housed, did the whelping building also reek of urine?  Do pregnant bitches and newborn litters have to endure the cacophony of barking dogs as well?

At 15:51, the doors to the "Honeymoon Suite" are opened.  Now, I'm a pretty tough cookie.  I don't get misty-eyed easily, but at 15:51 I felt a lump forming in my throat.  Despite the radio station editing out most of the barking, and despite Mr. Meyers yelling over the din of barking dogs, it's still nearly impossible to decipher what he's saying.  To imagine the true volume of that barking is heart-wrenching.  Those poor, poor dogs.  How on earth could anyone hear that and think that is how a good breeder operates?

"According to the USDA, that's plenty of room."

Since this is a radio show, we don't know for sure how large those enclosures were.  But as I look around my living room as I'm typing this, I can't imagine the USDA definition of "plenty of room" would satisfy my dogs.  Poison and Stark are running around from room to room, each holding one end of a large stuffed alligator.  Talla is chasing them.  Kaylee is asleep on a pile of blankets on the sofa.  They are content with their 2,000 square feet for now, but I'm assuming I will need to let the out to play in the yard before I finish this blog post.  So unless Century Farm is providing 3,000+ square feet for every 3-4 dogs, they may be meeting USDA guidelines but they're sure as hell not meeting mine.

"Well it's not like runnin' around your livin' room or anything, or runnin' around in the backyard.  .... Ya know, people may think 'yeah, you've got a lot of dogs, but there's a lot of people here!'"

So how many people are there, exactly?  Mr. and Mrs. Meyers, their son and daughter in law, their five granddaughters (aged 3-24) and their one full-time employee.  So... at least five but not more than nine adults.  I'm not sure what a three year-old can realistically contribute to the care and upkeep of 150 dogs, and presumably some of those grandkids are still in school.  By giving them the benefit of the doubt and saying there are six adults working full-time at the kennel, that still means there are 25 dogs for each person.  There is no way one person can adequately care for 25 dogs, and those dogs still be well-socialized and trained.  In the follow-up interview, Mr. Meyers admitted that the grandchildren don't come over every day, and most of them just "play" with the puppies.  So no, Mr. Meyers, it does not appear that there are "a lot of people" there.

According to the interviewers, Mr. Meyers admitted that the cutest dogs got the most exercise.  So even with so much "help" around the farm, the level of care and/or attention is not the same for each and every dog.  How is this responsible?  How is this okay?  How does this not set off a million alarms in your head?

Finally, here is Mr. Meyers' definition of a puppy mill:

"A puppy mill is somebody who's not licensed or inspected by USDA or the state.  Nobody knows they're there. They're not regulated by anybody, and they can do anything they want."

So, by his definition, there are no puppy mills.  There are state and federal animal cruelty laws that regulate the way everyone must treat animals, so in reality... everyone is regulated, and nobody can do anything they want.  His definition also excludes responsible breeders who do not fall under the state or federal definition of a commercial breeder. Therefore, the only breeders that are not puppy mills are, by his definition, breeders whose dogs are so many that they must be licensed by the government as commercial operations.

Mr. Meyers goes on to say that USDA and State-inspected kennels have their dogs checked for health.  "Their ears, their eyes, their teeth."  Those are not actual certifiable health screenings for disease or injury.  The USDA does not have veterinarians that perform OFA, CERF or BAER examinations.  Those USDA "health checks" are only to ensure the dogs are not in dire need of veterinary care.  That is not enough!

At 22:45, the interviewers bring to light another horror of Century Farm Puppies.  In defense of Mr. Meyers and his operation, it is stated that his Cavachon puppies are sold to good homes.  The family sells those dogs directly to buyers.  But wait... what about the other mixes they breed?  Mr. Meyers had this to say:

"...we don't sell Teddy Bears, so those I send to the pet store.  Because they're a cheap dog. We're known for Cavachons.  I'd rather sell Cavachons."

Let's cut the crap, shall we?  Selling their Cavachons direct is not a mark that they're a good breeder.  They don't sell their Cavachons to pet stores because they know they can make more money on them if they sell directly to their buyers.  Why else would they dump their "cheap" mixed breeds on the pet store?

At 27:37, the focus on Century Farm Puppies ends with high praise from the operation's veterinarian.  According to that vet, Century Farm is a great breeder because they keep decent records and consent to c-sections when their bitches need them.  So impress. Much standards. Very wow.

Next, the program featured an excerpt from their interview with Mindi Callison, founder of Bailing Out Benji (and, on a personal note, one of the few animal rights activists that actually believes there is such a thing as responsible breeders!)  I say excerpt because the program only gave Mindi 13 minutes of airtime, much of which seemed to have little to do with the actual subject of the program itself.  

Mindi's definition of a puppy mill is:

"Technically there is no legal definition, so it depends on what organization you're talking to. But our organization believes that a puppy mill is any breeder who puts the profit over the welfare of the animals, and they're constantly breeding the animals in their care."

Yep, sounds about right.  In her scant 13 minutes, Mindi was able to mention, puppy mill auctions, and why buying from pet stores is not a wise or ethical decision.  I wish I could have heard her entire interview, as I am sure it would have addressed some of the crap we heard in the first 30 minutes of the program's promotion of Century Farm Puppies.

The portion of the interview concerning responsible dog breeders starts at about 42:20.  Of course, right away the interviewer mentions that mixed breed dogs are healthier than purebred dogs due to hybrid vigor.

Seriously, how many times does it have to be said?  The Earth is not flat, the Moon is not made out of cheese, and hybrid vigor does not exist in domestic dogs.  Two unhealthy dogs of different breeds do not magically come together and create healthy (or healthier) puppies.  

Aryn did a great job identifying where people can begin their search for a responsible breeder, as well as what it means to be a responsible breeder.  And she really hit the nail on the head with her definition of a responsible breeder:

"A responsible breeder is one who has a goal in mind for what they want their dogs to be. That includes making sure that dog looks the way they're supposed to look, acts they way it's supposed to act, as well as the concern for health. A responsible breeder should understand what health concerns are in their breed, test for those kinds of conditions if the test is available, and screen pedigrees against who they're breeding their dogs to."

Aryn also touched on something very important - something that I feel very strongly about as well, and it is what lies at the heart of every truly responsible breeder:

"[Dogs that belong to responsible breeders are] members of the family. When you put that much work and effort into your family, there's really nothing in your mind that says, 'I should make money off of my family.' "

That is what the main message of this story should have been.  It's what I was hoping for.  Instead, the overwhelming message was that commercial breeding facilities really aren't all that bad.  After all, gotta put the grandkids through college somehow!  Talk about a major disappointment.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

A'Coursing We Will Go! Part 3

Our string of coursing weekends has come to an end!  Poison got CAA legs #6 and #7 this weekend, and Rocket is now only 2 legs away from his CAX.  Kaylee stayed home yet again, as I still need to find someone to help me wrap her feet correctly.

Due to being a bit shorthanded we didn't get any photos of Rocket's runs, but here are the photos Aryn got of Poison!  She is quickly figuring out how to pace herself.  She gets faster every time we course.  I may me biased when I say I doubt she'll ever match Kaylee's speed, but she's still a fun dog to run and a joy to own.  I'm glad she's got the drive needed to be a great coursing dog. 

Some of our friends also reached some milestones this weekend.  Rookie the pit bull (adopted from IDR+ by our friend Erin) had his first experience with lure coursing and loved it!  Erin now has two crazy coursing dogs in her home... many of you know her other dog, Bourbon.

Jack the English Setter earned the first two legs of his CA title.  Hopefully this upcoming weekend he'll finish his CA.  It's great to see him enjoy this sport and be successful!

Rip (Ch Fidelis Ripcord) also did a fun run, and he did very well for his first experience with lure coursing.  With a bit more practice and some flirt-pole work at home, I have no doubt he'll be ready to run for a title.

The gnats were horrible.  My eyes are still nearly swollen shut from getting bug spray in them all day, and I've heard Aryn is having the same problem!  It was very hot, but many of us brought ez-up canopies and sun shades so we had an entire "camp" set up to keep everyone cool and comfortable.

Despite applying 40% DEET, we were being eaten alive out there.  The dogs were fine, but the humans were suffering.  Out of all the products we had available, the only one that worked against the gnats was Bug Soother.  I'm including this in my post only so I can remember to buy a bottle, and to let my readers know that this made-in-Iowa product is basically the most amazing bug spray on earth.