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To Protect and Cherish
Posted on 08/14/2012 in Your Dog, Your Rights.

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by Sara Chisnell, UKC Legal Counsel

Unless you’ve been under a rock for the past few months, then you are aware of the USDA Proposed Rule changes to the Animal Welfare Act that would cause tens of thousands of small hobby breeders to become USDA licensed and comply with AWA regulations and requirements.

It’s the latest in a string of legislation that’s been introduced over the past few years, ostensibly to fight “puppy mills” but in reality is a campaign against dog breeding in general. Anti-puppy mill legislation gets tons of support because it serves as happy, feel-good, warm fuzzies that lawmakers use to soften their image with constituents. It also sounds wonderful to the general public, and even to many dog owners who don’t understand the vast overreach and harm to the good breeders that these laws often have.

There is so much emotion and strong feeling attached to the “puppy mill” issue that it can be very tricky to explain opposition to these laws and difficult for others unfamiliar with the truth to understand why anyone who loves animals could oppose something that is allegedly created to protect animals.

So how do you explain and defend your opposition to anti-breeding laws? More specifically, why are we defending breeders? None of us are opposed to humane conditions for dogs; in fact, no one could support dogs more than responsible breeders. Not many people are more serious about the health and welfare of dogs than responsible dog breeders. They dedicate their lives to improving their breed; years of learning pedigrees, countless hours spent caring for and training, and ungodly amounts of money spent campaigning and health testing dogs to prove their worth as a breeding animal. They care passionately for their dogs and for their rights to own and breed these dogs.

Many of the anti-breeding laws are directed at high-volume commercial breeders, and if passed, would impose the same kennel and housing requirements on the hobby breeders. For example, amongst the requirements in the USDA requirements are non-permeable surfaces that can be hosed down. Sounds great, except for the breeders that keep dogs in the house; they would now be required to build new housing for their dogs to meet regulations.

Responsible dog breeders are our best source for healthy purebred dogs. If they are legislated out of business, we then lose a major source of healthy dogs. More business would then be passed on to the bad actors and also to the overseas trade. Don’t think for one second that the overseas import trade is limited only to purchasing purebred dogs; many shelters in the U.S. have quietly imported dogs and blended them into the rescue network. Both of these have negative implications; with regards to purchasing foreign dogs, there is no way to know of the care and conditions these dogs were given prior to importation, and what kind of breeder is being supported through the purchases. When it comes to the importation of rescues, the potential for spread of both new and also eradicated diseases and parasites is huge.

Responsible dog breeders should be protected and cherished, not lumped into the same class as criminals and animal abusers. Animal rights proponents have been pretty successful in implanting the idea that dog breeders are responsible for dogs in shelters. In reality, nothing could be further from the truth. In addition to providing healthy companions, responsible breeders help buyers carefully select the most suitable breed for their needs. Most breeders will flat out tell a buyer if they think the breed is wrong for them.

Because of the attacks against breeders over the years, many responsible breeders have become more and more strict and selective about screening homes for the few puppies they breed. Careful screening of buyers is also a way to help keep dogs out of shelters; assisting potential owners in selecting the right breed (and pup!) helps to ensure the right match, and decreases the likelihood that the dog won’t work out in the home. Owner-surrender is why most dogs are in shelters, and it’s quite often due to “behavior” issues, many of which could be simply avoided with the right match.

Responsible breeders will also take dogs back in situations where they don’t work out. In fact, many breeders require that they get the right of first refusal in their sales contracts when selling a puppy. Responsible breeders have nothing to do with dogs winding up in shelters and do all in their power to prevent it.

Without responsible breeders, there would be no dog registries. UKC stands behind responsible breeders, and is doing our part to help in producing healthy, vibrant, and sound dogs. How is UKC helping? We do our part on the legislative end and are active in protecting dog owners’ rights, from breed specific legislation to mandatory spay/neuter, to anti-breeding bills.

Most important is to make you, the dog owners, aware of what’s going on, and what to do about it. While UKC can contact lawmakers and give UKC’s position on these matters, constituents carry the most weight and make the most impact, so we try to provide you with the tools to do so. UKC is extremely active behind the scenes with many other partners in the fight, such as the National Animal Interest Alliance and the U.S. Sportsman’s Alliance.

UKC doesn’t just talk the talk, it walks the walk too. UKC is the only dog registry with not only the Total Dog™ philosophy and ideals, but UKC also actively recognizes and encourages Total Dog™ accomplishments. UKC believes that form truly follows function, and is a huge proponent of performance events. More than 60 percent of the 15,000 annually licensed UKC events are tests of hunting ability, instinct, training, and athleticism. A dog is given a Total Dog™ award, which recognizes dogs that look and perform equally well, when the dog has a win with competition in conformation and a qualifying leg in a performance event. Being more than just a pretty face is important to UKC; dogs that are active in performance events are likely to be healthier than not.

Not only do the UKC performance events promote physical health in dogs, they also strengthen the bond between dog and owner. A strong bond between dog and owner is vital to training, preparation and success for events, and that bond is put on display on any given weekend at UKC events across the country. If the bond is strong, and the dog is earning titles and accolades, the “value” of that dog increases, and the possibility of that dog ending up homeless at a shelter or rescue diminishes.

This ties together with another important aspect of UKC: the Limited Privilege program. The UKC Limited Privilege Program allows any dog to be registered with UKC in order to be active in performance events; whether the dog is purebred with no pedigree or a Heinz 57, they can register and enter events.

This is nothing new to UKC, the LP program has been in place for 18 years, and has allowed mixed breeds to compete on a level playing field in performance events since its inception. It’s also a way for owners of rescues and pets to be positively introduced to the world of purebred dogs. UKC is also one of the few organizations to offer Altered Conformation; another option for owners to be active with their dogs.

Most recently, UKC has made changes to many breed standards for certain breeds that have been bred to exaggerations and extremes. UKC has become concerned about the health, function, and performance of these breeds, and addressed the issue by revising breed standards to reflect the goal of health, function and performance. Breed standards are being individually updated to include problems specific to that breed in order to clarify the direction to be taken when they are encountered. Additionally, each breed standard now (or will) includes the following introductory statement:

“The goals and purposes of this breed standard include: to furnish guidelines for breeders who wish to maintain the quality of their breed and to improve it; to advance this breed to a state of similarity throughout the world; and to act as a guide for judges. Breeders and judges have the responsibility to avoid any conditions or exaggerations that are detrimental to the health, welfare, essence and soundness of this breed, and must take the responsibility to see that these are not perpetuated. Any departure from the following should be considered a fault, and the seriousness with which the fault should be regarded should be in exact proportion to its degree and its effect upon the health and welfare of the dog and on the dog’s ability to perform its traditional work.”

The hobby breeder is the guardian and keeper of purebred dogs, and if legislation against them continues, they will soon be a dying breed in this country. While there are certainly problematic breeders out there that keep dogs in horrid conditions, legislating against many because of the bad acts of few is a gross misuse of our legislative system, and frankly, a waste of taxpayers’ money.

Most, if not all, of the issues that the bad actors create can be addressed with current laws, if the same time and resources were dedicated to enforcing them rather than introducing unnecessary and overbroad anti-breeding laws.