In a press release yesterday, the RSPCA once again lamented the state of purebred dogs who are, in their mind, "bred for the way they look rather than with health and welfare and temperament in mind."
Are you sick of this vapid talking point yet? I sure am. This generalization is not only insulting to breeders, it's an insult to intelligence that displays a profound disconnect from reality.
How many serious dog breeders do you know who don't spend literally thousands of dollars each time they have a litter to check the health of sire, dam, and pups? And what about the millions spent by the AKC Canine Health Foundation, the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals, and parent clubs*? This is not the behavior of people who are breeding merely for "looks." And how many breeders do you know who write off temperament as inconsequential? Uh, hello -- temperament is one of the defining qualities of a breed. Anybody who's ever had any experience breeding dogs -- or who has simply read any current literature about breeding dogs -- knows this. Of course the dog's appearance is of importance to breeders, but it is understood to be part of the total package, not the entire package itself.
I don't know whether the RSPCA repeats this tired mantra out of ignorance or malice, but it's a distortion that really needs to be addressed whenever it pops up.
Speaking of distortions, we brought up the maker of Pedigree Dogs Exposed the other day, and since then, I've been thinking a lot about the film. Really, if viewed objectively, it's a fabulously made documentary: it engages, creates a strong emotional investment with the viewer, and serves as a call to action. It is an incredible work in its way.
Which is what makes it all the more tragic -- especially if the creator meant well. Can you imagine how informative, helpful, and inspiring such a film could have been to dog breeders and the general public had it not fallen into the trap of inaccurately painting so many purebred dogs as tragically -- cruelly -- sick, and most breeders as little more than clueless, callous bumpkins? At what point does advocacy become exploitation?
Yes, there are breeders who are unethical, and/or unwilling to do what is right for the health of their dogs. Incompetent or simply bad players are true for any hobby or profession, and nobody's denying that. But there are also wonderful breeders across the world who work tirelessly and spend fortunes (literally!) to improve the health of their chosen breed, who strive to minimize and eliminate health problems in their dogs, who view it as a personal mission to leave their breed healthier and stronger than when they found it. While these top-flight breeders may not make up the majority of all dog breeders, I have no doubt that they are far more prevalent than the selfish, scientifically backward rube-elites** portrayed in Pedigree Dogs Exposed. Indeed, there are wonderful dog breeders out there working day and night with no spotlight. Who's making a movie about them? Why*** does it so often feel as if we're the only group willing to spend any time and effort focusing on them?
*This research doesn't just help purebred dogs, it helps all dogs -- and humans too!
**I gotta say that was a pretty impressive feat. Hillbilly and social snobbery make for a very tough internal juxtaposition, but Harrison definitely succeeded in this task. A testament to her film-making skills?
***Nothing raises funds faster than a good, divisive conflict. I suspect that is why you almost never see anybody celebrating the good breeders!