Thoughts on Politics and Technology
Politics… The Root of All Evil
Throughout my experience in purebred dogs, I have been vexed by three issues –
Politics, Technology, and Health
By politics, I am referring not to our next presidential candidate, nor to the tendencies of some judges to let the person on the end of the lead influence their selections (rather than the dog). No, by ‘politics’, I mean the gossip, peer pressures, and less-than-congenial activities demonstrated by many folks in the fancy; in ANY fancy, from what I understand.
Some time ago, I had written “Politics – The Inhumane Treatment of Humans” (see site menu, left) to partially address the subject – or at least my view of it. I received a lot of responses from folks who happened to review it, most of which indicated that others were having the same experiences. Confirming… but sad, nonetheless.
In analyzing the two other concepts that have troubled me over the years (technology and health), I noticed a connection between them, and those ‘politics’, and decided it might be interesting to throw out the correlation and see if the response is, again, the same.
Before becoming frustrated and even a little bitter about the ‘politics’ associated with breeding and exhibiting dogs, I was eager, and probably a bit over-zealous, in my endeavor to learn and absorb every possible piece of information I could. The internet, and all it had to offer, was an incredible tool for allowing me to gain insight and familiarity with many aspects of breeding, exhibiting, and more. There were websites displaying top-winning dogs, club information, show entries, health and veterinary tips, and even online chat lists where people could communally address issues, provide show results, and discuss related topics. I thought, “What an excellent source of educational material for members of the fancy – both young and old!” How lucky I felt to be able to learn without the constraints of distance and time that must have plagued the more seasoned folks out there!
One thing that was particularly troubling to me, however, was that as I began to learn the differences between reputable breeding verses backyard breeders and puppy mills, I noticed that when I would perform a ‘search’ on every major search engine (Google, Yahoo, MSN, etc.), the results would come back displaying links to websites for breeders who did not indicate that they used all of those reputable breeding practices. The entire first page or two of results contained either ‘dog-for-sale’ sites that did not require advertisers to demonstrate reputability, or alternatively, websites for breeders who did not perform health background screenings, did not show or do anything with their dogs (other than just breed them), and often sold to potential homes on a first-come, first-served basis.
As I started researching how these ‘breeders’ were able to rank so highly in the search engine results, I found that getting the top spots was not necessarily an easy task. A website had to be optimized, utilize the correct ‘tags’, not to mention that each search engine had different criteria by which it ranked the results. I also learned that many people in the fancy were against the 'doggie-for-sale' sites. They did not want to support advertisers that did not require people to adhere to ethical guidelines, and in some cases, they felt that using such sites would be a bit beneath them, in an elitist sense.
As an educator, every day I see first-hand how the internet is the main tool used by today’s generation to do just about anything. It’s not going to go away. So, then why didn’t these model-breeders hold the top spots? I could understand the concept of boycotting something because a person thinks the related practices should be changed (hence why I’ve refused to join certain breed clubs when the members don’t all adhere to the ethical guidelines themselves); however, I couldn’t comprehend why people in the fancy did not feel it was important for seemingly more reputable breeders to hold those top spots on the search engine results.
If people in the public are searching for a ‘husky puppy’, and their results yield only breeders that do not adhere to reputable breeding practices, they probably won’t have anything better with which to compare. Rarely does anyone go beyond the first page or two of search results! Not to mention, as I talked with other breeders – (even those who did not have puppies on the ground at all times) - I found that they were having difficulty finding GOOD homes. At the same time, those breeders demonstrating none of the reputable breeding practices who held those top search engine listings were receiving more than 30-40 inquiries per week! So, I gave search engine listings a try, and did what I could to get our site listed. After time, I did manage to get some decent site-traffic results. I wasn’t able to attain those top spots, but through the use of some of the various internet marketing tools, I was able to get a better ranking for our site. It wasn’t cheap, but did allow me a great way of having homes to choose from when I would have litters.
When I didn’t have puppies myself, I would forward the inquiries to other folks that seemed to be reputable breeders in hopes that buyers would go there instead of the breeders that were rather obviously less-than-reputable. But, those lists would occasionally fall into what I was told were the ‘wrong hands’, so I decided to try a different approach. I queried one of the chat-lists, and offered to assist reputable folks with that same process. Needless to say, many of the veterans of the fancy were far from thrilled with this concept. They had some interesting arguments such as:
1. Even ‘reputable’ breeders are not always ‘reputable’.
2. Promoting a website is the same as promoting the breed itself.
3. This will only encourage even reputable breeders to produce more puppies in order to meet the supply and demand trends.
4. There are already breeder referral methods in place – people should just use those.
5. If there aren’t enough good homes available, people shouldn’t be breeding a litter in the first place.
It would take all day to consider each of those points independently, but suffice it to say, I thought that we could all just agree to disagree on some of those arguments, right? But, as with anything in the breed, this was when ‘politics’ came into play again. For anyone who is not already aware, often times, if someone doesn’t agree with someone else in the fancy, then it’s not just a matter of a difference opinion… no, it becomes personal. And anybody can ultimately be labeled a backyard breeder, puppy mill, (or worse), simply because their practices are different than someone else’s. This whole labeling practice was a very touchy subject for me for quite some time (if you couldn’t tell by the first ‘politics’ article), but I did get a good laugh after reading this article written by a breeder in Michigan “You Might Be a Puppy Mill If…”
Humorous, but then again, I enjoy sarcasm. Apparently, there were other readers out there who had taken offense to it, and did not appreciate its sentiment. Unfortunately, it definitely has an added component of truth to it, aside from the tongue-in-cheek presentation of the material.
At any rate, once the discussion on the issue of website promotion ensued, I started to receive phone calls and emails, some very lengthy, from breeders who felt compelled to ascend down from on-high (there’s that darn sarcasm again) and suggest that not only was I a misguided nut, but all of my dogs were garbage, too. Unbeknownst to me, the breeders of my dogs had more-or-less single-handedly ruined the entire breed! On the other hand, I also got emails from other folks saying that I was on the right-track, and that I was saying things that most others only thought, but dared not say (fear of the ‘Mob’). This correspondence was becoming very tedious, very frustrating, and honestly, a little nauseating. Finally, I decided I’d had enough, and figured I’d be more productive spending my time grooming a dog or two than debating on the computer, so I signed off of the lists.
But, I did go so far as to write a letter to some of the breed clubs expressing my concerns about the use of technology by backyard breeders and the need for more reputable breeders to have a presence on the web. After months, the gist of the response I did finally get was that I could get someone with another opinion to write an ‘opposing-viewpoints’ article and submit it for publication. I did not progress with that suggestion, figuring we’d already basically done all that publicly on the chat-lines, and I was growing tired of the repercussions of challenging the opinions of those with ‘political influence’.
However, in always trying to find the positives with any situation, I did come away with what I could definitely acknowledge as being a few good points from those ‘opposing’ veterans. Some noted that technology, despite all it had to offer from an educational context, also made it possible for newcomers to move forward in the development of their lines with little or no mentorship. And, it permitted newcomers and veterans alike to buy dogs from different sides of the country without ever visiting that breeder, nor gaining any true knowledge of ‘what’ they were incorporating into their breeding program. So, I did the best I could to apply that information. I took all that time I was saving by being off of the chat-lines, and toured more than 30 breeders in the U.S. and Canada. And it was, and continues to be, in my opinion, truly the BEST way of learning.
The veterans were right on many accounts. Technology can be deceptive. Pictures posted on a website may or may not do a particular dog justice – or may also give the perception that a dog is more than he is cracked up to be. I saw that most breeders do not actually include ALL of their dogs on their websites. A lot of the breeders I visited on my tours had five or more litters on the ground. Many breeders do not actually update their websites with every litter they have produced.
On that note, and in the vein of how most problems tend to relate back to ‘politics’, I had another good laugh last year when I was informed by a friend that she’d been told the ‘internet police’ had been watching my site. The ‘internet police’ were reportedly a group of folks with nothing better to do all day but to comb other’s websites in search of would-be puppy mills. Hey – I don’t mean to sound as though I’m condemning their research - more power to them. However, as a result of this ‘intelligence leak’, it was being suggesting to my friend that because we were ‘under surveillance’, we must be up to no good. Just as there is no perfect dog, I’m certainly not suggesting we’re perfect breeders that have never deviated from the guidelines in the slightest, but I’m not sure that using technology as a means of alluding to inappropriateness is necessarily appropriate either. That practice of stirring up the pot of contempt between breeders seems almost as deceptive as those breeders that don't practice accurately or completely updating their site information.
It is very easy to point fingers, but far less simple to enact change, especially in the midst of such a ‘political’ mess. Shame on me. Likewise, for as much as technology can be considered deceptive or misused, it is still ultimately the ‘politics’ that influence what people do and do not disclose, as well as what is and is not considered reputable. And as has been said before, there are ALWAYS two sides to every story. So, with all of that technology has to offer, the obvious ‘politically’ driven method of warning someone about a negative experience with another breeder would be to create a webpage about it. If we can all agree to disagree on this particular topic, web-based slander, I don’t agree with this practice. I’ve bounced back and forth on the sites of breeders outlining their disputes between each other. I’ve seen it happen to strangers, as well as folks I know personally. And now, after having been the subject of one such page myself, all I can say is that if everyone in dogs who ever had a disagreement with someone else felt compelled to create a website telling the public how awful that other breeder is and why everyone should save themselves the trouble by simply blacklisting that other nasty person, we’d have nobody left to have to contend with. My guess is that we’d have enough material to rival even the best daytime drama on television. That being said, as the world turns… during these days of our lives, let’s flip over to ‘General Hospital’, and take a look at the third aspect that has consumed my thoughts over the years – “Health”.
Thoughts on Politics and Health
When breeders encounter a health problem, why must it be kept so hush-hush? “Politics”
With any activity, it is good to reflect from time to time in an attempt to organize thoughts, evaluate outcomes, and examine possible future directions. When I look back at my experiences, both positive and negative, associated with purebred dogs, three main topics come to the forefront; politics, technology, and health. All three are related for the purpose of this ‘Health’ article in that we can use technology in a positive way to outline health concerns in the breed; however, politics will undoubtedly interfere with the process in the long run. It seems that when some breeders are informed of a potential health problem in their lines, they either ignore it or down-play it. More importantly, they may try to hide it. And why wouldn’t they? The politics are cruel and cut-throat. Even on some of the email lists, which are supposed to be ‘educational’ in nature, when some potentially worthwhile discussion begins on topics such as epilepsy or eye defects, it eventually turns into to finger-pointing.
One example of a situation I have experienced:
I purchased a puppy from a breeder/judge. Some months later, I received an email from a complete stranger, a pet-owner, telling me her story about purchasing a puppy from this breeder that was diagnosed with ectopic ureter. The pet-owner had been going online, and using search engines to find anyone with dogs from this breeder, and then informing them of her situation. My luck! It just so happened that her affected dog was a littermate to mine. The pet-owner claimed that when she picked the puppy up, the breeder’s facility was filthy and smelled horribly of urine, as well. This point also goes back to the information provided to me by a veteran in the previous article (on technology - see left column) regarding the importance of actually visiting the breeder first. I hadn’t done that, so I had no way of knowing if the pet-owner’s statements were true, or if this was just an exaggeration due to her anger surrounding the whole situation.
Needless to say, I contacted the breeder, and she was in the process of threatening the pet-owner with legal action, as the pet- owner had also created a web page (again, gotta love technology) outlining her complaints. The breeder said that she had offered to take the puppy back when it was first diagnosed, but the pet-owner refused, and now wanted the breeder to pay for an expensive surgical procedure required.
Why the breeder/judge had not informed me and the owners of the other four littermates that I knew had gone to show homes, I am not sure, but I would bet it had something to do with ‘politics’. And in her defense, I believe that many other people would've handled it the same way.
A few years ago with one of my more anticipated breedings, I brought in a 6 year old male stud dog, and bred him to my finished female (yes, yes, hips and eyes were done). I got two puppies; one absolutely stunning male… everything I had hoped for, and one tiny, goofy-looking female, who was about half the size of the male. The sire had been bred quite a few times, and this was the dam’s second litter. The mother was continuously licking the bottom of the female puppy, and I surmised she may have had a urinary tract infection. However, when I took her to the vet, despite my insistence that something was not right, the vet reported that the puppy was completely healthy. So, I sold her to a nice pet home. The new owners did just as our contract suggested and took their new puppy to the vet within 3 days. Their vet immediately diagnosed the puppy with ectopic ureter. This puppy was unrelated to the puppy I’d purchased in the first example above.
Hoping to learn the source of this problem, I contacted the breeder of the stud dog, and the breeder of the dam. You guessed it - neither had that in their lines. However, each could site specific dogs that had been owned by the other breeder in question that had produced that same problem in the past. The first thing the owner of the dam said was, “Another __(sire’s name)____ kid”, but did not elaborate further. She was more concerned about why I didn't just put the puppy down when I suspected a problem. I tried to explain that first, I didn't even realize she had a serious health problem, and second, that I couldn’t have done that to the puppy even if I had known. As time went on, I was informed by the co-owner of the stud dog of approximately 4 cases of epilepsy showing up in his past litters, so we had him neutered and pet-homed him. I pet-homed that beautiful male puppy, as well.
I did not spay the dam, though. Now, maybe that makes me no better than any other breeder in the world who has down-played a potential issue. But, there is a spectrum of what people consider appropriate ranging from conservative to liberal, and ultimately, we are all also forced to make decisions based on the information available at any given time. Some breeders suggested to me that I shouldn’t ‘throw her out with the bath water’ when it was the sire of the litter known to be producing lots of other issues. Some breeders noted that it could have been just a ‘fluky’ kind of thing. The decision I made was be cognizant of that possibility, and to collect information.
So, I bred her two more times and she produced 14 puppies. In all of her future offspring, plus the one puppy she’d had in her first litter, there were no other cases of ectopic ureter. Now, unfortunately, the stud dog I had chosen for her final two litters eventually turned out to have a littermate with epilepsy. I did not opt to carry on with any of those offspring myself. But, one of them had been bred once already, and produced no ectopic. None of those went to breeding homes. I had also kept the offspring from dam’s very first litter, (unrelated to the male with the epileptic littermate). That daughter did not produce any cases of ectopic ureter either in 4 litters. Will it show up further down the line? Hopefully not, but if it does, I also hope to find out.
I have countless other examples, from low-thyroid to zinc to eye defects (and I'll bet most readers do, as well). Oh, and I must thank those breeders that were honest, and informed those of us with offspring about the defects, despite much political-drama in the fancy as a result of their efforts to do the right thing in that respect. Nonetheless, their positive actions do not detract from the fact that there appears to be no line of purebred dogs completely free of health defects. It’s only a matter of when the problems will present themselves and to what degree of severity. Was my first decade so plagued with health issues because I was just that unlucky, or because I paid attention? I worked with dogs from some 25 different breeders – so it wasn’t that I had picked the wrong group to hang-out with. I don’t think they were all responsible for ruining the breed, as was once suggested to me. So, is it just the breed? Is the breed not as ‘clean’ with respect to health problems as I was originally lead to believe?
I’m certainly no expert, but there appear to be a number of contributing factors; all five of which appear intertwined:
Genetics, Statistics, Ethics, Politics, and Education (or mentoring)
Subcategories would include – research, seminars, technology, data collection and analysis, honesty, responsibility, inbreeding/outcrossing/linebreeding/, etc.
Each of the contributing factors above could be outlined at length; however, the bottom line is that we don’t have sufficient knowledge and research about the modes of inheritance of many of the health problems in the breed. Plus, due to a fear of the politics, many breeders do not do a sufficient job of alerting others about the health issues that surface. On the other hand, I have heard some breeders say that their lines are completely free of defects… and they’re maybe basing this claim on the fact that they’ve bred two litters for 10 puppies that didn’t exhibit any health problems, or that they inbred and did not find any health problems, or that their pet-owners never told them any bad news. But, based on what I’ve read and seen, that doesn't always tell us much about what the dogs may carry, or what they may exhibit if bred to just the ‘right’ (or more appropriately termed, ‘wrong’) dog.
- I know of one breeder who found out about epilepsy behind her dog’s pedigree, and waited 7 years without breeding him in hopes that a genetic marker would be found before getting him neutered.
- I know of one breeder who inbred her lines, kept very good data, and felt that they were safe; however, upon out-crossing to three different (but not completely unrelated) males, produced epilepsy with varying rates of incidence for each male. Does that mean that her lines truly weren’t safe even though nothing showed up with the inbreeding? Or does that mean that the stud dogs were to blame in all 3 cases?
- I know of one breeder who claims to have gotten rid of half of her kennel in the 80’s due to problems with epilepsy.
- I know of one breeder who was told of two offspring produced in the same litter with epilepsy and claims that one was hit by a car and that the other one was forced by her owner to drink anti-freeze.
- I know of a breeder who informed folks about the health backgrounds on her dogs as health problems were brought to her attention, and as a result, it was publicly suggested that she was not reputable.
- I know of a stud dog that was used, literally, hundreds of times, and is in the pedigrees of many show lines you’ll find today, and I know of at least 2 cases of epilepsy that he produced having talked to the owners of the offspring personally. Were there more? I don’t know. When he was bred hundreds of times and possibly only produced it twice, is that a good statistic when you compare that to the total number of puppies produced? What if we had more data on the grandchildren?
Would people be willing to step out from behind their curtains, or out from under their rugs, and report any issues they encounter? Realizing that there would be about a million and one barriers to this including honesty and proper diagnosis, I still think it would be great if we could have a resource where honest breeders could go to post health backgrounds on dogs, both good and bad. Or maybe each breeder would be willing to maintain proper data and present it to prospective buyers, just the same as they would the dog’s pedigree?
Can a health information clearinghouse be created? I’ve toyed with creating a webpage to display my health records, and always been advised by others not to do it. I was told that I’d be creating political suicide… that nobody would follow suit… that novice people would not understand it… etc. But, I can’t help but wonder if just maybe one person does it, others WILL follow suit? Maybe novice folks could use it as an education tool or model for collecting their own data? In my case, I’ve already jumped off the highest story of the Political Agenda Building repeatedly, so the suicide part is less of a concern… but as a general rule, breeders do fear the ‘MOB’ that is the fancy, and simply won’t disclose information.
From what I understand, there are “Internet Police” that have get to sit in front of the computer and tally up the number of litters folks are breeding – seeking out potential puppy mills (see Technology Article, left column). This suggested practice of disclosing all litters and health reports would save them all that trouble! If people would be expected to present their information, preferably in a public format, then those self-proclaimed police could go get a real hobby ;). Oh, but wait! We still don’t have a clear, concise definition of what constitutes a puppy mill yet, so I guess those concerned citizens would not become completely obsolete!
So, we have before us ‘politics’, ‘technology’ and ‘health’ – the three issues with which I have struggled, (among others including the whereabouts of Elvis and life on Mars). ‘Politics’ can negatively affect any positive outcomes that could be generated from both of the other topics - technology and health. Rather than elaborate further, and have the reader be further subjected to my lame sense of humor, let’s cut to the chase and consider whether or not it is possible to fix this?
We’re talking about major over-haul here. “Politics” are threaded through every aspect of purebred dogs. I don’t think it’s a mere matter of disassociating with anyone who ‘talks about’ another breeder… or their crummy dogs… or their crummy breeding practices… or even their crummy new hair-dos.
Is it possible for the fancy to simply accept the concept that there are health problems in the breed, and be open about it? Can there be the expectation that all breeders list their breedings and subsequent health findings publicly and honestly? Or maybe even to just submit them to the parent-club for data collection at the very least? I had read that the SHHF is compiling health data from breed club members – and stresses the fact that individual submissions would not be shared with any other ‘siberian people’, which only further reinforces the notion of the ‘MOB’ and its power. But, submitting information to their research is optional. What if it was expected, just like getting an OFA done? I realize that some folks will not keep in contact with owners of their dogs’ offspring. I realize that there may be alternative veterinary opinions on some health concerns. I realize that not every breeder is going to ‘accurately’ represent what they may or may not be producing. But, shouldn’t that all be automatically occurring on a broader scale?...
Well, at least what they're attempting is a start!
Okay – I'd love to hear your thoughts? My flame-retardant suit is zipped and the extinguisher is handy ;).
Copyright - Jalerran Siberians Disclaimer: Due to the 'politics' referenced above, I guess I have to do this : )......The views that are expressed above are based upon my experiences, and are simply my opinions. The intent is to outline some of the negative experiences I've had associated with involvement in dog showing and breeding, and begin to evaluate possible solutions. Since I strongly believe that being actively involved in some activity with your dogs (other than just breeding) is an essential component of reputable breeding practices, I'm not suggesting that people should avoid getting involved in showing, nor that they should breed their dogs excessively; however, I am attempting to give readers a general idea of what they may encounter or experience in the dog show scene. Again, I don't want to discourage anyone from canine exhibition, more so provide realistic expectations about what may occur so that nobody ends up being as surprised as I was. If I've offended you, welcome to my world... heck, I feel badly for anyone who is out there getting lamb-basted. No, seriously, I'm sorry. I do have a tendency to be verbose and obnoxious. My bad!