Love Your Pet? Get to Know Your Breeder
By Ed Sayres
Pets play a vital role in our lives, and that means that breeders do too. Because we depend on them to produce healthy, happy animals, it’s about time we understood breeders better.
The vast majority of breeders are responsible and informed, bearing no resemblance to the small number of substandard breeders that some hold up as representative of the whole profession. Breeders are often wrongly portrayed as compromising the welfare of dogs for profit when, in fact, it’s in the best interests of breeders to maintain the highest standards of care since their reputations depend on consistently delivering healthy animals to consumers. The truth is that most professional breeders take pride in what they do. They work hard to enhance their operations through continuing education, and they incur considerable expense to ensure that their equipment and procedures are top-of-the-line.
I have spent a lot of time with dog breeders over the past week. Last weekend I attended my first two-day breeder education conference with breeders from states throughout the Midwest. The conference is one of several such events held around the country each year to provide educational seminars for breeders on animal healthcare, better breeding practices and kennel design and maintenance. This one featured an impressive lineup of sessions on useful topics led by highly qualified veterinarians, academics and industry experts.
Instructors and researchers from the University of Missouri College of Veterinary Medicine and Tufts Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine addressed issues critical to producing healthy puppies. Breeder, researcher and author Dr. Carmen Battaglia discussed the genetic analysis underpinning his approach to successful breeding. Veterinarian Robert Gibbons of USDA talked about regulation of Internet sales. Stacy Mason of the American Kennel Club spoke about the importance of health tests for dogs in making sure that they produce healthy puppies.
On Saturday, I participated in a candid Q&A session with a large group of breeders, attended a number of seminars and walked through the exhibit hall talking with breeders and the pet businesses that support them. All of this enabled me to see breeders in a new way.
The breeders who attend these meetings take their profession seriously. They are highly engaged and invest a great deal of time and effort in managing their breeding programs, 24/7, 365. They are eager to share advances and innovations in the field, gathering best practices to use in their own operations, many of them family businesses. They understand the complex science of genetics that is central to their work. They listen carefully. They ask insightful questions. They are passionate about what they do and the animals they care for.
When the conference wrapped up, I spent a couple of days visiting several different breeders in Missouri before returning home. While each kennel had a distinct physical set up, what they all had in common – happy puppies and dogs, dedication on the part of the breeders, skilled care – proves that each of these operations works. On top of that, while breeders are sometimes criticized for being insensitive to the needs of homeless animals, most of the breeders I visited help their local animal shelters (albeit anonymously in some cases for their generosity to be accepted). And I know from personal experience – my parents ran their own kennel in the 1940’s – that all of this makes for very long days.
We Americans love our dogs. At certain times, we pause to recognize them and what they mean to us – in September, which was National Responsible Dog Ownership Month and, just this week, National Walk Your Dog Week. At PIJAC, we saw what our pets mean to us last month at the 18th annual Pet Night on Capitol Hill, when the love of pets brought together – in an election year, no less – elected officials from both sides of the aisle. We will see it again this Saturday, when the Roman Catholic Church celebrates the feast day of Saint Francis of Assisi, patron saint of animals and the environment, with its yearly Blessing of the Animals service at churches and cathedrals across the country.
These special events bring well-deserved attention to the role our pets play in our lives, but their presence, and their positive impact on us, is constant. That’s one reason why there is such a great demand in this country for dogs – a demand that animal shelters alone cannot satisfy. We want our dogs, and we need breeders to be a safe source, both for the animals and for us as consumers to acquire them. For that reason, we owe it to ourselves, the breeders and our pets to learn more about the people who breed companion animals, their breeding programs and their animal care practices.
As I continue to travel around visiting with companion animal breeders, I’ll share with you what I learn so we all can better understand who these breeders are as people and professionals, their standards and practices and their constant effort to increase their knowledge and expertise when it comes to their livelihoods and the well-being of the animals they raise.
I hope and expect that, like me, you will find the truth to be eye opening.