Thursday, December 3, 2009

Puppy Mills and an Econ Lesson

I admit it -- there isn't a hard and fast definition of a "puppy mill." Some people want to define it as anyplace that one dog is bred to another, which is probably throwing the baby out with the bath. After all, a dog lover is a person who loves to live with dogs, and if nobody's making more, we won't be living with dogs for long. Now that I've lived with a feral-born pup for a while, that's not something I want as my only source of canine companionship. Bruce is a nice boy, but he's no shepherd.

Other definitions are perhaps too precise. "Any kennel producing more than 25 puppies a year," for instance, overlooks that some breeds would require ten breedings to reach that level and others perhaps three. It's far easier to do the health and genetics research for three litters than for ten.

I'm inclined to leave numbers out of it, nice and precise though they might look to a lawyer or judge. If one batch of dogs is kenneled on wire above another batch, so that the batch below is suffering a slow and steady rain of waste, that's a mill. If any of the dogs are starving beyond the normal thinnish look of a nursing bitch (a condition for which I have great sympathy at present), then we just might be looking at a mill. If medical care is being egregiously overlooked, that's a mill. In other words, if any of the dogs are in a condition we already have laws about, bust the person who owns the joint for having a dog in that condition, and multiply per dog accordingly. There are massive pushes right now for more laws about dog breeding. We don't need more laws. We need to enforce the ones we have.

We also need to put our money where our beliefs are. The pet shop will charge you $500-$1000 for a puppy. For that, you can go to a breeder who did genetic checks, keeps her dogs healthy, and who will want to know a great deal about you before handing over one of her much-loved puppies. You will keep an honest and devoted person from losing quite as much money on her much-loved puppies. If the same amount were spent on "rescuing" the cute pup from the pet store, the money goes to the pet store, the broker who lined the store up with the puppy, and last of all the person who actually bred the puppy, who might see 10% of your sale price. With this much taken off the top, simple economic principles dictate that the miller can't afford veterinary care for the dogs and continue to have a business. The breeder, on the other hand, doesn't have a business. She pays the vet, and eats meat loaf while the dogs get Blue.

And there's my distinction. If the breeder is making a noticeable profit on puppy sales, then probably the breeder is a miller. There are exceptions. Breeders whose dogs are titled producers and whose dogs' genes are very much in demand sometimes do make a profit simply by controlling a rare and desired commodity. On the whole, they lost money for years before getting to that level.

In the war of definition, though, the anti-breeders have one very powerful weapon. They have more compelling pictures. Try to see what I mean. However, in a war of anecdotal evidence, I prefer solid facts to sheer gut-level appeals to fear. The fact is, not every fertile dog is kept in appalling conditions, and a responsible ethical breeder will show you their grounds without a qualm. My fertile dog happens to be loafing beside the baby at the moment. Hopefully this is an environment with which nobody can find fault.

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