From Elkhounds to Ayrshires, We’re All In This Together

A Norwegian Elkhound Puppy

A Norwegian Elkhound Puppy... Aren't they the cutest things EVER? Photo credit: Kamgaard Norwegian Elkhounds

One of the interesting things I’ve observed in covering the animal rights movement over the past few years is the broad coalitions developed to beat back the radical anti-animal agenda espoused by the likes of the Humane Society of the United States, PETA, and their counterpart organizations. At first, many in agriculture presumed they were fighting a merely radical anti-meat, milk and egg lobby, but in time have found friends and allies in many divergent quarters of the animal-loving community.

Case in point: respected dog breeder Amy Peterson. I first heard of Amy through my fiancee, Miranda. Amy is an AKC Breeder of Merit who raises Norwegian Elkhounds, an amazing breed of dogs that Miranda has fancied for many years. We’re keeping an eye on Amy’s kennel for future litters in hopes of adding a second Elkhound to our household.

It was only after Amy and I connected on Facebook, however, that I realized she is a strong advocate for animal welfare over animal rights, and for sharing the truth behind the agenda of the powerful animal rights lobby. It was then that I also truly began to understand the shared values that we embrace as animal lovers, regardless if our animals are draft horses or Dachshunds, Brown Swiss or Beagles.

Amy writes a great blog that  shares her passion for fighting the animal rights agenda from the paradigm of a dog breeder and trainer. Her latest post discusses the increasingly cumbersome fees levied on kennel owners and dog breeders in many parts of the country – fees supported by the “responsible breeders” on HSUS’ new “Breeders Advisory and Resource Council.”

I had heard about HSUS’ new endeavor last week when Amy encouraged fellow Elkhound enthusiasts on Facebook to write the AKC and encourage them to disassociate themselves from this perversive new animal rights tactic. In ostensibly seeking to “help consumers shop wisely for a puppy by recognizing the difference between responsible breeders and puppy mills,” HSUS unwittingly got me thinking about another big issue… What exactly constitutes a “responsible” breeder?

To that end, I again have Amy to thank for pointing me to this post on the subject from Allison Smith, a long-time breeder of Australian Shepherds. These two paragraphs from Smith’s post may just say it all:

We hear this phrase “responsible breeder” bandied about a lot. We are admonished to be “responsible”. Potential puppy buyers are advised to work only with “responsible” breeders. ”Irresponsible” breeders are fodder for the animal rights extremists, the media and legislative initiatives. “Irresponsible “breeders are indicted in news headlines screaming “70 Starving Puppies found in Filth”. Websites abound extolling the virtues of buying from breeders who adhere to Codes of Ethics, raise only healthy dogs, breed very few litters of very few breeds, guarantee their dogs and never, ever turn away from one of their dogs in need. Responsible breeder checklists direct puppy buyers to seek out hobby/show breeders and spell out in considerable detail what to look for in such a breeder.

Locating and connecting with those breeders can be a confusing process for pet buyers because much of  the “good” breeder’s ethical code is not pet-centric. Much of the current climate on dog breeding vilifies show dog breeders and although some may, no doubt, deserve it, most are, as they say, stuck between a rock and a hard place. Animal rights/welfare doctrine pressures breeders to be “good” ( if at all!) and a “good” breeder assiduously rejects identification as a pet breeder ( after all, isn’t that what puppy mills do?).

My own experience in buying dogs over the years lends some credence in my mind to what Smith had to say on the subject. I’ve bought two AKC-registered Labrador Retrievers over the years, and the two experiences were very different. In the first case, I wanted to surprise Mom with a Yellow Lab for Christmas, so Dad, Little Brother and I tracked down a breeder of note in our area, visited her kennel, and selected a pup that fit our wants, needs and budget.

Small Elkhound Puppy

Who doesn't love a cute little puppy? Awwwww....

This breeder (at least as I recall some 15 years later) was the picture of what I would think of as “responsible.” She was breeding what I would think of in cattle terms as “seedstock.” She was very concerned with the pedigrees of her dogs, wanting to continue improving the genetics of her animals by breeding out faults and weaknesses. This is exactly what good purebred livestock breeders do, regardless of species. This breeder had a very nice facility that was clean, well-maintained, and provided a happy, healthy environment for her dogs. She was no puppy mill, but was definitely heavily involved in the hobby or business of breeding quality Labs.

My second Lab, a decade later, came from a much different experience, and one with which I suspect many of us can identify. One day, while driving home from the office, I saw a neighbor had put up a sign for “AKC Registered Lab Puppies.” I had been craving a dog for quite some time, and thought this was the perfect opportunity to act on that urge.

The breeder, whom I began to think of as “the kid down the road,” was basically that: a young man who lived down the road, owned a female, and decided to take her to stud. The resulting litter was peddled to any number of my fellow neighbors. The pup we selected, Tucker, was a wonderful dog, and while she stayed at the farm when I moved back to Columbus a few years ago, I’ll always have a soft spot in my heart for the dog I called “the little horse” because she meshed so well with the Belgian mares who inhabited the fields around our house.

The “kid down the road” was a nice guy who, I’m guessing, didn’t know any more about being a “responsible breeder” than I did, myself. He knew that he had a dog, and he had a friend of a friend who had a male he wanted to stud reasonably cheap, and the rest as they say, is history. Once we bought the pup, we were on our own. This isn’t a criticism, per se, but after learning of the traits shared by breeders like Amy Peterson (read her philosophy on breeding dogs at the Elvbend Elkhounds webpage), I have a much different frame of mind about where I’ll look the next time I’m in the market for a puppy.

The problem espoused by the “responsible breeder” push from HSUS and other seemingly well-meaning people is that it throws the baby out with the bathwater. No one wants to think of ill-bred dogs cranked out of the deplorable conditions imagined when thinking of the term “puppy mills,” but there is a vast difference between “hobby breeders” like Amy (her self-description) and hobby breeders like “the kid down the road.”

And, of course, there is a vast difference between both of these types of breeders and the concept behind the term “puppy mill.”

Which leads to my Devil’s Advocate moment of the day… Knowing how the term “factory farm” has been misappropriated to smear any large-scale animal agriculture facility with the broadest possible brush, one has to wonder how broadly the animal rights lobby applies the term “puppy mill.” How big, in other words, is “too big?” Good luck getting an answer to that question, regardless of species.

The bottom line is twofold: first, many Americans don’t have as good an understanding as they should about where “good” pets come from, and just what makes a “responsible” pet breeder. This creates a weakness in the public’s awareness that can be exploited by HSUS and their cohorts (and as Amy points out, is being exploited actively).

Second, there are a lot of folks “outside” agriculture who share the same values, concerns and policy issues as food producers. It behooves us all to get to know one another and understand what we have in common, and how our paradigms differ.

After all, we’re all in this ongoing battle together.

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About Andy Vance

Grains and Biofuels Editor at Feedstuffs, the weekly newspaper for agribusiness, and resident blogger at BeefProducer.com. If the pen is truly mightier than the sword, I may be the most dangerous man I know...

6 Responses to “From Elkhounds to Ayrshires, We’re All In This Together”

  1. It is truly all species…and we’re busy with our own critters we don’t see the rest until too late. As a rabbit breeder, the same things are being done to rabbits as dogs. “Bunny mills”, “responsible breeders” etc.

    The obvious difference is that rabbits are also livestock – food animals. There aren’t, in the big scheme of things, a lot of rabbit breeders out here. A dozer the size of animal rights will blaze a trail from pet to livestock taking the speedbump with it. I’ve been trying to plug in the flashing sign for some time…but too many don’t think it applies to them – breeders, rabbit folks and those who don’t think their livestock is the same as rabbits.

  2. Thank you Andy, first, for mentioning me in your blog. Fortunately for me, the Elkhound world is strong in good mentors, and good mentors help to shape the next generation of responsible breeders. I have been very fortunate to have a community of excellent mentors.

    Second, thank you for, as Jan said, pointing out that it really is ALL species of animals under attack. We need to work together to put a stop to the intrusive, unnecessary, and quite frankly expensive (to the taxpayer as well!) legislation that is being proposed.

    Thank you again.

  3. Andy, I couldn’t agree more. Although, I have to admit I was getting ready to admonish you for using the derogatory term of “puppy mill”. But, I read on and was so glad to see that you see it similar to the F-word, “factory farm”. I typically define both as one more animal than you think I should own. It is so good to hear that others get the connection across species lines too. We ARE all in this together. Thanks for the reminder!

  4. Andy –
    You have hit the proverbial nail on the head – and so have the responses so far.

    Problem is – we, TRUE ANIMAL LOVERS, have been busy running our lives, taking care of our loved ones (human and otherwise), and making a positive dent in the universe. While on the other hand – these FREAKS, who have no life and want to control ours, are busy buying our elected officials so they can make more onerous, divisive, and animal-hating laws!

    Am sure you will get some not so nice comments from these freaks! They have nothing better to do. They really NEED A LIFE!!!!

  5. According to animal rights activists, if you’ve ever had a litter of puppies in your life time, you are a puppy mill. “Our goal is to make [the public think of] breeding [dogs and cats] like drunk driving and smoking.” Read more of their words at http://www.mydogmychoice.com under the animal rights tab. Beware of the new “factory farm” term. They create a big lie in the form of words then they repeat them over and over till they are believed, just like the term puppy mill. Don’t defend attack. Change the dialog now. Words have power. They can culture a society. You have to make the dialog. You are 100% right in your observations. United we stand. Dog breeding is animal agriculture.

  6. >>I had heard about HSUS’ new endeavor last week when Amy encouraged fellow Elkhound enthusiasts on Facebook to write the AKC and encourage them to disassociate themselves from this perversive new animal rights tactic.<<

    While I can certainly understand Amy's indignation that any breeder could be so foolish, I take issue with the implicaiton here. There is no possible way AKC is associated with the independent actions of the three breeders involved. Therefore encouraging them to disassocate from it is inappropriate and misleading. There is no need for anyone to disassocaite themselves from something they were not associated with in the first place.

    The concept of solidarity in this fight is fundamental, as should be the concepts of common sense and fairness. Such statements run the very real risk of implying responsibility for this lies other than square on the shoulders of three individuals who made their own choices.