Ever have those moments when you realize there is so much you don’t know about something? I get so frustrated sometimes when I believe I have an opinion about something and then I realize I don’t have all the facts and then when I try to LEARN all the facts it turns out there are WAY TOO MANY facts and opinions and I just can’t learn it all!!!!! AUGH!
So, this is one of those times.
You saw that coming though, right?
The story of what I don’t know starts with a confession. I worked in pet stores that sold dogs for about 5 years when I was much younger. I started as a sales person when I was 18 or 19 because the pups were so cute and it was a fun job. I’d had dogs and horses all my life and I missed being around animals. In less than a year I was managing a store. The thing was, I believed what I was told about where the animals came from. I was fed a whole line about the distributor that sent us dogs and cats from the midwest and how they got them from good breeders. I guess I was too young or naive to realize what a crock that was. My main rationalization for working there though was “if I don’t do it, someone else will and they won’t care about the animals as much I do.” Seriously, the animal care in my stores was over the top. We spent as much cuddle time and exercise time with the dogs as we could. We kept them all as clean, healthy, socialized and exercised as you CAN in that environment. Looking back now though, I can see how far from ideal even our best efforts were. Plus, some of thing things we were doing were compounding their bad start of being born in puppy mills; we were over-vaccinating them (of course, I didn’t realize that at the time) and overutilizing antibiotics when they were ill. And even with all the care and attention we tried to give them, that just is NOT where a puppy belongs in the developmental stages of its life.
In my defense, I tried mightily to discourage impulse purchases and also made sure everyone that worked for me knew as much about the different breeds as possible so we could avoid matching the wrong dog with a customer. Unfortunately when a retail establishment offers something for sale, they can’t then REFUSE to sell it! I did refuse to sell to a couple of people over the years because they were intoxicated, but, other than that, all we could do was try to convince people they were making the wrong decision if we felt like they shouldn’t be buying that particular dog.
I placed puppies and kittens that couldn’t be sold (sometimes with myself or other employees, but most often with regular customers and other pet owners that we knew). At first, we would RETURN animals to the distributor if they turned out to have a congenital defect, but somewhere along the way we got smart and started demanding credit for non-saleable animals and placing them in good homes instead of sending them back.
You’d think with all that going on, I would have realized the deal, but I didn’t. You don’t know what you don’t know.
I once bought a cat from my employer because the breeder/distributor wouldn’t give us credit for it without a DEATH CERTIFICATE. He had a terrible URI and was going to take a long time to get better. The company vet said the meds to cure him would ruin his kidneys, so he was going to euthanize him instead of treating him. I bought the cat at cost, kept him in the store, and treated him myself (with store meds, with their approval). He was a red tabby Persian. I named him Aslan and he grew into a gorgeous, happy cat. Aslan lived to be about seven years old and THEN died of kidney failure.
So, anyway, fast forward to a couple years ago. My daughter was finally old enough for the dog she’d wanted all her life and we were finally living in a dog-friendly apartment. I knew not to go to a pet store and that there are lots of less-than-responsible breeders in the world. ~T~ and I discussed getting a shelter dog, but I was afraid for her first dog to possibly have unknown health and/or behavioral issues. I couldn’t bring myself to take the chance. At the time, I didn’t know about rescue organizations that use foster homes and evaluate dogs so they can be placed appropriately. It never even crossed my mind to wonder about such a thing. You don’t know what you don’t know.
So, we went with what we DID know. We spent four months reading and researching breeds to figure out what type of dog would fit best into our lifestyle and environment. Then we spent another SIX MONTHS looking for a responsible breeder with a male Shiba puppy available. I talked to a number of breeders that I wasn’t happy with. ~T~ was like “can we please just get a dog already?” but we talked about market forces, supply and demand, and how our money should go to someone who tries to do the best job they can, especially when it comes to animals. We kept looking and we eventually found Snickers.
Fast forward a couple more years. I’m blogging about Snick and reading other blogs and I run across a journal by someone that runs a local rescue organization. She blogs about the successes and the frustrations of rescue work, the animals, the people… I was inspired to learn more about the plight of unwanted animals in NYC and elsewhere. I started telling anyone who would listen how many dogs and cats are euthanized in NYC every day. I talked to people about getting rescues instead of purchasing puppies. A lot of my thinking about companion animals changed.
My sister is involved in a volunteer transport organization (Drive for Life) that helps transport dogs from kill shelters to no-kill shelters, foster homes, and forever homes all across the country, so that became another piece of new knowledge.
I learned that there are breed specific rescue organizations, usually run by breeders and other breed fanciers. There are several regional Shiba rescue organizations. My next dog will definitely be a rescue – almost certainly another Shiba, but a rescue. I’m learning so much – good and bad. But still, you just don’t know what you don’t know.
Forward to present day (well, last week actually, but you know what I mean). I’m reading the rescue person’s blog and she starts condemning breeders. Her logic is that every animal purposefully brought into the world, displaces an animal in a shelter waiting for a home, or eventually ends up in a shelter itself. This is reasonable logic. ~T~ and I have talked a few times lately about the dilemma of regulating breeding/breeders – how do you stop the large, commercial breeders without stopping the responsible breeders? How do you stop people from mating their cute family dog with the dog across town? And, while we’re at it, how do we educate people to spay and neuter their pets? So, anyway, with this conversation going on in my mind, I proceeded to comment on the blog regarding breeding.
(Add into the mix of thoughts in my head the fact that I recently joined a mailing list for Shiba Inu owners and it has a number of breeders, fanciers, handlers, and trainers on it that I have learned a lot from and have a lot of respect for.)
What I thought was going to be an informed, adult conversation about how to fix a problem turned into something very different. The rescue blogger was not just against puppy mills and backyard breeders, but ALL breeders and another commenter and I were basically lambasted for discussing responsible breeding. I was planning to include a sampling of the posts and comments here but going back to the original blog to read through it stalled me and I decided not to do it. She would argue with us and question us and when we would answer, she would ignore what we were trying to say. Suffice to say, two of us end up leaving because the conversation was so one sided. I noticed when I went back today that a new commenter came along a couple days ago with good things to say about responsible breeders participating in rescue and supporting veterinary research, etc., but her comments have apparently been ignored so far also.
So, the title of this post was “When You Realize What You Don’t Know.” What I don’t know is… the answers. I didn’t know there was a problem. A dilemma. Now I do, but I don’t know the answers and I don’t know how to find them. I know that I care deeply about animals in general. I have a lot of compassion for the unwanted animals that die every day. Stories of mistreated animals are jarring when I look at my sweet, spoiled little Snickers. I don’t want animals to be hurt or die. I also don’t want breeds to die out or people to not have a choice about the animals they add to their family. I know education is KEY. I know companion animals should be spayed and neutered. How do you legislate something like that though? Can you? And how do you hamper commercial breeders without over-regulating responsible breeders*? And what about the suburban housewife that wants her kids to see “the miracle of life?” Or the people who breed Pits to fight and then dump the ones they can’t make mean? How do you write fair laws that single them out and stop them?
So, now I know what I don’t know. And it frustrates me.
*We attemped to define responsible breeders a few times on this other blog and were ignored. Our definition was basically “breeders that breed selectively and seldom, that breed for the best traits of their breed, that do genetic testing, have low coefficients of inbreeding, participate in rescue, have spay/neuter contracts, and take back any dog that can’t be kept.”