A Gathering Storm

Big things often-times come from small beginnings

by Dr. Carmen Battaglia

Over the years one can find many examples of an event which at the time seemed small and unimportant only to be later learned that it had grown large with unintended consequences. It was the repeated occurrence of these scenarios that eventually led to the expression, “big things often-times come from small beginnings”.

In this regard there is now, within the dog world, a chain of events that has been defined as more than just an annoyance. These are a series of small events that can be described as a gathering storm but, unlike those of the past, this storm is being driven by forces that are connected in unusual ways. At its center is the repeated and effective use of several undefined labels. They have become the primary tool that fuels these turbulent winds. The storm is being driven by the fundamental idea that breeders should do the right thing. The motivating argument for this comes from the Animal Rights Movement which identifies the expectation that a responsible breeder would analyze his/her pedigrees for problems using DNA technology and the other certifications, tests and protocols that are available (OFA, CERF, PENN HIP, etc). The idea, of course, is popular but for those who study these events and how they are used to influence the future, it seems clear that the conditions are now right for a disaster. Unfortunately, there is no authority in the dog world who can say with any certainty how much damage this storm will cause. What is certain is that it has now reached a level that makes it a clear and present danger.

Storms in a sport, like those in society, are always risky because they usually bring with them unwanted damage. What has gone unnoticed about this storm is how the animal rights movement has used a series of undefined labels to drive the winds that have already altered and changed the dog world. Until now, most of these changes have gathered little national interest. Now, however, through the use of well-crafted labels, they are able to describe a person, thing or event in either a positive or negative light. Over the years they have learned how to use the power of the undefined label to capture the interests and attention of the public, the clubs and the breeders.

The use of labels to drive ideas is not new in an industrialized society. Advertising agencies and political campaigns use them to influence policy, regulations and elections. The hotter the issue, the more dramatic the pitch, and the more clever the strategy. When the issue is ideological, labels are used to energize supporters. They are also used on websites to announce the issues and promote the problems. When combined, they become the important vehicles for influencing opinions and changing perceptions. Sociologists call this the “labeling process”. Their studies focus on the groups and organizations that use the labels to exploit a situation, target a group or identify a victim. In this regard, the “labeling process” is best known as an applied method. Studying how they are used to achieve certain goals involves a search for the motive and the desired objective. Many times the goal is subtle and not easily noticeable. Understanding how the change agents use the “labeling process” is key to understanding how they are able to drive their programs. This is important in today´s climate because the breeders seem to enjoy using the undefined labels without ever knowing their meaning or purpose and, more importantly, who will become their next victim.

One of the newest labels gaining in popularity has been designed to make the breeder its victim and their pups the target. It´s called the “responsible breeder”. What makes this label so dangerous is the attention it calls to the quality of the pups produced. What makes it politically correct is the fact that it has many meanings and interpretations and, most importantly, it offers everyone who “does the right thing” the opportunity to label themselves a breeder. Underneath its exterior, however, is the special emphasis it brings to the quality of the pups being produced and sold. It assumes that if a pup is of poor quality, unhealthy or has something wrong, it should not be bred. Most breeders agree with this notion and respond by selling their pups without AKC registration papers, or with a limited registration or perhaps a spay/neuter contract. The underlying assumption is that they are being “responsible breeders” and would not want to continue to produce low quality pups given the technology and protocols that are available. The latter point is key to the strategy. The notion that the unsound and unhealthy should not be sold for breeding is fundamental to this label and, with that logic, the best indicator of whether a breeder is being responsible or not can be tested by what they produce and how they register it. This method identifies some breeders as better than other breeders. This scenario salutes those who breed to produce better quality. In the background, however, there are some important and very fundamental questions. For example, why do so many breeders endorse the use of DNA but have little or no understanding of its uses or benefits and why have only a small fraction of the breeders actually used it? Why are so many breeders not trained in the use of DNA testing or the techniques available for managing the normals, carriers or affected when they occur in their pedigrees? The animal rights strategy sees this as opportunity. Their logic suggests that because there is widespread support for a technology they do not understand or use, the quality of their litters is not likely to improve. Thus, over time, a determination can be made as to whether a breed and its breeders are making progress and thus, being “responsible breeders”. Said another way, if quality pups are the goal, a responsible breeder can be measured by how they sell their pups. In retrospect, there is a lesson to be learned from this simple logic and how, through the use of undefined labels, the animal rights movement has been able to create havoc in the world of purebred dogs.

In the past, the most popular use of the undefined label was to describe the commercial or high volume breeders as “puppy mills”. Other labels were then linked to it. They were called “overpopulation”, “vicious dogs”, “dangerous dogs”, “responsible dog owner”, etc. While each of these labels enjoyed widespread acceptance, none were ever defined. In each case, the fancy and the public accepted them without any understanding of what they meant or what they were intended to do. Now, after more than ten years of use, they are still undefined. For these reasons, it is important to appreciate who creates the labels (change agents), why they are using them and what affect they are having on the AKC, veterinary schools, dog clubs, registrations (stud book), and, ultimately, the breeders.

By design, most of these labels are left vague or never defined. This reduces the chances for resistance. When catchy words and phrases are linked to them, many ideas can be pushed to support their agenda. It is not just the general description given them that gathers attention, it´s the success they have had convincing breeders, their clubs and the writers to use undefined labels. Whether this new label will follow in the footsteps of the others is yet to be determined. But based on the past, it is safe to say that we should take this opportunity to understand its potential.

History shows that one of the earliest undefined labels targeted breeders by calling them “puppy mills”. Catchy phrases were
added to describe them as irresponsible individuals who owned dirty kennels and carried out careless breedings. This label was then linked to a negative form of animal husbandry as a way to grow the idea into something bigger. Some of the first uses of this label focused on the breeders in certain states and cities. It resulted in changes in policies, zoning, regulations and even legislation. The strategy being used today closely parallels this scenario. It focuses on issues the Animal Rights Movement believes need to be changed. Their current strategy begins with the fancy (breeders/writers) as they push for acceptance in conversation, at meetings and on websites. Follow-up efforts are then used to identify the problem that fits their strategy. This step usually involves their critic groups who are developing court cases that will follow. Their use of the law and the courts has already resulted in a negative and financial impact on hundreds of breeders and their dog clubs. Their efforts have been effective only because they are able to create labels the community will accept.

In the past, it was only the like-minded groups within the animal rights movement that were able to function as change agents. In the beginning they were forced to use negative incentives and the courts to push their agendas. But over the past 20 years they have effectively learned how to use legislation and the courts and the breeders to introduce new changes in zoning, ownership, breeding rights, care and conditions etc. Typically they use the argument of “raising the bar”. Sometimes they call it “raising the standard”. Today, when the term “puppy mill” is used, it quickly arouses a negative and emotional response. More importantly, it demonstrates how one undefined label in the hands of a determined group can manipulate the masses.

From the beginning, their goal was to control, limit and reduce the ownership and breeding rights of the breeders and those who exhibit purebred dogs. Thus far, they have successfully done both. What is best known about their efforts is the ripple effect they are having on the gene pools of many breeds. This is one of the most dangerous aspects of this new label. The cumulative effects they are having on registrations cannot be ignored. Related to this problem is the impact they are having on the gene pools of the 35 breeds listed in Table 1. The unintended and cumulative consequence of their efforts continues to gather momentum only because there is acceptance without understanding. What must be learned from these experiences is that most of the undefined labels are used to suggest something good. Later they are used to fit an agenda that will produce a negative effect. The most dangerous part of the process is how well they are able to reach beyond the obvious. In the early stages of acceptance, the critic groups remain in the background preparing to use the courts as opportunities present themselves. With this infrastructure in place, the animal rights groups are able to extend their reach. Their success can now be measured through declining registrations and the numbers of pups being sold on limited registrations or on spay/neuter contracts. The “responsible breeder” label is the vehicle being used to establish a new kind of husbandry, one that will eventually be guided by new, tougher quantitative standards. During the initial stages of implementation, their strategy only whispers about a better way. They do this by painting a picture of something that is good for everyone. At the center of their storm is the attention they are giving to DNA technology and health certifications which most breeders and their clubs endorse. In their words, a “responsible breeder” is expected to screen and test all of their stock before breeding. This idea sounds great on the surface but this is only the first step. As the breeders and their clubs continue to embrace this label, the animal rights activist slowly begins to lobby for the required use of both DNA and health screening. This follow-up step is called “raising the bar”. It is unfolding one step at a time. We already have heard their voices asking that more testing be used on breeding stock. Next they will push for testing as a condition of breeding and then as a condition to register breeding stock and their pups. In some quarters, they already are asking that it become a condition for entry in some AKC venues. As the popularity of the “responsible breeder” spreads, they will attempt to further extend their reach into the AKC stud book and the registration system. To this end, the change agents and their critic groups have already taken the first step by raising the level of awareness. Some believe they are ahead of schedule. What is so interesting is how well the breeders have accepted their ideas.

FIGURE 1. LIMITED REGISTRATIONS

Notice in Figure 1 how quickly the breeders responded when they were told that in order to be a “responsible breeder” they should sell their pups on limited registrations or on spay/neuter contracts as a way to control “overpopulation” a problem that does not exist. Figure 1 also shows that after only nine years well over 100,000 dogs each year continue to be removed from the gene pools of all breeds. Not only has the animal rights movement been able to encourage breeders to reduce the size of the AKC stud book, they have identified the “responsible breeder” as their next victim. Unfortunately, the dog world has not noticed the negative effect limited registrations and spay neuter contracts are having on registrations and the stud book. The strategy, thus far, has linked two ideas together. The first was to convince the breeders that they could reduce overpopulation. The second was to separate the breeders and the buyers from the AKC. More than half of all pups sold on limited registrations and spay/neuter contracts were not being registered. Both efforts shrink the number of breeders and litters. Unfortunately, the impact they continue to have on the stud book and particularly the 35 breeds listed in Table 1 should not be ignored. These breeds are now registering fewer than 100 litters per year. The greatest dilemma now comes if this trend continues because it currently is on schedule to collapse the diversity of several gene pools and their ability to maintain breed health (Ostrander).

The strength of the winds that are pushing this storm has been marked and identified. It is heading toward the fancy with an unusual force. They have already unleashed a new kind of husbandry which is likely to have a qualitative and quantitative form of measurement. The plan and the mechanism that is driving this storm is intended to continue on its path of reshaping the dog world piece by piece. While these trends seem to be clear, hardly anyone seems to be noticing. In retrospect, we can now see the true meaning of the phrase, “big things often-times come from small beginnings”.

The winds that are fuelling this storm were identified as the undefined labels that are used by the animal rights movement. As stated in Part 1, their efforts have gained wide-spread acceptance among the breeders which in turn have impacted AKC registrations and the gene pools of thirty-five breeds some of which may soon be facing extinction. Related to all of this is the fact that hardly anyone is noticing how effective and dangerous this storm has become. As discussed in previously, there are many examples that show how, through the use of undefined labels, the animal rights movement has negatively impacted breeding and registrations.

Sociologists who study social change and the use of labels to impact events call this discipline the “labeling process”. When epidemiologists study their causes, they look for three common denominators. First, whether the labels are defined. Secondly, their underlying purpose or intended target. Thirdly, the strategy that has been linked to the label which later can be grown into something large with varying consequences.

In the dog world, the use of undefined labels (responsible breeder, dangerous dogs, viscous dog, puppy mill etc.) has already been demonstrated to be an effective way to negatively impact breeding, ownership and the sport (see Part 1). Many believe that the animal rights movement has been successful only because most breeders are so busy with their jobs, families and other things that they fail to notice the implications hidden within the labels they accept and use. What lingers in the background are their intentions and a general lack of awareness. This problem is not limited to just undefined labels; it extends into many other areas. For example, it was not so long ago that three important announcements were widely published in the dog world. The first occurred in 2003, when the AKC reported the introduction of a new Superplex G panel of 13 DNA markers that were designed to improve the quality of parentage testing. This announcement changed the AKC compliance audit program as well as the voluntary testing of puppies and adults. At the same time, the AKC announced that a fourteenth marker had been added to identify the gender of each individual tested. The third announcement came when the AKC Canine Health Foundation (CHF) reported that 25 DNA health tests were available for the screening of breeding stock. Today, no one would question the importance of these announcements even though most breeders are still unaware of their existence.

Scenarios like these have led the animal rights activists to believe that the dog world is asleep at the wheel. They believe we are uninformed and therefore vulnerable. This, of course, works to their advantage. Consider how they effectively were able to link their ideas to the undefined labels called: “puppy mill”, “vicious dogs”, “dangerous dogs”, “overpopulation” and “responsible dog owners”. Each label played an important role in reducing registrations, zoning, breeding rights, ownership and the number of breeders. Now, after more than ten years, these same labels continue to impact the sport even though they are all still undefined. This has only encouraged the animal rights groups to move forward with their expectations for the label called “the responsible breeder”. It is even more dangerous than the earlier labels mentioned because this label has more closely been linked to the breeders, their pups and the use of clinical protocols such as x-rays, health certifications and DNA testing. These protocols will become the mechanisms by which they intend to measure breeders. The animal rights movement believes that all breeders should screen and test all of their breeding stock as the first step to producing the pups they will sell. While most breeders´ support being labelled a “responsible breeder” they fail to see that they will be expected to screen and test all their pups. Since the AKC has already collected DNA on more than 350,000 dogs, one would think that the breeders would have learned more about how the parentage tests works and how the DNA health tests can be used in their breeding program. The truth is that very few breeders can explain the DNA parentage test or how it is being used to preserve the integrity of the stud book. One would also expect that because of the widespread support for DNA health testing more breeders would be using the 35-plus DNA health tests that are already available for screening diseases. The record shows just the opposite. Most breeders do not use the DNA parentage test unless it is required and only a small percentage are using the DNA health tests, x-rays or other clinical protocols as a way to eliminate or manage the carriers in their pedigrees. The under-utilization of these technologies in an environment of widespread acceptance confirms that indeed the dog world “may be asleep at the wheel”. This encourages the animal rights groups with their strategy to change breeding practices.

To better understand the dynamics of this gathering storm, one must ask why there is such widespread support for DNA testing and the other health protocols given the small fraction of the breeders who actually use them. This has yet to be explained but it seems fair to say that the animal rights movement will continue to ask that all breeding stock be screened and tested. In time, they will demand health and parentage testing of every litter. As their agenda begins to unfold nothing short of a massive educational program will be able to slow down the effect it will have on the dog world. Notice in Figure 1 how AKC registrations have slowly been reduced. In 2004, of those who purchased an AKC registerable pup only 44% registered them. Experts agree that the reason for this decline is not simple; but the facts show that this has been a nine-year steady decline and it is expected to continue.

To understand this dilemma and the use of undefined labels, we need to examine events that had already emerged by the early 1990´s when the high volume breeders were thought to be out of control. In response, DNA technology was offered as the saviour of the AKC studbook. As a new technology, it was considered the tool by which those suspected of cheating would be caught and punished. It was also during this period that the animal rights movement linked their ideas to several undefined labels which the breeders had made popular. Their strategy has worked only because undefined labels can mean many things to different individuals. Most importantly, they make everyone feel good about their own beliefs. Over the past 15 years the breeders and the public have been conditioned to accept this approach.

What was not anticipated was how the animal rights movement would create two problems for the “responsible breeder” to solve. The first problem they called “pet overpopulation” which they linked to limited registrations (Figure 2). At the same time they also encouraged the use of spay/neuter contracts. Both ideas were immediately popular and both produced a negative impact on purebred dogs, particularly the gene pools of the 35 breeds seen in Table 1.

A brief analysis of the nine year downward trend in registrations (Figure 1) shows that it is inversely related to the steady increase in limited registrations. Breeders are selling pups on limited registrations and/or spay/neuter contracts in the belief they will help to control the problem that we know does not exist (Strand). Patience on the part of the animal rights movement coupled with the encouragement from the breeders and their clubs has more than tripled the number of dogs removed from the stud book since 1995.

The subtle strategy underlying the use of these undefined labels should not be underestimated because the important question has been overlooked. Why would breeders want to remove their pups from the gene pool of their own breeds if nothing was wrong with them? What cannot be ignored is the fact that the animal rights movement and its critic groups have leveraged their position among the breeders. Most breeders have not noticed how testing has been linked to a way to measure breedings and the quality of the pups produced. The second problem for the
“responsible breeder” to solve involves the use of DNA technology, x-rays and other clinical protocols. The goal is to require widespread testing of those saved for breeding. Theoretically this would produce the better individuals. The problem with their logic is that the pups saved may not be the better specimens of their breed based on the breed standard. Saving those who have been tested for health and parentage is not the same as saving those who are the better specimens based on their conformation and temperament. Shifting emphasis to one area is not in the best interests of purebred dogs.

While most breeders seem to agree with the concept of screening and testing, many do not realize how it can be used to obligate them to sell more pups on limited registrations and spay/neuter contracts as proof of their being a responsible breeder. The scenarios they are offering lead to the pathway by which breeders and their pups can be quantitatively measured. The good news for the animal rights movement is that the number of pups sold on limited registrations and spay/neuter contracts can be compared with previous litters. Thus, a determination can be made as to whether the breeder is being responsible or not. This is an important objective to appreciate because it shows how the breeders and their litters will be measured by the numbers. The logic for making the breeder and their pups the next victim and target has been carefully crafted. Unfortunately, it embraces a strategy that already has widespread support.

Who would have suspected that in just nine years, the blind acceptance of undefined labels would have significantly reduced the size of the AKC stud book and the gene pools of 35 breeds (Table 1). There are no accurate figures on the number of pups sold on limited registrations that were not registered but some estimates suggest the number may be at least another 100,000 per year. When the effects of both are taken as a whole, no one can question their impact on declining registrations, gene pool size and genetic diversity. It has been astonishing. The unintended consequences of these efforts have no equal.

The impact of this storm can be viewed in yet another way. In 1981, AKC derived 96% of its income from dog registrations. By 2003, income from registrations had fallen to 61%. These declines represent a significant loss in revenues and future earnings. What makes this all so important is that AKC has been forced to find alternative sources of income to support its 18,000 dog events, its one-of-a-kind library, health research grants, veterinary scholarships, etc. During the past decade, twenty three for-profit registries have emerged to compete with the AKC. In time, they could diminish AKC´s position of influence if they continue to grow at their current pace. Of equal concern is the growth and effectiveness of the animal rights agenda. The growing number of breeders that seek to wear the label “responsible breeder” should serve as the foundation for this concern. While no definition exists for this label, the negative effect it has already produced is clear. The critic groups are prepared, poised and ready to propose legislation that will further define and measure breeders by what they produce and sell. They have crafted a strategy that carefully identifies the breeder and their pups as both the victim and the target.

Given the events described, no one should wonder if there is a gathering storm. The howling winds are everywhere and with them comes a new and different kind of thinking. In retrospect, this might be a good time to ask where we  stand after ten years of undefined labels and the blind acceptance of DNA. In the rush to be first, some clubs have already begun to implement mandatory DNA programs. Acceptance of such a requirement without understanding is certain to produce unrealistic goals with unintended consequences. In the midst of what seems to be more confusion, we must find the time to step back and ask the big question. Where do we stand after ten years of undefined labels and the announcement that DNA testing would be used to rid the studbook of errors and clean out the cheaters? Many are beginning to question if the strategy may have been deeply inadequate especially in light of the fact that no one has defined the problems to be solved or their intended solutions. Perhaps out of fear and confusion we have failed to define the means by which we would know when we have solved the perceived problems. We should also remind ourselves that today breeding is no longer an “elitist” hobby and its rewards, as either a pastime or a profession, are no longer a well-kept secret. Anyone can become a breeder. There are no entrance exams, no rules and no penalties. No organization serves to punish those who make mistakes or those who produce poor quality pups. Any one of our neighbors can claim to be a breeder.
This dilemma will continue to worsen if the breeders, veterinary schools, shelters and others continue to accept and use undefined labels. Selling pups as a hobby and breeding has already been stigmatized and many believe this is only the first inning. By the fifth, they will be asking for a higher standard and acceptance of the principles that will produce a new kind of animal husbandry. In their world, fewer dogs and fewer litters are better. While the options to the future are still open, a massive educational program begs to be ignited. At the end of the day the clubs, their breeders, vet schools and shelters must settle on a definition for the “puppy mill”, “responsible breeder”, “responsible dog owner”, “vicious dog”, “dangerous dog”, etc. They must also articulate the vision, goals and objectives. These efforts must become the centerpiece of their educational programs.

Conclusion

History´s judgment will not wait to see what actions the dog world chooses to take. The polarization of the sport is well underway. The efforts made to date have largely focused on the use of seminars held annually which have not been sufficient enough to reach the fancy and the growing number of new breeders spread across America. Programs that are fresh, brisk and focused must be designed with the help of experienced leaders in the dog world and the research community. The subject matter must, as a minimum, define the undefined labels and address the utilization of DNA technology, the better breeding methods, pedigree analysis and selection techniques, modes of inheritance, the management of carriers, formula breeding and legislation. The time we have is slipping away. The storm has arrived. Boarding up the windows and the doors, as a way to survive it, will no longer be good enough. The future should not be left to chance, the novice or the animal rights movement.

References:

AKC Gazette, “AKC DNA Tests”, New York, New York, January 2003, pg.
Battaglia, Carmen, Table 2. “Breed Dilemmas and Extinction”, Canine Chronicle, August 2003, pg. 104-108,
Wilson, Craig, “Moredoggerel”, USA Today, March 26, 2004, pg.2/a.
Holt, James, Key note address entitled “Puppy Protection Act” AKC Forum Long Beach, CA, 2003.
Ostrander, Elaine, Presentation at a Workshop for the AKC Directors December 13, 2004, NY, NY.
Willis, Malcomb, “Breeding Dogs” Canine Health Conference, AKC Canine health Conference, Oct. 15-17, 1999. St. Louis, MO.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Carmen L. Battaglia holds a Ph.D. and Masters Degree from Florida State University. He is an author of many articles and several books, an AKC judge, researcher, well known lecturer and leader in the promotion of breeding better dogs. Go to www.breedingbetterdogs.com

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