Today’s Veterinary Business, in an article entitled “The dog shortage is real,” is claiming a nationwide dog shortage of millions of dogs, arguing that animal shelters (and rescuers) cannot meet demand, intimating that remaining shelter dogs are not “family dogs,” and suggesting that importing dogs from other countries poses unreasonable health risks (even while the author admits he lacks the information to know for sure). The author of the piece — a lobbyist for industries that profit off animals, such as pharmaceuticals, veterinarians, and pet food companies — says that only an increase of commercial breeding (albeit with improved standards) by “remov[ing] the stigma of puppy mills” can address this fictional crisis. Not doing so, he says, will lead to puppies becoming “luxury goods as the shortage worsens.”
It is not true. What’s more, arguing such is grossly immoral.
Dogs and puppies are in no danger of disappearing. Dogs and puppies in high intake jurisdictions who are being killed could and should be transferred to higher demand jurisdictions, not just within the continental United States, but also from U.S. territories like Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Once we have saved all of those dogs, we can also turn to saving dogs from other countries on or near our borders who are still dying or suffering due to neglect and a lack of necessary public institutions (with improved inspections and vaccination requirements as needed to address any perceived health issues). These solutions would result in more life-saving for the animals in need of homes today, without expanding the number or scope of exploitative commercial breeders.
Moreover, even if we accept the claim — which I do not — that there is a difference between “puppy mills” and “responsible commercial breeders” as the author claims regulations can establish, dogs and puppies are not commodities. At the very least, they shouldn’t be. Not only because the trade in sentient beings is unethical, as history has demonstrated time and again, but also because breeding requires forced reproduction that is not consensual. Also it tends to lead to phenotypes that are visually desired but result in shorter, harder lives. When you turn living animals into a commodity, they will be abused. This is not only probable through vast supply chains and markets, which tend toward abuse, it is inherent to the system. That simply cannot be justified to feed human vanity by producing dogs that look a certain way or just to make more of them. When there is a profit to be made on the backs of dogs, those backs are strained and broken.
In contrast to the author’s desire to see more commercial breeding, we must instead expand our efforts to educate the public about puppy — and kitten, rabbit, bird, rodent, and other — mills, the physical deformities or defects that result from inbreeding, the immorality of commodifying animals, the unscientific nature of discriminating against animals on the basis of how they look, the false view of “shelter” animals as damaged goods or, in his parlance, not being “family dogs,” the equally false view that purposely-bred animals are more “predictable” and make “better” family pets, and the infatuation with maintaining breed lines.
We must continue to pass bans on the retail sale of commercially-bred animals in pet stores (not just for dogs, but also cats, rabbits, hamsters, fish, and other animals), as has been done in California, Maryland, and about 400 cities nationwide. We must end the internet trade in commercially-bred animals. While passing a complete ban on commercial breeding may not be possible at this time in history, until we can do so, we must regulate commercially breeding — setting limits on the number of breeding females, creating dog-generous housing, care, veterinary, exercise, and socialization requirements, ensuring cruelty laws apply to them and are robustly enforced, including one-strike rules for serious offenses.
Our society is on a positive trend against the exploitation of dogs both in law and in practice. One of the most exciting manifestations of this is the decline in pound killing, something the author of the piece celebrates by noting that it is “less than 10% of the numbers from the 1990s.” One of the reasons for that decline is that the message that adoption and rescue are ethical imperatives is taking hold (the other being the nationwide embrace of the No Kill Equation). Fewer people are buying animals and overall adoption rates for shelter animals and rescues are increasing. Of the $72.5 billion spent on caring for animals last year, the amount spent to purchase animals declined by 4.3% and is “the smallest area of total pet industry spend.” When it comes to adding a new animal to their household, more people are “turning to shelters and rescues.” Why celebrate that success and then turn around and offer a prescription to undo it? It is schizophrenic at best. At worst, it is dangerous to the current population of dogs to which we have an obligation.
Instead of more commercial breeding as he recommends, we need to embrace and nurture the growing trends in progressive attitudes about rescue vs. buying, rejection of breed-based discrimination, and embrace of the means and tools necessary to achieve real and lasting change in shelters as well — government accountability, a reinvestment and faith in public institutions as a force for public good, and shelter regulation — that will create a more compassionate and just world for dogs (as well as cats and other animal companions).
If we do all that — when we do all that — when all 50 U.S. states are No Kill, when its districts and territories are No Kill, when its neighboring countries and then the rest of the world is No Kill, if there is still a clamor for more dogs to love and share our homes with — well, then, we can have a discussion about how to ethically respond to demand outstripping supply. But as long as dogs are being killed under the guise of “population control,” regardless of where, adoption and rescue remain morally obligatory — and they should be legally mandated, too.
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