It is not a coincidence that last week the American Kennel Club issued its latest list of Most Popular Dog Breeds and asked, “Is yours on the list?”
This is the week of the annual Westminster Dog Show, and reports boast that 2,271 pampered and prized pooches will prance and dance around the Madison Square Garden show ring or sit in display cages, as the top canine judges of the country decide who will be the next “Top Dog”--the breed de jour that everybody-who-is-anybody must have.
Just to arouse the competitive nature and ire of breeder who are lobbying for a Labrador to be crowned, the announcement for the show in the NY Daily News states that, “Two new breeds the Russell Terrier and the Treeing Walker Coonhound, will be introduced.”
Not only will the elite want the latest and greatest, but the publicity--and a few poses with celebrities—will create a frenzy for the new “Best in Show,” and, historically, cause many dogs all over the country to be turned into shelters and rescues because they are last year’s model or, heaven forbid, even more passé.
DOG SHOW OR MARKETING SCHEME?
Does the annual hype at the Westminster Dog Show really indicate that a particular breed is the greatest dog yet? Or is it actually just the engine that pushes the market for pet accessories and services, which hit record sales of $50 billion in 2011? And, who really benefits?
According to the American Pet Products Association, 65 percent of pet expenditures in 2011 were for food and veterinary costs, but it was the service category that increased at the highest percent; that includes grooming, boarding, pet hotels, doggie day care and pet sitting.
Keeping that type of market alive requires a lot of new blood—in the form of new puppies. When they are first purchased is when the major “bulk” investment is made by the average new owner. and the needs for replacement accessories for a growing puppy naturally exceed that of a mature dog.
If the Westminster Dog Show did not recur every year, it is very possible that more people would think their old dog is just fine and actually keep it till the end of its natural life—but that would not fuel the breeding and puppy-mill industry.
PUPPY MILLS GEAR UP
As the Dog Show in ramping up the public’s anticipation of the next most-desirable dog, sadly, the breeding frenzy that will follow also extends to puppy mills.
“There’s a dark parallel between man’s very best friends and their prevalence in commercial breeding facilities, or “puppy mills.” It is in these facilities that a potential companion is seen as a commodity, and a long, dark history of animal welfare abuse emerges,” states A.J. Willingham of HLNTV.
“When it comes to America’s favorite dogs, puppy mill popularity is a simple function of supply and demand,” he writes.
There are many reasons that people want purebred animals, many of them strictly emotional and not always likely to help us make the best choice. A studied buyer knows the traits of the breed and believes the dog will fit his/her lifestyle. For instance, a passionate jogger or distance runner will hopefully choose a dog that loves and is suited for long runs, rather a couch potato or a breed not physically suited for that type of exertion.
Willingham states, “Popular dogs are popular for a reason -- they’re dependable, smart, family friendly, relatively easy to care for or just plain delightful to be around.”
But little does the average person who seeks a purebred pet or a “designer” mix realize that their honest choice of a canine companion, based upon the hype of the beautifully trained and groomed dogs at Westminster, could be influencing inhumane puppy mill practices and boosting their sales.
When you buy a puppy at a pet store or just can’t resist clicking on that Internet ad for an adorable Yorkie puppy, you are often purchasing from a puppy mill, which is actually a “factory farm” for dogs.
WHAT IS A PUPPY MILL?
Puppy mills are huge breeding warehouses or facilities that usually house dogs in overcrowded, unsanitary conditions---mostly in wire cages. The animals often have inadequate food, water or veterinary care and without the socialization and human companionship that is essential to their development as a puppy and leaves the parent dogs deprived of emotional and physical contact with a human who loves them.
Puppy mill puppies may arrive in your household with immediate health problems such as respiratory infections or pneumonia and some even have heartbreaking and costly genetic diseases that show up months or years later.
Breeding dogs in a puppy mill suffer continuously, imprisoned in small cramped cages, often soiled with their own excrement, breeding litter after litter till they can no longer reproduce.
Don't forget that most puppies sold over the Internet are brokered from puppy mills and often shipped directly from these facilities.
ADOPTING A “PUREBRED” OR MIXED-BREED FROM A SHELTER
If you are eagerly awaiting the final decisions from the Westminster Dog Show and anticipating a new canine companion, please do not choose based upon the “look” of the dog.
You should be planning to live with your new dog a long time and should carefully decide whether it is well suited to you and your personality, just as you would with any long-term partner. A dog can live from 15 to 20 years and needs you to make that commitment. Shelters and rescue organizations are filled with wonderful young or seasoned, trained dogs of all breeds and mixes, abandoned by someone who did not fulfill their promises to love and care for them forever.
Melanie Kahn, a senior director for the Humane Society’s “Stop Puppy Mills” campaign, reminds us that there is a much easier and better way to get a pet that loves you and will fit into your lifestyle and family. Simply adopt!
“In shelters, we estimate that about 25% are pure-breed dogs. You don’t have to go to a pet store or online. There are so many great websites that let you filter your choices and find a pet that’s perfect for you,” Kahn says. “You do not have to purchase a dog to get the dog you want.”