Being robbed of your biography
You may or may not know that one of the reasons why the Karlton Index has not been updated for 2015 or 2016 is because of a major life event. That of caring for an elderly parent who suffered, and has since died of, dementia. Dementia is an evil-hearted, pernicious, relentless disease. It not only robs people of their life, as death approaches it also destroys, piece by tiny piece, their biographical lives. And in our experience that is even more devastating.
No surprise then, that this notion of biographical life has become a bit of a preoccupation. It’s a concept that opens up philosophical and ethical discussions in a broad range of fields including human rights in general, to arguments on end of life care in particular. It also has implications for the ethical treatment of animals.
The Karlton Index is not turning into a campaign for more research into dementia. That is done elsewhere by those expert in the field. We remain a campaign for better health and welfare for dogs. But the loss of a biographical life in one so close got us thinking very hard about the concept.
The biographical life of a dog
For those of us with pet dogs the notion of their biographical life is not a stretch. We give them names, even nick names. We find out about their likes and dislikes and if we take our commitments to their care seriously we try to ensure that they get the opportunity for some kind of fulfilment, walks, play, socialising with adults, children and other dogs and animals. Some take the concept of their pet dog’s biographical life further and provide them with wardrobes of clothes (something we which do not support) and some pets get their own social media accounts thus magnifying their biographies large across the ether – Lady Gaga’s Asia is an illustrative case par excellence. There is no doubt that it can be taken too far. But sensible people will be able to determine a happy medium.
In dog welfare the notion of a biographical life comes into sharp relief when visiting /viewing breeding establishments, large and small. Once the notion of biography comes into play it forces you to view breeding establishments no longer just through breeding standards as defined by the Animal Welfare act, or Model Conditions (CIEH). But also to view them through the lens of the biographical lives of the breeding dogs and bitches. In applying the biographical lives criterion we have changed, quite significantly, which types of breeding programme we support and which we don’t.
Safeguarding those biographies
So breeders ask yourselves this. What kind of biographical lives are your breeding dogs living? Do they have their own names, beds, feeding areas? Do they get to make their own choices of where to sleep, when to sleep? Do they get their own tailored exercise routine? Do they have opportunities to bond with people, other dogs, other pets? Do they get opportunities to enjoy fulfilling social networks and activities just as you hope their offspring will?
If they are producing puppies for working, do they themselves get to work? If they are producing puppies for the pet market do they live in the same type of family environment? If they produce puppies destined for competition do they too, get to compete in activities they enjoy?
Or are they simply embodied reproductive organs. Are they restricted to a biological life only?
Size doesn’t always matter
We have been to see many breeding programmes and even large scale ones can ensure that their breeding dogs get the opportunity to have full, and fulfilled biographical lives, Guide Dogs for the Blind Association is a case in point. As we’re sure are other assistance dog breeding schemes.
Likewise you can have much smaller breeding operations that fail to provide their breeding dogs with those same opportunities. So the biographical life criterion does not necessarily equate to the size of the operation.
Licensing is no protector per se
Nor might it equate to licensed and unlicensed. We don’t have much faith in licensing. Both the report from Canine Action UK and now more recently one from the Blue Cross show the efficacy of licensing in protecting dogs is questionable. We prefer to advocate going and seeing for yourselves how puppies are being bred. We advocate going to a number of breeders before going ahead with a life changing purchase of a puppy.
As well as doing a full check on the health and temperaments of the breeding dogs, ask questions about their quality of life too. What is their story? Do those breeding dogs mean something to someone else OTHER than just being animals in possession of wombs or testes? If the signs show that the narratives of their lives amount to nothing more than reproduction please walk away. There are plenty of great breeders out there whose dogs get to live great lives. There are breeders out there whose dogs enjoy productive, not just reproductive lives.
So puppy buyers, go armed with questions about biology AND biography and don’t settle for pups whose parents only get to live one of those. The BVA puppy contract provides excellent sections on the health of a puppy’s father and mother, we recommend that this be used in all purchases. But go further than this. Ask about the kind of lives those parents are living also. The puppy contract does recommend you see both parents so use that as the opportunity to come away with a strong sense of the kind of lives they are living. There is no need for them to be at the John Legend end of the biographical lives spectrum with full blown doggy weddings (F*S) but you want to be confident and certain that the breeding dogs are not simply reduced to potential income streams.
Every dog deserves to be far more than that.