Where’s the Harm in Demand?

Be careful what you wish for

What we dog lovers have to acknowledge and reflect on is this – no matter where or how we choose to get a pup, no matter what breed or type of dog we decide upon, our actions have implications somewhere down the line. Acquiring a dog from anyone or anywhere creates a ripple that runs all the way through the supply pool and has consequences.

 

Call to stop getting Frenchies

Arguably, in some contexts those consequences have more serious welfare implications than others. For instance, through the Vet Futures Veterinary Animal Welfare Coalition, and the BVA president, Gudrun Ravetz’s leadership (a continuance of agendas started by other recent BVA presidents: Robin Hargreaves, Sean Wensley) we know that the profession is calling for people to rethink their breed choice in the case of brachycephalic breeds such as pugs, Frenchies and bulldogs. The profession has major concerns over the health and well-being of these dogs.

For information on the welfare harms linked to these breeds see the Kennel Club resource of information on their KC Academy site.

Complex issues

The issues surrounding these breeds and the complexity of the conditions that contribute to their staggering rise in popularity (despite those health problems) are such that a lengthier more in-depth examination is called for. No space for that here, but I’m excited to be engaged in that type of analysis as part of my doctoral research programme. In the meantime, the bottom line is the UK’s veterinary profession has issued a heartfelt plea for us to choose different breeds.

Harmful Third-Party Sales (anyone selling puppies who did NOT breed the litter)

Even if, however the breed of your choice is not impacted by the welfare harms attached to exaggerated physical traits, you can still unwittingly contribute massively to harm if your puppy comes from an unethical or uncaring seller. It is not safe to say that getting directly from any breeder will safeguard against these harms as we know that the population of breeders will, sadly, include some uncaring and duplicitous ones. However, it is safe to say that if your seller is NOT the breeder there is a high degree of certainty your pup came from a supply route that systematically harms the welfare not just of the litters bred, but also the breeding dogs and bitches. It is a route that should be avoided in all circumstances.

Dogs just cannot be dogs

After visiting a licensed (therefore inspected) commercial breeding establishment members of EFRA Committee changed their position on third party sales, such were the welfare shortcomings of what they witnessed. Furthermore, they publicly and powerfully acknowledged their shift in position in last week’s animal welfare debate in the House of Commons.

As MP Chris Davies so elegantly put it what they found was a place in which “dogs just couldn’t be dogs”.

If you choose to get your puppy, of whatever breed or type, from a third-party seller be it pet shop, garden centre, or dealer, you are perpetuating an elaborate but evidentially harmful supply chain in which dogs can never be dogs. If they cannot exhibit a full range of animal instinct and behaviours those establishments, are, in my opinion, contravening section 9 of the Animal Welfare act and should be shut-down. Third party sales cannot be done to acceptable animal welfare standards.

Despite the substantial evidence of harm and suffering attached, there are those that have so far refused to call for a ban on this business model. This includes institutions as august as the Dogs Trust. I would, and indeed have, asked them to provide examples of third-party sales models that deliver acceptable levels of animal welfare as I’d be happy to go along and visit, to see for my own eyes. Or I’d ask them to visit the same establishment as members of EFRA did and then defend their intransigent position. The truth is that they cannot justify their stance and they have never backed it up with exemplars of good welfare third party establishments. (A blog on the Dogs Trust business model to follow shortly BTW).

The No Harm Approach?

So, you get your puppy directly from a carefully chosen breeder, and it is of a type free from exaggerated physical traits linked to compromised welfare, you are therefore doing no harm, right?

Wrong!

I have real sympathies with people, who for a whole host of reasons lose their heart to a pug or a Frenchie, only to learn that in doing so they could be contributing to the suffering of dogs. I sympathise not because I too have lost my heart to those “cuties” – I haven’t. I’ve lost my heart to “proper” dogs, you know the hunting, pointing retrieving types. The ones that don’t have any welfare harms attached. Or do they? Well yes, they can and do. Many are still victims of tail docking for a painful start. They are also bred with deep chests, which evidence suggests (Bell 2014) is a contributory factor in the incidences of dreadful bloat. But there’s more…..

Offering “customers” choice

A KC press release that will largely have gone unnoticed in the run up to Crufts, announced the process of recognising the gorgeous Braque D’Auvergne (see picture) as a breed here in the UK. Thus, adding yet another to a growing list of HPR breeds. So this is great isn’t it? I can choose one from so many colours and types!. And boy do pointer type breeds come in a wide range of hues. I could get a black and white one, a ticked one, a solid liver, a grey, russet gold, wirey, long haired, short haired, oh and lemon, I forgot lemon. All coming with their biddable temperaments, expressive eyes and capacity to form deep bonds. And wide, open nostrils! Wonderful!

But what I have to acknowledge and navigate is that with that choice of colour and type comes the potential for real welfare and health harm. Those specific colours, coat types, and nuanced differences between breed type come at a cost to the dogs in the form of small and closed gene pools. This increases the risk of inherited disorders.

I’m to blame – I once believed the drivel

The extensive choice of colour and coat type in the breeds that have won my heart is driven by nothing other than human whim. There is absolutely no good reason nor functional justification for dogs of this kind to come in so many different colours and coats. You may now point me to some breed history that tells you otherwise, that one colour is better for this than that, or one coat type fairs better in some climate over another. Or the lighter bodied pointers work across the top of the heather, and the slightly heavier ones work through it. I may once have fallen for this hype but no more. If we breed lovers believe this nonsense we have to raise our hands and admit, we are deluded. And we are adding to the welfare harms attached to demand. Furthermore, most dogs of these breeds end up as pets, only a tiny minority get to actually see a grouse moor.

Demanding wide choice is a dangerous game

Dividing our dog population up into ever decreasing gene pools is a dangerous game, and if I do opt to get a Hungarian Wirehaired Viszla, or a blanket black pointer or even a Braque D’auvergne I will have to acknowledge my part in the harm that choice contributes to. Our choice of breed and our selected seller can and do have consequences for welfare, we have to face this.

 

Soul search and Research

So, what can we do? Am I never to have another dog of my choosing join my family? Are those of you who love pugs or whatever never to share your lives with a type of dog you love?

I think what we each have to do is reflect carefully on the dogs we choose and how we get them. We owe it to the dogs to research the full extent of the implications of our choice INCLUDING research alternative options. We also need to be brutally honest about the resources we have to care for those dogs. Pointer types for instance are bred to form strong attachments and they do not like being left alone.

If having done that we still want to go ahead with that choice we need to very, very carefully find our pup from an ethical and reliable breeder, whose dogs, all of them, are allowed to be dogs.

So, in brief my own advice to myself is:

  • Soul search – what are my motives for wanting dogs, for wanting certain types of dog?
  • Research – can those choices be made in a way that reduces the risk of harm?
  • Are there alternative ways to fulfil whatever needs I have in this?
  • Never buy from a third party
  • Get to know suitable breeders
  • See at first-hand how all their dogs are allowed to be dogs.

 

The Demand Equation

S=D but D should = X-Y

This might sound like a call for fewer people to have dogs and in truth that is what I believe. The annual research from the PDSA, the recent work from the Veterinary Animal Welfare Coalition not to mention the RSPCA’s recent shocking statistics on cruelty prove that not all of us are cut out to be great dog owners, and even though we may have been once, our lifestyles can change making us no longer the best homes for dogs.

I accept totally the laws of economics. Supply will always meet demand, but demand does not have to continue to equal X. It could, and should equal X-Y. Where Y equals the number of casual, uncommitted, ill-equipped, impulse buying, fashion following type owners, who want one in every colour. Do I mean me?

 

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Philippa Robinson

Philippa Robinson

Philippa’s career as a management and training consultant spans thirty years. Her clients have included HSBC, Royal Mail, Kodak Manufacturing and Swiss Re Insurance as well as a large number of smaller commercial enterprises. She attained a Masters in Human Resource Management with Distinction from Sheffield Business School in 2012 where she was the recipient of the SIG Prize for Excellence. She is a member of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development.
Philippa Robinson

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