PAWS Magazine

Issue 38, Summer 1998

Backyard Breeding Blues

A local firefighter was certain that all of her firefighter friends would want to buy a dalmatian puppy from her; it would be the perfect way to earn a little extra money. Five months after her mom dalmatian gave birth to a litter of 13 pups, the firefighter had yet to find a buyer for a single puppy. So she called PAWS.

Unfortunately this scenario is an all-too common occurrence at PAWS. Unlike the callous operators in the nightmare world of large-scale puppy mills (see story on page 5), backyard breeders are often well-intentioned folks who think it would be fun to have a litter, but have not thought out the implications of bringing more dogs into the world. But they do share one trait with puppy mill operators: a profit motive. This profit motive is the major force that leads to the euthanasia of over 3 million purebred dogs in the United States every year.

It is ironic that money is such a major factor influencing backyard breeders, because backyard breeders rarely profit from the enterprise. While the economics of scale allow major Midwest puppy mill operators to profit handsomely from their operations—by warehousing thousands of puppies in small locations, and caring little whether the puppies are diseased or dying, or whether they are sold to families in a pet store or to China as food—backyard breeders tend to take a more direct, caring interest in the well-being of their animals. But this interest can be costly. The thirteen dalmatian pups provide a good example. Though PAWS is not aware of the specific costs of raising the firefighter’s dalmatians, clearly it wasn’t cheap.

Inspired by the live-action Disney film 101 Dalmatians, the firefighter and her husband purchased a male dalmatian to breed with their female. The litter of 13 pups was born around January. By the time that the firefighter had brought her pups into PAWS five months later, the dogs were quite large; clearly they were eating hundreds of pounds of dog food a month. Between the costs of purchasing an adult dalmatian for breeding, veterinary costs, food, and the time involved with caring for a baker’s dozen of rambunctious dogs, it can be assumed that the firefighter and her husband spent several thousand dollars in their poorly thought-out effort to make a profit from breeding.

But why didn’t anyone want their puppies? Clearly it is because they made the tragic mistake of treating the puppies as commodities, and not potential lifelong animal companions.

A commodity is highly subject to the whims of the marketplace. The more popular the commodity, the more profit can be extracted. But invariably the market corrects itself as other players enter the fray to offer competing commodities, thus reducing the price because there is now a greater supply than demand—the consumer wins.

This is all fine if the commodity in discussion is widgets. But when the commodity is puppies, the end result can be found in the morgues of thousands of shelters across the nation: over 3 million purebred dogs who are euthanized every year because no one wanted them.

Electing to breed dalmatians was a particularly unfortunate decision in the current "market." With the release of 101 Dalmatians in theaters and later on video, it seemed as if thousands of dim light bulbs went on over the heads of thousands of ill-educated people across the nation; "let’s breed dalmatians and cash in on this frenzy," was the thinking. By the time the firefighter’s 13 pups were born, the market was well-past saturated and there was little chance of finding buyers.

Beyond their lack of savvy towards market forces, backyard breeders are often poorly-informed about problems associated with specific breeds. Though it came as no surprise to PAWS shelter workers, the firefighter and her husband may have been shocked to find that her entire dalmatian litter was either partially or completely deaf. It’s one of the most common traits found in dalmatians and is the result of decades of poor breeding. Common problems with other breeds include heart problems, hip dysplasia, ear and eye problems, chronic skin disorders, and severe, unprovoked aggression.

Roquel Williams, PAWS shelter supervisor, has seen thousands of purebred dogs pass through PAWS’ doors. "We get purebred dogs every single day," says Williams. "I ask them [the owners] if they did any research about their breed, and they always say ‘yes.’ But they never seem to know about the common traits of their dog’s breed."

With dalmatians, it often appears that to many owners, "research" means watching 101 Dalmatians, and "extensive research" means watching it a second time. Few people went away from the Disney film understanding that dalmatians are generally excitable dogs, sometimes aggressive, usually poor candidates for families with small children, and are often deaf.

Many people who surrender purebred dogs will bring in AKC paperwork showing their dog’s lineage. "I tell them that it’s not worth anything." says Williams. "I have yet to see a show-quality dog come into the shelter, and besides, we spay and neuter them once they’re here. That [AKC] paper is just worthless. In fact it’s just a guarantee that the breeder was irresponsible."

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