Will the ‘Ethical Breeder’ please stand up?

Why is there a certain group of people who are let off the hook, because they are “registered” show breeders, who breed for only one purpose “breeding the perfect animal for the show bench” (which is a total nonsense, because judging is subjective and the breed standard is a bunch of crap based only on somebody’s desired view of what the outside of the animal should look like – and which ignores 99.75% of the genome – and which breed standard can be changed whenever it suits the show scene).

The other group of people are those who do not register or show their animals, but who do exactly the same thing – they mix and match, crossbreeding or not, but they are known as “backyard breeders” and people say they must be stopped. Why must they be stopped?

Very often the difference between a “registered breeder” and a “backyard breeder” is merely that the registered breeder is driven by competition and ambition to breed to excess (sometimes 30-40 females and several studs) in pursuit of the “perfect specimen”, while the other breeder has one or 2 females and breeds a couple of litters a year.

What makes registered show breeders special? A look at the state of pedigreed animals reveals that they certainly cannot be “improving the breed”, because many of the breeds are physically and genetically in a mess and have deteriorated over the 130 years that the breeding game has been played. Why is it OK for them to breed and nobody else? What are their qualifications, and are any required before joining the “registered breeder club”? Why the double standard?

Why do bodies such as KUSA, SACC etc. have representation on committees to oversee changes in companion animal legislation, but other AW /AR interest groups are excluded? Including registry representatives is a conflict of interest and counter-productive.

And there are petitions going around trying to prevent breeding for everyone except “registered breeders”. Registered by whom? Municipalities? Not at this point in time – there is no proper control. They refer to breed registries, which are nothing more than a bunch of other breeders, all breeding to excess and all generating as much money as possible to ensure the registry continues to survive. When challenged, a registry will insist that they are not there to ensure standards of care for the animals, or to enforce codes of conduct on their breeders, but merely to register pedigrees. So what is the registration worth, and what does the title “registered breeder” mean?

At the end of the day, codes of conduct towards the animals are left to the individual, and as we know there are good and bad everywhere – and the “goodness” has nothing to do with any affiliation. In fact to the contrary – it is more likely that abuse and poor standards of care are proportional to the number of animals in the facility, so one should look to breeders with LESS rather than more animals. And what do the vast majority of “registered breeders” have in common? Large breeding establishments. Yes – I’m calling anything which has more than 6-7 breeding animals large. So does Dr Niels Pedersen, and he should know.

And worse – to achieve the desired “look” takes many iterations of successive in-breeding – it is beyond dispute that the pedigreed animal has a weaker immune system than its healthy hybrid counterpart. This is due to the narrowing of the gene pool and loss of hybrid vigour. Yes it’s real.

And so, the petition to prevent “backyard breeding” and limit breeding is misplaced, as it seeks to prevent anything other than immune-compromised individuals from being born. Where’s the ethics or logic in that? If it were humans, the practice of selective breeding for type – known as eugenics – would rightfully be condemned. Yet because animals are concerned, we call people who do this “ethical and responsible”?

And why do they do it? “For the love of the breed”. What does this mean? “The breed” is merely an expression of the business of the breeder in propagating animals of a given type. “Love of the breed” does not imply loving the individual animals. How can it? When it suits the breeder, the animal who is “part of the family” is shipped off to another breeder to suit the “breed program” – which means finding another winner – usually by buying one in from elsewhere.

I love all animals. And I love my own, enough to want no harm to come to them, to not be confined or reduced to the role of producing more animals for my benefit. I love them enough to not cart them off to shows which do nothing for them. I love them enough not to make any more, thereby preventing problems for everyone else to clean up.

Who are these self-important individuals who think they have the right to breed animals to the exclusion of all others, and who consider the societal problems they cause to be “not their problem”?

Remind me who is contributing to the pet overpopulation crisis? Animal producers. Breeders. ALL breeders. And all of them need to be independently regulated if we are ever going to get on top of the companion animal overpopulation crisis.

Mike Hancock

(Mike Hancock is a semi-retired professional who has a work history that includes actuarial science, business analysis, computer systems audit, business planning and HR (personnel) management. He was a task team member of the forum engaged to develop recommendations to then Pres Mbeki proposing measures to roll out financial services to the unbanked population in SA, under the auspices of the Dep Arts and Culture.

His interests and hobbies include genetics, photography, music (used to be a bass player…), animal rights, cats (showed cats for a period of 4 years – has declined to mention here why he gave it up…), but researched all aspects of matters feline, including physiology, temperament, external characteristics, breed-specific genetic anomalies & etc.).