Archive for Wednesday, April 23, 2008
What if the animal rights movement wins?
Walt Hutchens, Timbreblue Whippets
Reprinted with permission from http://www.ukcdogs.com and United Kennel Club, Inc.
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What does the future hold for U.S. dogs? We’d like to think that pets will be healthier and happier, that more dogs will come from the best breeders and fewer from the others, that laws will punish only the real offenders and at least not discourage good ownership and breeding. Is that where we’re going, or is the future darker?
We will try to predict the future, looking twenty years ahead to what dog ownership and breeding might look like in 2027 if the Animal Rights (AR) movement continues to win. This exercise will not be fun, but it may be useful: If what we see in the future is bad enough, maybe we can do more today to avoid going there.
We will assume current trends will continue. If you assume trends get worse – for example, that money is found for muscular enforcement of bad laws – you get a worse picture, while if owners and breeders become concerned about the loss of their rights at a rapidly increasing rate, or if someone very wealthy decides to help defend our rights to keep and breed pets, things will be much better.
Trying to predict the future can help us take control of that future. I hope this will be taken in that spirit.
What Are The Trends Today? Currently, a few good things are happening. More animal lovers are learning that there is a serious problem and starting to work against it. We are winning a greater fraction of the lawmaking battles than was true even five years ago, and some lawmakers are catching on to the goals of the animal rights movement. The Center for Consumer Freedom provides very useful anti-AR public education, The Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council (PIJAC), and the NRA make small but significant contributions.
Several other organizations – The Sportsmen and Animal Owners Voting Alliance (SAOVA), the National Animal Interest Alliance (NAIA), and the Cat Fanciers Association (CFA) – also play roles. The new company ‘My Dog Votes’ may help in spreading the word. There are more and better blogs on our side. There are several lawsuits trying to overturn some of the worst laws, and some of these may succeed. Laws against animal-related terrorism are improving, and we can expect strong enforcement.
The Pet Animal Welfare Statute (PAWS, S. 1139 and H.R. 2669) would have extended federal Animal Welfare Act rules to retail-sales-only breeders who are currently exempt, thus forcing a year-by-year defense of the six litter/25 puppy exemptions to protect home breeding. PAWS seems to be dead and the sponsoring Senator, Rick Santorum, was defeated in the 2006 elections.
However, some very bad things also are going on. By far, the most important trend today is the increasing power of the animal rights movement. There’s no question the AR movement is winning, steadily taking away our rights to own and breed pet animals.
The most obvious of the AR trends is the number of cities and counties that are passing anti-pet laws. Southern California is passing mandatory spay/neuter (MSN) laws with complicated and expensive breeder licensing provisions in one county after another. Albuquerque’s ‘HEART’ ordinance is even worse – it includes not just MSN and breeder licenses, but also close regulation of dog ownership and all forms of pet animal business. In some of these areas, there have been efforts to fight back to undo the bad laws, but none have been successful yet. I believe California and New Mexico will pass MSN with some form of breeder licensing at the state level within five years.
Pet guardianship replaces the rights (and full responsibility) that go with ownership with a government-granted privilege. The idea is just starting to edge its way into laws, most often by substituting ‘owner/guardian’ for ‘owner’ (as the state of Rhode Island has done) and accompanied by assurances that, “We think this will help people be more responsible for pets.” However guardianship is a familiar concept elsewhere in law. When a nosy neighbor points out that your dog is limping, is a bit overweight, or hasn’t yet been spayed, an owner can smile sweetly and say, “Thank you.” A guardian is subject to direct government supervision and in practice, that supervision depends less on clear cut rules than on interpretation. As usage spreads and legal battles necessary to pin down the meaning of “guardian” for pets are fought, costs and risks of ownership will go up.
Rhode Island also has passed MSN with no exceptions for cats, meaning the lawful breeding of cats is over there. This will do nothing to reduce the number of cats, but will eliminate any possibility of sales of purebred cats, helping to stem the tide of at-large feral and ‘outside’ cats breeding on their own, as has happened with dogs over the last half-century. I’d expect restrictions on dog breeding in Rhode Island within a few years.
Pennsylvania‘s Governor Rendell is in the pocket of hardcore AR interests and is pushing rules and enforcement changes there that would eliminate home breeding within a few years.
Georgia has statewide breeder licensing; North Carolina and Virginia both have ambiguous state laws that are being interpreted by counties as allowing licensing. These are only a few examples of increasingly restrictive state and local lawmaking trends; there are many others.
It’s nearly certain that a new PAWS bill will be introduced next year. With Congress having been taken over by Democrats, we will lose some valuable allies in stopping the new bill. The so-named Humane Society of the U.S. (HSUS) has a political action committee, The Humane Society Legislative Fund (HSLF), that is channeling large amounts of money to animal-rights oriented lawmakers and they’re doing well at electing their favorites and taking out some of our supporters.
Most of the current AR mischief comes from just a few very-well-funded organizations – HSUS, PETA, and others who are less well-known – but the ‘Best Friends Animal Shelter’ is now turning to promoting anti-dangerous dog laws that could eliminate some breeds and we can expect growing trouble on that front.
A combination of ignorance, under-funding, laziness and animal rights orientation on the part of animal control and other public officials is putting limits of three or four pets into even tiny and far out rural places, one after another.
An additional factor is suburban sprawl. City dwellers and close-in suburbanites follow the interstate highways to newly-developed farmland, but are offended by all those animals so they join county councils to enact limits; while farmers generally can defend themselves, home breeders of dogs, cannot.
Because good breeding is a multi-year project (you must keep animals from each generation for possible future breeding), you cannot have a quality breeding program within a four-pet limit. When a kennel license, allowing more is available; it generally comes with ‘any reasonable time’ inspections of your home, a single opposing neighbor may be able to keep you from getting it, and you may be required to get a business license that will bring another group of laws into play.
For most people, if an in-home hobby of perhaps twenty years can be inspected by a high school graduate with no felony convictions, a clipboard, a day or less of training in animal husbandry and perhaps an AR chip on his shoulder who may bring disease from another kennel he visited that morning, it isn’t a hobby anymore.
Other requirements – one current proposal would require a written record every time every animal is fed – will complete the conversion of a hobby (something you do for satisfaction and fun) to a money-losing business. How many home breeders will continue?
Except for the large animal vets, most veterinarians and most vet organizations remain clueless about animal rights. The Virginia Veterinary Medical Association’s position on the state’s worst bill last year (requiring rabies vaccinations to be reported for dog licensing purposes) was, “We can’t oppose a law that just enforces another law.” That bill passed by a hair. At the national level, the AVMA stopped short of a decision to form an alliance with HSUS, but continues to support the first steps toward national mandatory micro-chipping of all pets.
As I write this, the ‘Coalition To Reunite Pets and Families’ made up of HSUS, the National Animal Control Association and several other organizations that would like to see close regulation of pets or expect to profit from mandatory micro-chipping, are pushing hard for the U.S. Department of Agriculture to make a rule requiring Animal Welfare Act dealers (commercial breeders) to use European microchips instead of U.S. ones. The USDA too would like such a rule. The story is too long to tell here, but this rule will put us firmly on the road to a law requiring all pets to be micro-chipped and registered in a government-accessible database. A federal bill for that purpose might be introduced around 2009.
The court interpretation of laws is likely to turn more strongly against us. The ARs effectively own about three dozen law schools, and retired game show host Bob Barker is buying them a new one every few months. Five years from now, many new lawyers will have specialized in animal law and all of them will have come from AR-oriented programs. By 2027, many of those lawyers will be judges and some will be lawmakers.
The media prints anti-AR letters to the editor, just as they do stories of alien abductions and that CIA conspiracy to kill President Kennedy. Mainstream magazines seem to be AR-leaning, and articles on AR-related topics in other publications take the AR side. Other than an article in The Atlantic Monthly in the 1990s, I cannot think of an exception.
There are three books exposing the AR movement but all are seriously out-of-date; we are promised a revised edition of one of them this year.
With so few (and small) useful organizations on our side, much of the anti-AR work is being done with irregular forces – e-mail lists and other loose organizations – and the less-than-a-handful of state federations of clubs and individual larger clubs that really do ‘get it.’
Significant awareness of the AR agenda among the general public is still well in the future; the same is true of home breeders of dogs. Both creating awareness and the rest of what must be done to keep home breeding legal and pet ownership free of impossible restrictions are very slow going with irregular forces.
Where will these trends and forces take us in twenty years?
Let’s Fast Forward Our Time Machine to 2027. Much of what follows may seem impossible if you’re not in the middle of the fight. However all of the laws needed to create the situation I’m about to describe have been seriously proposed, and nearly all of them are in effect in some places; current trends give no reason to think they won’t spread. The rest is just predicting how people will react as that occurs.
The good news is there are still pets in 2026. Not quite as many as twenty years ago, but most families who want a pet dog or cat do have one. However…
Only about one dog in three is legal. Legal dogs come from large-scale commercial breeders and importers, plus a handful of wealthy individuals who still breed dogs as a hobby. Because of the many demands the law makes of breeders (expensive licenses and ‘puppy lemon’ laws, strict liability for attacks by their dogs, socialization requirements, detailed and extensive kennel and husbandry standards), legal dogs are too costly for most people to own: upward from $5,000 for a pet shop dog. A ‘sort of home bred’ purebred starts at $15,000; maybe a bit less for an imported animal. (All prices guessed in 2007 dollars.)
You can also get a legal dog at the animal shelter for about $2,000; most of these are dogs who have been seized from illegal breeders or because they were illegally owned. Larger shelters either import in quality or – since shelters are exempt from the anti-breeding laws – operate their own breeding programs.
Except for commercial breeding stock and animals belonging to wealthy individuals with very expensive licenses, legal dogs are all sterilized. All are micro-chipped and tracked by the government from birth to a required vet-signed death certificate. The enforcement risks (what if your dog escapes, your ACO finds him without food and reports you for poor care, or your vet turns you in for missing a required routine checkup) add to the fear factor and the cost of owning a legal dog.
This is, of course, the future that the animal rights movement wanted for ALL dogs, on the way to completely eliminating pets. However, because Americans really do love dogs, the AR movement hasn’t been able to get strong enough enforcement of the laws creating this grim ‘legal’ pet status to make it even close to 100%. Two out of every three dogs now are illegal.
Illegal dogs come from a vast cottage industry of “back in the woods” or “over there under the pile of boards behind the garage” very-small-scale illegal breeders. Who is this ‘puppy moonshine’ maker? Your neighbor, your aunt, or the guy who takes care of your car – and possibly all three.
Because demand for pets has remained high, but most people can’t afford (or are afraid to own) a legal dog, even illegal puppies are expensive – a minimum of $1,000 for a just-weaned pup with no shots, do your own worming. At these prices, people can make good money breeding a single litter a year, and they do, even though they don’t have the required licenses, comply with the kennel requirements, micro-chip their puppies, report names of new owners, or any of the rest. They are thus completely outside the law, subject to severe penalties if they get caught. The good news is these folks are willing to take the risk in exchange for the added income, so middle class folks can still have dogs; the bad news is most of them don’t know much about dogs or dog breeding.
In theory, enforcement could be tightened to almost completely choke off the illegal dogs, but efforts by HSUS and friends to get even stronger laws and more money for enforcement seem to have stalled. We pay billions in tax dollars a year for a war on drugs that is only somewhat effective, but there is no chance we’ll vote to spend that kind of money to stop illegal breeding, especially since most of us are getting our dogs from outside the legal pet system.
In fact, even most animal shelters don’t want illegal breeding stopped. As was true in Los Angeles as early as 2005, unlicensed breeding has become a profitable cash crop for shelters nationwide. Every breeder bust yields perhaps $10,000 in shelter income for just a few hours work. Shelters seize and sell the dogs and they fine the breeder, but not too big a fine or too many of the illegal breeders because that would kill the ‘crop.’ No trial is ever necessary because illegal breeders are happy to plead guilty to a neglect charge carrying a $1,000 fine and sign over their animals, rather than face required jail time for an illegal breeding conviction.
Illegal dogs are nearly all mixed breeds, although some do look like specific breeds, and a few of the underground breeders claim they use only purebred breeding animals, but no illegal dog comes with registration papers since registration requires enrollment in the government-accessible micro-chip database.
It is still legal to breed dogs on residential property in most states, but only people wealthy enough to be able to live in a properly zoned area, build a kennel that complies with commercial standards, and employ a kennel master to handle the licenses, paperwork, record keeping, and inspections do it as a hobby and only by importing nearly all their breeding animals. Naturally, their puppies sell mostly to other wealthy folks.
With the end of practical middle class home breeding came the end of most breeds of purebred dog in America. You cannot reduce the numbers in a breed below a certain level before the genetic diversity needed for litters to thrive is lost, and in most breeds, most of the gene pool was in the hands of home breeders. Still more breeds were lost because the increase of inherited problems made many breeders give it up, even in the last places that allowed unlicensed and true home breeding.
There was talk of breeding purebreds in secret, but the networks needed to preserve a breed when few people own more than two dogs are extremely risky. The majority of Americans see good quality purebreds mainly on TV.
Because of pet guardianship and very high values set by courts for a pet’s life, vet care is now several times as expensive as it was twenty years ago. The Pet Guardianship Act of 2012 led to rapid increases in the cost of vet care, which in turn caused many people to cut back. HSUS then promoted and got passed the Healthy Pets Act of 2018, which required all owners to get certain basic care and required vets to report care to the government. Failure to get the required care for your dog can mean fines of $1,000 or more.
The HPA was the final event creating the split between legal and illegal dogs. Because vets are required to report illegal dogs, most of these animals get no care, although ‘see no evil’ vets are out there if you can afford them. There are only half as many vets as there were twenty years ago, but they are making wonderful money.
The nastiest anti-pet laws of 2007 – breed specific laws requiring owners to line up and turn in pets for euthanasia, abusive seizures that ruined people’s lives, and the occasional felony cruelty conviction for a clean-kill of a nuisance dog – zapped perhaps a thousand people a year. I’m not aware there was ever any violence by these victims. If told to give up Fido for that last needle, people cried and did it. In 2007, pet owners crushed by animal control turned their pain inward.
Not anymore. Enforcement of the much stronger laws of 2027 – nearly 40 breeds are banned now and seizure-enforced pet limits are universal – has hurt tens of thousands of people per year for over a decade. The predictable result has been that enforcement nails some owners who don’t take it well, and there has been some violence. One day just before Christmas in 2015, a shelter worker took the leash from the hand of a crying young woman, turned to take her dog back to the euthanasia area, and got a 12-inch butcher knife in his back. Evidently the woman then took the leash away from him and walked out. None of the other four owners waiting in line were able to describe the killer and she was never caught.
In some parts of the country, there are links between illegal breeding and organized crime. Just as happens with illegal drugs, there has been some violence associated with control of sales territories. Payoffs to law enforcement are common almost everywhere, often in the form of free puppies for an officer’s family.
A few shelters have been burned, animal control vehicles have been attacked, and there have been dozens of ‘liberations’ of seized dogs. A/C and shelters have beefed up security but there have been too many victims and there are too many targets; low-level violence of this kind seems to be permanent. Of course (just as in 2007), most A/C workers are decent people, guilty of no more than doing what the law requires. Retention of qualified officers has become a serious problem in some areas.
For a time, snitches played a substantial part in enforcing the laws, but that largely ended after hundreds of cases of serious property damage (mostly burning of garages and automobiles), a number of thrashings and over a dozen killings. Even vets weren’t exempt: Here’s a joke that went the rounds on the ‘net in 2020.
“Know how to make your vet crazy?”
“Take your dog to him for a rabies shot.”
(In the context of most dogs being illegal, you would be forcing the vet to choose between ignoring the law requiring reporting of illegal dogs, thus risking a $1,000 fine, and the possibility of violence if he complies with the law, for a tiny fee.)
Very few of those cases have been solved. As with drug-related crime in urban areas, the list of suspects is often most of the people in the surrounding area, and there are almost never any willing witnesses. After a time, the police (whose pet dogs are, after all, nearly all illegal) simply gave up. ‘Let sleeping dogs lie’ (with a wink) became the motto for low-level pet-related violence.
The welfare of dogs is much worse than it was in 2007. While true overpopulation is completely gone (nobody ever turns in a puppy to a shelter) the poor breeding and socialization practices that are normal among illegal breeders mean many puppy homes don’t succeed. The number of stray dogs has increased dramatically, and nobody knows the extent of ‘shoot, shovel and shut up’ occurring in rural areas. However, most strays that make it to a shelter and nearly all owner-surrender dogs must be euthanized as unfit pets, and this adds to the incentive for shelters to seize, import and breed dogs. With the loss of middle class home breeders, there are no longer any breeders helping buyers with problems or taking their puppies back.
Pet health too has gone downhill due to the extreme inbreeding common among unskilled ‘moonshine’ breeders and the lack of vet care for most illegal dogs. Because of the very high costs, even legal dogs often get only the minimum care required by law.
There are only a couple dozen purebred dog shows per year nationwide, and entries are still declining as the cost of purebred dogs continues to rise.
HSUS isn’t doing very well either. Since the 1990s, HSUS’s business model has amounted to strip-mining the goodwill built up by the organization in earlier years when it was an animal welfare organization. From about 2000 on, it still claimed donations were needed to help animals, but actually used nearly all the money to promote anti-animal use laws and enforcement. They have used up all the easy ‘for the animals’ campaigns, and people are starting to realize that they are not helping animals, but are actually part of the problem.
This is a business built on quicksand and is starting to sink. Annual revenues are down by half from the peak year of 2015. However, continuing lies and a devoted base of hardcore AR supporters (there are as many Hollywood fruitcakes and fanatics as ever) allow them to keep them spewing their garbage and buying up lawmakers year by year.
It does appear that things are starting to turn around. The gradual weakening of HSUS, public attention coming from the violence, the dawning recognition that it isn’t just that you can’t buy the purebred dog you remember from when you were a child, but that there are almost no purebreds or home-bred dogs at all, the views of a growing number of experts that, far from protecting animals, the tangle of laws has reduced their numbers and made them (and humans) less happy and less healthy – all this has begun to bend the road back in favor of animals and animal owners.
However, the turning is very slow. Many anti-animal laws were passed, not just for animal rights reasons, but also because they made things easier for animal control organizations. A pet limit law, for example, can be used as a one-size-fits-all answer to nearly any animal complaint, either by telling the individual whose dogs are a noise nuisance, “You are over the limit – reduce your numbers” or by telling the complainant, “Sorry, he’s within the limit so there’s nothing we can do,” instead of enforcing the noise ordinance.
Bad laws give animal control more power. No enforcement agency willingly gives that up.
If breeding laws were liberalized, animal shelters would have competition for their own import and breeding programs. Seizures might nearly disappear. With so few good quality stray dogs, there’d be no income from adoptions. Where would the money come from? For financial reasons too, shelters are against easing the laws.
There is some talk of a federal law preempting some of the anti-pet and anti-breeding state and local laws, but it hasn’t happened yet. There’s also wide recognition of the general corruption and abuse ‘under color of law’ by animal control organizations, but the corruption comes from the grants of large amounts of power to poorly supervised persons with minimal qualifications. There’s little will and no money to dramatically upgrade animal control organizations so unless many of the laws are repealed to return us to the basic animal welfare and confinement laws of the late 20th century, there seems to be no solution.
The animal rights movement imagined that we could have a large animal police force supervising every detail of breeding and ownership gradually squeezing pets down and out of our lives. Wrapped in their glitter paper, it sounded good and the laws were passed. Americans, however, are only willing to pay for a few dog catchers.
As a result of the very high value set by courts for a pet’s life, veterinarians have their own ambulance-chasing lawyers and their own malpractice insurance-dictated very expensive practice standards. A law limiting awards in pet wrongful death/injury cases would be hard to pass, and even if it did, there would be no immediate unwinding of the staff, equipment and clinic requirements that drove up the price of care. It might be possible to repeal the laws mandating care, but the immediate result would be less care. Discussions of low cost alternatives – for example, publicly-funded clinics and the veterinary equivalent of nurse-practitioner status – meet strong opposition from veterinarians.
In-the-open home breeding has become so unfamiliar that it has the ‘not in my backyard’ problem. When liberalization is discussed the responses are usually, “We don’t allow any kind of farming here – someone who wants to breed dogs should buy a farm in the country.” And, “If we made breeding legal here, our town would be full of breeders: we don’t want all that noise and smell.”
Pet owners still have no effective national voice, and that makes it much harder to pass our own laws.
Mandatory micro-chipping of all pets has made billions of dollars for makers of chips, vet clinics and chip registries and it continues to be a fountain of gold for them. Because it facilitates enforcement of all the other pet laws, the AR movement is determined to keep it. However, making government control that easy guarantees there will be government control. The battle to undo the mandatory micro-chipping laws may seesaw for a decade or more but until they are undone, ownership and breeding of dogs cannot start to return to being a hobby.
In 2027, the situation of pet dogs in the U.S. has hit bottom and will gradually begin to improve. However, undoing the damage of the last 25 years – untangling the maze of laws, each with its own devoted supporters; restarting the practice of in-home breeding; rebuilding the breeds, breeding knowledge and skills; re-establishing the kennel and breed clubs; beginning over again to spread the basics of good dog ownership to the average family – may take a century.