Shandael Alaskan Malamutes


Guest column:

Instead of breeding bans

by Margaret Anne Cleek

(From ANIMAL PEOPLE, June 1993.)

I am convinced that breeding bans will not work. This broad-brush approach is inappropriate because the majority of pet owners are responsible. The people producing the surplus are a relatively small percentage of the population (perhaps one dog owner in three and one cat owner in five according to the pro-breeding ban Humane Society of the U.S.), but because of the high fertility rate of the animals involved, the numbers of animals resulting from their litters is great. We have to separate the animal numbers from the people numbers to understand this. Production control principles apply: you have to know the source of the problem to address it.

In fact, I believe there are several separate problems: random-bred animals in poor communities where people cannot afford neutering or are disenfranchised from the low-cost services for whatever reason (usually fear of action because the animals may not be licensed or vaccinated); shelters who release unaltered pets and pets lacking proper socialization; commercial breeding operations; the "just one litter" phenomenon; and yes, even fanciers who are producing too many puppies and kittens.

Each of these problems has a different solution. Solutions have to be specifically targeted to reach the appropriate population, and we may never be able to effectively deal with those who just plain don't care.

Backyard breeders

I am well aware of the purebred count at shelters, commonly estimated at anywhere from 7% to 22%. (Editor's note: the figures vary considerably by region, but 20% seems to be close to the norm.) This problem has to be addressed through the registries. The real money is where the real problem is: large scale commercial breeders who produce pups by the thousands and sell them with full breeding rights. Then everyone wants "just one litter" to make back the money they plunked down at the local pet emporium. Ironically, I suspect that every time restrictive legislation is enacted in Anytown U.S.A., the commercial breeders pop open the champagne. The American Kennel Club should require that all pups be sold with a non-breeding registration, and that the owner apply for a breeding registration after criteria are met including genetic clearance for common breed problems for the dog, and a demonstration of knowledge of the breed by the owner.

The "just one litter" problem needs to be addressed through veterinarians also. It has been my experience that although the "just one" breeder may claim various reasons to breed, the real reason is that he or she thinks this is a way to make big bucks. I remember running into someone who was indignant that he "got stuck" with Great Dane pups he couldn't sell and had to give away. He kept repeating his dismay that these were $500 dogs, but no one wanted to buy them. I guess he thought there was quite a market out there for an unknown with pony-sized dogs for sale! Veterinarians can make the costs of breeding known, and be trained to tactfully inform owners that their dogs should not be bred. They need to address the status of the dog as pet and family member, not the quality of the dog.

Several years ago, AKC reported that 90% of the individuals registering litters never again registered another litter! These people do not know how to breed, socialize, or screen prospective buyers. They do not even know about limited registration, and their commitment to the buyer ends at the point of sale. Since these folks think they can make big bucks, and since they want "just one litter," they will willingly pay for a one-year unaltered permit and/or a breeding permit. Spay-or-pay and bans will do nothing to stop first-time breeders who see dollar signs.

Breeding bans and permit systems may even increase the purebred oversupply, as profit-motivated people breed more because of an assumed decrease in competition. If this creates unwanted pups, we have a problem, but I wouldn't mind the price of purebred pups coming down. A purebred pet should be a family companion, not an investment.

From a marketing perspective, I believe the "backyard" and commercial breeder issue needs to be addressed on the demand side rather than the supply side. The main problem that I have with commercial breeders and some backyard breeders is that the pups miss out on critical socialization and therefore are at a disadvantage for their whole lives. Many of the dogs surrendered at shelters are a neurotic mess as a result of living the critical first weeks of their lives in livestock holding conditions, which are not conducive to proper adjustment as a family member. People have to learn that puppy mills and backyard kennels run like puppy mills are not good places to get a pet. Puppy mills and backyard kennels will stop producing pups when people stop buying them. I wish some of the show breeders would realize that when they price pet pups at out-of-reach prices, they are creating a market for the backyard breeder.


The poor, meanwhile, are put in a no-win situation by increased license fees and differential fee schedules. Where high differential fees are in effect, many poor people might like to neuter their pets, but cannot afford to do so, nor can they afford either the registration fees for having unaltered pets or the fines for noncompliance. Thus they live in fear of the dogcatcher, and fail to either neuter or license their animals.

This situation is compounded where humane shelters that have contracts to provide animal control have significantly raised impound fees to cover costs, and demand neutering at the owner's expense as a condition for release of impounded pets. A few even require a kangaroo court hearing that the owner must pay for. This is plain and simple extortion: pay/spay or we kill your dog or cat! There have been several documented cases where people were desperate to get beloved pets back, but for purely financial reasons, the humane societies involved would not release them.

In the long run, all of this results in both reduced compliance with animal control regulations and reduced revenue for increasingly expensive humane services, in an economic and social environment where enforcement is neither affordable nor viewed positively by the public. "I wish you'd do something about drug dealers instead of spending money on catching animals who aren't a threat to me," says John Q. Public.

Remodeling animal control

I believe the whole concept of animal control and licensing needs to be revamped, and a business-like problem-solving approach applied. There is no question in my mind that animal control as usually practiced is 40 years behind the times and still mired in the negative dogcatcher mentality despite the best intentions of many of the people involved, who know no other model. I believe that the application of sound science and management principles would solve existing problems. It is clear that the current mode of operation is not what people want, and they are refusing to support the concept. Nationwide, dog licensing compliance is less than 45%, and in the first year of cat licensing in San Mateo County, California, whose anti-breeding ordinance became a national cause celebre, only 600 licenses were sold, 576 of them to people who adopted cats from the Peninsula Humane Society. There are an estimated 13,000 cats in the area.

Some areas have done away with licensing, considering it not cost-effective. This may not be possible everywhere, but I still think we can generate some creative ideas within the existing framework. I think that in order to execute its original mandate, rabies control, pet licensing fees should be kept low and licensing should not be confused with population control. Hence I think even small license differentials are bad policy.

Perhaps animal control could be restructured with a service rather than enforcement focus. Layers of service could be identified and appropriate funding provided for the various layers.

By levels of service, I mean primary, secondary, and tertiary services. Our tax dollars should support basic animal control, which is essentially rabies control. I think the public view of rabies control is analogous to the public attitude toward polio. Both are problems which people think are no longer urgent (except where rabies pandemics are actually underway), failing to realize that they are not pressing problems only because of vaccination programs, and that both could come back if we get lax. Independent of revenue or pet licensing concerns, the public needs to be aware that rabies control is a critical public health issue.

Secondary animal control services, including population control, could be provided from revenues raised by a per household fee. I suspect that a very small fee levied per household could generate substantial income. Since we know there will always be some people who dump their pets, and since if pounds or shelters don't take them, they will be left to roam, the cost of handling owner releases would need to be covered as well as the cost of handling strays. We all have to pay for the irresponsible, because by definition they won't take the responsibility. It is appropriate that the entire community share the burden, not just pet owners, because as with the cost of maintaining police and fire services, the benefit accrues to the entire community.

The tertiary level of service would be to pet owners. I suggest that a registration fee be a value-added program, optional with payment of the household fee. For a modest additional payment, perhaps $20, a family could register with a single identification number all of the animals in their household. The system could be extended to turtles and birds. Positive ID of each animal via microchip, tattoo, or tag would be required. Animal control would, in consideration of this fee, call the owner of any registered and identified animal within 24 hours of pickup as a stray. Given same-day redemption by the owner, all sequestering fees would be waived. If the animal were not picked up the same day, a per diem sheltering fee would be charged. My gut feeling is that a lot of people would like this service, which amounts to pet insurance. People opting for this service would tend to be a responsible group, not likely to lose pets often.

Pet owners not electing to pay for this service whose lost pets are wearing tags would be notified of pickup, but would be required to pay a redemption fee. Pet owners of unidentified animals would have to visit pounds and shelters to find their animals, as now, and would be charged a higher redemption fee.

If someone wants a pet back but maintains he or she cannot afford the redemption fee, I would suggest that the pet be immediately released, but that the person be required to apply for a waiver of fees, which could be automatic to reduce clerical time. Irresponsible, habitual offenders would not have this option repeated, but something needs to be done for people in tough straits who really care about their animals. Such people could at that time be directed to low-cost or no-cost neutering programs.

This plan would slowly introduce the positive ID concept to the public and generate revenue from individuals using the service. Animal experts agree that positive identification is critical to the animal control function, and has been shown to increase the return rate on lost animals. Within five years, positive ID could become the norm in any given community, totally accepted by the public.

Additional levels of service would be provided, at appropriate fees, to commercial kennel owners, who would pay for inspection and permits, and individuals who choose to have wild animals as pets. I would suggest requiring positive ID with microchips as part of the requirement for keeping wildlife.

Finally, I would suggest strengthening support for volunteer programs. With a service-oriented animal control approach, and incentives for breed rescuers and fanciers to participate, along with other people who care about animals, adoption counseling and behavioral consultation programs could be improved and expanded, Many shelters are revolving doors for animals with behavioral problems. Volunteers with expertise could help people to do a better job of choosing the right pet and dealing with any problems that arise after adoption.

Part of the volunteer component would be a YIMBY program (Yes! In My Back Yard.) Such a program would urge individuals concerned about pet overpopulation to donate to a local neutering fund. The revenue would be made available to veterinarians to subsidize discount surgeries. Statistics now suggest an amazingly low amount of additional neutering in the right population groups could solve the unwanted pet problem.

These are only rough-outs of possible alternatives to breeding bans­­just ideas I've thought about a bit. But I think they deserve serious consideration.

[Margaret Anne Cleek is an associate professor in the School of Business Administration at California State University, Sacramento, and a member of the Alaskan Malamute Club of America.]