Thursday, July 26, 2012

The Chain Gang

I have recently been accused of possessing an"anti-breeder" agenda, when nothing could be further from the truth. I started volunteering for rescue ten years ago, in New England. When I began, my only volunteers were breeders. They were my mentors, my support system, my friends. They supported my rescue efforts financially, they transported, they fostered, they CARED. THAT was the foundation for my start in rescue. And, those relationships have always been of great value to me. I have treasured them, and always felt a strong allegiance to them. I have always thought it was my responsibility as a rescue volunteer, to foster positive relationships with breeders. I have always made it a point to support those who stand behind their dogs, who sell puppies with a contract in hand, and lifelong concern for each pup in their heart.

When I moved to WV/OH in 2005, it was a complete shock. I had no idea how bad things were here. No idea. The rescue climate in New England is far different than here in the midwest and mid-south region. Completely and utterly different. Why? Because many of the so-called "breeders" here are cut from a different cloth. Their value system is different, their priorities are different, and their ethics are different. I often post about "breeder surrenders" on Facebook, because I handle a LOT of such cases in rescue. I get dogs directly from the breeder. It happens quite frequently here.

Three of Sassy's puppies at my home
Because the folks who are casting stones are not involved in my day-to-day rescue world, I'd like to try to shed some light on the reality we rescue volunteers face regularly. These are just a few of many examples I could share. It is my goal to help facilitate some sense of understanding about what we do, what we see, what we are up against.

In 2010, a litter of five GSP puppies were surrendered to a KY shelter. The shelter told me they were turned in by the "breeder" but he did not leave his name. So, I did some research and found a "for sale" listing for GSP puppies in the area. I contacted him, and he informed me he did surrender the pups because he couldn't sell them, and couldn't afford to feed them. I told him shelters were known for disease, and although I hoped he wouldn't have any more unwanted pups in the future, I encouraged him to get in touch with me in the future should he have any more GSPs in need of assistance. I didn't rant and rave and tell him he was scum of the earth (he was actually a very nice guy). If I were an activist, or had a rabid "anti-breeder" mentality, wouldn't I have used that opportunity to chastise him? I am not and I did not.

I took the puppies and fostered them here temporarily until they moved on to individual foster homes. They were delightful, suprisingly healthy (despite low body weight and parasitic infections), and they were well socialized. It was obvious they had been handled and loved.

A year later, I received a phone call from this same gentleman. He told me he had two females he "couldn't use" any longer. He asked if I could help. I told him I would be happy to. It turned out one of the females was named Sassy, she was the  mommy to the puppies from the year before. He was also surrendering Star, one of Sassy's pups from a previous litter. We made arrangements to meet, he drove an hour to meet me. When he and his wife said goodbye to Sassy and Star, it was obvious they cared about them in their own way.

Sassy on a chain by her "dog house"
Sassy and Star were in rough shape. They were painfully thin, they had scabs and scars from being tangled in chains. Star had fresh wounds on her leg from entanglement. They were full of parasites. Sassy's coat was so sunbleached and dry, I wondered if she would ever look like a GSP again. Her belly sagged from years of producing litters. But, these girls were very well socialized, and had been loved. It may not be the way you or I would "love" our dogs, but their life on a chain was all they ever knew, and these folks did socialize them.

We patched them up at the vet, they were spayed, and moved along to foster homes. Sassy spent a week with me, and she was a delightful addition to my pack. She loved my cat in particular. She was a special girl.

Now, I ask you, if I were anti-breeder, would I have taken such care with this man? The man who "bred" these dogs? The man who had supplied us with an entire litter of puppies the year before? The man who kept his "studs" so he could start back up his breeding practice in the future, when the economy improves? I wanted to foster a positive relationship with him. I wanted him to have a positive experience with rescue. I wanted to be someone whom he spoke of highly, and with whom he built a sense of trust. He knew I would take care of his "kids" and I did just that.

I have been brought under fire for using the word "breeder" to describe someone like this. Sure, he's not someone whose name appears in show or field trial results. He is a man who has multiple intact dogs chained outside. Their sources of shelter are plastic barrels turned on their side, stuffed with straw. They live there day in, day out, in the heat of the summer and the severe chill of the winter. The fact remains that he handed me the AKC paperwork for both Sassy and Star. His name was listed under "breeder" on the form. So, if I'm not allowed to call him a breeder, what DO I call him? Does "the human individual who facilitates the production of canine offspring" sound better than using the word breeder?

This man isn't a "responsible" breeder. He isn't a reputable breeder. But, according to the AKC, he IS the breeder. Do I lump him in a category with the countless caring and incredibly responsible breeders I know? ABSOLUTELY NOT. Do I subscribe to the line of thinking that "they're ALL the same"? No way! But, if my using the word "breeder" is offensive, I don't know what else to call him. It does NOT mean I am anti-breeder. How could it? Instead of pointing fingers at me, and making false assumptions about me, how about directing your displeasure at HIM and others like him? HE is the type of "breeder" I deal with routinely in rescue. As a matter of fact, he is NOT the norm, in that he was a kind and gentle man with well-socialized GSPs. Many "breeders" I  meet are anything but kind and gentle, nor are their GSPs socialized, even just a little.

Now, onto the "other" type of "breeder" we deal with on a regular basis. I happen to have a foster from a "breeder" in Ohio. His name is Watson. He has been with me since 2010, when he entered rescue at eight months of age, with his litter mate. His "breeder" admitted to me he had never been handled, had never been let out of his kennel, and had never stepped foot on the grass. He had never eaten out of a bowl, as his water was in a bucket (full of feces and mud, I might add), and his food was thrown onto the ground at feeding time. He was broken, battered, and terrified of the world. His rehabilitation continues, and although he will likely never be "adoptable" he is happy here with us, he is joyful, and we will provide a loving home for him for life.

GSP on chain behind OH breeder's home
That same "breeder" has surrendered five other GSPs to us over the last two years. He has also flooded the local English Setter rescue system, as well as the Vizsla rescue system. He continues to breed without health clearances, without providing even the most basic health care for adults or pups. The conditions at his "kennels" are far from being even remotely humane (see photos), but he meets the "minimum" standard set by Ohio law.

He is, by all accounts, a hoarder. His home was condemned after it caught fire due to the overwhelming amount of paper and garbage being hoarded inside. His property is littered with old farm equipment, cars, tools, trucks. The dogs live amongst the garbage and filth, chained to old camper tops from trucks (yes, that is considered "shelter" in the state of Ohio). The dogs have cuts on their bodies and legs from the scrap metal that litters the property. It resembles a junk yard. The others live in makeshift kennels that are in a constant state of disrepair. They are exposed to the elements day in, day out. There are no whelping boxes, puppies are born in the mud, on the dirt, surrounded by feces and urine. They are not given vaccinations, deworming  medication, or anything of the sort (he told me this himself). If they survive, they are sold to whomever will pay the asking price. There is no contract, no health guarantee, nothing that any "responsible" breeder would offer to a puppy buyer.

Urine and feces "stream" running through kennel
I have spoken to this man countless times by phone. He called me just a few months ago, wanting to get rid of a few female GSPs. He told me I'd have to purchase them. He wanted $350 for each. I explained to him that we would likely have to spend twice that much for each in vetting, and that the dogs we had taken from him over the last few years had cost us thousands more due to their extensive medical needs. I explained we can't afford to "buy" them, but would be more than happy to take them, have them vetted, and find loving homes, as we had for all the others. He told me he'd call me back. He didn't. He sold them at an auction instead.

I can't change the agendas of the animal rights groups, who seem to have set out to get ALL breeders. But, why hold ME accountable for THEIR flawed agendas? I don't share their opinions, I don't support their cause(s). Never have, and NEVER will. But, after dedicating the last ten years of my life, and making thousands of sacrifices on behalf of the "forgotten" and "unwanted" GSPs out there, I can't witness first hand this type of "breeder" practice, these types of conditions, and this lack of regard for our breed, and NOT wish it were not so. My thoughts and feelings expressed about THEM, has never been an attack on the breeders who are doing the RIGHT thing...the responsible ones. I applaud and support them. Always have.

If stating my lack of approval for irresponsible breeding practices and sub-standard living conditions places a target on my back, then there is nothing I can do to prevent that. If wanting a BETTER future for the breed I love and adore makes ME some type of activist in non-rescue folks' eyes, then there's nothing I can do to change their opinion of me. You know the saying about don't judge me without walking a mile in my shoes? Well I have been running a daily rescue marathon for the last 10 years, and not one of the people who question my motives has been running (or even walking) alongside me. So how do they KNOW what I believe? How do they KNOW what I stand for? I was never asked, never questioned, and never offered the opportunity to defend or explain myself. I was automatically considered "the enemy within" and did not receive even a shred of the benefit of the doubt.

So, in spite of the sticks and stones being cast, I know one thing...I'm out there, day in, day out, doing something to protect and serve this breed. It is my mission, it is my passion, and it is above all else, it is a labor of love. I'm proud of the lives I have saved. I'm proud of my rescue "team" and I'm proud to be a rescue volunteer. We care about one another. We support one another. We share a common love for this breed. It was, perhaps my flawed belief, that all who share this love should come together, to share our experiences for a common goal, to protect and serve OUR breed.