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Spring 2004 - Act•ionLine

by Priscilla Feral | Spring 2004

In My View

Lee Hall’s article inside this Act•ionLine features an interview with two remarkable veterinarians who live by their principles, and advance the interests of individual dogs and cats.

In contrast, the February 2004 telecast of the 128th Annual Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show was six hours of unabashed preservation of the old guard — the “reputable” dog breeders who tinker with genetics, and call it “art” to alter the look or function of a particular dog breed for commercial purposes.

The revolting banter of the dog show’s announcers included their views of the attributes of some 152 breeds of dogs entered into one of seven groups: Sporting, Hound, Working, Terrier, Toy, Non-Sporting and Herding.

Most Act•ionLine readers may be unaware that the Italian Greyhound falls under the Toy breed group. One such animal’s head appeared from the opening of her owner’s fawn-colored fur coat during an HBO-TV interview about the Westminster Dog Show on Feb. 26, 2004. The dog’s owner explained that she had special mink coats and diamond necklaces made for her Italian Greyhound. Some show dog owners use private jets to transport their dogs to shows, and expect to spend $100,000 a year on a show dog.

The Italian Greyhound’s owner was quick to add that the Westminster offers no prize money to its winners, as though entering a dog in the Westminster was a selfless act. The anchor team of the HBO show mused whether dog breeding and showing as promoted by the Westminster would be properly considered “sport” or whether the event is better described as “a competition.” At the Westminster, the announcers portrayed the purpose of breeding dogs as “carrying on the legacy.”

And what is the legacy? Westminster’s announcers revealed that Otterhound breeders feared that their dogs might become “extinct,” and reported the lamentations of other breeders who note that “once only blue bloods could own Bloodhounds.”

“Bred to go after fox and vermin” described the smooth- and wire-haired Fox Terriers. “A companion gun dog” summed up an English Springer Spaniel. “A specialist on raccoon” was the Black and Tan Coonhound, judged for both attitude and show quality on the green-carpeted Madison Square Garden floor.

By 9:00 pm, Feb. 10, 2004, the second day of the dog show, a dozen pair of $2,000 aluminum and steel grooming scissors were sold to Westminster attendants. The scissors, made in Japan, “cut like a knife through butter,” the salesperson quipped - perhaps struggling to explain why any rational person would countenance such a purchase. If that leaves you mystified, be assured that it is just the beginning. Show announcers informed us that $21 billion is spent on pet care by U.S. residents each year, a point not lost on Pedigree dog food, a presenter of the Westminster Dog Show.

Dogs admitted to the Westminster are registered by the American Kennel Club (AKC), which simply means that the parents were of the same breed. The AKC registers dogs and gives them “papers” which help to sell them in pet shops or at breeders’ kennels. The AKC does not inspect kennels, nor does it vouch for the health or well-being of a puppy. The AKC has no idea whether the dog at the Westminster sleeps on a comfortable bed or lives a life of perpetual confinement, exposed to the elements in the cages of a breeder. In either situation, a dog can be accompanied by AKC papers.

FoA’s investigation into puppy mills has revealed that virtually all of the purebred puppies sold in pet stores originate from what are commonly called puppy mills. Pet shop employees routinely deny that they purchase from mills, or brokers that trade in puppy mill animals. They claim that they purchase puppies from “reputable breeders” and that the AKC papers prove it.

In 2003, the AKC registered 917,247 new dogs. Stay tuned for Summer 2004 Act•ionLine for FoA’s view inside one Kansas puppy mill.

Priscilla Feral

Act•ionLine Spring 2004

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