Are We Spaying & Neutering Our Breeds and Our Sport Out of Existence?
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by Cathy Clapp
AKC Breeder of Merit – FlamingStar Chow Chows
It seems like just about everyone that has been showing dogs for any number of years has recently had the discussion about the lack of newcomers to our breed and to our sport. We blame many things including the economy (which includes the cost of gas, hotel rooms, food and entry fees), the “instant gratification” generation that has never really had to compete for anything, breed specific legislation which has banned some breeds in certain areas, lack of mentors, etc., etc. There’s another contributing factor that I never hear mentioned: the numbers of dogs sold on spay/neuter contracts.
With all of the talk of BYBs (Back Yard Breeders) and Puppy Mills (both terms coined by Animal Rights activists, by the way) over the years, many of us who deem ourselves “responsible” breeders have been selling all puppies sold as companion quality (i.e. “pet”) on spay/neuter contracts. No one wants to see a dog they bred, or out of dogs they bred, end up in a shelter or in the hands of a sub-standard breeder. We do not want to contribute to the over-crowded shelters and over-population of pets so we insist that everything that isn’t going into a show/breeder home be spayed or neutered. “Of course!” you exclaim. “I’m protecting my bloodlines,” you say. “The dog isn’t good enough for me to take into the ring,” you declare. “I don’t want the dog bred!” you shout.
That all sounds well and good, but think about it. How many of us actually started showing with a show-quality dog? I’m not talking about those of you that were born into a show home. I’m speaking about those of us that bought a purebred dog as a companion and either saw a show on television or went to a show with a friend or even saw a YouTube video and thought, “Well, that’s kind of cool. I bet Buddy could do that.”
Entering the Sport: Version 1985
We went to class or found a local match or just jumped in with both feet and entered a show. Our dog wasn’t the best quality but we tried to demonstrate we were serious. The dog was at least clean and groomed to the best of our ability. We asked what we hoped were intelligent questions and quickly understood that our dog really did not meet the breed standard, but we made new friends and enjoyed the competition and were already hooked. So perhaps we continue working with that first dog, going to class to hone our handling skills, going to local shows to get more first-hand experience and meet more people showing our chosen breed and trying to learn as much as possible about the breed standard, health clearances, grooming – well, everything that goes into showing and then some.
We are able to make contacts and get on a list to buy a “real” show puppy – one with a good pedigree and health-tested parents and a good temperament and a patient breeder willing to answer a million questions and guide us. We still have Buddy – he was our first and we love him but we voluntarily neutered him because we now understand that he does not meet the breed standard. We don’t care that our neighbor wants to breed to him because “he’s such a good dog” because while he’s a great pet, we know he is not a good representative of the breed and, on top of that, we just found out he’s dysplastic and that isn’t something we want to pass along.
Entering the Sport: Version 2016
We really wanted a purebred and found a breeder within a reasonable distance from us – just a few hours’ drive. We submitted an application, had a home visit, jumped through all kinds of hoops including signing a contract and finally have the puppy of our dreams. He’s beautiful and looks as good as any dog we’ve seen at those dog shows on television and think, “Lucky could do that.” We call around and find that the local kennel club is having handling classes. We are excited as we pack Lucky in the car with his collar and leash – he even had a bath the night before so he would be clean. We arrive at the class and sign in and are directed toward the group for dogs that are Lucky’s size. We’re nervous as we wait our turn and watch intently to try and understand what we are supposed to do.
When we reach the “judge” we explain it is our first time and ask for help to correctly stack the dog. Lucky is fairly cooperative since he’s a patient puppy and pretty laid back. As the instructor goes over him she gets to his rear and asks, “How old is this puppy?” and we answer, “ten months.” She responds, “I can’t find his testicles,” and we say, “Oh, I had to have him neutered according to my contract.” That’s when we hear her suck in her breath. “I’m sorry, but you cannot show him without testicles in AKC. It’s a disqualification. Every dog is required to have two.” “Oh,” we say softly. “I didn’t know.” In that moment all of our hopes and dreams are quashed. We pat Lucky on the head before we silently leave – never to come back.
Let’s face it – the majority of people who show started out with a less-than-spectacular dog. They either learned and got better or didn’t and got out, but we are never even giving them the chance when we insist a dog be spayed or neutered just because we no longer have control over it. After all, a contract is only as good as the person signing it. If someone has ill intentions it won’t matter that you have a contract that says the dog has to be altered, or sold it on a limited registration. If they want to breed they will just go and register the dog with one of the sub-standard registries that will register anything for a fee such as the Continental Kennel Club or have one of those “full blooded – no papers” puppy ads in the classifieds.
And think about this – isn’t any dog or bitch you are selling even as companion quality still far better than any poorly bred dog of the same breed out there? Yes, there are legitimate reasons for wanting a puppy to eventually be altered – retained testicle, bad bite, bad pigment, bad rear, disqualifying fault like drop ears, soft temperament, etc. However, many puppies are good examples of the breed. Even if you don’t deem them good enough for you as the breeder to walk into the ring with, one of your puppies would be a perfectly good starter dog if someone decided they wanted to show.
And there are so many other reasons to not alter the dog – not yet, anyway.
Even if it has not happened to you (yet), everyone has heard a story about someone that kept their pick of the litter and sold most of the litter into companion homes because of the lack of show homes. Months later the pick either has a bad bite, is over- or under-sized (for breeds with a size DQ), has bad pigment, or there is some other reason you’ve made the decision to place it in a pet home, this time wanting it altered with good reason. The owner of the puppy you wavered on selling as a pet calls and wants to visit. They are so proud of their puppy and want you to see how he’s doing. They drive up and when they open the back door, the most stunning dog you have ever produced jumps out of the car. You are so excited to see him – maybe they will let you borrow him and show him. Then you remember – you required them to neuter him and they’ve already done so.
How about those stories of dogs that turned into top show dogs that also had been sold to a pet home but the owners either were not required to alter (which in the old days was the norm) or just never got around to it and that dog started his show career when he was three or four years old and retired after breaking all of the records for the breed? While you can say, “that would never happen to me,” you don’t really know, it could someday – unless you require everything that leaves your property to be spayed or neutered.
And the argument about overcrowded shelters and rescues? While it may still be true in some parts of the country, for the most part that is now a myth. In fact shelters and rescue groups are importing thousands of dogs from other countries to fill their runs. Shelters are advertising for small breeds and puppies, even offering to buy them because they are the most popular to adopt. Rescues are refusing to return dogs to their rightful owners because they already have put a price tag on them and have people lining up to “adopt” for a nice fee, of course. And some are actually considering breeding the dogs they have before they alter them so they will have enough puppies to meet the demand. “Retail Rescue” has become big business and keeping the myth alive of shelters overwhelmed with dogs is part of their strategy.
You should also consider the long-term research of dogs that were altered at an early age compared to those left intact. The hormones being altered so drastically at a young age are now known to create a wide variety of issues such as Endocrine imbalances (Cushing’s disease and Hypothyroidism), shortened life span, cardiac tumors, bone cancer, abnormal bone growth and development, a higher rate of CCL ruptures, higher rate of hip dysplasia and incontinence. Many breeders of larger breeds in particular have started insisting that the dog be allowed to reach full size and allowed to mature before being spayed or neutered or their health guarantee is null and void. If you insist the dog not be altered before it is eighteen months to two years old you might find you had a diamond in the rough – one that can be successfully shown because it turned out much better than you expected.
What about those potential buyers who admit they might be interested in breeding some day? Instead of chastising and telling them what a horrible person they are before hanging up on them because they could never do it as good as you, why not tell them you will be a resource to them? Tell them you will help guide them through the health testing that they should do and even help find an appropriate stud if they have a bitch. Educate them on the breed standard and everything involved with having and raising a healthy litter as well as the expenses that can be involved. If they have a male, teach them how to make decisions about whether or not to breed to a certain bitch and what their obligations are as stud dog owner. Instead of calling them a “puppy miller” or “backyard breeder” before they’ve ever bred their first litter, guide them so that if they do choose to breed, they do it right. Or as often happens when someone is honest with themselves about everything involved in producing a litter once they have been educated, they will decide they’ll just love their dog and if they want another one they’ll buy it (hopefully from you).
I am not saying to stop your pre-approval process – to stop vetting your potential buyers. What I am trying to say is that you have selected your puppy buyers with great care. You have checked out their vets, asked about previous pets, had them fill out an extensive application to learn everything about them and you have determined with a great deal of thought who you will allow to buy one of your puppies. If you have found them responsible and trust them enough to sell them a puppy, should you not consider that a contract that requires immediate spay/neuter is not necessary? Why not have a contract that requires that at the very least the dog not be altered until a later age and ask to reevaluate before the dog is altered. After all, the only thing required to stop unwanted breedings is to be responsible with intact animals. There are thousands of people that have owned intact dogs and bitches that have never had an unplanned litter, or any puppies at all for that matter.
The next time you pull out that contract for that puppy you are selling ask yourself, “Does this puppy really need to be removed from the gene pool right away? Is there no way that it will mature into a nice representative of the breed and is there really anything here that I do not want passed on under any circumstances?” If you are certain there is no way this puppy should ever be bred then yes, by all means go with the spay/neuter contract but at least allow the puppy to grow up before being altered. But if you waiver – if you are unsure and think you might be kicking yourself later on for making a mistake then at the very least ask to reevaluate the dog before it is altered and insist on it remaining intact until it is at least eighteen months old. And if the phone rings and it is one of your former puppy buyers calling to tell you they think they are interested in showing or even breeding a litter? Instead of screaming, “I sold that puppy as a pet and you’re supposed to have spayed her already!” take a deep breath and say, “Will you let me help?”
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