Monday, March 21, 2011

The Dog solution

My last blog concerned the Pit Bull. This time I'm trying to address the dog problem in this country in general terms. I said in my last entry that I didn't really know a solution for the problems I laid out. The truth is I had a germ of an idea partly based on experience and somewhat on research I've done in the past. As I pondered the concomitant problems of bad dogs, bad owners, bad breeders and the glut of animals that our strained system now has to handle I laid out for myself a sort of paradigm that I thought had some merit.
As one who generally deplores government interference in private matters I stopped several times during my deliberations and asked myself if there weren't some solution or combination of solutions that wouldn't involve new regulation. Time after time I concluded that we're now in such a crisis state that any action, even government action, was better than none.
First I must say I'm not in favor of breed-specific legislation or burdening dog owners with new regulation. I think this is an overly simplistic approach to a complicated problem, plus I wouldn't want to deprive anyone of the right to own whatever breed of dog they wanted provided it didn't pose a danger to others. Certainly, most Pit Bulls, Rottweilers, Presas and other formidable breeds don't pose such a threat. Most of these dogs don't do anything worse in their lives than any other dog does.
How then can we address the enormous underground breeding disaster that is flooding our streets with strays and putting genetically inferior dogs into the hands of folks that have no awareness or simply don't care? My plan would have to be enacted on a local or state level. As I see it the federal government really has no jurisdiction except where sales might involve crossing state lines.
But first I'm going to say some words about dog breeding. I'm not a geneticist but I know something about dog breeds and about inheritance in general. The dog is blessed (or cursed) with what some scientists have described as a "plastic" genetic makeup. It's difficult to imagine any other species with such a wide range of size and appearance all capable of breeding one with the other. Aside from the difference in height, there's nothing to prevent the crossing of a Great Dane and a Toy Poodle. What would result from the union is however not so well understood. When one crosses two distinct breeds the results are uniformly unpredictable. Crossing a poodle with a schnauzer might produce something called a "schnoodle". It might just as easily produce something that looks exactly like a poodle or exactly like a schnauzer. If the offspring of these two dogs are bred, the results are just as unpredictable, perhaps even more so. It takes many generations to "fix" traits and to make a breed of dog throw pups that are "true to type". This is actually pretty close to the definition of a breed. Desirable traits are "fixed" by careful inbreeding. When breeds are crossed, these traits are the first to go.  Again I'll hark back to the Pit Bull. The chief characteristic that was "fixed" into this breed was gameness (the willingness to fight to the death). When the Pit Bull is crossed with another breed, no matter how ferocious or tenacious, this is the first trait to be lost- a lesson learned the hard way by many dog fighters of the past.
If you read all this and infer that I frown on the indiscriminate crossing of breeds, you would be correct. This is something that should be left to people far more knowledgeable that I am. Simply having 2 dogs of the opposite sex does not mean that it's OK to throw them in the back yard and let them breed.
It's not OK. It undoes generations of work by folks who care about and are knowledgeable about dog breeding and behavior. Nonetheless, I believe that the present day glut of unwanted animals is more a result of puppy mills and, in the case of fighting dogs, Pit Bull factories. Nothing that I propose would in any way impose restrictions on someone who just wanted to breed a litter of puppies as inadvisable as that might be.
So what would I propose?

1. Anyone breeding dogs and selling puppies who owns or has custody of over 10 dogs in a 6-month period would have to register as a breeder. This would entail paying a fee and taking a class on canine genetics and good breeding practices and subject them to inspections of their facilities and their dogs.
2. Any puppies sold to individuals by those owning or having custody of over 10 dogs in a 6-month period to other than registered breeders would have to be neutered.  A simple, but binding, agreement for the new owner to do so would suffice in order that pups would not have to be retained until the age of neutering. The seller would be required to follow up and ensure that the neutering had been performed. If it hadn't been done, animal control would be notified.
3. Prohibition on owning or having custody of more than 50 dogs at any one time
4. Restricting ear or tail cropping to a licensed veterinarian
5. Making it illegal to supply dogs or other animals for the purpose of fighting or to supply facilities or equipment for such activities.
6. Requiring anyone who owns or has custody of more than 10 dogs in a 6-month period to have bitches certified by a veterinarian to be in good health and of sound disposition prior to breeding.

I guess lots of folks would rail against such regulations, but one needs to ask why. Certainly there would be expense involved in the enforcement of these laws but animal control officers would be freed up by not having to continually deal with the stray and unwanted dog problem. I believe that the net effect would be a savings for the public and minimal or no expense to the casual dog owner or breeder. What do you think?

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