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Archive for Sunday, October 25, 2009

Critter Care: Humane Society advocate for responsible breeding

October 25, 2009

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It was a gathering of all the finest and fanciest. A recent get-together in Lawrence offered a potpourri of pedigrees, a coterie of captivatingly coiffed canines. It was the annual AKC dog show, and some of the best of all breeds had arrived for the occasion.

The springers sprang, the retrievers retrieved, the poodles ... (ahem). Well, anyway, it was a grand affair. Each attendee had been carefully bred, trained, manicured and fussed over. No “oops” dogs in this bunch.

Perhaps, then, that was why one exhibitor booth at this show stood out from all the others, rather like a simple daisy thrusting itself bravely upward in a bed of hybrid roses.

That booth belonged to the Lawrence Humane Society, and it interested a great number of the attendees. The curious stopped by to chat.

“Why are you here?” they asked. They figured that humane societies considered themselves to be at cross purposes with dog breeders and other lovers of purebreds.

Au contraire, as they say. In Lawrence, we’ve worked to make it different.

“When I started with the shelter 13 years ago, the breeders reached out to us,” said Midge Grinstead, the humane society’s executive director. “We have nothing against purebreds. It’s OK to like a breed. We just need responsible, licensed breeders to sell good ones.”

Grinstead says she has great respect for the breeders who care about the dogs and do all the right things for them. The good breeders are licensed and inspected, and they will test their dogs before selling them. They don’t breed more dogs than they can sell, and many only breed one litter a year. Often the puppies are sold, before they are even born, to owners who have been carefully checked out by the breeders.

Good breeders, like good humane societies, also want to help animals. Many breeders have spay and neuter clauses in their contracts for those animals who are pet quality rather than show quality. The good breeders also will require the buyers to agree to a “take back” clause, meaning that if for some reason the new owners can’t keep the dog, they will bring it back to the breeder rather than getting rid of it on their own.

The good relationships that the humane society and breeders have developed over the years have been a boon to the shelter. “The breeders who work with the shelter are great,” Grinstead said. “They’ve educated us about the different breeds and the problems associated with them. They tell us which breeds tend to be good with kids, which ones have ‘big dog attitudes in little dog bodies.’”

In addition, the breeders and various kennel clubs sponsor many of the shelter’s events and will pay for ads reminding the public that giving dogs as gifts is never a good idea.

Unfortunately, though, a few breeders in the state have a less-than-stellar relationship with the humane society. During the past few years, the shelter has been the recipient of literally hundreds of puppies and full-grown dogs who have been the victims of puppy mill owners. When the state shuts down these operations, we have had the distressing job of dealing with the ill and starving canines who were simply ignored by their breeders when they did not prove to be show quality animals.

This, however, has put us in touch with other lovers of purebred dogs: the breed rescue groups. These fantastic people with huge hearts will claim from us any purebred dogs of their particular breed, clean and feed and medicate them as needed, and foster them until someone adopts them. Rescue groups for every breed have Web sites, and chances are you can find a group for the breed that interests you within a few hours’ drive of Lawrence.

In addition, we’re eager to work with people who ask to be on our “wish lists” for specific breeds. Recently, for example, we had a person who wanted us to call when a Pomeranian came in. We got one, who happened to be deaf, but that didn’t matter to this individual. The Pom came in on a Friday and went right back out on Monday to this new and loving owner. And that little dog’s time with us was bested only by the dachshund who came in and went right back out on the same day to someone else on our wish list who liked dogs a bit on the longer side.

As long as dogs are finding loving homes, purebred or not, it’s all good. Grinstead said she spent some quality time at that AKC show just admiring the beautiful breeds and talking to the interesting participants. “If groups close themselves off from each other, then they’re not understanding what each other does,” she said. “You’re just putting each other in the wrong group.”

— Sue Novak is vice president of the board of the Lawrence Humane Society.

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