New Dog Breeding Standards
Just when you thought the issue of dog breeding standards was settled with the publication of the APHIS rule – and the subsequent dismissal of the Associated Dog Clubs of New York State lawsuit challenging the legality of the rule – there is a new study being conducted by Purdue University that could impact dog breeders. The project is funded by the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council (PIJAC), the Pet Food Institute, and the World Pet Association. Additional support is being provided by the Science Fellows program of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service and the USDA-APHIS Center for Animal Welfare – our good friends at USDA-APHIS.
Candace Croney, an associate professor of animal sciences at Purdue University and director of its Center for Animal Welfare Science, is in the process of conducting a two-year research project that will collect data and test current nationwide dog breeding standards. The purpose of the study is to create a uniform standard for dog care and well-being in all 50 states.
"There are lots of breeders who are not doing the best for their dogs, and they don't know that they could be doing better," Croney said. According to Croney, many breeders ignore certain unique and complex challenges such as genetic characteristics and behavioral and physical sciences. She cited breeds such as French Bulldogs and Pugs as examples which required litters to be delivered by caesarean section, saying that the constant surgery is harmful.
Croney said she will also study several other factors that affect dog welfare, such as housing.
Croney said that her goal is education, not enforcement. "We're not trying to police people," Croney said. "We want to give them a tool to assess and improve the quality of life of a dog."
However, Croney said that the study will include tools that could help consumers and governments. Most of the data collected will come from sites in Indiana and other midwest states because they are "perceived to be the hotbed of problems of the commercial breeding of dogs," she said.
Croney said her research will address many current problems in dog breeding. She said that she hopes it leads to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which is a consultant on the project, updating its guidelines (the Animal Welfare Act) — which would effectively create a national dog breeding standard.
When the standards are finalized, the Purdue Center for Animal Welfare Science will develop education programs for breeders.
"Using this approach will ensure the production and proper vetting of the standards developed to improve voluntary compliance with best practices," Croney said.
Croney said the approach will also:
- Help breeders make informed choices about participating in voluntary dog welfare assurance programs.
- Create a mechanism by which to address public concerns about commercially bred dog welfare.
- Demonstrate the pet industry's willingness to assume its ethical obligation to regulate its animal care practices.
Croney said the standards could also be adapted to enhance the care and welfare of dogs in shelters, laboratories and other commercial venues.
"It is imperative that the U.S. pet industry demonstrate commitment to animal well-being and to broad social responsibility by facilitating efforts to improve the welfare of breeding dogs," Croney said.
"Capitalizing on the center's expertise in animal welfare science and ethics will help the pet industry
ensure that all dogs are offered the quality of life they deserve."
A final draft of the project has supposedly been written. Data collection is due to begin this spring, and the study is supposed to be complete by 2016.
Croney said, "We don't want to write really good standards that no one could live up to. And we don't want to write low standards that impacts the quality of life for dogs." You can listen to an interview with Dr. Croney on the Trent Loos radio program here.
Croney was awarded both the HSUS Animals and Society Course Award, and the Outstanding New Professor Award from the College of Agricultural Sciences at Oregon State in 2003 for her teaching on Contentious Issues in Animal Agriculture and Ethical issues in Animal Agriculture. She has also been an animal welfare adviser to the American Humane Association.
Some dog breeders have applauded the project but it could present problems for several reasons. Don't we already have what are supposed to be science-based standards with the USDA's Animal Welfare Act? The USDA is consulting on this project and Dr. Croney would like to see them use the results to update their dog breeding guidelines. How much more government intervention is acceptable in dog breeding? Should the USDA/APHIS and the Animal Welfare Act tell breeders whether or not their bitches can have caesarean sections or make other breeding decisions for them?
One-size-fits-all standards are never appropriate for dogs. With over 180 recognized AKC breeds (and more breeds with other registries, as well as intentionally crossbred dogs); in a country as large as the United States with varying climates; and dogs bred and raised for different purposes – is one national dog breeding standard really possible, or even desirable? No one in their right mind would raise sled dogs for the Iditarod the same way someone would raise Chihuahuas intended to be pets. There are often good reasons why dogs are raised differently.
PIJAC is one of the groups funding this study. They represent a number of commercial dog breeders and brokers and it's likely that they are interested in finding ways to fight back against the ordinances that have been banning the sale of pets in pet stores in various cities. One way would be to be able to claim that their commercial breeders meet voluntary blue ribbon standards of care.
“Many involved in the breeding and sale of purebred dogs are understandably concerned about the torrent of ordinances and statutes recently adopted which essentially or outright ban the sale of purebred dogs. But hope may be on the way-namely, Purdue’s animal care standards.
“These standards are uniform 'science-based, nationwide animal care standards for the commercial breeding and raising of dogs' that will exceed those currently required by the Animal Welfare Act ('AWA')...
“According to Andrew Hunte, president and CEO of The Hunte Corporation, a USDA licensed animal dealer, '[a]nimal rights organizations spend millions of dollars annually to promote negative messages about pets sold at retail, even though the facts do not support their claims. While they tout adoption as an ‘alternative’ to purchasing a pet at retail, their ultimate goal is to make sure that adoption isn’t just an alternative—it’s the only option available to consumers. Groups that once were considered mainstream are now promoting adoption as the only responsible path to pet ownership. As a result, dozens of responsible, well-regulated, tax-paying pet businesses across the country have been forced to close.'”
The article closes by saying, “Hopefully, when the Purdue Standards are published and adopted, the public will feel assured that dogs raised, bred, and housed according to those standards receive proper care.”
Mr. Hunte has even stated that some of the commercial breeders that supply puppies to his corporation will participate in the breeder pilot program.
While it might sound like a good idea for commercial breeders to “raise the bar” and try to silence their critics, organizations like HSUS will never be satisfied. Breeders could breed and raise puppies in palaces and HSUS would still find something to criticize.
Aside from trying to please animal rights groups, the first problem with this study is that it is using data from what is perceived to be “the hotbed of problems of the commercial breeding of dogs” to try to create a national standard for breeding dogs. I do not want to speak ill of any breeders but they are intentionally looking for problem breeders to use in their study. What about all of the great breeders who far exceed any rules and regulations that USDA-APHIS could imagine? There are some excellent commercial breeders. There are incredible show and hobby breeders who breed dogs beyond anything Purdue could come up with in their guidelines. But they aren't using this data in their study. Doesn't that mean the study is skewed from the start and that it won't be helpful to good breeders? Yet good breeders could also be forced to follow the rules that are created by this study, even if it means a reduction in quality.
Secondly, if the “Purdue Standards” are used as some kind of seal of approval, what would that mean for a small breeder who does not breed commercially or sell to pet stores? If that breeder did not (voluntarily) follow the publicized and touted Purdue Standards, would puppy buyers believe that their puppies were inferior? You might breed show quality puppies in your home but if you don't follow these allegedly voluntary Purdue Standards, would a puppy buyer prefer to buy a commercially-bred puppy from a pet store?
Third, whether or not the Purdue study comes up with guidelines that could ever be applied to hobby breeders, we need to remember that, thanks to APHIS, many former hobby breeders are now classified as “commercial” breeders by the USDA. Any changes in dog breeding standards that are adopted by the USDA in the future can impact many de facto show and hobby breeders. While Dr. Croney may hedge and use the term “voluntary” with regard to the standards, she has also mentioned having the USDA adopt the standards in place of the current Animal Welfare Act, so they would affect all breeders.
The AVMA has previously tried to create a model law for dog breeders that included behavioral, exercise, and enrichment guidelines. It didn't go far but it didn't have this kind of backing.
All this boils down to the fact that while the Purdue study on dog breeding may sound good in concept, it is loaded with potential pitfalls for small breeders. Like every other attempt to regulate some breeders, the results often blow back and affect all breeders. Keep watching for updates about this study and how it may affect show and hobby breeders in the future.