Guest column: Instead of breeding bans

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, June 1993:

by Margaret Anne Cleek
I am convinced that breeding bans will not work.
This broad-brush approach is inappropriate because the
majority of pet owners are responsible. The people pro-
ducing the surplus are a relatively small percentage of the
population (perhaps one dog owner in three and one cat
owner in five according to the pro-breeding ban Humane
Society of the U.S.), but because of the high fertility rate
of the animals involved, the numbers of animals resulting
from their litters is great. We have to separate the animal
numbers from the people numbers to understand this.
Production control principles apply: you have to know the
source of the problem to address it.

In fact, I believe there are several separate prob-
lems: random-bred animals in poor communities where
people cannot afford neutering or are disenfranchised from
the low-cost services for whatever reason (usually fear of
action because the animals may not be licensed or vacci-
nated); shelters who release unaltered pets and pets lack-
ing proper socialization; commercial breeding operations;
the “just one litter” phenomenon; and yes, even fanciers
who are producing too many puppies and kittens.
Each of these problems has a different solution.
Solutions have to be specifically targeted to reach the
appropriate population, and we may never be able to
effectively deal with those who just plain don’t care.
Backyard breeders
I am well aware of the purebred count at shelters,
commonly estimated at anywhere from 7% to 22%.
(Editor’s note: the figures vary considerably by region,
but 20% seems to be close to the norm.) This problem has
to be addressed through the registries. The real money is
where the real problem is: large scale commercial breed-
ers who produce pups by the thousands and sell them with
full breeding rights. Then everyone wants “just one litter”
to make back the money they plunked down at the local
pet emporium. Ironically, I suspect that every time
restrictive legislation is enacted in Anytown U.S.A., the
commercial breeders pop open the champagne. The
American Kennel Club should require that all pups be sold
with a non-breeding registration, and that the owner apply
for a breeding registration after criteria are met including
genetic clearance for common breed problems for the dog,
and a demonstration of knowledge of the breed by the
The “just one litter” problem needs to be
addressed through veterinarians also. It has been my expe-
rience that although the “just one” breeder may claim vari-
ous reasons to breed, the real reason is that he or she
thinks this is a way to make big bucks. I remember run-
ning into someone who was indignant that he “got stuck”
with Great Dane pups he couldn’t sell and had to give
away. He kept repeating his dismay that these were $500
dogs, but no one wanted to buy them. I guess he thought
there was quite a market out there for an unknown with
pony-sized dogs for sale! Veterinarians can make the costs
of breeding known, and be trained to tactfully inform
owners that their dogs should not be bred. They need to
address the status of the dog as pet and family member,
not the quality of the dog.
Several years ago, AKC reported that 90% of the
individuals registering litters never again registered anoth-
er litter! These people do not know how to breed, social-
ize, or screen prospective buyers. They do not even know
about limited registration, and their commitment to the
buyer ends at the point of sale. Since these folks think they
can make big bucks, and since they want “just one litter,”
they will willingly pay for a one-year unaltered permit
and/or a breeding permit. Spay-or-pay and bans will do
nothing to stop first-time breeders who see dollar signs.
Breeding bans and permit systems may even
increase the purebred oversupply, as profit-motivated peo-
ple breed more because of an assumed decrease in compe-
tition. If this creates unwanted pups, we have a problem,
but I wouldn’t mind the price of purebred pups coming
down. A purebred pet should be a family companion, not
an investment.
From a marketing perspective, I believe the
“backyard” and commercial breeder issue needs to be
addressed on the demand side rather than the supply side.
The main problem that I have with commercial breeders
and some backyard breeders is that the pups miss out on
critical socialization and therefore are at a disadvantage for
their whole lives. Many of the dogs surrendered at shelters
are a neurotic mess as a result of living the critical first
weeks of their lives in livestock holding conditions, which
are not conducive to proper adjustment as a family mem-
ber. People have to learn that puppy mills and backyard
kennels run like puppy mills are not good places to get a
pet. Puppy mills and backyard kennels will stop producing
pups when people stop buying them. I wish some of the
show breeders would realize that when they price pet pups
at out-of-reach prices, they are creating a market for the
backyard breeder.
The poor, meanwhile, are put in a no-win situa-
tion by increased license fees and differential fee schedules.
Where high differential fees are in effect, many poor peo-
ple might like to neuter their pets, but cannot afford to do
so, nor can they afford either the registration fees for hav-
ing unaltered pets or the fines for noncompliance. Thus
they live in fear of the dogcatcher, and fail to either neuter
or license their animals.
This situation is compounded where humane shel-
ters that have contracts to provide animal control have sig-
nificantly raised impound fees to cover costs, and demand
neutering at the owner’s expense as a condition for release
of impounded pets. A few even require a kangaroo court
hearing that the owner must pay for. This is plain and sim-
ple extortion: pay/spay or we kill your dog or cat! There
have been several documented cases where people were
desperate to get beloved pets back, but for purely financial
reasons, the humane societies involved would not release
In the long run, all of this results in both reduced
compliance with animal control regulations and reduced
revenue for increasingly expensive humane services, in an
economic and social environment where enforcement is
neither affordable nor viewed positively by the public. “I
wish you’d do something about drug dealers instead of
spending money on catching animals who aren’t a threat to
me,” says John Q. Public.
Remodeling animal control
I believe the whole concept of animal control and
licensing needs to be revamped, and a business-like prob-
lem-solving approach applied. There is no question in my
mind that animal control as usually practiced is 40 years
behind the times and still mired in the negative dogcatcher
mentality despite the best intentions of many of the people
involved, who know no other model. I believe that the
application of sound science and management principles
would solve existing problems. It is clear that the current
mode of operation is not what people want, and they are
refusing to support the concept. Nationwide, dog licensing
compliance is less than 45%, and in the first year of cat
licensing in San Mateo County, California, whose anti-
breeding ordinance became a national cause celebre, only
600 licenses were sold, 576 of them to people who adopted
cats from the Peninsula Humane Society. There are an esti-
mated 13,000 cats in the area.
Some areas have done away with licensing, con-
sidering it not cost-effective. This may not be possible
everywhere, but I still think we can generate some creative
ideas within the existing framework. I think that in order to
execute its original mandate, rabies control, pet licensing
fees should be kept low and licensing should not be con-
fused with population control. Hence I think even small
license differentials are bad policy.
Perhaps animal control could be restructured with
a service rather than enforcement focus. Layers of service
could be identified and appropriate funding provided for the
various layers.
By levels of service, I mean primary, secondary,
and tertiary services. Our tax dollars should support basic
animal control, which is essentially rabies control. I think
the public view of rabies control is analogous to the public
attitude toward polio. Both are problems which people
think are no longer urgent (except where rabies pandemics
are actually underway), failing to realize that they are not
pressing problems only because of vaccination programs,
and that both could come back if we get lax. Independent
of revenue or pet licensing concerns, the public needs to be
aware that rabies control is a critical public health issue.
Secondary animal control services, including
population control, could be provided from revenues raised
by a per household fee. I suspect that a very small fee
levied per household could generate substantial income.
Since we know there will always be some people who
dump their pets, and since if pounds or shelters don’t take
them, they will be left to roam, the cost of handling owner
releases would need to be covered as well as the cost of
handling strays. We all have to pay for the irresponsible,
because by definition they won’t take the responsibility. It
is appropriate that the entire community share the burden,
not just pet owners, because as with the cost of maintain-
ing police and fire services, the benefit accrues to the
entire community.
The tertiary level of service would be to pet own-
ers. I suggest that a registration fee be a value-added pro-
gram, optional with payment of the household fee. For a
modest additional payment, perhaps $20, a family could
register with a single identification number all of the ani-
mals in their household. The system could be extended to
turtles and birds. Positive ID of each animal via
microchip, tattoo, or tag would be required. Animal con-
trol would, in consideration of this fee, call the owner of
any registered and identified animal within 24 hours of
pickup as a stray. Given same-day redemption by the
owner, all sequestering fees would be waived. If the ani-
mal were not picked up the same day, a per diem shelter-
ing fee would be charged. My gut feeling is that a lot of
people would like this service, which amounts to pet
insurance. People opting for this service would tend to be
a responsible group, not likely to lose pets often.
Pet owners not electing to pay for this service
whose lost pets are wearing tags would be notified of pick-
up, but would be required to pay a redemption fee. Pet
owners of unidentified animals would have to visit pounds
and shelters to find their animals, as now, and would be
charged a higher redemption fee.
If someone wants a pet back but maintains he or
she cannot afford the redemption fee, I would suggest that
the pet be immediately released, but that the person be
required to apply for a waiver of fees, which could be
automatic to reduce clerical time. Irresponsible, habitual
offenders would not have this option repeated, but some-
thing needs to be done for people in tough straits who real-
ly care about their animals. Such people could at that time
be directed to low-cost or no-cost neutering programs.
This plan would slowly introduce the positive ID
concept to the public and generate revenue from individu-
als using the service. Animal experts agree that positive
identification is critical to the animal control function, and
has been shown to increase the return rate on lost animals.
Within five years, positive ID could become the norm in
any given community, totally accepted by the public.
Additional levels of service would be provided,
at appropriate fees, to commercial kennel owners, who
would pay for inspection and permits, and individuals who
choose to have wild animals as pets. I would suggest
requiring positive ID with microchips as part of the
requirement for keeping wildlife.
Finally, I would suggest strengthening support
for volunteer programs. With a service-oriented animal
control approach, and incentives for breed rescuers and
fanciers to participate, along with other people who care
about animals, adoption counseling and behavioral consul-
tation programs could be improved and expanded, Many
shelters are revolving doors for animals with behavioral
problems. Volunteers with expertise could help people to
do a better job of choosing the right pet and dealing with
any problems that arise after adoption.
Part of the volunteer component would be a
YIMBY program (Yes! In My Back Yard.) Such a pro-
gram would urge individuals concerned about pet overpop-
ulation to donate to a local neutering fund. The revenue
would be made available to veterinarians to subsidize dis-
count surgeries. Statistics now suggest an amazingly low
amount of additional neutering in the right population
groups could solve the unwanted pet problem.
These are only rough-outs of possible alternatives
to breeding bans––just ideas I’ve thought about a bit. But I
think they deserve serious consideration.
[Margaret Anne Cleek is an associate professor
in the School of Business Administration at California
State University, Sacramento, and a member of the
Alaskan Malamute Club of America.]
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