Guest column: Don’t call me a pimp by Margaret Anne Cleek

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, September 1993:

When I lived in Detroit, I had a close friend who
was a state welfare fraud investigator. To hear him tell it,
every welfare mom was living it up on the dole, thought
she had a right to have the government provide for every
child she had, and had a man stashed away who lived off
her check. His solution was to cut off the freeloading and
make these people work for a living. He dehumanized all
people on welfare, calling them the “scum de la scum,”
and always expected the worst of them.
Why did he think all welfare recipients were rip-
ping off the system? The system abusers were the only peo-
ple he ever saw. His perception of the situation was distort-
ed because his sample did not accurately reflect the popula-
tion of welfare recipients. His contempt for the people and
the system left him unable to understand the complexity of
the issues and solutions. But as he saw it, he was in the
front lines and therefore he knew what needed to be done.

The perceptual distortion my friend experienced
occurs in many occupations. I would suggest that humane
work is one of them. Humane workers mostly see abused,
neglected, or abandoned animals, and encounter a dispro-
portionate number of abusive and negligent people. Their
world often divides into two groups: us, the rescuers, and
them, the reason animals need to be rescued, with little or
no in-between. Animal protection activists may likewise
suffer from perceptual distortion, because of the frequent
use of worst cases along with exaggerated rhetoric in
fundraising appeals.
Because people in animal protection mostly see
and hear about irresponsible pet owners, they come to
believe that all pet owners other than themselves are unfit to
keep animals. Because they see hundreds or even thousands
of unwanted and surplus animals, they believe all breeding
should be stopped. Because most of the purebreds they see
have been rejected by someone due to poor health or behav-
ior, they come to believe that all purebred breeders are pro-
ducing animals with horrendous defects.
Just as some law enforcement officers become so
discouraged and frustrated that they resort to administering
“street justice,” demoralized and despairing rescuers may
come to hate and dehumanize the people they hold account-
able. Their anger is sometimes displaced toward readily
available targets rather than toward those who are actually
responsible, who may be harder to deal with.
The cost is heavy in the struggle against pet over-
population. Humane groups increasingly focus their ener-
gies on lobbying in support of sweeping anti-breeding ordi-
nances, which have little chance of passage in most juris-
dictions and less chance of effective enforcement even if
adopted. Dog and cat fanciers, many of them long involved
in animal protection themselves, respond with costly public
relations efforts and counter-offensives against some of the
very humane groups they once supported.
Meanwhile, budget-conscious governments are
reducing funding of neutering programs despite their record
of success, and slashing animal control budgets to where
many animal control departments are forced to euthanize
more strays, sooner, with no money at all left over for
humane education––including spreading the word about the
need for neutering.
I am not immune to perceptual distortion myself,
based on my experience as a purebred dog fancier in a com-
munity which recently considered (and rejected) a stringent
anti-breeding ordinance. I have responded to personal abuse
with perhaps overbroad characterizations of those who
attacked me, possibly adding to the animosity that increas-
ingly divides the humane community. But my reality was
that all my life I have been an animal person. If not for the
pre-feminism sexist career counseling I received, I would
have become a veterinarian. Animals, especially dogs, are
not a business to me, nor a hobby. They are an integral part
of my life. They have been my lifeline in times of desperate
unhappiness. I have spent a lifetime learning about dogs,
and have always acted for their welfare.
One night I went to bed secure in my persona as
an animal person. The next morning, in a Kafkaesque
transformation, I woke up in the uniform of the enemy with
a “kick me” sign on my butt. I had been defined as “the pet
overpopulation problem” by people who didn’t know any-
thing about what I and others like me did. A woman with a
great salary from an animal rights organization with a mil-
lion-dollar-plus budget was considered an impartial voice
for animals, but I, who have never shown a dime’s profit
from animals, was defined as a money-driven special inter-
est. The director of an animal shelter that releases thou-
sands of unaltered animals every year was trying to pass
laws to control me––although in twelve years as a breeder I
have never sold an animal who subsequently sired or
whelped a litter. When his abysmally low redemption rate
on neutering deposits was pointed out to him, he men-
tioned, without providing any empiric evidence to support
his position, that the animals were being fixed and that peo-
ple were leaving the deposits as donations. At the same
time, he scoffed at the neutering contracts required by
responsible breeders, calling even one unaltered animal “a
time bomb.”
Supporters of the breeding ordinance got away
with claiming 20 million surplus animals are euthanized
each year, more than three times the actual number shown
by current pound and shelter surveys; that purebreds uni-
versally suffer from serious health problems; that breeders
kill puppies who don’t conform to artificial standards of
perfection; that breeders who care about animals support
breeding bans; that the overwhelming majority of animals
at shelters are healthy and adoptable; and that pet overpop-
ulation is fast getting worse, though the hard evidence from
around the U.S. indicates exactly the opposite.
When I took the time to research the issues and
present some alternative approaches based on the available
data, my work was rejected out of hand by the breeding
ordinance backers because I am (cringe) a breeder.
In fact, some animal protection activists––not
all––are money-and-power-driven control freaks who don’t
like either people or animals very much. And some breed-
ers, though unfortunately not all, are highly ethical individ-
uals who care deeply for animals and consistently act in the
best interests of all animals. No one camp has a monopoly
on the good guys and the bad guys.
According to an American Kennel Club member-
ship survey, most breeders are concerned with animal wel-
fare, and consider pet overpopulation, puppy mills, and
backyard breeders to be problems deserving prompt and
serious attention.
Groups in conflict often overcome differences
when they work together to achieve a common goal.
Animal welfare and reducing the euthanasia count in shel-
ters can be that goal for humane advocates and
humane advocates are willing to
involve us as part of the solution, instead of defining us as
part of the problem.
Ethical breeding
Let me tell you something about us. Reputable
fancier/breeders, of whom there are tens of thousands, have
quality breeding stock which is tested clear for genetic dis-
ease and is of sound temperament. Husbandry is not, as
yet, an exact science. We cannot produce defect-free ani-
mals, but we make ethical decisions, and do the best we
can. Breeding by reputable fancier/breeders is done to
improve the quality of the breed. Many of us breed only
when we wish to keep an animal to exhibit or to add an ani-
mal to our breeding program. Some fanciers are reputed for
producing quality animals. Newcomers who wish to show
or add to their own breeding programs purchase animals
from them. Such established breeders may produce several
litters per year (not from the same mothers), but will have
long waiting lists for the offspring.
Fancier/breeders may have thousands of dollars or
even tens of thousands of dollars invested in breeding pro-
grams and individual dogs. We do not casually give away
our bloodlines. We are careful about who gets our stock, as
we do not want our valuable bloodlines to fall into the hands
of backyard would-be commercial breeders. Our champion
studs are not offered to service animals who are not of
championship quality, for the same reason.
Some breeders who exhibit and are members of the
fancy try to cover their expenses by producing litters for sale
on the pet market. Some sell females on “puppy back” or
“kitten back” contracts, requiring the purchaser to breed the
animal and give one or more of the offspring back to the
breeder. Co-ownership and animal-back contracts are in my
opinion ethical in special instances, but I feel that someone
who breeds many litters and sells the majority of the females
on such terms is essentially a puppy mill (or the feline
equivalent). Most fanciers frown on such tactics. I don’t
think there is anything wrong with trying to make back pet-
related expenses, but the choices made when money is the
motive differ from those made with the welfare of the breed
in mind. Animal-back is not, in my opinion, in the best
interest of the animals when practiced on a large scale.
Many people not familiar with the dog fancy
believe that fanciers think of their dogs as commodities and
that they have no “doggie quality of life.” It is true that
some dogs are maintained during their show careers in con-
ditions more conducive to coat quality than life quality, but
this is not true for the majority of our dogs. Most of us
maintain our homes for the comfort, happiness, and securi-
ty of our dogs. Many show dogs are members of the family,
and may arrive at a show after spending the night on their
owners’ bed.
Show dogs generally receive excellent nutrition
and veterinary care because of the owner’s concern for their
welfare and condition. Many retired show dogs live out the
rest of their lives in their original homes, lording over the
up-and-coming youngsters. Some are neutered and placed
in homes as pets where they can enjoy the status of being an
only dog.
Dogs who may not meet the breeders’ require-
ments in terms of structure, marking, coat quality, denti-
tion, and so forth are sold or placed in homes. While a
responsible breeder will euthanize a pup with a deformity
affecting the quality of his or her life, such as a cleft palate,
destruction of animals for minor cosmetic flaws is not stan-
dard practice. Fancier/breeders are not to be confused with
performance breeders who may produce and destroy puppies
en masse in search of the fastest greyhounds, strongest sled
dogs, and smartest hunting dogs. There is a market for dogs
of most breeds who are neither candidates for the show ring,
nor potential performance champions, if they have been
adequately socialized. Socializing pups, which perfor-
mance breeders may neglect, is an essential part of the
fancier/breeder’s regimen, and while the performance breed-
er’s “culls” may only get in the way of his training routine,
pups who aren’t potential show dogs still have a role in
acclimating their siblings to a family atmosphere. They
have value, in other words, that isn’t exclusively related to
their sale price.
I am proud to sell one of my pups to a good home;
what more could I ask for a pup than to become a valued
member of a family?
Pets are often sold on neutering contracts, so that
the buyers do not acquire breeding rights. Recently the
American Kennel Club has made it possible for breeders to
specify on the registration form that a specific dog is not
sold for breeding. Such dogs are registerable, but their off-
spring are not. This is called limited registration.
Concerned breeders applaud this development. The once
accepted norm at AKC, that the papers had to go with the
dog, and that any offspring of registered parents were regis-
terable, created a lot of the problems we have today.
As I have argued elsewhere, I would like to see it
become a requirement that all pups have limited registration,
and that this be changed only when the owner has met mini-
mum requirements for knowledge of the breed, and the dog
has met some criteria of genetic health. Certainly all dogs
sold at pet shops should be sold with limited
registration––but I suspect the pet industry would fight such
a requirement tooth-and-nail. It should be noted that
unscrupulous people could still breed limited registration or
unregistered dogs, as they do now, and offer them for sale
as “guaranteed full-blooded.” My recommendation is not a
perfect solution to backyard breeding industry, just one
means of putting a crimp in it while insuring the integrity of
For reputable breeders, the commitment to the
buyer extends beyond the sale. The first year of a pup’s life
is generally hell on the owner. The breeder gives advice and
assures the owner that it will get better, insuring that the
pup doesn’t become a shelter statistic before completing
housebreaking. Reputable breeders take back animals who
cannot be kept by their owners and re-place them in suitable
homes. These animals are not “surplus.” There are, unfor-
tunately, some people who own one or more registered
purebred dogs, usually of inferior stock, and sell their off-
spring as “AKC registered.” Their commitment to the buyer
ends at the point of sale, and they do not require buyers to
neuter the dogs. Such backyard breeders are not generally
willing or able to take back dogs who can no longer be kept
by the buyer.
“Backyard” is an attitude and condition, not a
place. Reputable fanciers may keep and breed animals in
their yards, but not be “backyard breeders.” My definition
of a “backyard breeder” is someone who breeds dogs only
for the purpose of making money. Any registered dog will
do, and temperament and health are not considered. Many
of these dogs are barely recognizable as the breed they repre-
sent. Corners are cut whenever possible; vaccinations may
be omitted, or the dogs may receive low quality food. The
pups are not properly socialized, and any buyer with the
money will do.
I don’t want to give the impression that I think any
breeder who doesn’t show dogs is a “backyard breeder.”
But a reputable breeder must do something with a dog other
than mate him or her, and must accept responsibility for the
pups he or she produces.
I also consider the “just one litter” breeder to be a
backyard breeder. Regardless of motivation, and even if the
pups are properly socialized, people should not be produc-
ing pups for sale without the commitment and experience to
do so properly. Many of the “just one litter” breeders are
surprised to learn there is no market for their pups.
Members of the humane community need to know
that while backyard and “just one litter” breeders are collec-
tively responsible for a great many pups, most of them if
asked would claim they are not breeders. I have called such
individuals and told them they had bred an animal turned in
to rescue, and that they needed to take responsibility for the
animal––with little expectation that they would, but at least
I could bust their chops a little. These people were incredu-
lous that I called them breeders. They had a dog who had
pups; they weren’t breeders.
One of our rescue workers calls people who place
newspaper ads for our breed, urging them to carefully place
their puppies and informing them that when a dog comes
into rescue we try to identify the breeder and return the dog.
Again, these people say they aren’t breeders. They couldn’t
be expected to take back a dog––where would they put it?
When humane advocates talk of breeding bans and
permits, these people don’t think you mean them. Most
would continue to do their thing, oblivious to the legislation,
or pay one unaltered license fee and produce a litter or two
before spaying their bitch. Remember, they are not breed
ers; they just have a dog who has pups.
There are large-scale out-of-state commercial
breeders and/or puppy mill operations that supply pet stores.
They do not require neutering, nor do they take back dogs.
I am informed that pet shops sometimes tell buyers they can
breed their acquisitions to make back the purchase price.
Now that the public is getting the word that pet shops are not
the best place to purchase a dog, though, some commercial
breeders are selling through private individuals, who receive
shipments and sell “home-raised” pups on commission.
They may even claim to be doing “placement” of puppies
“rescued” from puppy mills. They use the rhetoric of animal
protection to help them collect big “adoption fees.” And
they too are not breeders.
Breeding vs. overpopulation
Commercial puppy production is big business.
The fancier/breeder’s puppy production is a drop in the
bucket compared to the commercial kennel’s proudction.
Yet breeding bans and permit systems generally affect us
while leaving the commercial breeders untouched. Indeed
some proposed forms of breeding regulation would insure
that commercial kennels would become the only source of
purebred pups. And shelters would only have the unsocial-
ized offspring of the urban strays turned out by the irrespon-
sibles. I would hate to see this happen.
Some humane activists would cheer the demise of
the purebred. I think this is naive. There is a tendency to
over-romanticize the mutt. Purebreds give assurance of type
and temperament, helping people pick the right dog for
their lifestyle and conditions. When organizations such as
the Humane Society of the U.S. push shelter adoptions by
advancing the “one size fits all” theory, they do both dogs
and people a disservice. People should not be forced to
accept animals of unknown genetic background. Random-
bred dogs may have inherited a predisposition toward dan-
gerous or undesireable behavior. Some mixes are inherently
dangerous, e.g. a large guarding breed crossed with a highly
reactive herding breed. The position that all pups are creat-
ed equal and if we love them they will turn out right simply
is not true. Dogs provide a strong argument for behavioral
genetics. Despite Barbara Woodhouse’s often quoted state-
ment that there are no bad dogs, only bad owners, there are
bad dogs. Aggression toward humans and/or other animals,
fear-biting, shyness, and so forth are inheritable character-
istics, which responsible breeders strive to keep out of their
breeding stock.
I believe animal shelters have a responsibility to
protect the public from potentially dangerous and otherwise
unsuitable animals––not least because urging the adoption
of these animals can result in even greater numbers of
homeless animals. Some pups offered by shelters have liter-
ally been dragged out of dens after their homeless mother
has been captured, and have had no socialization. The risk
that they may never be acceptably socialized is exascerbated
when we are dealing with an adult animal of unknown
behavioral background. As a dog expert, I would advise
any family unfamiliar with dogs against adopting a large dog
of unknown background if they have small children.
Adopting an adult dog is not the problem-free experience
that many shelter workers suggest. It is possible that the dog
is at the shelter because of behavioral problems, and further
problems such as illness and aggression toward other dogs
may result from the shelter experience. In any case, the dog
will be confused and stressed by his or her rapidly changing
circumstances, perhaps requiring more care and understand-
ing than a pup.
Shelter dog adoption is appropriate for the very
special people who understand what they may have to cope
with, and have the necessary emotional and physical
resources. But many people who perhaps could not success-
fully socialize a shelter animal nonetheless make very good
dog owners if they are able to purchase the particular sort of
dog who best suits their requirements, with follow-up help
provided by the breeder.
As a dog fancier, I strive not only to promote
dogs, but also to produce the “better bred” dog. And I try to
tactfully educate those who think dog breeding only requires
finding two dogs of the same breed and the opposite sex and
getting them together.
As a responsible breeder, I refuse to accept repon-
sibility for creating pet overpopulation. And I do not buy
the illogical argument that the birth of a healthy, wanted
purebred litter displaces shelter animals. If you raise two
happy, healthy children who are much loved and cared for,
are you responsible for a battered child in the home of a sub-
stance abuser and a child in the Third World who is forced
into slave labor or who sleeps on the street? You may wish
to help those children, too, but the care you provide to your
own takes nothing away from them.
While I do not accept blame for pet overpopula-
tion, I would like to accept some responsibility for provid-
ing solutions. I have ideas to offer, and would like to open
communication. But before we talk, could you please take
those “All Breeders are PIMPS” bumper stickers off your
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