In a move that further cements my home state of California as the nation’s Most Progressive State, Governor Jerry Brown last month signed into law a bill called the Pet Rescue and Adoption Act, which requires all dogs, cats and rabbits sold for retail sale to be sourced from animal shelters and rescue organizations. The law takes aim at the seedy underbelly of mass-breeding operations that has always shadowed the purebred pet trade while encouraging prospective pet owners to adopt rather than buy their animal from a breeder.
Opponents balked that while ostensibly intended to target “puppy mill” type operations where animals are bred in cruel conditions, the law shuts all for-profit animal breeders out of the state’s retail stores. Many breeders argue that their animals are cared for and bred ethically, drawing a clear distinction between their trade’s legitimacy and the unacceptable conduct of criminal mass-breeders.
Can there really be such a thing as the ethical pet breeding when there are so many of these animals already packed in shelters or abandoned on the street? It’s certainly true that dogs, cats and rabbits can all be bred in safe and caring environments by professionals. But it’s also true that every animal bought from a breeder is necessarily another animal left in a shelter.
I don’t know much about rabbits, but I’ve been a cat person raised around dog people my entire life. Purebred cats and dogs can be crazy expensive, costing hundreds if not over a thousand dollars depending on the breed. It’s a market that survives by creating artificial desires for particular breeds, convincing people that they need to shell out some serious money to take home a certified purebred animal instead of some mutt from the shelter.
A lot of people form a sort of identity around their desire for a specific breed of pet, dog people especially. We’ve all met people who have specific plans about the golden retriever or pack of border collies they’re going to hand-pick from a local breeder as soon as they move into a place with a yard and a fence. There’s even a viable market for bumper stickers touting the intelligence of different dogs and a million other tacky breed-specific items. It’s really kind of weird that people are willing to shell out so much cash for a specific breed that serves them no special purpose.
We had corgis growing up, usually a few at a time. If you haven’t seen a corgi, they’re sort of like a burly dachshund with long bodies and stubby little legs. They’re bred that way so they can herd cattle and other animals without getting kicked in the face. We bought those dogs because they look silly with their dumb little legs, not to herd cattle or do any other task related to their working dog genetic background. That’s the case for almost everyone who buys a dog from a professional breeder. Unless you’re putting a dog to use performing whatever task it was bred for, the purebred animal market is kind of a con.
I’ve got two rescue cats now, and anyone who follows me on social media knows they’re awesome. Any thought I had of buying a fancy purebred cat vanished as soon as I first entered a local animal shelter. There were so many cats and dogs there, and most of them were so desperate for human attention. It was easy to talk myself into a second rescue cat. They weren’t free – shelters usually charge a small adoption fee, and there were veterinary costs that are basically rolled in to the cost of adoption – but taking care of our rescue cats has been an extremely rewarding experience.
As much as I’d like to one day have one of those exotic wildcat-housecat hybrids or a giant fluffy forest cat, I can’t stand the idea of having space for another pet and not getting one out of a shelter. The entire concept of a for-profit pet breeding industry is really quite grotesque, considering the number of stray and abandoned pets out there. While thousands of stray cats and dogs are rounded up and euthanized every year, breeders sell purebred versions of the same animals for inflated prices. It’s one of those practices that’s really screwed up but that we accept as normal, in no small part due to the market forces involved in the breeding industry.
The Pet Rescue and Adoption Act should serve as model legislation for other states, if not nationally. While there is still a small role for breeders of specialized working animals, with so many stray dogs and cats, the current model of for-profit pet breeding is cruel on its face, regardless of the behavior of individual breeders. Even without such legislation here in Michigan, there are plenty of good rescue shelters around to choose from. If you have room in your life for a pet, consider being on the cutting edge like California and adopting.