“PET” BREEDERS and the current rescue Crisis

My wife Terry and I have been showing, racing, loving, rescuing and rehoming Siberian Huskies for over 20 years. The last 8 of these, with the organisation we founded, SHWA(UK). One of the most disturbing aspects of those 20+ years has been the rapid decline in breeding ethics amongst those seeking to produce puppies for sale. There have always been a few large scale puppy farmers and a larger number of ‘backyard breeders’ whose motivation for breeding has been purely financial. Over the past 20 years however, we have seen a huge increase in the category which now produces the vast majority of Siberian Husky puppies in the UK – the naïve/stupid/greedy “pet” breeders.

These “breeders” can be simply naïve – “My dogs are so beautiful I thought they would make lovely puppies;”
or stupid – “I read that it is best to let all lady dogs have a litter; ”
or greedy – “Wow! I can get £500 each for pups – let’s find the nearest male for my bitch to mate with.”
As often as not these people are naïve, stupid and greedy!
Of course there is another type of breeder – the responsible, ethical breeder, but as their pups rarely, if ever, come into rescue and tend to produce only healthy, well tempered dogs, they need not concern us here.

The characteristics of a “Pet” Breeder include the following:

  1. They have no knowledge of what constitutes a good quality Siberian Husky. They have never shown their dogs under knowledgeable judges, nor ever worked them in harness to see whether they still retain the capacity for sled dog work. Not only that, but they don’t actually care whether their dogs are good examples of the breed – they are ‘cute’ and will make them lots of money and that, in the end is what counts for these “breeders”.
  2. They have no knowledge of (or interest in) the health issues which may be prevalent in the breed and carry out no breed specific health tests before breeding. Siberians are (or were before the “pet” breeders got hold of the breed) a pretty healthy lot, but any dogs being considered for breeding should at the very least be tested for both Primary Glaucoma and Hereditary Cataracts. Other conditions for which testing is recommended are PRA (Progressive Retinal Atrophy), PPM (Persistent Pupillary Membrane) and CD (Corneal Dystrophy). It is not enough to just test the prospective parents – the dog’s ancestors should also be researched. A friend of ours once had a puppy from parents with excellent clear eye tests, but what they didn’t know was that the great grandfather of the bitch had failed its eye test for glaucoma but was bred from anyway. This failure came back to haunt our friend when their young dog had to have an eye removed at 18 months. Hip Dysplasia is not a major problem within the breed (in our first 15 years in the breed, we had not come across a Sibe with HD but over the past five years we have seen more and more), and the way this situation can be maintained and improved is by every breeder hip-scoring his/her dogs under the BVA scheme. The current breed average hip score is 7. Dogs whose hip scores are in double figures, should not, in our opinion, be bred from.
  3. They have no financial resources (and or no inclination) to pay for any emergencies which may occur – for example, the two ‘rescue’ litters we are currently rearing (see below) have so far cost us almost £7000 for veterinary fees and specialist equipment/food.
  4. They do not have sufficient experience to even know when an emergency is occurring – both the ‘mums’ we are currently looking after came close to death due to malnutrition and massive infections – we were able to recognize the symptoms and deal with them urgently – less experienced owners may not have done.
  5. They tend to be profoundly blind to their own shortcomings and motivations – “I’m not one of those backyard breeders, I care about my dogs” they cry – but not enough to study the breed, to carry out the essential health tests or to realize that they are not competent midwives for their poor trusting bitch.

Why am I ranting now? Simply because I am deeply, passionately and totally angry at the situation in which some of these poor dogs find themselves due to irresponsible, stupid so-called breeders.

SHWA(UK) took on two undersized, underweight female puppies – barely a year old. The fosterers did not know that they were also pregnant (in human terms it is the equivalent of a 7 yr old child being pregnant). These poor girls were neither physically nor emotionally ready to be mothers. After scans had confirmed the late stage of the pregnancies, Terry and I were asked to look after them while they had their litters. Both girls were significantly underweight – one worse than the other – she weighed only 10kg despite carrying 5 puppies to full term. Despite that, she was able to give birth naturally to 5 pups. One of them – the first born – died after a few days but the others looked to be OK. Not long after the pups were born we had to rush the mum to the vets as she was suffering from a massive internal infection which could easily have killed her. After a week or so, once the pups were moving about, we noticed that the smallest pup was dragging one of her back legs and couldn’t stand on it. Xrays revealed that her hip joints were seriously deformed as was her knee on the bad leg. The vet was of the opinion that poor nutrition had caused this deformation. Some of the other pups also have weaknesses in their hips, but hopefully this will not cause them problems once their musculature has strengthened.

The prognosis for this first little girl, Petal, was not great. The first step was to have the leg removed right up to the hip at 8 weeks and hope that the other hip could be strengthened as the muscles developed so she could function adequately as a three-legged dog. She recovered incredibly well from the operation, but her life was still in the balance as blood tests showed she was suffering from a terminal kidney disease normally seen only in very old dogs and the prognosis was that she had a very short time to live. She also suffered from occasional seizures which were very distressing both for her and for us. She was the most loveable pup and full of character. Despite her health issues, she was the happiest and most playful puppy. We were determined that she would have the best possible life for the short time that was left to her. We were also determined that when she was no longer able to enjoy her life, we would not shrink from letting her go painlessly and surrounded by those she loved. That time came today and Terry and I held her in our arms as the vet administered the injection and we felt her all-too-short life ebb away – all because some uncaring, “pet breeding” moron didn’t care less about his dogs – just cared about the money they could make him!

At least Petal’s mum is pulling through and has now put on 2.5kg since having the pups. She still needs another 5kg to be a healthy weight though.The other mum and pups looked to be more healthy although the mum needed a caesarian to give birth as she was not able to birth the pups naturally – again in part due to a massive life-threatening internal infection. One of her pups seems to have a problem with his vision, which will need to checked out by a canine ophthalmologist when he is a little older.

Unfortunately, these two girls and their pups are just the tip of an appalling iceberg. We are increasingly seeing dogs with health and temperament issues being relinquished into rescue and as long as the puppy farmers, backyard breeders and most common of all, the “pet” breeders continue to produce poor quality puppies (and don’t get me started about the morons who deliberately crossbreed) the current rescue crisis will have no end.

So, to all those who are looking to buy a puppy, please, please, please make sure that the breeder you go to ticks all the boxes mentioned in this article. If they don’t, you will be supporting a cynical (or stupid) commercial breeder who doesn’t know or care enough about the dogs he/she breeds.

….and to all those thinking of breeding. Are you 100% sure that you are an ethical, responsible breeder? Can you tick all the boxes? – if not, no matter what you would like to think, you are either a puppy farmer, backyard breeder or naïve/stupid/greedy “pet” breeder!

Mick Brent – Secretary – SHWA(UK) – 8/6/15

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