Before becoming frustrated and even a little bitter about the ‘politics’ associated with breeding and exhibiting dogs, I was eager, and probably a bit over-zealous, in my endeavor to learn and absorb every possible piece of information I could. The internet, and all it had to offer, was an incredible tool for allowing me to gain insight and familiarity with many aspects of breeding, exhibiting, and more. There were websites displaying top-winning dogs, club information, show entries, health and veterinary tips, and even online chat lists where people could communally address issues, provide show results, and discuss related topics. I thought, “What an excellent source of educational material for members of the fancy – both young and old!” How lucky I felt to be able to learn without the constraints of distance and time that must have plagued the more seasoned folks out there!
One thing that was particularly troubling to me, however, was that as I began to learn the differences between reputable breeding verses backyard breeders and puppy mills, I noticed that when I would perform a ‘search’ on every major search engine (Google, Yahoo, MSN, etc.), the results would come back displaying links to websites for breeders who did not indicate that they used all of those reputable breeding practices. The entire first page or two of results contained either ‘dog-for-sale’ sites that did not require advertisers to demonstrate reputability, or alternatively, websites for breeders who did not perform health background screenings, did not show or do anything with their dogs (other than just breed them), and often sold to potential homes on a first-come, first-served basis.
As I started researching how these ‘breeders’ were able to rank so highly in the search engine results, I found that getting the top spots was not necessarily an easy task. A website had to be optimized, utilize the correct ‘tags’, not to mention that each search engine had different criteria by which it ranked the results. I also learned that many people in the fancy were against the ‘doggie-for-sale’ sites. They did not want to support advertisers that did not require people to adhere to ethical guidelines, and in some cases, they felt that using such sites would be a bit beneath them, in an elitist sense. As an educator, every day I see first-hand how the internet is the main tool used by today’s generation to do just about anything. It’s not going to go away. So, then why didn’t these model-breeders hold the top spots? I could understand the concept of boycotting something because a person thinks the related practices should be changed (hence why I’ve refused to join certain breed clubs when the members don’t all adhere to the ethical guidelines themselves); however, I couldn’t comprehend why people in the fancy did not feel it was important for seemingly more reputable breeders to hold those top spots on the search engine results.
If people in the public are searching for a ‘husky puppy’, and their results yield only breeders that do not adhere to reputable breeding practices, they probably won’t have anything better with which to compare. Rarely does anyone go beyond the first page or two of search results! Not to mention, as I talked with other breeders – (even those who did not have puppies on the ground at all times) – I found that they were having difficulty finding GOOD homes. At the same time, those breeders demonstrating none of the reputable breeding practices who held those top search engine listings were receiving more than 30-40 inquiries per week! So, I gave search engine listings a try, and did what I could to get our site listed. After time, I did manage to get some decent site-traffic results. I wasn’t able to attain those top spots, but through the use of some of the various internet marketing tools, I was able to get a better ranking for our site. It wasn’t cheap, but did allow me a great way of having homes to choose from when I would have litters.
When I didn’t have puppies myself, I would forward the inquiries to other folks that seemed to be reputable breeders in hopes that buyers would go there instead of the breeders that were rather obviously less-than-reputable. But, those lists would occasionally fall into what I was told were the ‘wrong hands’, so I decided to try a different approach. I queried one of the chat-lists, and offered to assist reputable folks with that same process. Needless to say, many of the veterans of the fancy were far from thrilled with this concept. They had some interesting arguments such as:
- Even ‘reputable’ breeders are not always ‘reputable’.
- Promoting a website is the same as promoting the breed itself.
- This will only encourage even reputable breeders to produce more puppies in order to meet the supply and demand trends.
- There are already breeder referral methods in place – people should just use those.
- If there aren’t enough good homes available, people shouldn’t be breeding a litter in the first place.
It would take all day to consider each of those points independently, but suffice it to say, I thought that we could all just agree to disagree on some of those arguments, right? But, as with anything in the breed, this was when ‘politics’ came into play again. For anyone who is not already aware, often times, if someone doesn’t agree with someone else in the fancy, then it’s not just a matter of a difference opinion… no, it becomes personal. And anybody can ultimately be labeled a backyard breeder, puppy mill, (or worse), simply because their practices are different than someone else’s. This whole labeling practice was a very touchy subject for me for quite some time (if you couldn’t tell by the first ‘politics’ article), but I did get a good laugh after reading this article written by a breeder in Michigan “You Might Be a Puppy Mill If…” (scroll down).
Humorous, but then again, I enjoy sarcasm. Apparently, there were other readers out there who had taken offense to it, and did not appreciate its sentiment. Unfortunately, it definitely has an added component of truth to it, aside from the tongue-in-cheek presentation of the material.
At any rate, once the discussion on the issue of website promotion ensued, I started to receive phone calls and emails, some very lengthy, from breeders who felt compelled to ascend down from on-high (there’s that darn sarcasm again) and suggest that not only was I a misguided nut, but all of my dogs were garbage, too. Unbeknownst to me, the breeders of my dogs had more-or-less single-handedly ruined the entire breed! On the other hand, I also got emails from other folks saying that I was on the right-track, and that I was saying things that most others only thought, but dared not say (fear of the ‘Mob’). This correspondence was becoming very tedious, very frustrating, and honestly, a little nauseating. Finally, I decided I’d had enough, and figured I’d be more productive spending my time grooming a dog or two than debating on the computer, so I signed off of the lists.
But, I did go so far as to write a letter to some of the breed clubs expressing my concerns about the use of technology by backyard breeders and the need for more reputable breeders to have a presence on the web. After months, the gist of the response I did finally get was that I could get someone with another opinion to write an ‘opposing-viewpoints’ article and submit it for publication. I did not progress with that suggestion, figuring we’d already basically done all that publicly on the chat-lines, and I was growing tired of the repercussions of challenging the opinions of those with ‘political influence’. However, in always trying to find the positives with any situation, I did come away with what I could definitely acknowledge as being a few good points from those ‘opposing’ veterans. Some noted that technology, despite all it had to offer from an educational context, also made it possible for newcomers to move forward in the development of their lines with little or no mentorship. And, it permitted newcomers and veterans alike to buy dogs from different sides of the country without ever visiting that breeder, nor gaining any true knowledge of ‘what’ they were incorporating into their breeding program. So, I did the best I could to apply that information. I took all that time I was saving by being off of the chat-lines, and toured more than 30 breeders in the U.S. and Canada. And it was, and continues to be, in my opinion, truly the BEST way of learning.
The veterans were right on many accounts. Technology can be deceptive. Pictures posted on a website may or may not do a particular dog justice – or may also give the perception that a dog is more than he is cracked up to be. I saw that most breeders do not actually include ALL of their dogs on their websites. A lot of the breeders I visited on my tours had five or more litters on the ground. Many breeders do not actually update their websites with every litter they have produced.
On that note, and in the vein of how most problems tend to relate back to ‘politics’, I had another good laugh last year when I was informed by a friend that she’d been told the ‘internet police’ had been watching my site. The ‘internet police’ were reportedly a group of folks with nothing better to do all day but to comb other’s websites in search of would-be puppy mills. Hey – I don’t mean to sound as though I’m condemning their research – more power to them. However, as a result of this ‘intelligence leak’, it was being suggesting to my friend that because we were ‘under surveillance’, we must be up to no good. Just as there is no perfect dog, I’m certainly not suggesting we’re perfect breeders that have never deviated from the guidelines in the slightest, but I’m not sure that using technology as a means of alluding to inappropriateness is necessarily appropriate either. That practice of stirring up the pot of contempt between breeders seems almost as deceptive as those breeders that don’t practice accurately or completely updating their site information.
It is very easy to point fingers, but far less simple to enact change, especially in the midst of such a ‘political’ mess. Shame on me. Likewise, for as much as technology can be considered deceptive or misused, it is still ultimately the ‘politics’ that influence what people do and do not disclose, as well as what is and is not considered reputable. And as has been said before, there are ALWAYS two sides to every story. So, with all of that technology has to offer, the obvious ‘politically’ driven method of warning someone about a negative experience with another breeder would be to create a webpage about it. If we can all agree to disagree on this particular topic, web-based slander, I don’t agree with this practice. I’ve bounced back and forth on the sites of breeders outlining their disputes between each other. I’ve seen it happen to strangers, as well as folks I know personally. And now, after having been the subject of one such page myself, all I can say is that if everyone in dogs who ever had a disagreement with someone else felt compelled to create a website telling the public how awful that other breeder is and why everyone should save themselves the trouble by simply blacklisting that other nasty person, we’d have nobody left to have to contend with. My guess is that we’d have enough material to rival even the best daytime drama on television. That being said, as the world turns… during these days of our lives, let’s flip over to ‘General Hospital’, and take a look at the third aspect that has consumed my thoughts over the years – “Health”.