Purebreds, Clients And Good Old Days

I grew up on purebreds. My parents raised backyard black Labs in loving, not-for-money conditions for a total of three litters in three years. All 33 puppies got their shots and vet visits and found great homes (or so we like to believe) for a mere $150 a pup, “papers” included.

But then, this was the ’70s, when pet breeding was considered a family-friendly endeavor, neutering male dogs was not a “done” thing, and the spay was considered more a convenience measure than the near-moral imperative it is today. Meanwhile, puppy shots could be had for $5 a pop and the issue of genetic health—never mind hip and eye screening—was never raised by the veterinarian who made all those well-puppy house calls.

Dr. Khuly Responds to AVMA President Larry Corry

American Veterinary Medical Association President Larry R. Corry explicitly chastises me in the July issue of Veterinary Practice News for a variety of statements I did not make in June’s column on the role of veterinary medicine in antimicrobial resistance:

My definition of industry-oriented veterinarians, for example, is called into question when he claims I’ve “generically lumped” large-animal veterinarians “in a category she calls ‘industry-oriented.’ ” 

An overtly biased misreading. As if I would do so given my personal and professional association with food-animal veterinarians who share my beliefs. 

Next, he patronizingly explains to this business-degreed veterinarian that she’s referred “to all farming as industrial … disregarding the fact that the vast majority of farms are family owned.”

So is mine, Dr. Corry. Which suggests that I could hardly be criticized for the confusion he claims I labor under. And yet we can’t assume that a family-owned operation grants all farms freedom from “industry” designation, can we? After all, behemoth player Perdue is family owned, too.

Then he goes on to explain that the “FDA Codex” is in agreement with the AVMA.

By which he means to say that the Food and Drug Administration has been trying for three decades to change its Codex to reflect a stance against non-therapeutic use in animal feed and has been thwarted by Congress at every step. In fact, as of June 29, it asks food-animal producers to offer proof that antimicrobials are being used for prevention of a specific disease and not merely for growth promotion. Predictably, the AVMA comes out against this reasonable science-based proposal.

Finally, he claims that I agree with the American Medical Association and other organizations merely “for the sake of agreement.”

It’s an insult to suggest that I hold an uninformed puppet’s point of view. But more telling is his inability to rebut the AMA and others on the basis of human-centric risk-based analyses.

Instead, Dr. Corry intones the same, yawningly familiar mantra that claims non-veterinarians are not qualified to make decisions on the subject of antimicrobial use in animals, citing not animal welfare this time—a gracious nod to its indefensibility, perhaps?—but rather the need to double animal protein production for the world’s burgeoning demand.

By which some might intuit that the AVMA holds out humanity’s need for animal protein as superlative to the need for effective antimicrobials—which happens to be the position that best suits the animal agriculture industry.

Even if we concede that what’s best for food animals in the long term is a “judicious” application of prophylactic antimicrobials—as the AVMA in its “animal health science” wisdom prefers—the long-term health of humanity is not best served by this approach if those with human health science are to be respected in their concern for what’s best for all of us.

In today’s more “enlightened” age, I’d be appalled were my family members to engage in such backyard breeding shenanigans. After all, I’m one of those welfare-oriented companion animal veterinarians for whom no-kill seems a worthy crusade and every “breeder” I meet looks more like a puppy-miller every day.

I know I’m not alone on this last point. If you don’t believe me, here’s an experiment you should try at your next multiveterinarian get-together: Wait for a moment of silence and then lob in a badly behaved client story that ends with the words, “And, of course, s/he’s a breeder.” At this point—that is, unless you live in a parallel universe more akin to the good-old ’70s—such a statement should occasion a generous round of eye rolling, head smacking, sympathy groans and other evidence of heartfelt commiseration.

This is not to say I don’t have great clients who happen to be breeders. I currently deal with two of them and I’ve dealt with quite a few others over the years, too. But, truth be told, my direct experience with breeders is, with each passing year, increasingly negative. And given that 99 percent of my breeder-oriented experience is now relegated to the following cast of characters, how could it be otherwise?

Identifying the Species

  1. The Internet breeder. Never to be seen. As one of my fellow pet health bloggers put it, for all you know, that self-styled “responsible” breeder with all the cute pup pics online is really “Bubba the Meth Head” hawking pups out of a backwoods trailer next to that ramshackle cluster of cages covered by a blue tarp. 
  2. The “responsible” breeder: Despite continual claims to “high standards” and “responsible” behavior, this one fails to have his/her dogs’ hips certified and line-breeds with little respect for the orthopedic and skin diseases s/he refuses to keep records of. 
  3. All those pets who arrive from pup shops and God knows where who’ve doubtless originated from the companion animal equivalent of a CAFO, given their impressive array of parasitic diseases and their penchant (preference?) for sleeping in their own filth. 
  4. Don’t forget the ones who tell you how to practice or give you hell about how cheaply they can get a C-section, vaccines or microchips elsewhere (which they prefer to bring in for you to administer, of course).

It’s precisely because of this creepy cadre of modern misfits that I often wonder whether the “good old days” of folksy, well-intentioned dog breeding weren’t better than what we have today.

Husbandry Ignorance

All of which makes me think that if casual-yet-responsible breeding still held sway we would have headed off the puppy mill phenomenon of the ’80s, ’90s and onesies. But those days are long past. Enter our culture’s suburbanization and the loss of basic husbandry know-how and interests.

Hence the decline of backyard breeding and the rise of the breeder/exhibitor as highly specialized hobbyist; only dedicated souls need apply. Next, the ascent of the performance/ show dog on a more rarefied platform. “Westminster” is a household word now, is it not?

And finally, completing the circle came the Disneyfied demand for purebred pets beyond the capacity of the loving, not-for-profit backyard-breeding set to supply. Enter the Internet and all those pups available for ready consumption at a strip mall near you.

Cause and effect? Not sure how this one goes, but I think there’s a saying about genies and bottles and another about a beautiful Greek woman’s magic box that might apply. <HOME>

Patty Khuly, VMD, MBA, is a small-animal practitioner in Miami and a passionate blogger at PetMD.com/blogs/FullyVetted. She earned her veterinary degree in 1995 and her business degree from Wharton in 1997.

This article first appeared in the August 2010 issue of Veterinary Practice News. Click here to become a subscriber.

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