By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
LEVINE’S MESSAGEfalls particularly flat with people like Mary Bradley, the president of the West Highland White Terrier Club of Southern California, who scoffs, “It’s gotten so watered down it’s hard to see how it’s going to do anything about overpopulation in the shelters.”
Bradley, who acts as a liaison between breeders and potential new pet owners, is nervous about her spokesperson role. But she predicts, “All it’s going to do is make life hard for responsible breeders.”
Unlike Levine, she makes a clear distinction between big, professional operations and smaller hobby breeders like those her group represents. “None of the breeders I work with are professional breeders, for the simple reason that they don’t make any money,” Bradley explains. “They aren’t running a business. They’re just dedicated to bringing healthy purebred dogs into the world they can place in good homes.”
These dogs, she says, don’t end up in shelters. “We have a waiting list two years long,” she says. “We just don’t have that many puppies.”
She is adamant that “The professional breeders are the puppy mills. And these are the people the law says can pay a fee and pass go?”
Next to Bradley stands a tall, honey-blond woman holding a small white Westie with pointed ears and a face like a tiny bear. “It took me 10 years to get to Nikki,” she boasts. “It was a lot of work — we try to breed for temperament so they can still do what they were bred for.” She admits to keeping five intact female dogs in her home, for which she should already pay Los Angeles County $60 per dog per year.
In fact, L.A. County in March launched a mandatory spay-neuter ordinance roughly similar to AB 1634 that requires neutering at four months and exempts police, guide and show dogs. Few dog owners seem to even know about it, and many who do disregard it — just as they ignore a state law requiring anyone who sells more than two animals yearly to obtain a breeder’s permit. On the other hand, breeders care so deeply about their dogs that they visit each home that acquires one. “Once someone gets one of my dogs, they’re part of my family,” says the outlaw Westie breeder. “We never let them go.”
But she worries AB 1634 will force her to alter her dogs or leave the state.
“You can’t use my name,” she says. “If AB 1634 passes, I’m going underground. If they know who I am, they’ll come after me.”
ALSO CALLEDthe “California Healthy Pets Act,” AB 1634 got broad support from animal-protection groups, including the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the Humane Society and numerous animal-rescue organizations. Originally sponsored by Orange County animal-rights activist Judie Mancuso, it seeks to reduce the pets flowing into shelters at taxpayers’ expense, more than half of which are euthanized.
Mancuso is a vegan who has relied heavily on emotional appeals. In one video promo, a fashionable, heartbreakingly cute poodle mix fights the shelter worker leading it to its “final journey” — the euthanasia room.
The bill is “a tool that can help animal-control officers address the serious pet overpopulation problem,” Mancuso says. She explains that the bill evolved out of an earlier attempt to force pet stores to spay and neuter pets for sale, “but the pet-store industry is a huge lobby with huge money. Getting this spay-neuter bill through is like moving the Earth — but [the earlier bill] was impossible.” She has repeatedly insisted, “There’s no such thing as a ‘hobby breeder,’ ” and when asked about them, she laughs out loud. “Don’t let them fool you,” she says. “They’re all one in the same.”
Earthdoggers insist she’s wrong and believe their beloved broods prove it. In the Strongdog event, Piper, a 20-pound Westie, pulled a weighted badger carcass that “was as big as she is,” says her owner. “But she wouldn’t let go.”
You have to think that Piper, if still roaming Scotland, could have been one of those legendary dogs to lose their lives to their intended prey. Back East, says Cairn terrier aficionado Dennis Broderick, “It’s not unusual for a dog to get into trouble with a woodchuck and find out the woodchuck is bigger . . . I have a friend who lost her dachshund that way — but she was glad that the dog went doing what it was bred to do.”
Broderick’s story — harsh by some standards, noble by others — gets at the deeper philosophical issue that accounts for some of the muddle in AB 1634’s ambiguous language about “working dogs” and “professional breeders.”
Those terms have no clear definition in the dog world. In one sense, the conflict isn’t over who makes money, or the shelter population, or even the high cost to taxpayers of animal shelters — by some estimates, $250 million a year in California.
It’s about the purpose of pets and livestock — it’s about, in other words, what animals mean.
People like Mancuso, who belong to such groups as the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, consider animals autonomous beings and oppose any attempt to use them for work. But Earthdoggers see dogs as working companion animals — they may have rights, but they also have jobs.