Public Misconceptions

I was struck while reading the Companion Animal Taskforce report and that of the Select Committee on Companion Animal Welfare in SA (click ‘Final Report’) on the feedback that was provided by the public. Submissions to both of these committees were making the same uninformed recommendations, and the similarities between public opinions expressed are extensive.

I thought it was time to address some of these misconceptions held by the general public concerning animal welfare.


ACTIVIST AVOWAL: Desexing everything!

The public seems to believe that there is an overpopulation of animals, and that desexed animals are healthier, and therefore argue for mandatory desexing.

In reality, there is no ‘overpopulation problem‘ and it is debatable whether desexing is in the best interest of animal health.


ACTIVIST AVOWAL: Ban pet sales in pet shops!

Most puppies in pet shops come from puppy mills. I like puppy mills as little as the next person, and in no way want to support the practices of puppy farmers.

However, the problem here is puppy mills. Not pet shops.

Pet shops are on public display, and have a pretty strict codes of conduct which are often better/higher than your average backyard breeder. Are they really who we should be targeting?

Furthermore, many pet shops routinely work with rescues to sell/market animals. Do we really want to ban that?


ACTIVIST AVOWAL: Get breeders registered!

There seems to be a logic that if breeders had to be registered there would be less unscrupulous breeding.

As most of these schemes require breeders to pay in order to be registered, what breeder registration effectively does is limit (legal) breeding to those who are making money from the practice. What I mean is: breeders who don’t make money are are probably the ‘ethical ones’, and are probably less likely to be able to afford registration. Are these the individuals we want to perturb from breeding?

Meanwhile, individuals making profits from dog breeding (i.e. the puppy farms) easily purchase their registrations. Some argue that registering breeders would mean that there would be ‘policing’ of legislation surrounding their care. It is already illegal to be cruel to and not ensure the welfare of dogs. If this legislation isn’t being policed, then that’s the matter for the police.  Furthermore, is it truly likely that the bad guys are going to sign up to such legislation? “Well, my animals have lived in faeces for years, but now that I have to be registered, I really want to undergo the scrutiny of a policing body.” Yeah, nah.


This is Dulcie's litter - a bitch that was rescued from a pound when she was 8 weeks pregnant. As a rescue, we whelped and raised this litter. If breeders had to be registered, would rescues have to be registered as breeders, too?

This is Dulcie’s litter – a bitch that was rescued from a pound when she was 8 weeks pregnant. As a rescue, we whelped and raised this litter. If breeders had to be registered, would rescues have to be registered as breeders, too?


ACTIVIST AVOWAL: Mandatory cooling off periods are cool.

There seems to be a belief that animals are surrendered to rescue because owners ‘didn’t think about their purchase’, or otherwise acquired their pet impulsively. In reality, relinquishment statistics don’t support this, and there is evidence that impulsive adoptions are as successful as planned ones. In this way, there is not evidence that supports mandatory cooling off periods as desirable.

However, there are obvious implications for other animal-selling institutions regarding a mandatory cooling off period. Do we really want to see animals held in pounds even longer? Do we really want to see puppies held in pet shops longer? We know both of these scenarios have negative welfare implications on dogs, so why would we mandate compulsory confinement under the guise of a cooling off period with unsubstantiated positive benefits?

Mandatory cooling off periods restrict adoptions! Bad!


ACTIVIST AVOWAL: Puppy mills should be banned. Backyard breeders should be banned.

While I would also like to see puppy mills and backyard breeders cease to exist, it’s unlikely that a legislative ‘ban’ would be effective. Those who are unscrupulously producing puppies are unlikely to heed new legislation.  Furthermore, I am concerned that a ban on backyard breeders or puppy mills may see ethical registered breeders disadvantaged.


ACTIVIST AVOWAL: Online puppy sales should be banned.

Presumably, puppy millers use the internet to make sales of their puppies and avoid scrutiny of their premises. While this is likely the case, many ethical puppy sales are made online too – such as DogzOnline (for purebred breeders) and PetResuce (for rescue pets). It seems folly to restrict sales of all animals online due to the malpractice of a few.


ACTIVIST AVOWAL: Animals should be desexed before sale.

This is a mandatory desexing claim. The Saving Pets blog does a good job of describing how mandatory desexing has never worked. Furthermore, I’ve blogged before about how mandatory desexing is hard to define (unless we desex everything and eradicate the species). Mandatory desexing is also often associated with early age desexing, which has its own welfare implications. And there’s evidence that making desexing mandatory increases surrenders, as people aren’t able to pay for the surgery and so are left with no other choice. And, on top of that, desexing is a medical procedure, which should be implemented by medical professionals based on the individual animal at hand – not policy makers.


ACTIVIST AVOWAL: Bitches should only have a particular number of litters in her life. Bitches should wait a certain time in between litters.

There seems to be a belief that bitches will ‘wear out’ if bred every season, or allowed to have ‘too many’ litters.  However, there is little evidence to substantiate this claim.  It seems surprising, but there is really no evidence on when it becomes a welfare issue for a bitch to have so many litters or a time between litters.  (Despite what the Victorian code tried to suggest.)

You may be surprised to hear that when bitches don’t fall pregnant after estrus, they are more likely to develop the sometimes-lethal condition pyometra. In that way, there is actually evidence to the contrary - not breeding a bitch every season could be detrimental to their welfare.

Basically, though, it is up to breeders to determine how many litters a bitch may have, and over what time period, if any at all. They may have good reason for allowing a bitch to have several litters – perhaps the bitch is a Supreme Show Champion, or maybe she is an exceptional free-whelping bitch in a breed that often has whelping difficulty. There might also be good reason to have several back to back litters – maybe there is a stud visiting the country for a ‘limited time only’, or maybe the bitch has a pet home to go to so the breeder wants her to finish her breeding career sooner. These are all individualistic things for the breeder to address.

Basically, there is no evidence confirming this avowal, and it seems like a limit to puppies bred (probably on the basis of the overpopulation myth) is based on good intentions instead of good science.  Meanwhile, until we have more evidence, breeders are in the best position to use their own discretion in determining their own breeding practices based on their specific conditions.


ACTIVIST AVOWAL: Breeders should only have n dogs on their property (where n is a certain number of dogs).

Often, the public seems to believe that at a certain point – be it 10, 20, 30, 50, or more – breeders suddenly become ‘unethical’.  In reality, numbers has nothing to do with ethics.  Through my rescue work, I have seen plenty of dogs who have lived singularly that have been treated poorly, and seen litters of puppies surrendered by people with just ‘a dog and a bitch’ who happen to breed.  People can be unethical with just 1 or 2 dogs, but they can also be highly ethical with 50 or more dogs.  So far, I haven’t been to a facility with 30 or more dogs that didn’t have good welfare standards.

While it may be easy to apply a blanket limit on dog numbers, again, there is no evidence that this truly matters. If animals on the property are being treated in ethical ways, then it’s folly to deny owners the privilege of having that many dogs.  Likewise, if individuals only have a small number of dogs, but are handling them in ways that are inappropriate, then this should not be permitted, either.


ACTIVIST AVOWAL: When advertising, breeders should have to provide a microchip or breeder number.

The logic here is that this would mean that only legitimate breeders would be able to advertise.

While this suggestion is not as detrimental as some of the other proposals here, it still is not a gold star suggestion.  Chiefly, this proposal is only as good as the policing that is implemented.  Considering the failure to police the Animal Welfare Act and the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, what faith do we have that advertising controls would be enforced?

Recently, the microchip number in advertisement rule was introduced in Victoria. What the dodgy breeders did is copy and paste the microchip numbers for legitimate ads onto their own, to avoid detection. Without adequate policing, policies like this will never work.


ACTIVIST AVOWAL: Anyone with an entire animal should be considered a breeder.

Presumably, activists believe that if an animal is entire, it will breed. They don’t believe in legitimate reasons that people keep animals entire.

For the last few years, I have had 3 ‘permanent resident’ entire dogs, of different sexes, living in my house, plus almost always one rescue dog (adding up to about 30 dogs in all) come through my house, most entire when they enter (and all desexed when they leave). I have never had an accidental mating or litter.

In reality, it is very possible to own entire animals without breeding. It is just a simple matter of management.


ACTIVIST AVOWAL: Support for codes of practice/restrictions on breeders is the way to better animal welfare.

There seems to be a logic that if breeders and their practices are restricted, the welfare of breeding animals will be improved.  In reality, we already have a pretty good legislation, like the Animal Welfare Act.

If breeders are choosing to disregard current legislation, then it’s very likely they’ll continue to disregard new legislation. Legislation is only effective when it goes along with enforcement.


ACTIVIST AVOWAL: We could have a pet license scheme.

At least this idea leaves the poor breeders alone! This one concentrates on pet owning public and goes with the logic: ‘If someone had to get a license before adopting a pet, then they wouldn’t impulsively purchase a pet and they’d be better owners who don’t dump their pets at shelters’.

Firstly, how wildly expensive and impractical is this proposal? There’s about 3.4 million dogs in Australia.  Introducing a retrospective ownership scheme will be hard work!  And expensive!  And impossible!

We’ve already addressed the impulsivity thing with the mandatory cooling off period segment. Most people aren’t impulsive in their pet choices. (And even if they are impulsive, that doesn’t make them bad pet owners.)

And there are a range of reasons for people to relinquish pets, most of them to do with accommodation issues.

And, I’m willing to bet, if you made pet licenses compulsory, there would be one more reason to relinquish a pet.  (That is, “I can’t afford or find time to acquire my pet license, therefore I am surrendering this pet because I am not legally able to own it.”)


So what should we do, then?

I’ve been a bit of a negative nancy all through this post, so it’s important to note that I try to come up with workable suggestions for improving animal welfare.

Firstly, I’d like to see microchips as compulsory (and policed!) and then I’d like to see these microchips linked to the breeder’s details, and have the breeder required to provide some level of care to their pups for life.  I wrote more about this in my post ‘What is the Answer (to Puppy Mills)?‘.

Also, I made a bunch of recommendations to the Select Committee on Companion Animal Welfare in SA. At the beginning of this post, they’re summarised as ‘key points’.  Click through to read all the recommendations I made, with the primary purpose of reducing euthanasia in shelters.

12 thoughts on “Public Misconceptions

  1. Great points – it’s so easy to throw around ‘why don’t they do this’ and ‘if only people had to do x before they could x’ – but at the end of the day, these purported responses are just as knee-jerky as BSL. More regulation and legislation isn’t necessarily better, and it’s no guarantee of anything, particularly when the existing laws aren’t policed or enforced, as you point out.

    I can’t even imagine how unwieldly and unproductive it would be to try and require people to have licences before getting pets. It’s the same as calls for people to be licenced before having children – it sounds good in the heat of the moment when you’re responding to an extreme case of parental neglect or something, but in reality, who really has the authority (moral or otherwise) to make those determinations? And how about we examine why the situation got to the neglect in the first place. More bureaucracy isn’t usually the solution to anything! (And that’s coming from an ex-bureaucrat!)

    In some ways, dogs and animals should be treated differently under the law. But in others, you have to just consider these issues as policy issues to be dealt with in a reasoned way, free of heartstrings and empassioned arguments that get in the way of evidence and rationality. It’s the same as liquor licencing or anything else – you have a problem with alcohol fuelled violence? Let’s not go crazy and call for bans on everything and shutting nightclubs at 2am, which evidence shows leads to drunk people being shunted out of clubs and onto the street, without adequate transport to get home. It’s a recipe for disaster – it might sound like an easy solution, but it doesn’t work and has huge other consequences. How about we enforce the existing legislation, and use police and whatever other tools and resources to combat that.

    You have a problem with bad animal welfare outcomes? Let’s not call for bans on things and mandatory requirements for other things, which just create OTHER problems. Let’s instead look at how we can better make our system work and address the problems, rather than creating new ones. If anything was as simple as a slogan or one liner catch cry made it sound, it would’ve been done by now.

    • Thanks so much for making such a well thought out response, Allie. You’re right – all these suggestions are quite knee-jerky. You know that I’m very keen to reform our current system, too, instead of making new rules and regulations.

  2. However, the problem here is puppy mills. Not pet shops.

    Pet shops are on public display, and have a pretty strict codes of conduct which are often better/higher than your average backyard breeder.

    Puppy mills and pet shops are both problematic in their own right, for different reasons. Pet shops have young puppies on display for weeks or longer in glass cages, kids knocking on the windows, lots of strangers and no bonding, no training (such as house breaking), sometimes brought together from different sources… The pups I have seen in pet shops didn’t look well, either apathetic or restless and unfocused. That’s opposed to a “real” family setting with occasional visitors to the puppies… not a constant flow-through of strangers. Anyone who thinks that even healthy and well balanced puppies are not going to be negatively affected by such a start in life, doesn’t understand dogs well at all. They are animals that form strong and early bonds, above everything. That is what is bad about kennel breeding too… regardless how well the breeder complies with ethical standards and don’t neglect the dogs. Dogs are “special” in that they live in human families and have to learn a quite complex understanding of people and how to read them and go along with them – be good family dogs, they learn that from early socialisation and having them in cages and kennels is wasting that vital window of opportunity.

    For the same reason, I don’t think there is anything wrong with back yard breeding of the “neighbour’s dog” kind. That’s the kind of puppy I would like to buy most – a puppy of a good parent dog in the neighbourhood that I am already familiar with. Therefore, I think it is a pity so many good dogs are desexed – that have proven fantastic family dogs in great health, but they will never be able to pass on those good genes of theirs (of course it is not all down to that).

    I’ve done a litter of “backyard breeding” myself, on request and because I wanted a puppy after my much loved, super social and very popular lab X (unfortunately I couldn’t keep one because there wasn’t enough females). It wasn’t something I had thought of from the beginning, but I was glad I had the option when the idea/requests came up. All but 2 out of 8 pups were sold to someone I knew or friends and acquaintances of the pup’s dad’s owner, and only one was sold to a complete stranger (= someone who was not related to myself or someone I knew in any way). My current dogs (females) are both desexed because they are rescue dogs, and all rescue are by default.

    Although I agree that of course no set up – including one with only one or two dogs – guarantees that the dogs are treated well and puppies raised well, that totally depends on the people. However, the scale of how wrong it can go with breeding in the hands of the wrong people is obviously massively bigger with n=many dogs.

    I disagree that the cooling off period is of no value. We’ve had that for both our current dogs because they are rescue dogs … That was great. We took dog 1 home only because we knew it was just a trial… We were not sure about her, but after a few weeks we were 100% sure. With dog 2, we had an extended trial period of 6 weeks in case our house purchase fell through (we lived in a one bedroom flat then). She was perfect for us and we wanted her, but we would not have bought her without that extra assurance. The house deal didn’t fall through, so now we live with our 2 now very big dogs in our house.

    That was our case, but I think it is a great idea because the match is very important, and many are not that good at evaluating a dog based on a first impression – maybe its temperament doesn’t suit their lifestyle at all. And some have never had a dog before and don’t know if they can adapt to that at all.

    • Hi Mados. Thanks for taking time to write a thorough comment.

      I agree with you in many ways.

      I object to breeders and pet shops keeping puppies in ways that don’t maximise on their critical socialisation period. I’ve written quite a lot on socialisation (primarily according to Ian Dunbar) on this blog, so it’s pretty clear I have a bit of a passion for this area. However, I don’t often see the socialisation front being push by anti-pet-shop campaigners – it seems to be all about the puppy mills and nought about the socialisation.

      I agree that many ‘good dogs’ are desexed because it’s deemed the ethical thing to do. Dogs that live successfully, happily and appreciated as ‘good pets’ are exactly the types of dogs we should be using in breeding programs. You bring up a good point. I blogged on the question “Can breeders breed better?” before, too, here:

      What you’re saying about the cooling off period is a little bit different as I think what you’ve described is a trial period. In both the examples you gave, you got to take the dog out of the shelter/rescue first (yay) and then evaluated the dog at home. Good things. However, to obligate you to think about such a decision, dogless, at home, while the dog sits at the shelter/rescue for a few more nights, is more a cooling off period (before making a purchase) and is the kind of thing I object to. Trial periods, like you described, are good. :)

      • I object to breeders and pet shops keeping puppies in ways that don’t maximise on their critical socialisation period.

        “don’t maximise” is a gross understatement… Raising pups that age in cages or kennels very much neglects the critical socialisation period. It is not that the pups necessarily suffer, just like farm animals like e.g. piglets don’t necessarily suffer in their enclosures (depends on the condition of course)… They don’t know anything else and adapt to whatever conditions they have, except in the cases of severe neglect. It is more that they miss out on their crucial early family dog education that they need to lay the foundation for being great family dogs with great communication with humans. Kennel breeding in my opinion misunderstands what a dog is and need to learn, and set dogs up to fail.

        However, I don’t often see the socialisation front being push by anti-pet-shop campaigners
        – it seems to be all about the puppy mills and nought about the socialisation.

        I think the campaigners’ focus is primarily the conditions of the breeding bitches in puppy mills, which is an animal welfare concern it is own right. And also the lack of control with the supply and shipping of puppies, where for example pups are taken from their litters in a too young age (< 8 weeks of age) to fill batches, shipped long distance and put on display in a commercial environment. So not so much the quality of the puppies (where early socialisation comes in), but more basic aspects like animal welfare concerns related to the breeding and supply of them, focussing on the worst cases.

        There is also the argument that pet shop sale of puppies stimulates impulse buying by inexperienced people who don't know how to raise & train puppies. That is an assumption, but it does seem quite likely to me. (Anyway, everybody have to start somewhere and I am not saying that inexperienced owners are necessarily bad owners).

        To sum it up: take undersocialised pups bred & raised in a kennel environment after non-pet parents, most likely chosen for cosmetic characteristics and a breed standard typical look not family dog qualities, (… and probably resilience, health & low maintenance in the case of large scale puppy mills, just based on the logic of running a business … which is one of the few positive things to say about puppy mills) … parents likely being undersocialised and understimulated so may be passing on behavioural (environmental) issues as well… pups then possibly taken too early from their litters, and in any case exposed to abrupt changes and shipped into an impersonal, likely overstimulating retail environment with no opportunity to bond and learn in a family environment … and then add a high probability for being bought as an impulse buy by inexperienced impulse buyers who don't know how to raise & train a puppy, not to mention an an undersocialised and confused one.

        That's the imagined scenario I guess… based on common sense kind of reasoning. I don't know if there is any research showing a higher proportion of pet shop pups ending up in pounds or something like that, and I am not sure that would measure the quality of a family dog life any way.

        I know people with terrible ADHD-like dogs living lonely back yard lives, too unruly and hyper to come indoor and be part of the family – undersocialised with dogs too – having their basic needs met but largely given up on in a social sense – originally bought in pet shops because the kids had fallen in love with the cute puppy, and then never properly trained or understood

        … but these people would never think of giving their dog up to a pound, because that is just not the kind of people they are, they don't want to ditch their family dog even if they think it sucks. That doesn't mean the dog ownership is a "success". Bonding and integration is hard to measure quantitatively, but a dog living a life like that is a bit of a tragedy, canine-wise… the outsider of its pack, a nuisance not understanding the rules of the human world it lives in, a canine that doesn't know how to build successful relationships, to be a respected member of its pack … just tolerated on the edge of it … such a dog is a failure as a dog, even if it looks good in the statistics because it still lives in the family that bought it.

        Of course it can all turn out fine anyway. I also know a much loved and quite well behaved (but in my personal opinion rather superficial and ADHD-like) poodle bought in pet shop, fitting well into its family.

        Sorry for being long-winded… My point is that I don't know if there is any research that shows that "pet shop puppies" tend to fail as family pets more than other dogs, but it does seem likely in a common sense-kind of way just based on how dogs work and how humans work and how business works that it is a start in life that would tend to set many dogs up to fail, based on the genetic and social set-up of circumstances.

        Dogs that live successfully, happily and appreciated as ‘good pets’ are exactly the types of dogs we should be using in breeding programs.

        I totally agree, and I wish people would stop desexing great family dogs for no good reason, leaving the puppy supply to the large scale breeders they are campaigning against anyway. It seems to me there is a slip of logic in the pro-desexing, anti-puppy mill activist culture… The pups have to come from somewhere!

        What you’re saying about the cooling off period is a little bit different as I think what you’ve described is a trial period. In both the examples you gave, you got to take the dog out of the shelter/rescue first (yay) and then evaluated the dog at home. Good things. However, to obligate you to think about such a decision, dogless, at home, while the dog sits at the shelter/rescue for a few more nights, is more a cooling off period (before making a purchase) and is the kind of thing I object to. Trial periods, like you described, are good. :)

        Yes, I thought you meant trial periods… I had not heard of the type of cooling off period you describe. That doesn’t sound useful at all.

        One of our rescue dogs comes with life time take-back guarantee … we won’t get the money back of course, but we can return her to the rescue organisation any time. In fact, the contract says that we are not allowed to sell her or surrender her to a pound ever, we have to return her to where she came from if we ever need to rehome her:-) Not that we would want to, but it is a nice gesture.

        The organisation we bought our second dog from was kicked off due to not offering a similar guarantee… or to be more accurate, they refused to take certain dogs back after the trial period.

  3. September 23, 2013 at 7:46 pm

    However, the problem here is puppy mills. Not pet shops.

    Pet shops are on public display, and have a pretty strict codes of conduct which are often better/higher than your average backyard breeder.
    ***There should be no sale of undesexed kittens or puppies through pet shops. It perpetuates accidental breeding by those who dont know any better because they havent had the education and support from a registered breeder, or those too busy/lazy/cheap to get their pet desexed. I often hear people saying they want to breed their purchase to get their money back on the purchase of their animal. Some of the worst welfare cases are from people who have no idea how to take care of pregnant, whelping animals and newborns. I have no problem with pet shops assisting with the adoption of desexed rescues through retail……what I do have a problem with is litters of puppies and kittens magically appearing in pet shop windows to sit there for weeks, unsocialized, unhandled, uneducated and stressed. These puppies and kittens often come from puppy mills and backyard breeders, if the avenue for retail sales is closed to the puppy mills and BYB surely they will downsize, disappear? Has anyone ever wondered what happens to the unsold “stock” bought from the puppy mill after the poor things have sat in a meter square box for weeks,,,,,,,,,,,where do they go?

  4. Great points in this submission. I tried to get some data from Councils on the ages of dogs impounded from the registration forms (it has a field of approx age of animal at the time of registration) and discovered that Councils do very little with the data at their disposal. There seems to be little inclination for analysis. My gut feeling was that the most likely age at which dogs become impounded is within the first two years (juvenile) particularly the first year. I’ve only found this to back up the theory
    As far as I know there has never been a study of this kind in Australia. In order to encourage owners to register their animals, I suggest that Councils offer a service in the owners interests for the $500 odd that will be paid in fees for the life of the animal. Councils should offer the free return of animals for the first year of registration when owners have been compliant in the areas of desexing, microchipping and registering. Officers can then establish management protocols with the owners in terms of training, secure fencing and general care to avoid future problems. If 70-80% of animals in control facilities are juvenile, this alone will reduce the intake by that much.
    I have also engraved “microchipped” on my dogs ID tag to make sure that control officers will actually scan for it in the event of losing him.

    • Hi Ishe.

      Your point about lack of data is a good one. It’s very hard for us to make good management suggestions without data – in all facets. We don’t have good, national, data on surrenders, lost dogs, and euthanasia rates.

      I think we hear a lot of ‘bad council’ stories, but there are heaps of councils that do an informal ‘return for free’ scheme. But, sure, I’d happy for it to be a must-do.

      Make them collect data, too, and we’re onto something good.

      • If Council control agencies (internal or external) baulk at connecting with constituents and stepping into a mandated role of animal advocates they are paid our taxes
        for, then I guess we can safely assume that it will be about protecting a lucrative business model.

  5. Great article! I wish some people who adopt wouldn’t talk so ill of people who choose to buy from a breeder or who are a breeder. As long as both “sides” are dog lovers and care for the well being of their dogs, that’s what matters. I’m always getting bashed from “shelter fanatics”, which is unfortunate. I love dogs and I have had both mutts and purebreds we adopted from shelters and buying from wonderful hobby breeders. Please stop the discrimination and unnessisary hate :( I saved my dogs, I keep them!

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