Oscar’s Law is a prominent Australian lobby group who has three aims:
- “Abolish the factory farming of companion animals”
- “Ban the sale of companion animals from pet shops/online trading sites.”
- “Promote adoption through rescue groups/pounds/shelters”
I would like to congratulate Oscar’s Law for being hugely successful in marketing and building awareness on puppy mills and pet shop sales, and their success as a movement.
The chief goals of Oscar’s Law I fundamentally support, but I do have issue with several aspects of their campaign. Most significantly:
- Defining a puppy mill and differentiating a mill from a responsible and ethical breeder (especially in legislation),
- How rescues will be impacted from sale restrictions, that mean pets can’t be sold in pet shops or online,
- Their failure to differentiate between ethical and unethical rescue groups, pounds and shelters, and finally
- The personal conduct with Debra Tantra in regard to Oscar and his theft and then purchase from a puppy mill.
I will address these issues in more detail in order to illustrate why I don’t support Oscar’s Law, the group.
Defining and differentiating a puppy mill from a responsible and ethical breeder
Closing down puppy mills is great, until we get into defining what a puppy mill is.
Is a puppy mill a registered business? Well, I know plenty of registered and ethical breeders who call themselves a business for tax purposes (yet only have 0-2 litters a year).
Is a puppy mill somewhere that has a lot of dogs? I know breeders who have 50+ dogs and, again, rarely breed litters and the dogs are kept in good conditions.
Is a puppy mill somewhere that keeps dogs in substandard conditions? Currently, the Animal Welfare Act requires animals to be fed, watered, vetted, and sheltered. If animals are not receiving this care, then there are already ramifications set out in the act. If people think that animals deserve more than this, then perhaps the act needs to be changed to reflect the psychological needs of animals, too. Keep in mind, while doing this, we will also see about half of dog owners now become law breakers (i.e. most pet owners just have dogs in the backyard and only meet their most basic needs).
The most concerning thing about Oscar’s Law: Its use of mild dog breeding imagery to attempt to build support against puppy farms. That is, using pictures of ‘dog breeding’ of any sort (i.e. good or bad) to muster support against puppy farms. It makes me wonder what the ‘good’ types of dog breeding would look like…
- A screen grab from the Oscar’s Law Facebook page, with the comment, “Do you think the dogs are happy that hey live in brick buildings painted with marine sealant?” What type of dog breeding is okay by Oscar’s Law?
The Facebook page posts pictures of good kennel facilities (like that above) and healthy dogs and puppies, and manages to rally hate in the comments of these posts. Apparently, kennels, crates, and puppies are always bad.
Oscar’s Law particularly fails to express how ‘puppy farming’ would be banned in legislation. They have never written or expressed what kind of legislation they’d actually like to be implemented. Because of this, I’m skeptical of their real intentions, and I harbour concerns about any new law impacting on ethical and responsible breeders.
This lead to me emailing the group, and received this response from Debra Tranter (24th January 2012):
Oscar’s Law aims to abolish puppy factories, the sale of animals in shops and from internet trading sites such as trading post and gum tree.
We aim to do this by raising public awareness so consumers are more aware of this hidden industry and by lobbying politicians.
We do not write pieces of legislation, just as other campaigners who lobby for the end to live export, duck shooting or horse jump racing dont either.
I am currently discussing the issue with many politicans and I am part of the Vic Gov review of the Victorian legislationregardsDebra
While I get what Debra is saying, her other examples (banning different types of sport and animal trade) is very clear cut. Banning one type of animal breeding (puppy farming) but allowing others to continue is a more complex issue. I really believe that Oscar’s Law needs to be more specific in the legislation that they are wanting to implement – especially as they call themselves ‘Oscar’s Law’. This is the chief reason I do not support Oscar’s Law.
How rescues will be impacted from sale restrictions on pet shops and online
Banning the sale of pets in pet shops also mean that rescue animals will be banned from pet shops. Many rescue groups use pet shops to promote their animals and elicit adoptions. Additionally, pet shops are one of the most regulated areas that animals are raised with strict conditions on their care. While I don’t think they are ever an optimum place for puppies, they are far better looked after than many other places (e.g. ‘backyard breeders’, ‘working dog’ breeders).
Furthermore, online is a fantastic place to sell all pets, including rescue pets. It seems ludicrous to restrict rescues from posting their pets on social media, PetRescue, and Gumtree when there are adoptive families that may be reached by these channels.
Again, it’s hard, legislation-wise, to allow some pets (i.e. rescue pets) to be sold by these venues and others (i.e. ‘breeder pets’) are denied the privilege.
Their failure to differentiate between ethical and unethical rescues and shelters
Promoting rescue is great, too, but not all rescues are created equal. There are ‘rescues’ in my state that rehome pets entire, rehome pets that bite (badly!), and keep pets for indefinite periods in ‘puppy mill’ style conditions. The rescue system is unregulated and is mostly run by volunteers with good intentions and not much in terms of skills or experience. (Mostly mostly!) A blanket promotion on rescues is as flawed as blanket rejection of dog breeders.
The personal conduct with Debra Tranter in regard to ‘Oscar’
On the front page of the Oscar’s Law webpage, it tells a biased story, saying ”Oscar was… rescued from a puppy factory” and ”Days later and recovering from surgery, Oscar was returned by the authorities…” and “…18 months after being returned… Oscar was saved once again”.
In reality, Oscar was stolen by Debra Tranter from a puppy mill. She desexed the stolen dog. Authorities returned the dog to the puppy mill – the original and legal owner of the dog. 18 months later, Debra Tranter legally purchased Oscar by monetary exchange with the puppy mill owner.
The real story raises questions on the moral and personal conduct of Debra Tranter. Not only did she steal an animal, the animal must have been in reasonable health for a veterinarian to subject it to desexing surgery. This suggests that ‘Oscar’ must have been in a reasonably physically fit condition, and so probably didn’t require a ‘save’ (theft) in the first place.
When the dog was returned to the puppy mill, Debra Tranter then purchased Oscar back from the puppy farmer, thereby putting cash in the pocket of a puppy farmer – the very act that Oscar’s Law advocates that we avoid at all costs. ”Do as I say, not as I do”, anyone?
As I started this post, I wanted to also end by congratulating Oscar’s Law on their success in raising public awareness on puppy farms. There is no doubt that they have done excellent work in bringing knowledge on puppy farms into the conversations of every day families.
However, this success does not and should not remove scrutiny into what this group is actually advocating. I certainly don’t want ‘Oscar’s Law’ until I know precisely what ‘Oscar’s Law’ is.
Further reading on Oscar’s Law:
Further Reading from the DogzOnline Forums on Oscar’s Law:
Further reading on breeding regulation: