Breeding and Acquiring Companion Animals

Chapter 6
Breeding and Acquiring Companion Animals

  1. 6.1 Introduction
  2. 6.2 Breeding and Rearing Puppies and Kittens
  3. 6.3 Welfare Concerns
  4. 6.4 Ethical Issues

    1. 6.4.1 Ethics of breeding and rearing
    2. 6.4.2 Ethics and acquiring companion animals
    3. 6.4.3 Possible ethical strategies and solutions

6.1 Introduction

When Barack Obama first moved into the White House with his family after being elected as president in 2008, he faced many difficult decisions. One of these concerned the acquisition of a dog. This decision was, of course, a very personal one, involving the whole family. However, it was also a decision with clear political implications. As a senator, Barack Obama had been involved in a campaign concerning how dogs are sourced, with a critical focus on so-called puppy mills. As a result, lobby groups campaigned for the Obamas to adopt a dog from a shelter. However, in the end, the family accepted a 6-month-old purebred pedigree dog from a breeder, to whom the dog had been returned by its previous owners. The family was criticised by some animal protection organisations for obtaining a dog from a pedigree breeder. However, the Humane Society of the United States released a statement thanking the Obamas ‘for taking in a second-chance dog’.

In this chapter, we review the common ways in which puppies and kittens are bred, reared, and acquired, and consider some of the ethical issues that arise at each stage. In particular, we focus on commercial breeding establishments (so-called puppy and kitten ‘mills’ or ‘farms’), and consider ethical sources of companion animals for prospective owners. To clarify the scope of this chapter, we understand ‘breeding’ here as ‘deliberately producing offspring, typically through intentional mating or insemination’. We consider specific questions raised by the selective breeding of purebred dogs and cats in Chapter 7, and issues raised by unwanted offspring in Chapter 13. Similar issues arise with the breeding of species other than cats and dogs; we will briefly discuss these in Chapter 15.

6.2 Breeding and Rearing Puppies and Kittens

Companion animals can be bred through natural mating, typically with selected partners, or by artificial insemination using fresh or frozen semen from a selected sire. The latter method is usually only used with purebred dog or cats, but can also be adopted in other cases where animals are not able, or willing, to be mated in the normal way.

Breeding may also take place in many different circumstances. ‘Casual breeders’ deliberately mate their animal companions only once or twice, while ‘small scale’ or ‘backyard breeders’ keep a small number of breeding dogs or cats in their homes as a side business or hobby. Pedigree breeders typically fall into the category of small-scale breeders, although they may have kennels or catteries of different sizes and quality. Commercial breeding establishments produce puppies and kittens, usually purebreds or designer breeds (see more on this in Chapter 7), on a large scale. These establishments are often called puppy or kitten ‘mills’ in the United States or ‘farms’ in the United Kingdom. However, there is no formal legal definition of these terms and some disagreement as to how they should be defined. Instead, therefore, we will use the phrase ‘commercial breeding establishments’, to refer specifically to those typically large-scale establishments, often with poor or questionable welfare standards, that emphasise profit over the welfare of the animals that they breed and rear (Figure 6.1).


Figure 6.1 Barack Obama, while still a senator, campaigned against puppy mills by being portrayed in the Lincoln Memorial holding the three-legged former puppy mill breeding dog, Baby.

(Robert Sebree Photography, LA, USA. Reproduced with permission.)

Although there are significant welfare concerns about commercial breeding establishments (see the following section), this does not mean that they are unregulated; most countries in the industrialised West have a licensing system and require minimum standards of welfare. For instance, in the United States, dog breeders with more than three breeding bitches, who sell puppies to pet stores or puppy brokers, must be licensed and inspected by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA). Individual states often have further standards regarding the maximum number of intact animals that may be kept, the quality of housing and care that must be provided, and may require licensing and a license fee (Tushaus, 2009).

According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA, n.d.), there are between 2000 and 3000 USDA-licensed commercial dog-breeding establishments operating in the United States. However, the ASPCA estimates that the total number of commercial breeding establishments in the United States could actually be as high as 10,000, as not all breeders need to be licensed (if they do not sell to pet stores or brokers), and many operate illegally. Some establishments are small, with only 10 breeding dogs, though others contain more than 1000. The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS, 2012a) estimates that 2 to 4 million puppies from commercial breeding establishments are sold each year in the United States.

Some European countries have stricter regulations than the United States about commercial breeding, including requirements for breeder education and a minimum weaning age. In the United Kingdom, the 1999 Breeding and Sale of Dogs Welfare Act requires annual veterinary inspections of any facility where five or more litters are produced in one year, and breeding females are restricted to one litter per year and six per lifetime. However, many breeders still operate illegally, and animals may be imported from other countries that lack such regulations: the Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals estimates that up to 1000 dogs are being trafficked into Britain each week from unlicensed Irish commercial breeding establishments (Forde, 2012).

6.3 Welfare Concerns

The main area of concern about the breeding of companion animals lies with commercial breeding establishments. These welfare concerns cross all areas of the animals’ lives: diet, cleanliness, space, exercise, medical care and relations to both humans and conspecifics. Some commercial establishments permanently confine breeding animals without exercise, either indoors in cages, or outdoors without proper shelter. The animals may be densely packed together, and infrequently cleaned out. Females are usually bred until they are physically incapable of producing further offspring (Katz, 2009). Investigations into these commercial establishments by non-governmental organizations (NGOs) such as the ASPCA (n.d.) the HSUS (2012a, 2012b) and The Kennel Club (n.d.) report that animals often do not receive adequate veterinary care, food, water or socialization to enable them to have reasonable levels of welfare.

These welfare problems persist, despite attempts at legal regulation, for a number of reasons. First, the minimum requirements for licensing may be insufficient. For example, under the federal Animal Welfare Act in the United States, it is legal to keep a dog in a cage only six inches longer than the dog in each direction, with a wire floor, stacked on top of another cage, for the dog’s entire life. Secondly, some breeders may not comply with the licensing requirements, budgets for inspections may be inadequate, inspections may not be thorough and regular enough, and fines for non-compliance may not be high enough to act as a deterrent (Tushaus, 2009). Third, many breeders may simply choose to work illegally without a license. As noted earlier, there may be an international market in puppies or kittens, where imported animals bred in poor welfare conditions are sold more cheaply than those produced in a more highly regulated domestic market. Recent legislative measures have attempted to prevent this; the import of puppies from commercial breeding establishments abroad, for instance, was banned in the United States in 2008 (United States Senate Committee, n.d.); but such imports may still happen illegally.

A recent development, also likely to have welfare implications, is the growth in selling puppies and kittens over the internet. Puppies sold online in the United States, for instance, are not subject to USDA regulation. A study by Voris et al. (2011) compared breeders selling purebred puppies online with breeders registered by the American Kennel Club (AKC). They found that breeders selling via the Internet are far less likely to carry out breed-specific health screening than breeders that are members of the AKC; they are much less likely to accept the return of puppies for any reason; and they are more likely to say they will sell puppies before they are 8 weeks old. All of these differences are likely to have welfare implications for the puppies sold online.

Demand also drives the production of puppies in large commercial establishments. Demand for purebred puppies from registered AKC breeders, for instance, significantly outstrips the number of puppies available, resulting in long waiting lists (Voris et al., 2011). Puppies and kittens bought online or from pet shops are usually much cheaper than those bought directly from AKC breeders. The Voris et al. (2011) study found that the average online price for a pedigree puppy was $736, while the average price for a pedigree puppy from an AKC breeder was $1396. Given the substantial sums involved, the flourishing of a cheaper online market is unsurprising.

Research suggests that animals born and reared, or used for breeding, in commercial establishments, often have welfare problems that persist long after they have left the establishments (McMillan et al., 2013). It is well documented in studies conducted on rodents and farm animals that factors such as avoiding stress and anxiety in the mother, providing appropriate early nutrition and opportunity to express normal behaviours, and avoiding weaning and separation from the mother when too young, are essential to the health and ability of the offspring to function well later in life. Although few studies have been conducted on cats and dogs, it seems highly likely that their health and behaviour are not simply genetic, but also significantly affected by similar environmental and early rearing factors.

Furthermore, puppies and kittens intended to live with humans as companions need to be well socialised with humans, and the right kind of handling and contact early in life are crucial (Serpell & Jagoe, 1995). Commercial establishments may try to save expensive labour costs by failing to invest in early socialization, and thereby cause severe problems for both animals and their owners later in life.

Two questionnaire studies (McMillan, Duffy & Serpell, 2011; McMillan et al., 2013), both conducted in the United States, show that both puppies and breeding dogs from commercial breeding establishments suffer from reduced welfare compared to control dogs. According to the first study, former breeding dogs from commercial breeding establishments had a significantly higher rate of health problems, were more fearful, and had higher levels of other behavioural problems compared to control dogs. The other study compared dogs obtained as puppies from pet stores (which typically originate from commercial breeding establishments), with dogs obtained from non-commercial breeders. That study found that dogs from pet stores showed significantly higher aggression towards human family members, unfamiliar people and other dogs, and had greater levels of separation-related problems and house soiling than those obtained from non-commercial breeders (Figure 6.2).


Figure 6.2 Miniature breed dogs in a puppy mill in the United States. Such animals are often in poor physical health; the dogs here have alopecia, and deformed feet with overgrown nails from standing on the mesh floors, which lack any bedding.

(By PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals), Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.)

These conclusions indicate that dogs originating from commercial breeding establishments have poorer welfare than dogs bred in other ways, since they have higher levels of health and behavioural problems, which in turn are likely to increase suffering and inhibit the expression of certain species-specific behaviours. More generally, the animals produced by commercial breeding establishments are often poorly socialised to humans; Lockwood (1995), for instance, maintains that eliminating large-scale establishments that mass-produce poorly bred and unsocialised animals would reduce the level of aggression in dogs. Since aggression is one of the main reasons for relinquishment of dogs to shelters where they are likely to be euthanased (see Chapter 13), this is a further reason for concern about the welfare and the life expectancy of dogs bred in commercial breeding establishments.

6.4 Ethical Issues

The breeding and rearing of kittens and puppies raise ethical issues both in terms of supply – the ways in which companion animals are bred; and in terms of demand – the acquisition of animals by prospective companion animal owners.

6.4.1 Ethics of breeding and rearing

One very general ethical concern here relates to the idea of ‘breeding animals’ at all. It might be argued that making animals reproduce – in particular by forced mating or artificial insemination – inappropriately controls them, or uses them as ‘reproductive vessels’, thereby denying them respect (England & Millar, 2008).

This issue raises a more general difficulty: since most companion animals live with their owners, whatever happens with respect to reproduction – whether it occurs, or is prevented – is largely under the owner’s control. Preventing reproduction, by neutering, raises ethical concerns from some perspectives (see Chapter 10). But deciding to permit or facilitate reproduction is equally deliberate, and may raise other ethical concerns – such as what to do with a resulting litter.

Perhaps the main concern here is whether deliberately breeding from animals – however much they appear willing to mate, and however well cared for they are – instrumentalises

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Feb 16, 2017 | Posted by in GENERAL | Comments Off on Breeding and Acquiring Companion Animals
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