Consider two recent events focused on dogs: one, yesterday's 21st annual World Spay Day, a joint program of The HSUS, HSI, and Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association (HSVMA), and two, last week's 139th Westminster Kennel Club dog show at Madison Square Garden.
The first is not so much a celebration of dogs, but a practical-minded effort to curb overpopulation in order to eliminate the euthanasia of healthy and treatable dogs in shelters throughout the nation. The HSUS has been working hard for the last 50 years to normalize the idea that pet owners should spay and neuter their pets to reduce the burden on shelters and to prevent the needless killing of dogs.
The second, the Westminster show, is a celebration of the extraordinary beauty and discipline of dogs, but one that sends a bad message about breeding.
A prancing Ms. P, a beagle, won Best in Show – the second time for a beagle within the last decade. I have a beagle mix, so I look upon that breed with special affection. I do worry, however, about the broad-gauged effects of the show, which typically prompts a surge in interest in breeding of the winning breed. My Lily was rescued from a rural Virginia shelter, and in the process of finding her, I learned that Virginia and West Virginia are full of abandoned hounds and beagles – just as southern California shelters are full of abandoned Chihuahuas. Thousands of beagles and other hounds – purebreds and mixes – get euthanized because customers choose mills and backyard breeders in favor of shelters, rescues, or responsible breeders. I wish that Westminster would not only be a celebration of dogs, but also a platform to deliver messages about responsible breeding, sterilization, and adoption. The last thing we need is more poorly bred beagles from irresponsible breeders at a time when so many dogs – fine specimens of their breed – are in life-and-death situations.