Thursday, March 12, 2009

Purebred Dogs and Yellow Journalism

Last night, March 11, 2009, ABC-TV's Nightline proved that they are willing and able to stoop to biased reporting, totally slanted journalism. What they did has, traditionally, been called Yellow Journalism. What did they do, you're asking yourself, aren't you? They aired a completely biased and far from factual report on purebred dogs and the dog fancy. It was appalling in its bias.

Pretty much a rip-off of the equally unbalanced BBC program, "Pedigreed Dogs Exposed," whose producer had an obvious bias, not just visible in the resulting program but in the approach the producer took with a breeder on this side of the pond who didn't hesitate to let others know. The breeder in this country is also a journalist and wasn't about to participate in such predetermined "news" programming.

Let me say right up front that the responsible breeders I know, and there are many, the ones whose dogs are shown, are responsible for every puppy they produce. The breed standard of every breed points to moderation in all things, not extremes. Responsible breeders do all possible tests on dam and sire to screen for possible health problems before breeding. They remove from their breeding programs any dogs that might carry a health issue. Those are spayed or neutered and placed as pets or kept in their own homes as beloved pets. The pups that aren't pet quality in each litter receive the same stellar screening, early socialization, are kept in clean conditions where they're treated as family members and learn early on the basics of housetraining and often to sit, lie down and walk on a leash. They also stay long enough with their mother and littermates to learn the all-important bite inhibition.

Dog shows are not beauty contests as some might have you believe. The reason for dogs shows is to get an independent opinion of several knowledgeable judges as to how their potential breeding stock meets the Standard for the breed. They are judged against the Standard for their own breed. You will see the judges going over the dogs, feeling for structure. Underneath that beautifully groomed exterior is what the judge is looking for: a structurally sound dog. The dogs are gaited around the ring so the judge can see if the dog moves correctly. It's very easy to see a luxating patella or hip dysplasia when a dog moves. Bad structure is further determined by watching the dog move from the front, side and back. That's why the dog is moved up, down and around so the judge gets every possible view.

This reporting smacks of the animal rights agenda that would ensure that no one will own a pet. Not a dog, not a cat, not a horse, etc. Read the website of such organizations and you will see their agenda. They do tremendous fundraising and with their wealth they work to ensure that the human-animal bond will be forever broken, will entirely disappear.

They tried to paint the AKC as having something to hide by not appearing on camera but issuing a statement. The AKC educates pet owners, helps with fighting bad legislation (another Animal Rights move to deny us pets in the future) and through their Canine Health Foundation they fund important research. Most of what the AKC's Canine Health Foundation funds helps people as well as dogs. This is a real win/win. A visit to their website,, will show you how much this organization has helped people and dogs. Their work on cancer research, mapping the canine genome, and breakthroughs in various illness that also appear in people is exemplary. The Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, the one Nightline tried to malign (an all-champions show, the best of the best competing each year), donated $50,000. this year alone to the AKC's Canine Health Foundation.

As a journalist, I do my research. When I wanted to do something in my mother's memory I started The Marcia Polimer Abrams Fund for Canine Behavior Studies at AKC's Canine Health Foundation because I know that they have an excellent charitable rating and that their funded research also benefits people.

I wish the people at Nightline had done their research. They should be ashamed of themselves for what they aired last night.There was nothing fair and balanced in their reporting; there was just an agenda that they were obviously determined to push. That kind of "journalism" makes me ashamed to call myself a journalist. They should be ashamed of themselves. It's my hope that those who viewed the program will do their own research. Knowing how this was reported I will no longer watch Nightline because I obviously no longer have confidence in their reporting. And that is very sad indeed.


Janet said...

Bravo. We need more balance in the media and more unbiased reporting. Too many news organizations rely on spoon-feeding from special interest groups these days, and don't do their own balanced investigation. Regurgitating "news" from PETA and HSUS and ignoring the other genuine animal advocates and representatives is nothing but slanted, sensationalized "reporting".

joyce kesling said...

I don’t think this show or what I’ve been reading lately in our news, blogs (?) and/or abroad is at all disparaging breeders, but rather they are attempting to point out dogs are in fact suffering as a result of breed standards that often cause physiological characteristics often causing some breeds actual pain and suffering affecting their quality of life. This could also cause undue hardships for unwitting purchasers of these dogs. A study “Pedigree dog breeding in the UK: a major welfare concern” commissioned by UK’s RSPCA includes over 100 citations that detail many of the problems afflicting specific breeds, some of them are obvious, some I was surprised by the Rhodesian Ridgeback dog for example.
Many of the citations used in the UK report are actual procedures for correcting these problems rather than studies detailing the cause. What this indicates is we are attending to the present problem using a problem orientated approach rather than a preventative one. This is an important distinction, the question we should be asking is are we concerned about dogs welfare or are we satisfied with problem solving that benefits those who treat them! I wonder how many potential dog owners might answer this question if they knew more about these problems.
Unfortunately, the English bulldog and other breeds with bracycephalic skulls are easy targets, Ray Coppinger a highly respected biologist discussed the bulldog in the book “Dogs: A New Understanding…” coauthored with Lorna Coppinger (2001). The ABC program also featured James Serpell, editor of “The Domestic Dog…” that included a compilation of essays written by known experts on canids.
These issues are not something new; they were reported by McGreevy & Nicholas (1999) as many as ten years ago; in their paper “Some Practical Solutions to Welfare Problems in Dog Breeding.”
Dog welfare hinges on two issues “exaggerated anatomical features and inherited disease.” It’s a complex problem needing a collaborative effort reviewing the practice of selective breeding associated with “morphological extremes” often resulting in quality of life issues including pain and suffering and “increased prevalence of particular inherited disorders” due to limited genetic diversity.
It is important to distinguish these two different issues with exaggerated anatomical extremes being a direct effect and specific breeding practices an indirect effect and remedies require different approaches. This is truly a complex issue and to play the blame game or become defensive is not going to help dogs.
I might suggest that breeders unwittingly or knowingly going along with the AKC will be responsible for the continuing demise of dogs. The newest and greatest campaign is providing insurance for dogs, this way owners can pay part of the cost of medical procedures that could be prevented with better breeding practices.
I’m not a breeder and never have been but I do know enough to understand these problems. Behaviorally we are seeing more reactive and fearful dogs, this could easily be a direct result from selecting for specific morphological characteristics making dogs feel more vulnerable and dependent on our care. Reactivity and fearfulness cannot always be blamed on lack of socialization or unscrupulous breeding practices. Specializing in behavior makes me acutely aware of vulnerability issues that may/may not be associated with form and function. Animals who feel more vulnerable to environmental stimuli are going to have lower thresholds for both reactivity and fear!
As I said earlier, it is a complex issue and one that requires an educated opinion, to remain status quo without researching the issues being put forth by experts is a disservice to dogs. I understand and appreciate all the funding spent by well meaning organizations but my question is who is writing, researching and informing the public concerning these issues in the US following the United Kingdom’s lead. That is what ABC was trying to do within a limited time frame on a very complex issue.

Darlene said...

Janet, thank you. You understood my point completely. I certainly could have added more but the blog post would have been in danger of becoming booklength!

Darlene said...

I wish you truly understood the situation. Let me try to respond to some of your comments.
Make no mistake about it, this is an Animal Rights fueled and funded agenda. Their ultimate goal is to put an end not just to breeding but to pet ownership. Read their websites. There was no mention on Nightline of responsible breeders, it was completely biased. There are more health problems in people. Do you suggest humans no longer reproduce? Try looking at that laundry list of ills!
You also apparently have no understanding of the AKC's function. The do NOT write the breed standards; those are written by the individual breed clubs. AKC approves them and they go over them carefully. Responsible breeders lose money on every litter because of the expense of health tests, veterinary care, etc. You won't find this in a puppy mill or done by a backyard breeder. That's where the problems exist but everyone is painted by the same brush. Insurance for dogs is a creation of the insurance companies. They will do to pet owners what they have done to humans: blown costs through the roof. Insurance companies are responsible for the rising health costs and the same will happen in veterinary medicine with the executives getting astronomical paychecks and costs skyrocketing. That has NOTHING to do with breeding. You're mixing in a separate issue. As for behavior issues, those occur in staggering frequency in puppy mill dogs, those from backyard breeders, and mixed breeds and other throw-aways in shelters. This is not defense. This is FACT, Joyce. Nightline did one heck of a job of yellow journalism. They ignored facts. You have also skewered facts, opting to ignore facts because you want to buy into the blame game that will leave us with no pets at all. As a journalist, I am horrified by Nightline. As a behavior consultant, I'm surprised at the skewed comments you have made, especially when it's clear from your comments that you haven't fully explored the issues.

Danielle said...

In response to Darlene's blog entry as a journalist: Well said! Having spent years in journalism, I've learned how some agencies (my former employer included) use skewed, distorted facts to promote whatever they think will bring them the most hits/viewers. The term "yellow journalism" doesn't seem to have the same impact it did long ago. I prefer to call it "hit-and-run journalism", because that is what I feel some agencies do -- they hit an issue on one side, then run with it, paying little attention to the repercussions of the issue itself, or what they're actually doing to their own craft.

My response as a dog-owner and advocate: I am appalled at the one-sided POV that this report brought to the table. I am a big-picture kind of person, and seeing this program having filtered and atomized the issue of purebred dogs to show only the negative aspects does a great disservice to all. The AKC was wise in not rising to the bait -- the producers of the show would only skew the interview to bolster their own sensationalized claims.
It has become clear that the only way responsible purebred dog owners, breeders and exhibitors can combat this kind of smear campaign, is to 1) shut our mouths in the face of interviewers clearly intent on their anti-purebred agenda (and it was clear to me during the interview with the Dalmation handler on the program. Why she didn't see it is beyond my grasp.) and 2) gather our own forces to try and balance this lopsided agenda.

In response to Joyce Kesling's response:

I respect your opinion, but I believe you're not seeing the whole picture. Programs such as these do more to destroy the whole, than it does the offending part. It's not about the problem with a few breeds, or even a type -- it's about the dog fancy in its entirety. Painting a picture in this manner is irresponsible and shows the cowardice of the agency (ABC) in general and the journalist in specific.

Most truths are never this black and white. Understand the implications and repercussions of letting sentiments like this to run amok.


Myra Morrison said...

Thank you Darlene. You have again done a splendid job exposing the truth behind the biased news reports that seem to be done for the sensationalism they will cause for unknowledgeable and scared pet owners. It would be devastating for an owner of a beautiful, happy, energetic and bossy little Pug to hear how painful and worthless their lives will be. I see so much subterfuge in what they are saying vs what the real agenda is. The Brits have their feet to the fire by the animal rights interests who want them to be in the spotlight and to change all that they do in showing and breeding. It isn't that easy in the U.S. They are turning to the symathetic media to get their point across. We haven't caved for them and they are putting us on equal footing with the ranchers who they also want to "shut down" and threaten blackmail in order to do so.

Thank you for being our voice of reason in this and thank you for recogniaing this for what it is. "If it walks like a duck and it talks like a duck", don't be taken in, thinking that it is a duck. It could be a wolf.


Anonymous said...

There is currently a purebred dog litter at my house. The dam & sire both top show dogs. Both dam & sire have performance titles including the area their breed was developed for. Both sire & dam have health screenings. Both have excellent temperament. Puppies were born free whelped. All puppies had homes guaranteed literally months before the breeding. And all pups will be followed for life.
That my friends is an AKC litter.

Anonymous said...

Bravo, Darlene. I am an AKC breeder who, like most, loses money on each litter, screens for health and other problems, keeps puppies until they are 12-14 weeks old so that they are socialized in their litter and more. We do indeed take lifetime responsibility for the dogs we breed - in once case when an owner ran into major financial and health problems I took the dog back, groomed / fed / updated vet care for it and then happily sent the dog back to her newly-stable home.

Because of that, and because there is a very restrictive dog limit in my area, I did not breed a truly outstanding bitch.

The ABC report, the PETA/HSUS agenda and what is happening in the UK are travesties, fed by a deep intent to destroy the wonderful bond between my dogs and me.

Shame, shame on what passes for 'journalism' when it is so badly and intentionally one sided.

Darlene said...

My thanks to those who have come out with some facts about what a responsible breeder is and does.
One comment about the Dalmatian breeder: the program is taped and edited. It's entirely possible that her comments were followed by a "but..." and it was edited out. We'll never know and neither will the other viewers of the program.

Cathy K said...

Thank you so much for working on this. It is high time that responsible dog breeders and owners stand up and be counted. As for Joyce's comment about the "suffering" of purebred dogs. She should be so lucky to be reborn as a dog in my home. They have the best that money can buy and are a part of everything in my life.

Erica Saunders said...

Thank you Darlene for your careful analysis of the lack of journalistic integrity displayed in this article. It is astonishing to me that anyone in the field of journalism or involved with any aspect of working with animals is willing to accept any information from Animal Rights groups at face value without research. These groups have a documented history of skewing evidence and manufacturing it themselves if the facts don't support their agenda.

To lay blame at the feet of the AKC or responsible dog breeders is irresponsible and willful blindness at best.

Anonymous said...

Is there a way to effectively educate Joe and Jane Q Publice as to the "ultimate agenda" of the HSUS, PETA, and virtually ASPCA? Ultimately, in 15 - 20 years the only place to buy a companion animal will be from a farm-type breeder setting. There will be no more "hobby breeders" who are in the sport, yes sport for the love of the animals, for trying to turn out the soundest, well-socialized, furry family members humanly possible. Instead, we will be buying our companion animal from a glorified puppy mill created by the types of legislation sweeping our country.

How do we educate Joe and Jane Q. Public?

joyce kesling said...

Scanning the comments, I get the distinct impression that no one here understands a word I said. And in my entire dialogue I never said the welfare of dogs is being compromised by "responsible breeders." And regarding the use of the description "responsible breeders" it does not always imply responsibility. Personally, I don't consider a breeder who knowingly puts puppies on the ground with a good chance they will have physiological deformities a responsible breeder. I have the distinct impression based on these comments that everyone here thinks all breeds are the same and/or genetically pure of defects. I’m also assured based on many of these comments that no one here has read any of the reports I cited. Perhaps some of you are familiar with Carmen Battaglia, he’s well known for his paper called “Developing High Achievers.” He said the following in his paper “Breed Dilemmas and Extinction.”
Battaglia says, “it is the persistence of outdated beliefs and attitudes…based on folklore and myth” that continue to perpetuate the problem. According to Padgett (1991), most breeders continue to believe that the dogs they own are genetically normal. This, he says, is because of the investment of time and money they have in their stock that they do not wish to see diminished. For these reasons most usually avoid talking about problems when they occur (Battaglia).
He states further, what makes their problem solving so difficult begins with what they believe to be true. Because there is a prevailing attitude that most dogs are genetically normal, when an abnormal pup occurs or a recessive gene expresses itself, most avoid talking about it. Those who talk about their problems are considered to have dogs that are less than average or perhaps abnormal. Because these attitudes prevail and because they are passed along from one breeder to the next, it is easy to see why problems and many diseases have not been eliminated. For example, it has been reported (Padgett) that the average number of defects in most breeds may be fourteen, which has not seemed to concern many clubs but this statistic takes on more meaning when comparisons are made to specific breeds. For example, the German Shepherd Dog has at least 7 defects, while the Pekinese are known to have 14 and the Beagles 31, which is more than twice the average, but significantly less than the highest, which is the Rhodesian Ridgeback with 58. Other breeds with high numbers of defects are the Cocker Spaniels with 52 and the Bull Dogs with 44.
He says further, The AKC and its breed clubs collectively spend millions on health research aimed at the reduction of health problems and the carriers. In such an environment problems should be getting smaller not larger. Standing in the way however, seems to be four problems that complicate matters. First, the wide spread attitude that most dogs are genetically normal, which leads to the second, the tendency to avoid talking about problems when they occur. Third, the general lack of skills needed to breed the better dogs and the fourth, which is related to the first three, that most clubs have not established their goals and have no mechanism linking pedigrees to test results. These four scenarios have proven to be the best mechanism by which breeds hide, rather than solve their problems. The net effect is that their problems increase along with the carriers who persist at the expense of their breed.
I’ve gone ahead and selected these specific sections for those who may not be interested in reading his paper in its entirety. I discovered Mr. Battaglia several years ago when I came across the paper referred to earlier, “Developing High Achievers” and always take the time to read his current work.
As I said earlier, this is a very complex issue and ignoring what others are saying is a disservice to dogs. And to generalize my statements to have included over 400 known breeds of dogs in the world is a gross exaggeration. The focus of many of the materials cited is specific breed examples, obviously the worst cases. I believe as Carmen suggests people’s attitudes need changing and after reading most if not all of these comments, being defensive is not going to help. I felt a lot of defensiveness in most if not all the comments. When people are defensive, they are not open to new thoughts and ideas.
I will use an easy analogy that I think everyone will understand. We have a problem called autism. We are not only looking at how to improve the life of these individuals but we are also researching the cause for the defect. This way we can prevent suffering in some instances and undue hardships on families.
I’ve never suggested I want to see dogs eliminated from remaining as companion animals, but I would like to see better dogs being produced with less genetically linked deformities and quite possibly behavior related problems.
I’m also not debating journalism or how breed standards are established. I do have an understanding of breed club formation, writing of standards, an established number of founding stock and so forth, that was not the point I was specifically targeting. My point was I believe the program sought to bring this problem out into the open.
I also don’t entirely buy into that this is totally an animal rights agenda. The problems may provide fuel for some with different agendas, but that is not where I stand. I stand on the side of dogs, their health and their well-being because that will ultimately affect the humans who choose to keep them.