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The Official Doyenne Dog Show Disclaimer

Ketzel and Bradley the Bulldog
Ketzel and Bradley the Bulldog
I have to admit, I went to the Dog Show with a fair bit of attitude, much like a feminist covering a Miss America Pageant. And I continue to be at odds with setting a standard of beauty for dogs, particularly when that standard has nothing to do with character (at least Miss America is supposed to have more going for her than a perfect face).

My objection -- shared by thousands of dog lovers, particularly those in the rescue business -- is that people see the Westminster Dog Show, drool over these unabashed beauties, and decide they have to have one. Never mind that this country is awash in fabulous, unwanted dogs -- both breeds and mutts -- dogs that have been discarded by their owners because they were inconvenient, disappointing, or generally ill-suited, and now find themselves languishing behind bars. No, never mind all that because one look at these Westminster champions and we are besotted. Believe me, I am no exception to this rule.

After interviewing dozens of professionals working the show (and drooling over all manner of dogdom), I do believe what I'm hearing from breeder after breeder: that they take full responsibility for the people they sell their dogs to; that they take dogs back if they're not working out with their new owners; that they are committed to educating the public about their breeds' idiosyncracies and therefore dissuade inappropriate clients; and that their highest goal is to develop a healthy, happy, genetically sound and superior dog.

But not all breeders are scrupulous. Volume breeding is on the rise, an industry where dogs are bred as livestock: not starved, not neglected, not abused as they are in puppy mills, but nevertheless treated as commodities and certainly not loved. Bloodlines are not as closely monitored, in-breeding is rampant, the dogs themselves are likely to be less healthy and you better believe they'll be poorly socialized (socialization is the single key to a sane dog). Yet volume breeding exists to make all these Westminster beauties affordable. As long as we want them cheap and easy, we bear the onus for these production-line pets.

O.K., so other than boring you to tears with my uninspired, liberal breast-beating, what is it I have to say? Simply this: Enjoy the dog show, marvel at the beauty contest, buy dog books, dog calendars, pin-ups and posters. Feed your fantasies and feast your eyes. Then, when it comes to choosing an animal companion, start with your local shelters, humane societies, and breed rescue organizations (every breed has one). Talk to smart dog people; meet lots of dogs. Finally, after you've moved way past impulse purchase and have entered unabashed obsession, find a great breeder of your desired hearthrob, and pay what it takes to get a happy, healthy, and breeder-guaranteed dog. Of course you're not going to return the dog, but with that guarantee, you can be certain they're in it for the long haul, and are committed to their dogs.

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Copyright © 2003 National Public Radio, Washington, D.C.