DEAR DR. FOX: As a 37-year fancier and responsible breeder of Belgian Tervuren shepherd, I was very upset by the letter from K.K. in St. Louis that appeared in your column recently. She details a story of a sickly Belgian shepherd purchased from a breeder by a friend. The writer went on to say, "People need to stop buying from breeders; adopt from shelters to put breeders out of business."
Responsible breeders breed ONLY from health-tested, temperamentally and structurally sound dogs to produce puppies to better the breed. Most of us show our dogs and participate in performance activities -- such as obedience, agility, herding, etc. -- to demonstrate that our dogs are good examples of our breed and can perform the job they were bred to do. My dogs are tested and certified with the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals for hip and elbow dysplasia, eye diseases and thyroid diseases before being bred. I take great pride in the fact that I have produced many fine Belgian Tervuren -- many of whom are champions with lots of performance titles, and also those who are cherished family pets.
A tremendous amount of time and love goes into the planning, whelping and raising of each litter. I have a two-year waiting list for my puppies, and litters are spoken for before they are even born. While I have a website, I do not need to advertise. Persons interested in a puppy from me have to fill out a four-page application, be interviewed and sign a sales contract. They must come get their puppy; I will not ship the dogs. They must agree to remain in contact for the life of the animal and return the puppy to me if they can no longer keep it -- no matter the age.
It is a fine thing to adopt a dog or puppy from a shelter, but there ARE people who choose to own a purebred dog. People need to do their research when purchasing a purebred and find a responsible breeder. Talk to them and visit if possible -- a responsible breeder will follow the practices I mention above and is more than happy to help you in your search.
I am sorry that the reader's friend had a bad experience with a breeder, but PLEASE do not condemn all of us! -- K.K., Pleasant Valley, New York
DEAR K.K.: Yes, there are many responsible breeders, and you are a devotee of one of my favorite breeds. The issue, which you recognize, is how would-be purchasers of a purebred puppy find a reputable breeder, many being quite unaware of potential pitfalls and costly health problems. Teri Vetter is developing a website to help in this regard: unethicalbreederawareness.com. You may wish to share your invaluable experience on that site. I urge all breeders to contact Ms. Vetter.
My advice: Never buy a purebred pup online or in a pet store, regardless of whether it has American Kennel Club registration papers, because it probably came from one of the puppy mills that blight many rural counties but are protected by agribusiness interests.
DEAR DR. FOX: I have visited your website, and many of your writings move me deeply. Perhaps you can help me. I am an animal lover; I have two old dogs, and I am, or was, a devout Christian. But my faith is being tested by all the cruelty I learn about toward animals and our own kind. The world is in chaos, and religious wars between fundamentalists of various faiths are escalating. The environment is going to hell, and wild species are becoming extinct at an alarming rate. I am bordering on despair. Perhaps you can help restore my faith. -- E.L., Silver Spring, Maryland
DEAR E.L.: You have my sympathy. Many feeling and thinking people like you are indeed experiencing hopelessness and despair. As more than one philosopher and humanitarian has opined, all religious dogma must be transcended in the name of peace, freedom and justice for all. The only true religion is in the spirituality of compassion-in-action and reverential respect for all living beings and the natural environment. This is ultimately enlightened self-interest.
I am heartened that several Christian denominations are addressing environmental and animal welfare issues, as are some scholars of Islam and Judaism. For more details, see my book "The Boundless Circle: Caring for Creatures and Creation."
EXCITING NEWS FROM FLORIDA
As of June 1, authorities in Hollywood, Florida, banned the sale of commercially bred dogs and cats at pet stores. The city's mayor said he received messages of support from across the nation.
(Send all mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or to Dr. Michael Fox in care of Universal Uclick, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106. The volume of mail received prohibits personal replies, but questions and comments of general interest will be discussed in future columns.
Visit Dr. Fox's website at DrFoxVet.net.)