Guilt: It’s Not Just For Jews and Catholics Anymore (Purebred Dog Owners Can Play)

Guilt: It’s Not Just For Jews and Catholics Anymore (Purebred Dog Owners Can Play)

By: Susi Szeremy  Date: 05/3/2012 Category: | Animal Rights Extremism | Canine Issues |

Ed. note: the following article originally appeared on her website, It has been reprinted with the author's permission.

Welcome to the New Elitism

I wore plaid to school for much of my academic life.  I had no great affinity for the pattern, but it was de rigueur at parochial schools and I was a student at one. Along with the requisite blazer, I wore a regulation-length pleated skirt rolled up several times at the waist until the hem hovered in the nose bleed section of my knees. The nuns cracked down on these displays of loose morality with a ferocity unexpected from women wearing a rosary. Guilt was their weapon of choice and we became poster children of compliance until the cycle of defiance would begin again.

As Catholic school girls, we resisted authority in ways that stopped just short of ensuring a one-way ticket to hell without so much as a pit stop in purgatory. I confess, I may have been more creative than most, but the occasion that saw me inflict whiplash to Sister Louis Alena by stepping on her veil as I followed her down a flight of steps really was an accident. I was spunky, not criminal.

Months later, when a confused pigeon flew in the window and landed on the same nun’s head, the incident proved to be too much for both of us. Since I was the first to see “the landing,” I was the first to dissolve into laughter despite her shrieking, “GET IT OFF ME!” while flapping her arms more vigorously than any pigeon ever had. I quickly point out that it was other nuns who came to the sister’s rescue since by now, the entire class was too convulsed with laughter to be of any help.

“Inappropriate behavior” landed me in detention which I shared with “Connie,” the new girl in school. Her infraction had been to drape her Star of David necklace on the baby Jesus statue and point out that before he was Catholic, Jesus was Jewish. We passed the time passing notes to each other and quickly realized that we shared an appalling lack of guilt over our respective misdeeds, largely because we didn’t think we’d done anything that egregious.  Given that in our respective religions guilt was as much a tradition as the Knights of Columbus and Gefilte fish, this was a revelation that made us instant friends. We would have to become adults before understanding what we only knew instinctively at the time: No one can make you feel guilty without your consent.

Forty years later, guilt has emerged again as a strategy to affect behavior in people who’ve done nothing more wrong than to own a purebred dog bought from a breeder.


PETA protester at a dog show
  • Activists displaying placards break through barriers to stand on center stage of a televised dog show and announce to members of the audience that because they own purebred dogs, millions of other dogs will die;
  • A blogger attends a conference with her purebred dog and when asked if he’s a rescue, she replies cheerfully that he was purchased from a breeder. She feels shunned the rest of the weekend;
  • Francis Battista, co-founder of Best Friends Sanctuary, writes: “The only truly guilt-free purebred dog is one acquired from a shelter or breed rescue group.”
  • When a nationally televised dog show changes its sponsor because the sponsor failed to promote purebred dogs in a positive light at least as much as shelter and rescue dogs, a protest campaign is leveled at the show’s social media pages.
  • From Ted Kerasote, author: Dividing the world into those who should feel guilty for owning a pedigree pooch and those who can feel self-righteous for rescuing a mutt does little to solve the two major challenges domestic dogs face today: careless breeding and an antiquated shelter system.”

How did we get to this point?

It was likely not one thing, but a convergence of factors. Allow me to digress for a moment.

Historically speaking, one’s dog reflected one’s station in life. Working class men either owned “curs” or the ancestors of what would become today’s working purebreds. Nobles, on the other hand, had by their sides pedigreed purebreds. It was the royals who first bred dogs which had no purpose other than companionship, and by the 20th century, a purebred dog was a symbol of affluence and social standing. The rich appeared in magazines and newsreels with their dogs, and like their dogs, enjoyed the company of a pedigreed circle, if not lineage. They were a minority in the country, but a minority most middle class families aspired to join.

Times changed. Political upheavals, a blurring of social classes, changes of fortune and strengthening economies no longer made a dog a reliable barometer of its family’s means. By the time I came of age, the Queen of England owned Corgi-mutts, my mechanic showed a Yorkshire Terrier, millionaire movie stars owned shelter dogs, and families of all incomes loaded the kids and the family purebred into the station wagon and went to the dog show. In a little over 100 years, society went from relegating mutts to the “unwashed masses” to a point where anyone could own any kind of canine and have it mean nothing more than an affection for dogs. “Love the one you’re with” was a musical anthem of a generation and it extended to their dogs.

But somewhere in the last ten years, the culture of dog ownership changed again. In fact, it did a back flip.

Social mores changed even more.  Self made millionaires once admired for their industry and hard work came instead to be indicted for being greedy, resented that they should have so much when others, regardless of their work ethic, were just as deserving.

The animal rights movement that emerged in the ‘70s was changing, too. I, myself, would have been ripe for the picking as literature flooded my mailbox exposing with sickening evidence the horrors of vivisection. But the movement morphed; It became polarizing, unreasonable, and increasingly radical. Where it had once appealed to our pathos, it devolved into using our old friend, guilt.  Guilt for eating meat, guilt for wearing fur, riding in a rodeo and eating Kentucky Fried Chicken – all deeds vulnerable to criticism as we learned more about their respective industries.

But guilt for owning a purebred dog?

Welcome to the new elitism.

Its members, people who reside on the moral high ground and secretly harbor feelings of superiority because they own a mixed breed or shelter dog. They care more. They’re more sensitive and more populist than those of us who bought a purebred dog; They don’t shop. They adopt.

PETA Protester at Dog Show: Part Deux

Don’t mistake them for animal rights activists, they’re not. They may, however, be the unwitting recipients of “trickle down morality” which at full strength can be seen in Humane Society of the United States TV ads that air nightly. Pitiful faces peering from behind cage doors serve as reminders that while the insensitive among us visit a new litter of fat, healthy purebred puppies, these dogs languish as they wait for their forever home which the viewer can help them find with a tax deductible donation. It’s a powerful message that would haunt anyone with a pulse. It is, however, an ad based on several false premises, the most egregious, in my estimation, is that one’s donation to the HSUS will actually save a dog’s life. In reality, the HSUS is worth $162 million in assets but less than 1% goes toward operating shelters in the United States. No matter. If HSUS doesn’t reach us through our wallets, they guilt us with their propaganda: Adopt,don’t shop, or no one else will (and the animal will die). Is it any wonder that rescue dog owners feel morally superior over their purebred counterparts in the show world who rescue nothing?

For just $19 a month...

But that, too, is based on a false premise. Each of the 185 AKC registered breeds and varieties is represented by a member club devoted solely to the welfare and improvement of that breed, and every one of them engages in breed rescue. Nearly 33% of the dogs rescued by breed clubs come from shelters, animal control and pounds. That’s 33% more dogs rescued by purebred breed clubs than by the Humane Society of the United States. We don’t have statistics that reveal how many purebred dog owners also own rescue dogs, but it’s a lot.

PETA, which has killed over 25,000 animals in the last ten years, is so radical a group that it has alienated many of the fine shelter and rescue workers I’ve come to know in the last year. I am persuaded that the cult-like PETA’s bizarre mandate is to kill animals before the cats and dogs ever have a chance to suffer. Or even enjoy life. More on that here.

The shelter workers I’ve met regard animal rights groups with the same hostility as do those of us in the dog fancy. The bad news is that purebred dog breeders aren’t held in much higher esteem. Every time these folks go to work and see a purebred dog in a shelter cage, they blame breeders for having put them there by having bred yet more dogs.

They couldn’t be more wrong.

Animal shelters in the USA have been casting a wide net to fill their kennels for years. According to the US Public Health Service, Chicago O’Hare was the destination airport for 10,125 dogs imported from overseas in 2006, half of which weren’t vaccinated. Scientists from the Center of Disease Control estimated that over 199,000 dogs (38,100 unvaccinated) came into the country through the Mexican border that year alone, and in 2007, one organization in Puerto Rico by itself shipped more than 14,000 strays in seven years to the United States for adoption at shelters. ABC News reported that according to G. Gale Galland, veterinarian in the CDC’s Division of Global Migration and Quarantine, as many as 300,000 puppies a year – most from countries with little or no health safeguards, are being imported to satisfy the demand for puppies at shelters.

So where are all the ads defending the RESPONSIBLE purebred dog breeder?

And yet the responsible breeder of purebred puppies is to be blamed for the overpopulation at shelters and dumb friend leagues?  The same person who runs health screens on the sire and dam, keeps a careful vaccination schedule, tirelessly socializes their puppies and screens potential owners  – THAT breeder?

These caring shelter workers, whom I really do admire, are guilty of painting breeders with a very broad brush. They fail to place blame squarely at the feet of owners who were responsible for their dog in the first place, and because it’s a dirty little secret, they likely don’t know that the dogs overcrowding their shelters may not even be from America. And finally, they don’t realize that when that purebred dog is adopted, American born or otherwise, it’s often by someone acting for a breed club.

How’s the view from the moral high ground now?

But we’re not done yet. The final fallacy is rooted in the notion that a mixed breed is healthier than its purebred counterpart. In fact, this can’t be proved because there is no registry that tracks the health of mixed breeds the way each member club of the AKC tracks the health of its respective breed. Owners of mutts don’t converge once a year at their national specialty to “check in” with their breed the way the national breed clubs do. As for “designer breeds” being more sound than purebreds, let’s talk about that.

No responsible breeder in the fancy would ever breed to a dog that didn’t pass health clearances, let alone to one that wasn’t a sensible match for their dog in phenotype and genotype because ultimately, the purpose of breeding is to IMPROVE THE BREED.  The very idea, then, of breeding their purebred dog to a dog from ANOTHER BREED is, you’ll pardon the pun, inconceivable. That leaves only irresponsible breeders breeding unsound dogs to each other to create a “something-doodle.” And these dogs are supposed to be healthier than the Labrador or Poodle whose responsible breeders kept records of their health and genetic soundness going back generations?

In December, 2010, Wally Conron, the creator of the Labradoodle said, “I released a Frankenstein.… People say, ‘aren’t you proud of yourself?’ and I say, ‘not in the slightest. I’ve done so much harm to pure breeding.”’

Labradoodles: One designer breed, so many different types

As long as I’m handing out guilt, I might toss a little blame at those of us in the fancy for not doing a better job of getting OUR message across. Misleading commercials and documentaries such as Pedigree Dogs Exposed provide powerful images which our talk alone cannot refute. Until the AKC counters with a video of its own, each of us must be the face of responsible purebred owners and breeders. Distortions and lies will continue, but we can no longer assume that someone else will fight back. The battle has been brought to our feet and stepping over it is no longer an option.

I’m not going to conclude with an explanation of why those of us who own purebred dogs have a right to own them, but more to the point, neither should I have to. In a country that promotes choice, purchasing a purebred dog is also a choice. Let us applaud those who chose to adopt shelter dogs even if they don’t endorse the choices we make, but let us also remember: They can’t make us feel guilty without our consent.

About The Author

Susi Szeremy's photo
Susi Szeremy - Puli Club of America
A writer and editor by profession, Susi is also the creator of KnobNots pet safety signs, as well as the dog blog, [url="" target="_blank"]DogKnobit[/url]. An owner/breeder/handler of Pulik since 1978, she is active in the dog fancy where she is a co-chair of Judges Education for the [url="" target="_blank"]Puli Club of America[/url].

All Authors Of This Article: | Susi Szeremy |
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