This is my column from the February issue of Dogs Today.
As always, terrific art from Kevin Broadbank.
As always, terrific art from Kevin Broadbank.
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The British Kennel Club is no American Kennel Club, and that’s a good thing.
While The Kennel Club has suggested it might dampen down some extreme selections for defect, the American Kennel Club continues to whistle past the graveyard.
While The Kennel Club has banned father-daughter and mother-son matings, the American Kennel Club continues to green light the most obvious kinds of incest.
And while The Kennel Cub has now embraced a lifetime limit of four litters per bitch, the American Kennel Club says commercial breeders can do what they want so long as the registration checks continue to clear the bank.
The British Kennel Club’s rational for embracing a new four-litter lifetime limit for bitches is to drive out the puppy farmers who toss dogs into cages and breed them at every heat until they are dead or dried up.
But, in fact, there may be more going on here than humanitarian concerns.
The Kennel Club realizes the market for dogs is changing, and they are trying to get ahead of the curve in order to preserve their market share.
That’s not a bad thing if they do it right.
But will they do it right?
And will they succeed?
Only time will tell.
Ego as Economic Engine
Dog shows, of course, grew out of farm stock shows.
The major difference was that while sheep and cattle sales had to make long-term economic sense, dog sales did not.
The axis of production on the farm was pounds of meat and gallons of milk. The axis of production for dogs was something far more ephemeral: the human ego.
Where else but at a dog show could a person with no talent, not much knowledge, and limited funds, buy a national champion in order to gain a little reflected prestige from owning such an animal?
And so pedigree dog sales grew like summer corn.
Of course, dogs are not the first commodity marketed to a rising middle class eager to demonstrate its ability to engage in conspicuous consumption.
Diamonds (a girl’s best friend) beat out dogs (man’s best friend) by at least a millennia in this regard.
The Start of a Canine Cartel?
Like dogs, diamonds are not particularly rare. They are found all over the world and in such quantities that the only way the diamond cartel can keep up prices is by buying up mines and taking them out of production, even as they shove 70 percent of their product into vaults.
Dogs, of course, have never been shoved into vaults.
Instead, they have been shoved into gas chambers.
“There are too many unwanted dogs” we have been told, even as everyone has agreed that nothing can be done to slow production.
“Liberty and private property” sniffed the budding legal scholars at the Kennel Club.
Of course as things have changed, so too has the legal thinking.
Now, a new ethos has taken hold and more pound dogs are being adopted out.
And so the Kennel Club -- the De Beers of the dog world -- has now come around to slowing down the wheels of canine production.
The fact that good ethics now lines up with good business is simply a bonus.
Diamonds and dogs share another economic facet.
Just as the rise of laboratory-made diamonds and the perfection of cubic zirconium has undermined the romance and social cache of diamonds, so too has the rise of “designer dogs” undermined the value and romance of Kennel Club dogs.
Today, non-Kennel Club breeders promise prospective owners "hybrid vigor" from Puggles, Labradoodles, and Chiweenies.
Of course, the Kennel Club is rallying against the embrace of cross-breeds, but it’s having a hard time finding the proper phrasing.
Kennel Club spokesperson Caroline Kisko told The Daily Mail “it is very worrying to see that so many people are not doing any research at all and basing their decisions entirely on a dog’s looks or media profile.”
It’s a curious line coming from someone representing an organization that has been raising disease-riddled dogs with shortened life spans, and judging them based solely on looks for more than 100 years!
In fact, it is precisely because so many people know that Kennel Club breeds suffer from jaw-dropping rates of cancer, cataracts, liver disease, dysplasia and other disorders, that so many are turning to cross-breeds.
Clearly, the Kennel Club needs a little more work on its message here!
Which brings us to the final parallel in the world of dogs and diamonds: the rising social stigma associated with wearing misery on a ring … or a string.
Just as news stories about "conflict diamonds" left many brides and grooms rethinking the morality of diamond-encrusted engagement rings, so too have stories about defect, disease, and deformity led many to rethink their acquisition of a Kennel Club dog.
Who wants to be associated with misery and depraved indifference to outcome?
What to do?
Once again, The Kennel Club has taken its cue from De Beers which has tried to create a “blood free” diamond certification system, with every “blood-free” diamond micro-engraved with a logo and registration number signifying they were sourced from a “conflict-free” zone.
But, of course, a brand is only as good as its weakest link.
In recent years, it has come out that some De Beers-branded diamonds may have been washed through third party countries.
The Kennel Club’s attempt at canine branding through an “Accredited Breeders Scheme” has faced a similarly rocky road.
So far, the Accredited Breeders Scheme appears to be poorly monitored and weakly credentialed. Like a Hollywood western town, it’s one-board thick, with little more than the desert behind it.