Ann Bark, Ethics Committee Chair
As I made the round of end of year parties this past year, I found myself answering the long string of questions that inevitably starts with “How are your dogs?” Many old friends I now seem to see only annually know about my lifelong love of dogs and dogsport and while it’s not for them, still find it interesting. As I try to explain my crazy dog-centered life, their questions force me to look at what I and fellow breeders and competitors do from an outsider’s perspective. On the lighter side, they sometimes make me question the sanity of spending more time with dogs than people and frittering away paychecks and retirement savings on dog shows, cleaning products, and vet bills. More seriously, as I try to formulate meaningful responses to my friend’s questions and comments, I am also led to reflect on a few of the basic things that guide my actions and decisions. My love of dogs and dogsport is what motivates me but this internal code of ethics is the reason I do what I do in the way I do it. How to explain this in a sentence or two?
When we interact with “outsiders” not deeply knowledgeable about purebred dogs and dogsport, whether they are friends, neighbors, potential puppy buyers, or others, we often find ourselves on the defensive. Animal rights activists have done a great job convincing the general public that pretty much everything associated with breeding, maintaining and competing with purebred dogs is unethical and we oftentimes struggle to explain how this is not the case. “Breeders are more concerned with making money than the health and welfare of their dogs or getting puppies into good homes”. “Purebred dogs are overbred and mixed breed dogs are generally healthier and have better temperaments”. “Dog shows are simply beauty contests”, etc. etc. etc. The barrage of false statements seems unending and the aggressive enthusiasm with which some people assert these beliefs can be daunting. How can they not know that in fact owners, breeders and exhibitors such as ourselves aspire to the highest standards? Certainly, the relentless campaigning of animal rights activists has a lot to do with this, but we also need to look to ourselves as well.
In the minds of most of us, there is a clear distinction between ourselves and the puppy mills, dog retailers and wholesalers, and “win-at-all-cost” competitors that we may feel are the rightful targets of animal rights activists, anti-dog restrictions and legislation. We believe that on the whole, there are important differences between the dogs we are producing and the unfortunate dogs resulting from for-profit and win-at-all-cost breeding programs. Why do we think this and is it in fact true?
As members of the Welsh Terrier Cub of America, one way we distinguish ourselves from others is by signing and abiding by a code of ethics (COE). The COE is meant to articulate a common set of moral principles that all members use to consistently guide their decisions and behavior. Where the Club feels that these principles necessitate specific conduct, the COE specifies this behavior as well since by their very nature, principles are subject to individual interpretation. Based on a shared set of values, the COE establishes guidelines for practices and conduct that WTCA believes are in the best interest of the breed, Club, and public.
As we formulate our News Year resolutions for 2023, consider taking the time to reread the WTCA Code of Ethics. Don’t just move through the new year on autopilot doing what you have always done. Check in with yourself and question whether what you are doing meets the spirit as well as the letter of the COE. Some things change over time. Let’s make sure we continue to walk the talk.
During the coming year some of the folks I chatted with at the holiday parties may start looking for a new puppy. They may be asked by their town or legislators to weigh in on dog laws or kennel restrictions. They may be lobbied by animal rights activists, and it is highly likely they will hear about how only “Rescues” and activists truly have dogs’ best interests at heart. Perhaps they will be involved with dogs in some other way but when the time comes, I hope they remember our conversation and what they have seen as they have watched me care for and compete with my dogs. I hope they remember that there are purebred dog owners/breeders/competitors who have thought about what it means to be responsible and aspire to the highest standards. I hope that they understand, believe in, and support responsible dog ownership, breeding and dogsport. What we do and say does make a difference in how we are viewed by the public and influences the future of our beloved dogs and dogsport. (published in Feb 2023 WAG)