A Question of Identity

Since September, when APHIS announced the final version of their regulation affecting dog breeders, there has been much discussion about what to do, who it affects, and what it will mean for breeders in the future. I don’t think it’s stretching things too much to say that this rule is a turning point for dog breeders. It calls upon us to ask ourselves who we are going to be. Are we going to remain traditional hobby breeders, generally breeding according to the ethical guidelines of breed parent clubs? Or, are we going to become regulated commercial breeders operating under the rules of the Animal Welfare  Act? In short, it’s a question of identity.

Bear with me while I relate a little history, please.

While most people are aware that the Irish came to the United States in great numbers, they usually think that this happened in the 1840s, as a result of the potato famine. In reality, the Irish, and Scotch-Irish from Northern Ireland, had been coming to America since the 17th century in large numbers. This was largely because of something called the Penal Laws in Ireland. These laws were passed by Britain, which ruled Ireland (it’s a long story), with the explicit intention of stamping out resistance to British rule.

Under the Penal Laws Catholics, Presbyterians, and other dissenters from British rule were singled out and punished with the following acts (among others):

  • Exclusion of Catholics from most public offices (since 1607), Presbyterians were also barred from public office from 1707.
  • Ban on intermarriage with Protestants; repealed 1778
  • Catholics barred from holding firearms or serving in the armed forces (rescinded by Militia Act of 1793)
  • Bar from membership in either the Parliament of Ireland or the Parliament of England
  • Disenfranchising Act 1728, exclusion from voting until 1793;
  • Exclusion from the legal professions and the judiciary;
  • Education Act 1695 –  ban on foreign education; repealed 1782.
  • Bar to Catholics and Protestant Dissenters entering Trinity College Dublin; repealed 1793.
  • Ban on Catholics inheriting Protestant land
  • Prohibition on Catholics owning a horse valued at over £5 (in order to keep horses suitable for military activity out of the majority’s hands)
  • ‘No person of the popish religion shall publicly or in private houses teach school, or instruct youth in learning within this realm’ upon pain of twenty pounds fine and three months in prison for every such offence. Repealed in 1782. [5]

(Source: Wikipedia, “Penal Laws, Ireland”)

According to British statesman Edmund Burke, writing at the end of the 18th century, “The Penal Laws were a machine of wise and elaborate contrivance, as well fitted for the oppression, impoverishment and degradation of a people, and the debasement in them of human nature itself, as ever proceeded from the perverted ingenuity of man.”

Some of these laws were not repealed until Ireland separated from Britain following World War I. They undoubtedly played a role in stirring Irish anger and rebellion throughout the 18th and 19th centuries.

You can see from reading these laws that in many cases the purpose was to strip the Irish population of their identity. Beyond practical measures like depriving people of a good horse, the government was making sure that the Irish Catholic point of view was not represented in Parliament; that Irish Catholics were not well-educated; and they were making it as hard as possible to carry on with their religion and other ways of life. The only way for advancement was to become a Protestant and embrace the British rule of Ireland.

Looking back, we know that these efforts were unsuccessful. However, for approximately three centuries they brought pain and suffering to millions of Irish and caused many Irish to leave the country for America, Canada, and other places where they could be free.

Does the APHIS rule rise to the level of the Penal Laws? Well, perhaps not. But it certainly shares elements with them. I would also say that, taken as a whole, the laws that have been instigated by the animal rights movement to deprive breeders and pet owners of their rights are made with the same purpose as the Penal Laws. Animal rights laws are being made with the intention of making it as hard as possible to continue breeding dogs or other animals; and the new APHIS regulation falls into that category. These laws are also made with the intention of depriving us of our identity. The APHIS rule would change us from small home breeders to commercial breeders subject to the Animal Welfare Act laws. That means that you couldn’t have a litter of puppies in your bedroom or kitchen or interact with your dogs in the same way you do now. It would break the close bond you have with your dogs.

While there are some possible exemptions under the APHIS rule, they are mostly found in the 88 pages of commentary that accompanies the actual rule which renders them somewhat “squishy.” They can be read as agency intent but, if push comes to shove when you are dealing with an APHIS inspector, the inspector can follow the letter of the rule. If you are claiming an exemption because you breed for “breeding purposes,” yet you sell some of your puppies as pets, you might find yourself being investigated by APHIS on a “case by case” basis.

Even if APHIS is lenient with these exemptions in the beginning, it seems likely that this honeymoon period won’t last. How long before HSUS threatens to sue APHIS to force them to adhere to the actual rule and disregard the rosy commentary and the gauzy exemptions? We know that HSUS has its own team of lawyers and they are more than willing to sue government agencies at the drop of a hat. They will sue to make APHIS enforce the rule more strictly, if necessary. That would mean an end to most of the feel-good exemptions that APHIS has been peddling in order to soothe breeders and prevent an injunction prior to the rule going into effect on November 18. Everything that seems ambiguous now can and will be read as HSUS wishes it to be read after November 18, even if they have to take APHIS/USDA to court to make that happen. There is no reason to think that won’t happen. That is the HSUS track record. When has HSUS ever been satisfied with a rule, regulation, or law? Even in the initial conference call announcing the new rule, HSUS and ASPCA officials stated their disappointment with some aspects of the new rule while praising APHIS for regulating breeders.

This new rule does strike at the identity of dog breeders. Will you become USDA licensed and kennel your dogs? Will you convert part of your home to an area that can house dogs under AWA rules? Will you have unannounced inspections of your home or property? Will you allow the USDA to turn you into a commercial breeder? What will happen to hobby dog breeders? Unlike the Irish, we can’t take up our belongings (or our dogs) and head for another country.

Sure, if you have four or fewer bitches and/or you never ship a puppy, you probably have nothing to worry about. You can keep your head down and ignore everything going on around you. But if you care about your breed at all, you should care about what happens. How many people in your breed will be affected by the new rule? Every breeder who is affected means someone – and their dogs – could be stopped from breeding. That means a loss of your breeding options. It means a stud dog you can’t use or a puppy you can’t buy in the future. Most of our breeds already have small gene pools. A rule like this, which will make it harder for many people to breed, will harm our breeds. It affects every single one of us who loves intentionally-bred dogs.

I believe that we should choose to remain hobby breeders. Those who claim that this rule will not harm hobby breeders are mistaken or living in denial. There are options. You can write to your congressman. You can write to the House Agriculture Committee. You can contact AKC Government Relations. You will likely get back form letters in reply. But over 70,000 people signed the AKC’s petition against the APHIS rule last year. Breeders oppose this rule. If a case can be made, we need AKC to step up and speak for us now to stop this rule. Otherwise, hobby breeders are going to cease to exist as we know them now.

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