Pet Ownership - A History

This is the second part in a series about pet ownership. For the first part, click on “Why Dogs” on the AllCityDogs Home Page.

Pet ownership has undergone some radical transformations in the last 65 years. In 1950 even though we were at war in Korea, the returned WWII members of the military had been through school, were employed and the nation was building into prosperity. Owning dogs had been limited to getting a puppy from an acquaintance whose bitch usually had an unplanned litter. Purebred dog shows under the American Kennel Club prospered with entries above 400. However, most of the dogs of that period were mixed breed, and at best were identifiable to two purebreds of different breeds. Sure, purebreds dogs existed, but previously had been available only for the astronomical price of somewhere above one-hundred dollars. The upper middle class on up were the owners of purebred dogs.

Our nation prospered, incomes increased and the population of dogs and people grew. So did the number of purebred dogs. A fledgling pet industry sprouted up on the west coast and another on the east coast. It wasn't long before they met in the middle of the country. This is symbolic in that the first friend to dogs, Purina (makers of Dog Chow) was located in and around St. Louis, MO and East Saint Louis, IL. All dogs had a 90% chance of eating Purina Dog Chow.
As the nation prospered, more people found that they wanted the predictability of a purebred dog, as well as the social status of ownership. Size, weight, temperament, activity level and color are all predictable for each breed of purebred dogs. The public had long admired their choice of breeds and were now able to see their way to owning one of the treasured dogs. And the breeders of purebred dogs saw opportunity in the new found wealth of the public. They slightly increased their breeding rate, and all their puppies found homes.
The nation continued to prosper and the demand for purebred dogs grew at a slightly faster rate. This encouraged some marginal operators to enter the field of dog breeding. The fastest way to get dogs into the marketplace was not by selling direct to the public, but to enlist distributors to take the puppies to the growing number of stores that were now catering to a growing public interested in pets. The distributors were called brokers, and often handled thousands of dogs per year, selling to hundreds of stores.

Meanwhile, the sport of purebred dogs had also taken off. Many clubs, some for just one breed and some for all breeds, began to spring up around the country. These clubs promoted the best of life for the dogs, and encouraged breeding to improve the state of each breed. They also encouraged the grading of dogs by conducting dog shows under their registry rules (AKC,and UKC) where dogs were judged for breeding worthiness by their conformation to the written standards for their breed. This competition today, is the major purpose of dog shows, and is the only effort in existence to keep the breeds as separate identifiable breeds. .

In the early 1950's an all-breed dog show might have had 400 entries. By the early 1970's, an all-breed dog show could expect between 650 and 800 entries. Single breed shows in the 1950's seldom had more than 50 entries, but the early 1970's saw several breeds with well over 100 entries, and some of the most popular breeds had a few hundred at their national specialty shows. . The sport of purebred dogs was taking off and on its way.
But, there were other factors at play that were not in favor of any dog keeping, or pet keeping in general. The 1960's had been a tumultuous decade. The nation had been embroiled in war in Viet Nam and civil unrest was rampant. Economics dictated that families become mobile to follow their work and stay employed. Home ownership among the mobile workforce suffered and landlords did not want to take the risk of pets in rental dwellings. Shelters that had been perfunctory assets to communities, providing relief for escaped pets, and euthanasia for the occasional elderly or ill pet became crowded with abandoned pets. The national number of healthy pets euthanized as surplus annually went sky high, reaching around 28 million in the late 1970's to middle 1980's. Most of these animals were the lesser wanted mixed breed dogs (and cats), but a small number were reluctantly surrendered purebreds.
The purebred fancy responded by their clubs forming “rescue units” within their club memberships. Their job was to retrieve dogs of their breed from the shelters and then sustain those individuals while seeking adequate homes for them. Nationally, thousands of dogs were placed in great homes after being rescued from the shelters in various cities across the United States.
The clubs acted as mentors for the adopting families and aided in helping the adoptions mature into rich experiences for all. These were the first adoption organizations for pets abandoned due to the hardships inflicted by social conditions upon their first owners.
The rescues operated mostly on funds donated by the club members and some remuneration by the final adopters. Dog clubs are non-profit by design, and no thought beyond continuing the effort of rescue was ever considered. This is still the case in club rescue operations today. Many purebred dogs were spared euthanasia and found happy homes. At the same time, the breeders that sold purebred dogs who subsequently found themselves in similar home-losing situations took back those dogs and successfully re-homed them. This continues today among the purebred dog sport organizations and breeders.
Nature abhors vacuums, and an entrepreneurial vacuum is filled the fastest of all. While purebreds of all breeds inspired those fanciers to act, the mutts languished and millions were destroyed to make places for those that followed. Inflation ravaged the economy in the late 1970's and employment shifted around the country. Landlords were adamant in not letting people with pets occupy their rentals. And the shelters kept full.
Meanwhile, this was the situation that a certain political element had been waiting for. Animal Rights These were the animal rights activists who had long ago decided that pet ownership was spiciest and an enslavement of animals, who should have all the right we humans have.
Animal rights activists were present way back before World War II, but had lacked both funds and leadership to exert themselves effectively. But, they hadn't been inactive. They had invented the term “puppy mill” back in the 1960's and used it against every possible breeding facility.
In the early 1970's, when this writer became officially involved in the purebred sport, the term “puppy mill” was freely bandied about by members of the sport, and included even serious breeders of quality dogs whom competitive breeders and fanciers wished to disparage for political advantage.
Today, that term of “puppy mill” is used quite effectively by the animal rights movement to influence legislative bodies to pass ineffective and unconstitutional laws against pet ownership. The major result of such laws has been to hamper commerce, destroy supplies of healthy pets and to ruin personal reputations of honorable, sincere and honest people. But every year sees more atrocious, binding regulations, reeking havoc on and stealing the serenity of our animal loving citizens.

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