Editorial September 2013 Issue

I Can Dream

Microchips of responsibility

Many of us have lottery dreams, whether or not we actually buy lottery tickets. I’ve long said that if I won the lottery, I’d fund some sort of free spay/neuter program. Depending on the size of the payout, I’d open free veterinary clinics for people who couldn’t otherwise afford routine care for their pets.

Nancy Kerns and her dog Otto.

A recent experience at the shelter where I volunteer made me add one more thing to my fantasy philanthropy: Mandatory microchips. If my lottery win was a record-setter, I’d throw millions at trying to pass legislation that would require all dogs and cats to be microchipped, in an effort to identify their origin. Because where are all these animals coming from?

The issue has been on my mind while working with Heather Houlahan on her articles about identifying ethical breeders (which was published in the August issue of WDJ) and ethical shelters and rescues (which appears on page 12 of this issue). It smacked me in the face when, on vacation in Montreal a couple of weeks ago, I visited what turned out to be a pet store (not, as I thought, a pet supply store) and found myself gaping through thick glass at puppies for sale. Both supposedly “purebred” puppies and mixed-breed puppies. Puppymill puppies.

Sorry for getting all italic here; I’m still in shock. Please don’t buy puppies from pet stores! Only a puppymill operator would wholesale puppies to stores. The only puppies that should be available for viewing in stores, ever, are ones who are being offered for adoption by a reputable local shelter or rescue.

How do you know that the shelter or rescue is legitimate, not just a “dented can” discount outlet for local puppymills? Read the article on page 12.

Back to my fantasy of mandatory microchips: These would help identify large-scale puppymills – the ones with the retail puppies – as well as the smaller scale ones with less obvious (but perhaps no less profitable) outlets for their products.

One of the most commonly seen types of dog in my local shelter is the handsome but insanely hyperactive/distractible Labrador. They arrive as both unclaimed strays and as owner-surrendered dogs. They are always about 18 months old; that’s when most unprepared or novice owners hit the wall with these dogs.

There are also a lot of high-profile Lab breeders in this area, who sell a lot of expensive puppies out of and by parents with all sorts of hunting titles. Are most of the high-octane Labs in my local shelter originating from those kennels (and being sold as “pet” dogs to people who have no clue how to manage or train them)? My gut says yes – but not all of these breeders microchip their puppies, and lacking my lottery winnings and my own personal canine DNA laboratory, I can’t prove anything.

I found myself wishing for my mandatory breeder microchip this week, as I worked with one of these big, gorgeous, athletic Labs at the shelter. I spent an hour teaching him that I would approach, reach for, and open the gate between us only if he sat down and stayed sitting down. This basic self-control exercise had him jumping up, panting hard, and barking loudly in frustration. However, to his credit, he really wanted to interact with me, and actually figured out what I wanted him to do very quickly; he just didn’t have enough self-control (yet) to hold that (or any other) position for more than a second.

Goodness, I thought, if only the people who created this dog could be held responsible for helping him learn some basic manners, placing him in an appropriate home, and providing “technical support” to the owners afterward . . . well, for me, it would be like winning the lottery.

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