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(repost from July 2009)

Moral relativism is a philosophical term that says there are no such things as universal moral truths and that morality is solely dependent upon the society that creates it. Let's take capital punishment, for example. In some countries, like China or Iran, capital punishment is widely accepted by the state and by the populace as an ethical and just way of dealing with convicted criminals. Here in Canada, on the other hand, capital punishment is not practiced and the majority of the populace would say that is a good thing. Then you have somewhere like the United States which isn't all that united on this particular issue with some states busy filling up body bags while others just incarcerate for a very long time. Everyone thinks their own practice is morally right and everyone thinks differing practices are morally reprehensible.

I confess. I am a moral relativist. I don't believe there are any universal laws when it comes to ethics. I don't believe there's some cosmic cop out there who says we must treat people or animals or anything else on our dear old planet with a certain level of dignity and care. I don't think the universe actually gives a damn about what happens to any creature, if it lives or dies, suffers or flourishes. Look what happened to the dinosaurs. Did the universe shed a big moral tear for their mass extinction? I doubt it. The universe yawned and then went on and created and wiped out countless more species. As it might very well do with our own (unless we do it to ourselves first).

So, when I examine my own morality, I don't pretend it's based on any universal truths because as far as morality goes, the universe is about as caring as that rock sitting in my front yard. Even though I think I'm a reasonable and logical person, I understand that my morality isn't based on "truth". It's based on feelings. Yikes. I know. If we all went around dictating morals based on emotions, wouldn't this world be in a huge mess? Yes and that's why the world is in a huge mess and I apologize for my contribution to that mess.

Though I don't believe any morality I hold sacred is a universal absolute, I do know it's the one that works for me. This means that when I apply my moral template to someone else's behavior and find it less than appealing, it isn't me saying that I am right and the other person is wrong. It's simply me saying, I'm against him. I don't like what he is doing. In some cases, I detest what he is doing. It's abhorrent to me.

Which brings me to commercial dog breeding facilities and their place in a subjective, ever-changing, moral landscape. First, let's look at the spectrum of human/dog relationships. Let's put at one end a place like Toronto, for example, where for the most part, people treat dogs with a certain amount of care, some even considering them to be part of the family. At the other end of the spectrum, we'll put somewhere like Shenyang, China where I once lived for a year, and saw such things as three workers at a university, publicly and in broad daylight, tie a dog to a tree and repeatedly jab it with a pocket knife, making it cry in agony until it bled to death. Obviously, the societal mores concerning dogs between these two places are separated by a wide gulf. Along this spectrum, the societal mores that allow commercial dog breeding facilities to exist and to even flourish, lie somewhere in between.

Of course I'm using the term "commercial dog breeding" because the on-line community has been told in no uncertain terms by a small claims court judge that we are no longer allowed to use the other term anymore in describing certain businesses. But regardless of what any small claims court judge determines and regardless of what commercial dog breeding facilities want to call themselves these days, they still are what they are.

These businesses fail to realize that it's not the naming of their facilities that they need to be worried about. It's what they do. Public attitudes are changing towards the raising of dogs in a manner similar to livestock. Sure, the businesses may be legal and/or unprosecutable in some provinces and, sure, they can call themselves what they want, call themselves Smoochy Poochie Heavenly Happy Farms if they want and sue everyone who disagrees with that term, but the businesses still are what they are.

Thirty years ago, growing dogs in an environment where they spend the vast majority of their lives in cages or pens with very limited human interaction, little or no exposure to the outdoors and few introductions to varying mental stimuli may have been okay, but now, not so much. It's no longer just a matter of physical health, though of course that's still a major concern, it's also a matter of psychological and behavioural health. It's bad enough when an individual is found out to be denying a dog a decent living environment through carelessness or neglect but when it's a business purposely doing it for profit, the distaste is even stronger. These commercial dog breeding facilities are flying in the face of a changing public attitude towards the proper treatment of animals. More and more people are loathing the idea of supporting businesses, from solely-for-profit breeders to certain live animal selling pet stores, who would treat a possible future family member as a mere commodity, valued only for its money making potential.

None of this makes any sense, of course, to someone who has little or no empathy for dogs in general, for someone whose morality doesn't swing that way. For them, dogs will always be viewed as simple property, easy to acquire, easy to dispose of, easy to sell and make a profit from (well, easy if they can take the heat of people talking behind their backs, writing about them, calling them all sorts of nasty names). These newfangled ideas surrounding the care of dogs must seem totally alien to them. To talk to them about a dog's quality of life must sound ludicrous, clownish. It would be like talking about the quality of life for a table.

So when someone points a finger at them and accuses them of moral outrages against what they consider to be a mere commodity, of course they must think that it's a ridiculous insult and of course they must feel wronged but in this morally relativistic world, where there are no absolutes, it's not that they've been wronged. It's that they've been left behind. Society, at least certain segments of western society, are moving along to a different place on the moral spectrum. We've become more tolerant of some things and less tolerant of other things. One thing we've become less tolerant of is people who diminish the lives of animals for profit.

Businesses that engage in the bottom line driven, manufacturing of dogs, will need to change their business models - not just the name of their type of business - to something more palatable. More and more people are speaking out against them. More and more people are offended by them. More and more people will one day push society along to the point where present day minimal standards of dog care in a commercial dog breeding facility will no longer be tolerated, morally or legally.

The ever changing nature of moral relativity in our society really must suck for the ones who end up holding the slimeball label. Such is life.

8 Comments to “A note to commercial dog breeders”

  1. Flossy says:

    I want thousands and thousands of people to speak out against this. The laws have got to change and that will only happen with our help. You and I are on the same moral compass. I agree with every word you said. Gosh, Fred, you really need to get a column in a newspaper.

  2. NK says:

    What did you do when you saw those students stabbing the dog? Was there a reason (or just that they could). When I read that section I felt real despair.

  3. Fred says:

    NK, by the time I got close enough, the dog was dead. Not much I could have done anything anyway. It wouldn't have been smart to get into an argument against three men with knives and calling the police would have been useless.

  4. NK says:

    What an image to have to carry for life...although it has obviously helped you beome what you are today, which is the other half of life's balance - hope.

    Will you be attending Bill Bruce's speaking engagement - several of your 'followers' would live to meet Canada's Dog Whisperer!

  5. Fred says:

    NK, yes I'll be going but I'm absolutely no dog whisperer. I think on balance my dogs train me more than I train my dogs.

  6. NK says:

    Well we shall be on the lookout for someone with a halo, hovering 2' off the ground at the very least!

  7. Really good post, Fred, very thoughtful.

  8. Can we please remember that cats are also used by "commercial breeders"?

    Slimeballs. Nice touch.

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A request

The reason for this blog is to help get specific dogs adopted from TAS but equally important is to try to normalize the idea of shelter dogs being just as good and just as desirable as any other dogs including those which are regularly merchandised by backyard breeders, puppy millers and those few remaining pet store owners who still feel a need to sell live animals. The single greatest stigma shelter animals still face is the belief that shelter animals are substandard animals. Anyone who has had enough experience with shelter animals knows this is untrue but the general public hasn't had the same experiences you've had. They see a nice dog photo in a glossy magazine and too many of them would never think of associating that dog with a dog from a shelter. After all, no one abandons perfectly good dogs, right? Unfortunately, as we all know, perfectly good dogs are abandoned all the time.

The public still too often associates shelter dogs with images of beat up, sick, dirty, severely traumatized animals and while we definitely sometimes see victims such as these, they are certainly not the majority and, regardless, even the most abused animals can very often be saved and made whole again.

Pound Dogs sometimes discusses the sad histories some of the dogs have suffered. For the most part, though, it tries to present the dogs not as victims but as great potential family members. The goal is to raise the profiles of animals in adoption centers so that a potential pet owner sees them as the best choice, not just as the charity choice.

So, here's the favour I'm asking. Whenever you see a dog picture on these pages you think is decent enough, I'd like you to consider sharing it on Facebook or any other social media sites you're using (I know many of you do this already and thank you for that). And when you share it, please mention that the dog in the photo is a shelter dog like so many other shelter dogs waiting for a home. If we can get even five percent of the pet buying public to see shelter dogs differently, to see how beautiful they are and how wonderful they are, and to consider shelter dogs as their first choice for a new family member, we can end the suffering of homeless pets in this country.