Biting the Hand that Pets the Dog
© 2005 Ross Williams
I love animals; I tend to despise animal lovers.
Not the regular guy who has a dog, or the normal lady who has a cat, or the kids who have the gerbils. I'm talking about the people who seriously love animals. The folks who talk about animals as if they were 4-legged humans. Those who declare, and seriously, "animals have rights too". The PETA-types.
Animals get rights when they vote themselves their rights. I'd suggest they work on evolving an opposable thumb to manipulate the voting machine first, or at least to hold the magic marker they'll use to write the picket signs they'll need to carry.
I had my first go-round with the uber-sincere animal lovers when I was married to my animal-loathing wife. We lived in a small cottage in suburban St Louis with a fenced back yard. We went to the local Unitarian church – the Church of the Politically Correct, as I called them. In the back, where normal churches have their Feed the Children pamphlets, this church had Greyhound Rescue and Rainforest Action Network pamphlets.
I picked up a greyhound pamphlet one Sunday morning. Discussed it with the wife. Since it was a rescue... and she was into political correctness… she would agree. If I did all the work.
I expected as much.
Some time later I called the lady at the Greyhound Rescue "agency", and had a very troubling conversation with her.
I introduced myself and said that I was thinking of buying a greyhound from them; she immediately corrected me, and sounded affronted at having to do so: they do not sell dogs; they adopt them out. I'm sorry, but this is a dog, not a child, and I'm giving you money for something and getting that something in return. That's buying. ...but I let it slide.
O-o-o-okay, so how do I go about getting one of these dogs, then?
First, I'd have to fill out an application, on which I would certify that I already had a wide range of things, one of which was a fenced yard. I would also have to certify that I would never do certain things with the dog I would adopt, which included racing and breeding the dog. Once I did all that, someone from their "agency" would come to interview everyone in the household for suitability. Then they would check the character references on the application, then visit the residence where the dog would "reside", and there was a credit check in there somewhere.
It was around this point in the conversation that I let slip an audible, "It's just a dog, lady." And I was regaled with the Greyhound Rescue version of the "dogs are 4-legged people who have rights" sermon. She got to the end of her lecture and asked if I had any concerns. This was years ago, but I mentally noted that she asked about my "concerns" rather than "questions".
I did have concerns, and I told her about them. First, when I pay money to get a thing, whatever it is, it is called "buying", and it becomes mine to do with as I please – within the constraints of applicable laws. Property rights are fairly important to me, and I will not willingly cede them to self-righteous strangers who claim to know better than me what is best for my property. Second, it is only a dog. Third, I've got no intention of racing or breeding dogs, because that sounds like far more trouble than it would be worth, but I would be damned if I was going to sign anything certifying it. Since the dog would be mine – and not hers – it would cease being her business what I did with it as soon as the money changed hands.
Finally, I have a severe problem with people who act all pious about what they do, as if their piety gives them the obligation to tell others what they can and cannot do, what they must and must not do, and how they must behave while doing, or not doing, all the foregoing. It is self-righteous in the anthropomorphic extreme to elevate buying and selling dogs to the level of pseudo-pious "adoption".
She was greatly offended by my concerns and told me so.
I told her that I didn't care; I was pretty offended myself by her self-righteousness.
She told me that it didn't look like she could work with me to "place" one of their "rescues".
I told her that "placing" a "rescue" is exactly why I wouldn't buy a dog from them in the first place.
And I got another sermon on how and why their "agency" does its thing. In no particular order, their "thing" contains the following sub-things:
1] they are a not-for-profit organization, so
2] money is not their objective;
3] their interests are solely on the welfare of the dogs, which are
4] being saved from certain destruction after their racing days are over.
I informed the lady of the things she already knew but did not have the honesty to admit to me. They included:
1] "not-for-profit" is a tax-purpose definition, and has little to do with the operation of the business, which
2] still employs people, whose income is dependent on donation or sales income, so money is an objective;
3] if their "sole interests" were on the welfare of the dogs, then they wouldn't charge the "qualified" new owner, and
4] if the dog is being saved from "certain destruction", then everyone but the dog-eating east-Asian should automatically qualify.
On top of which, they are getting these dogs for free, or nearly for free; their only major continuing expense is housing and feeding the dogs, and if "money is not their objective", then they wouldn't be charging $125 or $150 for a greyhound. They'd recoup their costs only. Face it lady, I told her, you're peddling dogs for money, and acting self-righteously bossy while doing it. Or words very close to that.
After a few more short rounds of judgmental statements, we hung up. Needless to say, I didn't get a greyhound from her and she doesn’t get Christmas greetings from me.
Several years later – and several years ago – I was looking for a horse. One of the places that was suggested to me was the thoroughbred rescue people. They had an email address. I wrote them. They had many of the same requirements as the Greyhound folks – existing pasture, must agree to not race or breed. I had much the same "concerns". If I'm buying a horse, then it's mine, not theirs. And I'm suddenly not interested, but just for curiosity ... how much are you selling your thoroughbreds for?
They quoted me a price for a thoroughbred, a mare, that was coincidentally the same price as a neighbor of mine was selling a brood mare, also a thoroughbred. It was several thousand dollars – I forget how many exactly. I tend to glaze over after a comma goes into the price.
So, let's see if I have this right ... I can spend, say, $6,000 and buy a brood mare thoroughbred from my neighbor that I can do with as I please; or I can spend the same $6,000 and buy a "rescue" mare thoroughbred that I canNOT do with as I please...
Is there any real choice here?
Why should I spend my money to fill someone else's ego with self-righteous piety? That doesn't make any sense to me. If you're "rescuing" animals out of the kindness of your heart, then go all the way with it. Give the animals away, free of charge, to people you select as "appropriate". When it's your money, your time and your effort, you have the right to be selective and pious.
You abandon most of your rights to selectivity, and all of your claims to piety the minute you exchange someone else's money for your efforts. At that point it becomes a business transaction, buying and selling, and whatever piety you may have had now becomes irrelevant.
The "rescue agency" may indeed have rescued the animal from neglect, abuse, abandonment or certain death, but the "rescue" transaction is over and done with when the rescue agency takes possession of the animal. When the rescue agency wants to transfer the animal to someone else, it becomes a new transaction entirely – a sales transaction if money is involved. I am not rescuing an animal from abuse [etc] by buying it from a rescue agency; I am buying it. I am also not "adopting" it when I trade money for a dog; I am buying it.
I agree very much with the aims of rescue agencies, but I require that they be honest about it: I am buying the animal that they rescued. I prefer that my dealing with them reflect those terms. Purchases of property in this country come with property rights. I don't voluntarily abdicate my rights to others, even if they have really swell intentions and noble sentiments. And when my purchase of property is made contingent upon my acquiescence to the demands of the seller – I refuse to buy.
This is one of the reasons I refuse to deal with the Humane Society. I have needed, at times, barn cats. Cats that I will feed often enough to get them to stick around but not enough to keep them fat and lazy. I want them hunting. I have mice and moles and rabbits that I want dead. That's what cats are for; that’s what nature provided them claws and really sharp teeth for. I went to the Humane Society for a barn cat.
"How much do you charge for barn cats?" I asked.
You'd have thought I asked if I could please skin a live cat right in front of them, and eat it raw. "We do not have 'barn cats'!" protested the Humane lady who had a sudden pallor; "we have indoor cats. Any cat you get from us must live inside." Nope, sorry; don't have moles in the basement, mice in the pantry or rabbits in the lettuce drawer.
I discussed this exchange with a lady I knew at the time; this lady had a barn and barn cats – several barn cats. She tried to rationalize the Humane Society. "They put their time and money into rehabilitating these abused and neglected animals; they have the right to say what you can do with them."
First, their rights to dictate end when money changes hands; and second, they don't spend as much money as they'd like you to believe they spend. This was corroborated by the uniquely honest rescue shelter from which I eventually got my barn cat. The shelter operator[s], an old couple who sincerely loved animals, but understood them to be just that: animals, said that their overhead consists of dog and cat food, much of which is donated, and the occasional all-nighter when one of the animals gets sick, and not much else. Otherwise, they get dogs and cats free – they are brought in by residents and veterinarians; they own the "shelter", a ramshackle cinderblock building with multiple chain link fences criss-crossing behind it; and the veterinarian donates his time and materials for the tax deduction he gets. I got my cat from this place. $15, as I recall. She lives outside and seems happy.
But there's still the misconception that shelter pet care costs a lot of money, particularly for veterinary care. The rescue agencies, particularly, trumpet these costs. "This dog is up-to-date on its shots ... the adoption fee is $75."
It would cost me less than $10 to give my dog "up-to-date" shots, and largely donated food doesn't cost them $65, even for a year, unless the dog is getting steak tartare and caviar. Of course, I live in a state in which rabies vaccine is a state-controlled commodity, which means that the administrator of the vaccination must be licensed by the state to do so, and a county tag is issued to be worn by the dog at all times indicating currency in rabies vaccine. But I know how to inject animals, and I've done it several times; I could give my dog all the vaccinations she needed for under $10. Even less than that, if I was doing multiple dogs.
There are websites where you can purchase, by mailorder, pet medications, including all their vaccines. A 25-dose vial of multiple vaccine [distemper, parvo, lepto, etc] costs about $75 for the lot. And rabies vaccine, both the 1-year and the 3-year vaccine, costs between $0.67 and $0.80 a dose for a 50-dose set. For a veterinarian to visit an animal shelter and vaccinate, say, 25 dogs on a Saturday afternoon costs him about $90 in materials, and probably under an hour of his time. When my dog goes to the vet, walking in the door costs $20, a rabies shot costs $40, and the multi-vaccine $25.
Well, the guy is a doctor after all, and he studied animals and their diseases. I'm just a guy who likes animals and isn't squeamish about poking them with a needle. There's a difference. But it doesn't cost what most people think it costs – or what rescue agencies want you to believe it costs. And the vet gets to claim a couple thousand dollars of "charitable donation" to a "not-for-profit" organization for that $90 and hour of his time. More power to him.
The rescue agency isn't out a dime. And good for them, too.
Animals are great things, but they're just animals. They're just dogs, or they're just cats, or they're just whatever. We should be kind to animals but not get overly, not to mention irrationally, pious about them. If you want to rescue animals, then by all means rescue them. If you want the animals you rescue to have better homes, then look for those homes and give the animal to that home when you find it. If you want the animals you rescue and find homes for to provide you with a living, then you automatically forfeit whatever piety you may wish to claim: you are now trading animal for cash, and are not really any different than any pet store, any puppy mill, or any kitten farm.
Hiding behind faux-piety doesn't win any points with me, but honesty goes far.