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Guest Commentary

California AB 1634 has brought together many people from diverse backgrounds for a common purpose: to defeat this draconian bill. Many of us are genuinely unaware just how different our various worlds are. I am part of the working dog world and I don't claim to be an expert (or even a novice) in show dogs. One thing that's become apparent to me is that working dog people and show dog people have very different views about spay/neuter.

In conformation show dog communities, I'm told that most pups are sold on spay/neuter contracts and only a small number are kept intact - those kept by the breeder or sold as "show prospects", often to other breeders. There is a common refrain from show and pet dog communities that "responsible dog owners spay/neuter their dogs", and I've recently seen statements suggesting that if a dog owner doesn't wish to participate in conformation show events they should s/n their dog. Correct me if I've characterized this wrong.

In working dog communities, most and ideally nearly all dogs are kept intact. Often times it's just a given that this will happen. In other cases, working dog breeders beg their puppy buyers to keep their pups intact. That's why we are starting to see working dog breeders refuse to sell pups into California - since they don't want ANY of their pups to face mandatory s/n (at ANY age).

There are a number of reasons why most dogs are kept intact in working dog populations, but the main one is because it is simply impossible to select the breeding quality dogs at eight weeks of age, four months of age, or one year of age. We don't know if a dog is suitable for working dog breeding until he or she is two years old or older. It's common in some cases for the males not to get breedings until they are four or five years old, or older. Working dog people want to see health and working abilities that hold up over time before breeding these dogs. It's also well known in working dog communities that working abilities aren't maintained unless we breed the outstanding dogs... "best to best" in simplified terms. Given all this, it's imperative to keep nearly all dogs intact until they are mature adults in order to select the breeding dogs... not just the small fraction owned by established breeders. Working dog populations have been bred this way for thousands of years.

Most working dog studs are not owned by breeders... they are owned by people who bought a male to perform some working or performance dog function, and it turned out their male grew up to be an outstanding dog so he ends up getting bred. The same is true for many females that are responsibly bred. In working GSD and Malinois populations that I'm most familiar with, the most demanding selection for working abilities is with the male dogs, and again, most of these dogs are not owned by breeders.

It's totally inadequate to give special status to "legitimate working dog breeders" as AB 1634 does when truth of the matter is EVERY dog in these populations needs this option, not just those owned by established breeders. The alternative is an inevitable decline of health and working abilities in the population. There's really no way for a law to single out working dogs either, since there's no meaningful distinction a law could make between working dog populations and other dog populations. So bottom line: either all dogs get to stay intact or the law is bad for working dog populations.

It seems a lot of people have looked at the working dog language in AB 1634 and its exemption for "legitimate breeder of working dogs" and concluded that it's OK for working dogs now. Not so. I hope I've explained one of the reasons why this bill doesn't work for working dogs. There's other reasons, this is just one of them.

Many people are quite capable of responsibly keeping dogs intact, not just an elite few. If you want to see an illustration of regular people keeping dogs intact responsibly, consider that in Europe most dogs are kept intact, and yet, they don't have nearly the numbers of dogs in their animal shelters that we have. Spay/neuter is not the answer to the so-called and mis-named "pet overpopulation" problem, and those of us in the working dog world just don't buy the "responsible dog owners s/n their dogs" mantra. For example:

Human Population:
California: 36 million
UK: 60 million

% dogs s/n:
California: about 70%
UK: about 20%

# dogs euth'd annually in animal shelters:
California 115,000
UK: 7743

Laura Sanborn

Editor's note: Readers are invited to share their point of view on current event topics related to spaniels, hunting or animals, in general. Spaniel Journal reserves the right to edit for length or clarity and will publish or decline to publish as seen fit. If you would like to submit a Guest Commentary item, please send it to the Editor, Loretta Baughan at:

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