What ARE we doing for the breed?

the views expressed here are those of Michael Marcus, and not necessarily those of CRNC

The USDA-breeder issue is just a tiny part of a much larger issue -- how does the NCA best serve the welfare of the breed. As with most missions, our choices generally come down to abdication, regulation, or education. There are good and bad reasons for each. I will argue that the NCA should be doing less abdicating and far more educating, and that our mistakes in regulating are a product of the tension between the two.

The NCA does a great deal of educating about esthetic issues by celebrating, promoting, and enforcing the breed standard. To a lesser extent, we celebrate working events and thereby at least indirectly promote the soundness of the breed and, to some extent, the breeding practices that produce sound dogs. We do very little regulating (the recent "cease and desist" directive notwithstanding); it seems to amount to very rare disciplinary inquiries involving members and occasional unpublished denials of membership applications. We have supported health and longevity activities, but we've done very little directly to regulate or to educate in the direction of producing sound dogs and placing them with appropriate homes. To the extent that we fail in these responsibilities, we are abdicating our mission. There is a long history and much reason for not doing some regulation I think we should be doing: requiring breeders to adhere to specific health screening, disclosure practices and buyer-selection criteria; and enforcing these requirements by publicly withholding or terminating NCA membership, Newf Tide advertising privileges, and breeder/stud dog listing access. The distaste for controversy and the fear of costly litigation are legitimate concerns, of course. These same concerns should also keep us from pursuing incorrect, unproductive, or self-defeating regulation -- such as direct censorship of regional clubs and their web sites.

Censorship aside, we cannot responsibly demand that all NCA members and clubs refer only to the NCA's breeder list at least until we can in good faith claim that we've put only responsible breeders who will correctly screen buyers on that list, and we can't claim that until we take a far more aggressive role in regulation than we've ever been willing to take. Whatever the fate of any attempt to adopt a more aggressive regulatory role, I submit that the NCA can and should greatly expand its educational approach to the issue of the welfare of the breed as affected by breeding and puppy buying practices.

The critical premise for my position is that although there are always going to be irresponsible puppy buyers who shop for a dog as they would for a TV -- with a mall mentality -- and breeders who are willing to serve them, there are many people looking for a dog who want to know how to find a responsible breeder, and many breeders who would welcome more accessible information on sound breeding practices and effective buyer-screening techniques. I've met many good people (after the fact) who set out to learn what they could to make a good choice only to end up with a Newfoundland who needs enormous vet expenses for the rest of its short life. They wanted to do a good job of selecting a dog, but were frustrated in their attempts to get the information they needed. Sending them to the NCA breeders list didn't do it; they have no readily accessible information on how to screen breeders.

In the information age, whether on the web or in the newspaper, every step we take to reduce our disclosure about sources of puppies makes it more likely that even potentially responsible buyers will turn to the marketplace for information. If we provide information, we're in a position also to educate. Here's what I propose (whether or not we beef up any regulatory approach):

Instead of restricting information - by avoiding referrals altogether, limiting referrals to an imperfect NCA breeder and stud dog list (remember why that disclaimer is there), or by choosing to fight a protracted battle over censorship,

1. Develop a page on the NCA site and a pamphlet for the NCA packet with really good information on how to search for a puppy. Yes, start with the "go to shows, talk to owners" advice, as it's good, and include "Don't Buy a Newfoundland," and the material already on the NCA and Newf-L web sites on puppy selection. But this stuff amounts to a statement of principles rather than actually useful directions for selecting a breeder and a dog; we should tell people, for example, how to use and to access AKC Stud Book information and OFA records and even USDA license data -- tell them why a USDA license is a red flag, but alert them to the possibility of innocent explanations. Give them a check list of questions to ask breeders about health issues. This stuff is really remarkably hidden from view -- I've been an active Newf owner for over a dozen years, but just learned the full scope of the USDA issue in the last few weeks; I've known about OFA certifications, but have at best an imperfect understanding of how to use the Newfoundland database, the OFA information, and the Stud Book to analyze breeders. A good site would have links to the APHIS search engine, the Newfoundland database, and (were it available on-line) the AKC stats. I know there are hundreds of opportunities to share this kind of information with well-motivated puppy buyers, but I've not had a practical way of doing it, let alone the full information to share.

2. Do the equivalent for breeders. I am certain that easily accessible information on how to select breeding stock, how to screen for health issues, and how to screen buyers could go a long way to improve the impact of many less experienced (and probably some more experienced) breeders on the welfare of the breed.

3. Encourage regional clubs to include this information (by web link, their local variation, and/or their paper publications) in responses to inquiries from puppy buyers. It would help in this regard if we were permitted a direct link to the page on Jack's site which (in the future, when we develop it) would give this valuable information to puppy buyers -- so the buyer doesn't have to navigate the site to get there (just so we can count visitors -- Jack: have you any idea how many "visitors" are really web crawlers indexing your site for search engines???). Of course, the page doesn't have to be on the NCA site; the NCA can help develop the information and share it with clubs for creation of their own page, but a centralized site would be easiest to support and update.

The remarkable thing about the USDA link discussion is that in spite of the heat, there is no disagreement -- puppy mills are bad, pet shop sales should be discouraged, and responsible breeding and buying practices supported. Censorship is not the answer -- whether it is by insisting on using the relatively unregulated NCA breeder/stud book or by "directing" clubs what they can and cannot do or say about breeders. Even putting aside the specter of an unpleasant and protracted debate about censorship, were the effort successful at reducing the information about breeders available from clubs (who are, after all, the most likely source of good referrals on a local basis, at least informally), and even putting aside the burden of enforcement that would surely follow, the result of successful censorship would be undermining the ability of regional clubs to have a receptive audience with which to share good information about puppy buying to direct those buyers who want to do a good job of selecting their breeder and their Newf. Don't relegate them to the market place; make information available and use the opportunity to educate.

There may be good and bad reasons for avoiding regulation; there are no good reasons to avoid education. To do so is to abdicate our mission.

Michael Marcus, January 2000

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