Less than two years ago, the Peninsula Humane Society in California's San Mateo County came up with a simple idea: Curtail the breeding of animals in order to stop the killing of animals.
The approach was revolutionary. Instead of accepting the killing of surplus dogs and cats as "normal," the society proposed requiring every animal be spayed or neutered, unless the owners purchased breeding permits. It was a landmark attempt to shift responsibility for animal overpopulation onto those who cause the problem: People who allow their animals to produce litters, no matter what the reason.
Breeders reacted strongly. But as they argued their case, they came to realize that most of the public neither understood nor cared about the difference between a reputable breeder and an ignorant, cruel or greedy one. The idea that draconian anti-breeding laws could develop and spread with the support of the public panicked even the most sensible and reputable of breeders.
Lines were quickly drawn in hundreds of communities around the nation where the San Mateo idea was put forth. At one extreme were some animal activists who believed, as one of them told me, "A breeder is a breeder is a breeder. All of them are nothing more than puppy pimps."
At the other extreme were some fanciers of show-quality dogs and cats who felt they had a "right" to breed, show and sell their animals any way they pleased. They didn't care about the death of mixed breeds at all. And although many did not require the pet-quality animals they sold to be altered, these people would not admit they were part of the problem -- no matter that obviously well-bred and even show-quality purebreds occasionally end up in the shelters. (Don't tell me they're not there; I've pulled them out myself.)
But there has developed a still-shaky middle ground, where reputable breeders are accepting their part of the problem and what must be their leadership role in the solution. At the same time, some animal activists are realizing that those reputable breeders are not the enemy. The challenge, both sides agree, is to find some way to reach the selfish or careless breeders who are responsible for the majority of surplus pets. That's the goal in San Mateo County, where the breeding-permit ordinance went into effect in March.
From this common ground of understanding, perhaps some other solutions will be advanced. After all, even those who care little about animals would agree there's a better way to spend both tax-generated and charitable funds than killing adoptable pets. Surely those who do care can look beyond their own narrow interests and give a little to help fix this problem.
Ms. Spadafori is a licensed pet trainer in Sacramento, Calif. Questions about pets may be sent to her c/o The Sun, 501 N. Calvert St., Baltimore 21278.