With each passing year, dog fanciers throughout the country are confronted with more and more regulations affecting the ownership of dogs. Each new law that is passed and each new regulation that goes into effect makes it just a little more burdensome for the fancier to own a dog. For a number of years now, most municipalities have had some sort of licensing requirement, the principal purpose of which was to insure that dogs are vaccinated against rabies. Usually the licensing fee is nominal and goes to support the local humane society. The more urbanized areas, in addition to restricting the number of dogs that can be kept in residential sections, typically also have a leash law to reduce the nuisance, and possible danger, of dogs running at large. The legislation enacted in recent years, however, quite frequently has had an entirely different purpose. All too often it is aimed, among others, at reducing the dog population as a whole. Ironically, this trend is partly the result of the dog’s popularity itself — the population explosion among dogs has been staggering. The Market Research Corporation of America, in a study for the Pet Food Institute, estimates that in 1971 there were 32.6 million dogs in this country, a 34% increase over 1965. Little wonder that municipalities are becoming concerned. The waste disposal problem alone defies imagination. Another reason for more stringent legislation is the inconsiderate or irresponsible dog owner who, to the ire of his neighbor, does not exercise common courtesy in relation to his surroundings, or who, to the consternation of humane societies, simply abandons his dog when it no longer suits him. A third reason for some of this legislation is the special interest of some groups who want to garner a larger share of what they see as a potentially lucrative market — the sale of dogs to the public.
The difficulty with much of this legislation is that all too often it fails to come to grips with the real problem — irresponsibility and over-population — while at the same time penalizing the sincere and responsible dog owner. Without going into the intricacies of some of these laws, let me give you one example. Several months ago I had the occasion to visit Frankfurt, Germany. While there, I was amazed by the scarcity of dogs. When I mentioned this to an acquaintance, his reply was “I should hope so, the license fee is $60 per year for the privilege of owning a dog.” Could this happen to us? I recently looked at a proposed piece of legislation for a large eastern state which contemplates an annual license fee of $10 and the tattooing of dogs before a license can be obtained. The tattooing would be done by licensed, i.e., commercial tattooers who presumably could charge anywhere from $10 to $30 for that service. Raise that license fee a little at a time and before you know it, you will be up to $60 together with the tattooing. Obviously this legislation is aimed at controlling the total number of dogs in the state. (It surely is not a revenue producing measure for it would quickly kill the goose that lays the golden eggs.) Nor is this necessarily an undesirable aim, but why do it by increasing the cost of owning a dog? Can we not separate the responsible from the irresponsible dog owner? Why not begin by enforcing the laws we already have and why not increase the fines for violations of these laws? Before making it more difficult for the responsible person to own a dog, should we not first try to put the onus on the irresponsible person? I am sure there are many ways which could be found of dealing with the problem which would not work to the detriment of the sincere fancier.
If you have stuck with me this far, you are probably asking yourself “what has all this got to do with me? I can’t do anything about all these laws and besides, there are all kinds of groups who keep up on these things and who will make sure that everything will be all right.” Well, it has a great deal to do with you. You can influence legislation but I am not even going to ask you to write to your Congressmen and Senators. And those groups who keep up on these things also need your support. What I am going to ask you, however, is to think about the opportunity we, the people in obedience, as a group, have in educating others. As instructors, members of clubs, or whatever, we have the most contact with the inexperienced dog owner and are best situated to teach him the responsibilities of dog ownership. But how much time do we actually spend on proper etiquette as distinguished from the mechanics of teaching the dog certain exercises? While these areas overlap, there is much more to proper etiquette than is generally covered in a Basic Course on Dog Obedience. Consider those seemingly trifling examples of taking the dog for a walk and permitting him to relieve himself on the neighbor’s lawn; or letting him run loose to the annoyance of others; or letting him rush up to children who may be frightened; or letting him bark at 3:00 a.m. in the morning, etc., all of which incidentally is covered by the typical dog ordinance and all of which will sorely try the patience of even the most ardent dog lover. If you are involved in instructing, how much time and effort do you spend on this aspect of owning a dog?
Much of the current crop of proposed legislation is the result of irresponsibility pure and simple. At present, New York City is considering enacting an ordinance — dubbed the “scoop the poop” law — which would require owners to clean up after their dogs. Regardless of the merits of the proposal, why is it being considered? Because too many people permit their dogs to perform on the sidewalk instead of curbing them as required by the existing ordinance. Without wanting to sound alarming, with our increasingly urbanized way of life, this legislative trend will continue and it is only a question of who will ultimately pay the price.
Part of this educational effort should also be devoted to the problem of indiscriminate, senseless, and accidental breedings. The novice seems to have the idea that breeding dogs is easy and remunerative. The breeding may be easy, but the whelping and rearing of puppies is backbreaking and rarely profitable for the novice. Then there are invariably those parents who want to breed their dog so “the children can witness the miracle of birth.” I suggest that a film, the local zoo or a pair of guppies would meet this objective much more readily without unnecessarily adding to the dog population. Finally, we have the old wives’ tales of what alteration does to a dog and that is just what they are — old wives’ tales.
Perhaps all this is not of proper concern for the obedience fancy. Personally, I think it is because after all is said and done, it is we who will have to bear the burden which will be imposed on dog ownership as a result of irresponsible ownership and increased population. It is for our own protection and the protection of the fancy as we know it today that all of us must think about what we can do to improve the situation, by way of example and by educating others, and act accordingly.
©1972 J. Volhard