Man’s Best Friend Betrayed

Dogs have been human companions for a long time. A recent study suggests that the relationship between humans and dogs started about 30 000 years ago, when fur-clad humans were living in caves and hunting woolly mammoths. "Dogs were our companions long before we kept goats, sheep or cattle," said Professor Johannes Krause, one of the researchers from Tubingen University in Germany.

But even if this is not a proven hypothesis, we have been friends with dogs for at least 15 000 years. It’s a well-established fact that the quid pro quo between humans and dogs has existed longer than modern civilisation.

Human relationships with non-human animals started with survival needs: assistance in acquiring food and safety. There is an instinctive bond between human beings and other living things, and this helps explain why ordinary people care for and sometimes risk their lives to save domestic and wild animals.. The companion animal demonstrates how humans love life and want to support and sustain life.

This grew so that animals have become a source of social support and companionship, the animal is part of our community, and contributes to our psychological well-being. An animal can give a sense of cohesion, support, or sustenance to a person's sense of self. In some cases, individuals have been known to feel stronger, more protected, and more powerful in the company of their companion animal.

The history of the AfriCanis is a good example of this synergy between humans and dogs.

AfriCanis are only found in the tribal rural areas all over the southern African subcontinent. They should not be confused with the multitude of dogs roaming free in informal settlements and townships.

Contrary to all modern breeds, the AfriCanis is not an artificially selected breed, but a ‘landrace’. It is the result of natural selection and physical and mental adaptation to various African ecological niches. It has not been "selected" or "bred" for appearance. Nature made it to fit the conditions of Africa. In traditional southern African philosophy, the most important requirement for a dog is to be "wise". For centuries, only the fittest and cleverest dogs survived to give us one of the rare remaining natural aboriginal dog populations in the world.

Dog and human brains are correlated in ways that reflect the synergy of human-dog interaction over centuries. We are expressions of them as much as they are expressions of us.

But things have changed.

Instead of respect and admiration for our best friends, we have reduced them to slaves, to be used as our proxies in dog fighting, as extensions of our egos in dog shows, as means of income by breeders. This amounts to a betrayal – having conditioned them to be dependent upon us, we have kicked them to the kerb as if they are mere commodities, bought, sold and hurt to satisfy our whims.

In South Africa this has reached crisis proportions. We have a companion animal overpopulation crisis that results in a conservative estimate of 1 MILLION animals being euthanized in our shelters because there is not enough space or food to support them.

Dog Fighting

The dog fighting industry is inherently cruel and for that reason it is illegal. But it has become an option for those who cannot acquire social acceptance on their own merit.

Many dog fighters come from non-responsive homes and communities with limited social or economic opportunity. They never acquire the tools to excel. With dog fighting, they are accepted, especially if they have a winning dog. Well known and respected in their circle, they are emulated by others. They gain a tremendous satisfaction and positive reinforcement from their new 'friends.' And because of their commitment to the care and training of their dog, their dog is a winner, and so are they. Dog fighting is basically peer-group acceptance by proxy, and the dogs suffer on behalf of their insecure, maladapted owners.

“The dog fighter sees his dog's victory as having a direct reflection on his strength and manliness, which I think is one of the reasons that we see brutal treatment of animals that don't perform well" ~ Dr Randall Lockwood

Where there is dog fighting, there is gambling and there are drugs involved. In raids dogs have been found chained to poles in abandoned buildings or basements with the windows boarded up, no air, no food and no water, protecting their drug stashes. A skeleton of a dog chained to a pole was found; they left him there to starve to death after he had served his purpose. Others have been found dead after they had started eating each other and left there to die.

In short, no civilised society should support dog fighting. It is both cowardly and fundamentally immoral to force an animal to fight in the name of a human’s manhood. Only an idiot actually believes this to be a manly pursuit. Real men defend the downtrodden, they do not add to the exploitation.

Greyhound Racing

Race dogs live in crates or pens an average of 20 hours per day. Pens are for the most part not climate controlled and the dogs are subject to weather extremes and the elements. Many times the dogs endure inhumane treatment with no real professional veterinary care and very little human contact. Greyhounds are very prone to injury and they are not treated properly if injured, and in most cases are disposed of.

Small animals such as rabbits are used as live bail during practice sessions and are maimed and killed. The argument that this is necessary because it enhances the greyhounds “taste for blood” is totally invalid as greyhounds are sight oriented in hunting. They will chase moving objects; they are not motivated by the scent of blood.

The greyhound industry is known for producing tens of thousands of animals each year — many more than will ever run a race — in its quest to breed winning dogs. Thousands of ‘used up’ or aged-out greyhounds at racetracks and thousands more young, healthy ‘surplus’ dogs — products of over breeding — are disposed of each year. The lucky animals are euthanized by veterinarians. It is not unheard of for dogs to be killed by gunshot, bludgeoning, starvation or abandonment when they are deemed no longer useful or not fit to race.

There is no good reason to change the current status of dog racing in South Africa, which is that it is illegal. But there are many illegal dog races occurring on farms far away from the public eye, accompanied by all the above neglect and cruelty.

Show Dogs

Show dogs are really just expressions of human egoism. The dog is a vehicle for the owner’s need for approval, and it’s somewhat pathetic that conformation to an ideal set, not by veterinarians or geneticists, but by kennel clubs and based purely on aesthetics with little or no consideration for the health of the animal, becomes the main objective rather than the joy of companionship. This is sad for the dogs because many of these show dogs are inherently unhealthy because of inbreeding over long periods of time.

The notion that show dogs are ‘superior’ is a myth. They are unlikely to be healthier or more capable than their crossbred counterparts, because genetic diversity and natural selection is always better than amateur breed engineering.

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There are many types of breeders and to be honest none of them can claim to be innocent when it comes to the overpopulation crisis in South Africa:

The unconscious Backyard Breeder, whose animals run around the neighbourhood merrily fertilising or being fertilised to their heart’s content, because they are not sterilised. Whether they are ignorant or just stupid – and I do not refer to the non-human animals here – is not really the core issue. Ignorance must be educated and stupidity must be legislated and controlled. Fact is, legislation and policing is non-existent. Every animal produced by a backyard breeder adds another statistic to the already overwhelming numbers.

The Registered Breeder follows a breeding plan to preserve and protect the breed, itself problematic because inbreeding leads to physical defects and most breeders don’t work with a geneticist so they have no idea how the progeny will work out. They propagate the myth of the superiority of the purebred over the crossbred animal while the opposite is true. While in many cases they are the benchmark for breeding practice, they are not as squeaky clean as some might like to believe. Their primary motivation is, in most cases, financial profit, and considering the effects as outlined above, one could easily say that as an industry it is part of the problem, since these breeders are not concerned with the fact that every time another animal is sold, a homeless animal is consigned to Death Row.

Commercial (unregistered) Breeders are motivated chiefly by money and have little interest in the animals themselves. In many cases, their facilities are not kept very clean and the animals’ health is of secondary importance. Commercial Breeders sell to pet shops and brokers who sell on to pet shops or flea markets or even to anybody from the roadside. This is where much of the excess volume is created, since they are less concerned with quality than with quantity and the dogs that don’t make it are merely ‘collateral damage’.

Brokers buy from Commercial Breeders and sell to pet shops and other retail outlets, often selling puppies in classified ads. Puppies are often shipped by the truckload.

Bunchers collect dogs from people who advertise them ‘free to good homes’, adopt unwanted animals from shelters, or buy stolen pets and sell them to laboratories or brokers.

Puppy Mills produce puppies indiscriminately with no regard for breeding practices, the welfare of the puppies, or socialisation practices. Overcrowding and neglect are common, as is abuse. These also operate in large volumes, since the object is to maximise throughput at any cost. In most cases, the cost is reckoned in neglect and abuse of catastrophic proportions.

All this amounts to a betrayal of man’s best friend in the name of money, ego and personal gratification, and anyone involved in any of these activities should be ashamed.