Here’s a “secret” that most people don’t know about me. I love filling out opinion polls. If I’ve got nothing to do, mostly when I’m listening to a podcast, I’ll be on one of those polling sites filling out questionnaires about cars and food and electronics, etc. It’s fun to give my opinion and I get rewards out of it, why not? I have more than $200 in rewards sitting in my Amazon account at the moment, just from spending a couple of minutes here and there clicking through some polls.
Recently, one poll asked if anyone in the family had ever been involved in breeding dogs or cats and while nobody ever has, certainly I and my wife were heavily involved in breeding rabbits, rats, mice and hamsters in the distant past. It’s something I’ve never really talked about, so here goes nothing.
I love animals, always have, always will. The house is always full of them and I can’t imagine that ever changing. We’ve had our phases, where we had a ton of reptiles and snakes, where we had a ton of dogs and cats and where we had a ton of small animals. I had some friends who were small animal breeders and something inside of me clicked. I loved the idea of the genetics behind the scenes, I loved the interaction with the animals, working toward a goal and even the idea of showing animals to compare the results of our efforts. The one thing that I never liked were the people.
Now I feel justified in saying this because I’ve gone at this twice, one breeding fancy rats, mice and hamsters through AFRMA and the other time breeding rabbits through ARBA. Yes, there were some really fantastic people involved but there were enough real assholes, people who were living vicariously through their animals, there to show off and strut their stuff, some of them who absolutely didn’t care a bit about the animals themselves, they were just a means to an egotistical end, that I eventually walked away. I couldn’t take it anymore. They treated the animals like products. They’d go through a litter and any animals that didn’t meet breed standards, they’d break their necks or drown them and they were very open and honest about it. Of course, there are plenty of stories of the same thing going on among dog and cat breeders and showers too. It’s horrific. These people ought to die in a fire.
There were also more than a few instances where people would out and out cheat to win ribbons at shows and at least one case where a show judge colluded with one of her friends, who just conveniently always won and faults were just “never seen”. I’m sorry, but if you’re willing to cheat to win, you’re a pretty pathetic loser all around.
I got to the point where it was obvious everyone wasn’t gathered together in celebration of improving the breed, they were there to win at any cost and I had no more interest in that than in watching self-obsessed mothers forcing their daughters into beauty pageants so they could wave around the ribbons and act important. There was no fun trying to create something new and interesting, it was about profit. I remember, and this is back in the mid-90s, that a bunch of people were trying to create tail-less rats. The first person who did so, also created some serious genetic problems, the rats had weak connective tissue in their hind legs and a significant number of tail-less rats were also either paralyzed in the back legs or had the serious potential to lose the use of their back legs. Even knowing this, the guy who did it kept selling his rats at several hundred dollars each, he didn’t care about the rats, he cared about the paycheck. It wasn’t until many months later that another group of us created a strain that was tail-less and also stable. Had I come up with the original strain, I never would have continued it, that’s just knowing cruelty to animals, but hey, many of these people have no love for the animals, they care only about themselves.
Likewise, I got into dwarf hamsters back when they were almost unheard of in the U.S. They were available only in the wild agouti version and albino. Most of the animals in captivity were taken from the wild and honestly, they had a lot of bad traits including a tendency to bite and to destroy litters at the slightest provocation. The common sense of the day was that you couldn’t even so much as look at a litter for at least 2 weeks after birth or the mother would kill them all. They had a horrible reputation for being unfriendly and drawing blood. Some of us wanted to change that and started selectively breeding the best tempered animals to produce a generally friendly and tolerant strain. Unfortunately, there were lots of breeders who didn’t care about that, they just bred as fast as they could so they could be selling hamsters at $40 each and make a bundle. The quality and temperament of their hamsters meant nothing. Today, there are many different colors available in the trade and they are, generally, comfortable around people and they are certainly not as hard to breed as they once were, no thanks to the people who sought only to profit from a rare commodity.
Finally, long after I gave up on being around the rat and mouse crowd, I took up breeding rabbits, particularly Netherland dwarf and mini lops. I like rabbits, I went to a local show because on of my daughters wanted a rabbit and I got hooked. It wasn’t long before I was involved in the whole show circuit, but again, I found that a considerable number of people involved were there for personal fame and glory, they couldn’t care less about the animals involved. In fact, I saw a sizeable amount of out-and-out animal abuse at shows, often performed right in front of judges, without a single word of correction or complaint. Seriously, people would take their losing rabbits off the stand and literally throw them into carriers because the rabbit had a fault that caused them to be disqualified. Nobody said a thing. It was accepted, or at the very least, people were too afraid to open their mouths and make enemies.
Now yes, my experiences were all local, I lacked the interest in going to regional or national shows and hopefully people behaved better there but I doubt it. I just couldn’t watch people treat animals like garbage and I just walked away from rabbit breeding and vowed never to go back. Don’t get me wrong, I love rabbits, I love small animals, I particularly love rats and really want to get some again, I saw the cutest hairless dumbos at a local pet store about a week ago and had to force myself to walk away. Maybe one of these days I won’t be able to resist. I don’t think that’s a bad thing either. Anyone who deals with animals in any competitive way really should respect the animals as living creatures, not as a product, not as a prize-winning surrogate, but as something that has feelings and can feel pain and deserves a minimum level of respect. If you can’t feed it, if you can’t place it with a respectable home, then by all means don’t breed it. It’s the responsible thing to do.