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Sunday, 30 September 2012

The Undefined Backyard Breeder

Ugh! The vexed question of what a backyard breeder may be, hangs ever in the air in a haze of ambiguity. There's more concerted (can I say "enthusiastic"?) discussion concerning "BYB's" than any other topic in the cat fancy. If there's one subject you can jump up and down on in a public mail forum, confident in the knowledge that nobody in the cat fancy is going to take offence, it's the so-called BYB bashing.

(Let me state at this point, that all considerations in this post apply equally to the dog fancy. The characters are the same, the issues are identical).

So why doesn't anyone actually know what a BYB is ?

There are no limit of people that think they do, or who use the tag as a slur, but that doesn't mean they've done the thinking around what a BYB is, and why they should be (apparently) hated so much - or what differentiates them, as a "proper breeder" in deed, from BYB's.

But today, we had an epiphany over early morning coffee. Yes, our eyes may still be partially glued shut, but the brain is starting to tick over...

Let's start with the classical cat fancy definition of what a BYB is, and it's illustrated by the following statement on a popular cat fancy nationwide mail list a few days ago. The issue concerned somebody who had independently (& privately) SMS'ed a question to a couple of registered cat breeders, asking where they could get an entire mate for their cat. Within a short time, these conversations were broadcast, (names intact) to the national cat fancy. (We will examine the question of integrity later in this posting).

An oracle of the cat fancy concluded the discussion by posting the following :
"I spoke to (name omitted) I think it is clearer to him now. I explained one needs to join a club and one of our 3 registry organisations to breed correctly. I also explained Siamese are out crossed (cross breed as (name omitted) calls it) to Orientals and it is legal in (name of cat registry omitted) as well. Siamese are legally bred to Burmese not Birmans and produce Tonkinese. (Name omitted) is going to join a club.... At least it will not be another back yard breeder"
There you have it. The classic cat (and dog) fancy definition of a backyard breeder is clearly somebody who breeds animals without being a member of a registry or joining a club. There was no contradiction from the national cat chat list, so I must conclude that all the cat breeders are comfortable with this statement.

The corollary here of course is that once you "belong" (remember that word for later) to the cat fancy, you are classed as a respectable breeder. The implication of this, is that in some mysterious way, all your actions and decisions as a breeder are vetted and regulated so as to ensure that everything you do with, and to your cats is in the highest interests of the animal - if the blurb issuing forth from the cat fancies and breeder websites is anything to go by.

This is borne out by any and every cat registry statement of intent/objectives/ manifesto / constitution - call it whatever. There you will find statements about "protecting", "bettering", "promoting welfare of cats", "improvement of breeds", "investigations to ensure the breeding and showing of cats are to the highest standards" & etc. Now, unless there are processes and actions in place that actually carry out such objectives, this is mere window-dressing, designed to make the registry look as if it's carrying on reputable business. Are there any processes?

- proactive snap inspections of existing breeders by registry or breed-council officials? No.
- vetting of aspirant breeders to ensure they are properly equipped to take on the heady challenges of breeding (knowledge, temperament, personal circumstances etc.)? No
- imposing conditions on aspirant breeders to ensure optimal cattery husbandry as a condition of approval? No
- publication of breeder suspension lists to warn the general public? (A few registries have this)
- are regulations in place to ensure breeders vet buyers to ensure optimal placing of cats to suitable homes? No.
- from the information in the registry database, do registries do anything to discourage overcrowding of cats in breeder-affiliated catteries? No.


So there you have it - anybody appears to be able to join a registry as a breeder, fill in a form, EFT the cash and bingo, you're magically a "responsible" breeder. You don't even have to meet anyone face to face - it's that easy.

Bottom line - all critical decisions impacting the breeding of the cat, other than obvious outcrossing and lineage regulations are left to the discretion and integrity of the individual breeder. There is no interference from breed groups, clubs or fellow-breeders in the affairs of individual breeders, and provided no questions are asked or answered, this is the way it will remain. And any action which will result in a reduction in the number of animals being entered in shows, registered or bred will not enjoy the support of the cat registry, since its income is directly proportionate to, and dependent on numbers.

Now - don't scream that the link below only applies to dogs. The cat fancies also do nothing to clean up their dirty little acts. The similarities are immediate and obvious. And don't get picky about "mills" and word definitions - what the AKC calls "high volume breeders". I know of  breeders with vast numbers of cats who are both registered, and regularly attend shows.

An AKC registered dog means less than you think 
(Hint: A SA- Cat fancy registered cat also means less than you think - especially when it comes to longevity)

and HSUS Unveils AKC- Puppy mill link
(Particularly revealing here is that the AKC encourages its members to oppose legislation aimed at alleviating animal suffering.)

True to form, the CFA (Cat Fancy of America) does the same - they run seminars for their members to show them how to go about opposing draft legislation aimed at controlling overpopulation of cats, or buying without the personal viewing of the animal & etc. (The latter aimed at protecting the buyer from unscrupulous breeders - but also impeding the hugely lucrative internet-based cat trade)

So, joining a club or registry doesn't seem to do the trick to eliminate bad breeding practices, does it?

[I can list registered, show attending breeders who conduct themselves in the same way as those they set out to revile. Some of these breeders have achieved the pinnacle of success in their fancies, being multiple award winners. And that means nothing, if the animals in your care are stressed, overcrowded, sick, malnourished or poorly cared for].

If the animal registries really had the animals health and welfare at heart they would be supporting, encouraging, working with and welcoming the help from animal welfare organisations, and assisting in the rollout of new laws to protect animals from being abused and exploited. Since this is clearly not the case and the opposite is true, one can only assume that the best interests of the animal are not a primary objective (contrary to those warm fluffy statements in their constitutions), and that they have another objective in mind :  growing their business and increasing their financial flows. 

So here's my stab at what a Back Yard Breeder is really.
The cat fancy is just a microcosm of the bigger world, and is inhabited by the same characteristics and social tendencies as the rest of life. It is subject to its taboos and its rules, both spoken and unspoken. And it pays to "go along to get along" in the cat fancy. Those who are loyal and toe the line, who pander and genuflect and breed and show lots of cats do somewhat better than those who don't. And those who question policy, comment or otherwise draw attention to themselves by going against the flow, are shunned, isolated and made to feel unwelcome. This is the same in religion, politics, business, social life and everywhere else.

Which brings me to the simple observation : A backyard breeder is anyone breeding cats (or dogs) who is not in the same canoe as everyone else. They're not part of the "family'. They're an alien. Remember the statement above?

"I explained one needs to join a club and one of our 3 registry organisations to breed correctly. (Name omitted) is going to join a club.... At least it will not be another back yard breeder"

This is obviously complete piffle as it stands, but it's truth lies in what the writer meant to say :

"I explained one needs to join a club and one of our 3 registry organisations to be accepted by other registered breeders. And joining a club will ensure he will not be viewed as another backyard breeder by the cat fancy".

If you're not paddling in the same canoe, you're the enemy. And while they are in the canoe, pointing at the enemies outside of it, nobody is watching to see if the water level in the canoe is rising, whether the canoe is moving forwards or backwards relative to the river bank, whether the water turbulence is increasing, whether there are rocks, or if the canoe is approaching a waterfall. And confound that person in the canoe who tries to point out any of these things - they will be cast out into the waters.

Here are 10 points to Being a Successful Cat Breeder. No's 2, 4 and 9 stand out for me.

1. Love and enjoy the companionship of your cats
2. Beware the Raging Ego
3. Remain a student
4. Breed for Improvement, not winners
5. To thine own self be true
6. Deal with Others as you would have them deal with you
7. By giving, you have nothing to lose
8. Make use of others' achievements
9. You are only as good as your morals
10. Remember and honour the first 9 rules...  

Here's the detail of the above rules  10 Rules

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