Canine distemper virus, mass euthanasia, puppy mills and keeping bleach off the printed page
"[Canine distemper virus] outbreak results in mass euthanasia at a Kansas kennel." So reads the headline of a recent news article out of DVM Newsmagazine, one of veterinary medicine's most popular news-of-the-profession publications. It was a shocking title due to exactly four of its words. See if you can guess them before clicking "Read More."
The savvier among you will have had no trouble identifying all four impressive words writ into this simple statement of fact:
1. "Mass" euthanasia? How many does it take before you can use the word "mass" in a sentence?
2. An "outbreak" as a result of something as preventable as canine distemper virus is an inexcusably horrific scenario — especially in a commercial setting. I'm not blaming the bugs for this one. Human error is written all over this headline.
3. "Euthanasia" is not a term I use lightly. Greek for "beautiful death," the word euthanasia denotes a thoughtful, peaceful, loving process. "Culling" or "depopulation" are the agricultural terms best reserved for cases like this.
4. Kansas "kennel"? Really? Can we not call it what it is? We'd call it a "puppy mill" if we were trying to write legislation about an operation like this, but when we (some of us) attempt to write journalistically, we're unwilling to leave the bleach off the final draft.
Here's the back story:
According to DVM Newsmagazine, over a thousand dogs (that's more than 1,000) were systematically killed to "thwart a canine distemper virus outbreak at a USDA-licensed Kansas kennel," as reported to them by Kansas' Livestock Commissioner, Dr. Bill Brown.
The article goes on to say that…
The dogs were signed over to the Kansas Animal Health Department in December after an unnamed kennel operator discovered CDV was circulating through the kennel. Tests indicated the virus spread to pet stores in other states following transport and sale of infected dogs.
As if that wasn't bad enough, the story got even uglier. Apparently, the kennel had been quarantined twice since mid-October. Since those events had been less effective at eradicating the disease than anyone hoped, the Kansas Animal Health Department (KAHD) had now, in its infinite wisdom, deemed it necessary to require a lengthy quarantine and mandated clean-up (about time, right?).
Unfortunately, the "kennel operators" could not afford to relocate the dogs while undertaking cleanup. Hence, the operation had to be depopulated. An unspecified number of dogs were "placed in extended quarantine," but according to Brown…
"...the majority of the dogs and puppies were humanely euthanized to prevent the possible spread of the disease to other kennels or shelters and to prevent suffering that may have occurred if the owner had been unable to continue to care for them … this difficult decision was the last choice of the department and the breeder, but in the end, all believe it was the only humane way to accomplish both objectives: to prevent the spread of the disease and protect the dogs from prolonged suffering."
In case you haven't had your morning coffee yet, here are the take-home points offered by this unwelcome breakfast accompaniment:
• Yes, we now kill dogs and puppies just as we do sick chickens and cattle, culling and depopulating as we sit fit — to "prevent suffering," of course.
• Though you may think dogs and cats are pets, and as such, they would be treated differently from pigs, poultry and cattle, the USDA very much considers them livestock when it comes to regulating USDA-licensed "kennels."
• In fact, those who oppose puppy mill laws usually do so on the basis of these "unintended consequences." They worry that tighter restrictions on "large kennels" might prove deleterious to livestock operators. As in, "Next thing you know they'll be taking these rules to the food we eat!" If only we could be so lucky...
• Those who operate "kennels" whose animals number in excess of a thousand are still called "breeders" because, sadly, it seems that "breeder" is still a journalistically-appropriate euphemism for "kennel operator" or "puppy mill operator."
• "Euthanasia" is a word whose proper usage continues to elude animal health authorities, livestock commissioners and journalists alike.
My suggestions in light of such news items? Let's keep the bleach where it belongs: for cleaning up manageable animal messes in places where breeders are actually capable of keeping major animal health issues at bay with basic husbandry skills, preventative medicine and simple hygiene.
Let's also agree that anyone who keeps a commercial cache of dogs and can't meet these fundamental specs doesn't deserve to be called anything less than what s/he is: a puppy miller.
Dr. Patty Khuly