Purebred Paradox conference in Washington DC. The reason? The conference has been organised by the Humane Society of the United States - which is loathed by dog breeders almost as much as they loathe PETA.
I have been told, frankly, that if I lie down with dogs I will stand up with fleas. And that was from a friend.
There are three main reasons why the HSUS is hated.
First, and notwithstanding some worthy campaigns that help raise awareness of genuine animal abuses, the HSUS is seen by some as a direct-mail organisation that hoodwinks good people out of millions of dollars while spending only a very small percentage of its income on the hands-on helping of animals.
Second, the HSUS is behind a lot of local ordinances in the States which are proving restrictive for dog breeders - legislation ostensibly to tackle puppy mills but which hits responsible breeders, too.
Thirdly, it is claimed that the HSUS's CEO Wayne Pacelle once said this : ""We have no ethical obligation to preserve the different breeds of livestock produced through selective breeding. ... One generation and out. We have no problem with the extinction of domestic animals. They are creations of human selective breeding."
Today, Pacelle claims that he didn't say this exactly; and that what he did say was taken out of context. In fact, today, Pacelle is often photographed holding a leash with a real live domesticated dog on the end of it and yesterday he could be found on his blog talking about how much he likes bulldogs (really?). But he has not come out and said exactly where he stands on this issue - and yesterday's blog offered a very un-nuanced view of pedigree dog breeding, with no mention of the conference's intended purpose ie. to find a way forward for purebred dogs. It's easy to understand why the dog world so mistrusts him.
I am an animal welfarist, not an animal rightsist. I believe - passionately - that there is much to be treasured about the purebred dog. I also believe that people should be free to do with them as they wish as long as it doesn't unncessarily compromise the health and welfare of the dog. And, yep, that includes work, sport, hunting - and even showing.
Clearly, then, I do not have a great deal in common with the HSUS on this issue. And Pacelle really pissed me off yesterday by, on his blog, airbrushing Pedigree Dogs Exposed out of the picture and attributing dog-breeding reform in the UK to "..pressure from the RSPCA and other animal-welfare groups." (Er, hello...?). I suspect this is Pacelle playing politics - he knows my presence at the conference has been a bone of contention.
So why am I attending?
First, I was asked by James Serpell, Professor of Humane Ethics and Animal Welfare at the University of Pennsylvania. James appeared in Pedigree Dogs Exposed and I like and admire him.
Second, I admire many of the other speakers, too - including Professor Sir Patrick Bateson (who chaired the most important inquiry into dog-breeding following Pedigree Dogs Exposed) and Professor Gail Smith of PennHIP fame.
Third, I hope to bring a perspective to the conference that would be missing otherwise - ie some input from the grass roots that academics and vets are rarely privy to - and my belief that purebred dogs are worth fighting for (a surprise message, I suspect, to those who prefer to picture me with horns and a forked tail).
Fourth, the debate needs more airtime in the US if things are to improve for purebred dogs. And they really do need to improve.
Finally, the conference marks the launch of the Humane Society's new Institue for Science + Policy whose work is intended to contribute more evidence-based reasoning to HSUS policy. Indeed, the HSUS report into pedigree dogs published last year really was exemplary - fair and balanced (read it here). If the new Institute is effective, it will drive a skewer through the heart of some the Humane Society's more questionable dog policy - its lack of support for No Kill shelters for one, and its seemingly hellbent mission to rip the reproductive capacity out of any dog as soon as it is weaned.
After all, it will find it hard to tut-tut about pedigree dogs being inbred monstrosities while promoting policy that penalises or makes it impossible for people to keep dogs intact. It will soon find out too that the science is by no means clear-cut regarding the benefits of spay-neutering. (Read the report here)
The AKC has snubbed the conference (let's keep our head down - la-la-la-la), but I hope at least some breeders will feel they can come as I believe there is much on the agenda that they will find sensible and useful. It's important their views are heard because, at the end of the day, pedigree dog health won't ever be put right by veterinarians or theorists. Or, indeed, campaigners.
For my report on the conference, please see here.
Edit 23/4/11: clarification re HSUS/humane societies inc picture change
Edit 24/4/11: correction re the amount of regulation facing US dog breeders