Once again this year, the Westminster Dog Show attracted millions of viewers eager to see which dog will garner the bluest of ribbons.
Also once again this year, millions of discarded and unwanted dogs will be executed in overcrowded shelters, far away from the glaring lights of cable television.
Softened, palatable euphemisms like “put down” and “euthanized” serve only to assuage our guilt and placate our vanity. Even the term “destroyed” offers a clean escape. It depersonalizes the “destroyed” by implying it is just a thing, and not a being.
When we are talking about the staggering numbers killed annually, perhaps we must concoct semantic exit clauses, or else we risk facing the stark reality of our own complicity.
The Humane Society of the United States estimates 4 million dogs and cats are executed each year. It has to be an estimate because the numbers are so large, the process so widespread and the reporting so minimal. That works out to a dog or cat killed every 8 seconds. Of the approximately 6 million dogs and cats that enter shelters yearly, 60% of dogs and 70% of cats will be killed.
This is the dark side of animal breeding.
Meanwhile, the lights shine on breeders parading their prized “stock and trade” around the floor of Madison Square Garden. The eye is fooled, heart strings tugged and our vanity caressed. But complicity is the problem. The grinding machinery of death found at shelters around the country is inexorably linked to the vainglorious displays at the Westminster Dog Show, and at hundreds of lesser dog and cat shows held nationwide.
Those shows, and the breeders they help to sustain, condemn millions of unwanted dogs and cats to a short, distressed and ignominious stay in a crowed county or municipal lock-up before the gas or needle is finally administered.
For each specially bred dog and cat, sold for hundreds and sometimes thousands of dollars, another dog and cat is condemned. For each time a pet is purchased from the dog and cat breeding industries, that is a shelter pet’s hope quickly dashed — hope for a rescue and a family and, at long last, a home.