Article by Beverley Cuddy for the Guardian, 13th July 2015
Grazia magazine has developed a new following, and it’s not the usual fashionistas. Last week, it made the grave mistake of a dalliance with the murky world of amateur dog and cat breeding, with an upbeat article that made exploiting your pet cat and dog seem both clever and aspirational. It was part of a feature called Meet the Millennial Hustlers. The introduction set the scene: “For today’s generation wheeling and dealing is a financial necessity … pimping out and selling every asset and skill.”
Ella Jane Brookbanks revealed that she had discovered she was sitting on a cash cat and dog, and proudly announced that breeding her pets had given her extra pocket money and made the difference between affording Habitat furniture and flatpack Ikea.
It was obviously a howling error of judgment, but the magazine seemed to hope that things would calm down if it just carried on as if nothing had happened. Anti-puppy farming pressure group Pup Aid thought the article was remarkable. It awarded Grazia an accolade no magazine ever wants: it tweeted that it was “one of the most damaging articles for animal welfare ever written”.
Grazia struggled to pull the focus back to the sort of news that normally rocks its world – such as, had Prince George been wearing Prince William’s hand-me-downs at the christening? “Maybe they should breed some animals for money, they wouldn’t need to use hand-me-downs then,” one of its new followers helpfully replied. Another chipped in: “Is Prince George another example of breeding for cash?” The RSPCA, the Kennel Club, Battersea Dogs & Cats Home, the Blue Cross – everyone with an interest in animal welfare complained loudly.
But still there was no reaction from anyone at Grazia. A petition was started calling for an apology and a response in the next edition – it got more than 3,000 signatures in a couple of days.
Eventually Grazia responded, but it did nothing to calm the assembling masses of pet lovers. There was a brief apology for the offence caused to pet lovers and said it did not promote irresponsible breeding or unfair treatment to any animal, but there was no apology for glamorising the act of breeding pets. If anything, the groundswell of outrage was made stronger by Grazia’s statement.
If you are wondering what is so wrong about being a smart but casual breeder, let me explain. It is already far too easy to impulse buy a puppy or kitten. RSPCA research shows one in five puppy buyers no longer have their puppy two years after purchase. We have become a country where changing your dog is worryingly common.
I often wonder if the many television shows about animal rescue centres make them look so wonderful that owners feel little guilt about giving their pets up when they want a break or a change. They perceive rescue centres to be like lending libraries and imagine another home for their pet will be along shortly.
While charities do an amazing job, the seven-day council-run pounds will never get their own TV series. That’s where the dogs no one wants end up – quietly being killed. The old, the poorly, the unfashionable, the overly common and the naughty will often be put down.
Grazia’s suggestion of monetising and exploiting four-legged members of your family – without mention of the daily death rate of already unwanted dogs and cats – is a massive step backwards for a struggling animal rescue system.
The article made breeding sound easy, cool and all about the cash – there was no mention of conscience. In reality, breeding done properly is time-consuming, messy and potentially costly if things go wrong. If your dog or cat gets into difficulties giving birth there is no animal NHS, and normal pet insurance will not cover breeding-related claims.
The more you breed, the higher the chance of veterinary emergencies that will wipe out your profit margin and could end up killing the animal you called your best friend. What if everyone you sell to decides to monetise their pets too? And then the people who buy their pups do the same? Where will it stop?
The adopt don’t shop lobby is loud and persuasive, but shelters are still full to the brim. It’s not like dogs and cats are rare – the internet is full of people trying to give them away. Think carefully before breeding from your pet. Grazia might encourage it as a way to fund that next pair of shoes, but you’ll be doing your beloved Fido a huge disservice in the process.