Friday, August 7, 2015

Interview with Simone Bingham: academic, PhD candidate and dog breeder

An Italian Greyhound with a litter of puppies.
Earlier this week I posted a link to a survey about dog breeding in Australia. The lead researcher has been kind enough to share some more information and reveal her own interest in dog breeding.

Simone Bingham is an academic and dog breeder based in Tasmania.

Simone wears two hats at the University of Tasmania: she is a commercial law academic with the Tasmanian School of Business and Economics and researcher in corporate governance; and a PhD student with the Faculty of Law.

What’s your day job and what is your research project about?

I am a mother of three and a full time academic at the University of Tasmania. I teach in the areas of commercial law and corporate governance at the University of Tasmania and am undertaking my PHD with the Faculty of Law.

I am also a dog lover, having been raised by a Mum and with siblings that all loved all animals and dogs in particular. Mum bred dogs and I have always owned a dog. About 12 years ago, as my career settled I decided to get back into dog showing. When our ancient Cocker Spaniels passed way and after careful consideration I settled on the right breed for our family, given I had young children at this stage. I selected a breed and a breeder. It took over a year to secure a puppy. That started my love of my breed and three years later we bred our first litter.

I now breed Italian Greyhounds from my home in Hobart with my family. I am a twin and my twin sister breeds Tibetan Spaniels from her home with her family also in Hobart. We breed a litter or two a year, often less, just depending on a number of things.

When it came time to commence my PHD given I have a real interest in teaching regulatory studies and dog breeding it made complete sense to me to combine my love of teaching about regulation and law  and my passion for breeding, owning, showing and loving dogs into my topic: the role and effectiveness of regulation in dog breeding.

This topic has allowed me to look at the current regulatory framework, interview stakeholders and survey dog owners about their dogs. I have determined that there are a number of issues in dog breeding in Australian and that regulation does have a role to play in addressing these issues.

Why as a lawyer have you undertaken a project on dog breeding?

Easy to answer – my love of dogs and as stated about my love of teaching what I teach allowed me to explore a topic that I am passionate about.

I have collected data from a number of sources and the final set is a survey of Australian dog breeders. Given that there is a lot of interest in how dogs are bred in Australia I have teamed up with a like-minded academic Professor Paul McGreevy from the Faculty of Vet Science at the University of Sydney.

Both Paul and I are interested in looking at what motivates dog breeders, what their objectives are when they breed puppies, how they sell those puppies, what health tests they do, how well they understand the companion dog market, their understanding of their rights and obligations as dog breeders and their thoughts on their role in the ongoing health and welfare of the dogs they breed.

How common is commercial dog breeding in Australia, and what are some potential welfare concerns that have been raised in relation to dog breeding?

This is an interesting question. The following is my opinion and not one that I have canvassed with Paul or my two PhD Supervisors.

There are no real statistics kept by any one on how many commercial dog breeding facilities there are in Australia. Local councils have some responsibilities for dog management and some states have Dog BreedingCodes. 

But the reality is that there is limited legal obligations on breeders to disclose where they are, how they breed and how many puppies they breed.
Even with good Breeding Codes in place without the ability to monitor breeders and to ensure compliance through an effective enforcement regime that is properly funded large breeding facilities will continue to exist that do not effectively meet the welfare needs of the breeding dogs and that put out puppies that are not properly genetically tested and not raised in a way that will ensure that they have the best possible ability to become a long lived healthy happy companion dog/ family member.

The survey of dog owners that I have already undertaken confirmed what my literature review also confirmed – it is not the ‘commercial nature’ of the breeding that is the real issue. Good quality dogs will always be in demand and much like poultry farmers and beef producers are able to produce beef and chicken as long as they do it providing good welfare outcomes, dog breeders should be able to breed puppies as long as they treat ALL their dogs well, test them, love them and raise them in suitable accommodation.

A distinction needs to be drawn between commercially breeding puppies and puppy farming puppies. Although I have no personal experience I am sure that there are some large commercial breeders that do breed dogs well, in a way that caters for the needs of the breeding dogs and that produce well adjusted, happy healthy puppies. My research is not about condemning these breeders.
What we do know however, from the media and from Government enquiries etc. is that there are also many large (and small) breeders that do not do the right thing. They breed their dogs and produce their puppies in a way that does not provide anywhere near enough care, love and welfare for the dogs and puppies.

The reality is that breeders of pure bred dogs like me are members of the State and Territory Canine Associations. This group of breeders are the only group of breeders that keep accurate records. The ANKC Ltd, (Australian National Kennel Council – which is the official body that supports the state and territory canine associations that promote pure breed dog breeding and dog events such as showing, agility, herding etc) keep good statistics of puppies that these breeders produce. Knowing from some sources that there are about 3.5 million dogs, so to keep up with demand roughly 300 000 or so puppies are ‘required’ each year(very rubbery given we have no accurate figures). Of these, only 16- 18 % come from ANKC Ltd registered pure breed breeders. So there are many others out their breeding. They are not subject to codes of ethics that ANKC Ltd breeders are.

Some of these breeders will be subject to the breeding codes that exist in two states but others are not. I find it so interesting that those that ‘produce’ puppies are often less accountable than those that ‘produce’ animals for consumption. And that is another thing I am looking at in my PHD studies – the reality that the law still considers – companion animals and all animals as products, goods that can be bought and sold and are subject to consumer law , just like other goods such as a washing machine. Here I have conducted an extensive case law analysis to enable some reflection on that.

I also want to make it clear that I am not someone that finds objection to the breeding of any type of dog as long as dogs that are bred are healthy and have a good prospect of finding a loving home – whatever breed or cross breed we are talking about.

It’s not the commercial aspect that is wrong. Even some small dog breeders that might have a litter or two a year, may be able to ‘make money’ in terms that they may sell their puppies for say $1500 and they may have a litter of 5 or 6 and only seek to keep one dog for showing or eventing. However these breeders very often keep that money aside to pay back the ongoing vet expenses etc. that they have to keep all their dogs in fantastic condition – teeth regularly cleaned, health tests regularly done. I know that this is true for my own situation.

How can people get involved with your research?

The survey is an online survey through Survey Monkey

The breeder survey asks questions about those things raised about and also about the economics of breeding. Some breeders may find that these questions are a little confronting but the way to ensure that everyone knows what dog breeders are doing is to give them the opportunity to explain how they breed, why they breed etc

Thank you Simone for sharing all that info about breeding. Simone's kennel website can be found here or on facebook here.