‘For the good of the breed’: care, ethics, and responsibility in pedigree dog breeding
Wanner, Christine Helen
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This thesis examines how the ethics of caring for pedigree dogs differ in the contexts of dog showing and veterinary practice. By highlighting conflicts around the shared use of ‘ordinary language’, I show how tensions between show‐world and veterinary perspectives relate to divergent understandings of ‘health’. Canine bodies speak to vets and breeders in conceptually different ways, so much so that breed‐specific features can be considered ‘perfect’ in the show‐ring yet ‘pathological’ in the veterinary clinic. Developing the emergent anthropological perspective that care is both a moral and an embodied practice, I argue that the qualities of moral virtue and aesthetic virtu are inextricably linked in the care practices by which breeders aim to produce and sustain canine bodies in their idealised forms. Also fundamental to show‐world notions of care is the understanding that care for dog and care for breed are one and the same. In sharp contrast, veterinary practice attends to dogs as individuals rather than members of breeds. Here, I examine how breeders and vets respond to the multiple and conflicting demands of caring for pedigree dogs in the course of encounters often fraught with unresolved tension. Asking how seemingly irreconcilable notions of what counts as good health play out in these negotiations, I argue that care can depend on the ability to transcend – or at least overlook – different ethical orientations. In practice, I argue that negotiations between breeders and vets are often non‐verbal and based on a mutual understanding that the ability to work together in performing care relies not only on clear communication but, at times, on a knowing silence. Under ever‐increasing pressure to engage with veterinary notions of health, many show‐breeders now deem ignorance of veterinary knowledge – and silence in the face of disease – ethically virtuous. I therefore conclude that deliberate silence and selective ignorance enable breeders and vets to temporarily reconcile their different understandings of what is good, thus allowing both parties to meet their respective responsibilities of care.