Barbie with Newborn Pups:
Backyard Breeder Kit or Innocent Toy?
by Lynn Stacy-Smith
For someone who always appears so happy and put together, Barbie has certainly done her share of stirring the proverbial pot over the course of her immortal life span, from the unrealistic shape of her figure to some of the bad choices that her creator Mattel has made over the years. In fact, twenty-five years ago the first talking Barbie upset women like my own mother and her fellow American Association of University Women (AAUW) members when she proclaimed, “Math class is hard!”
If you are not familiar with the AAUW, they are, “the nation’s leading voice promoting equity and education for women and girls.” I was in college when my mother, a well-educated woman and teacher who loved teaching 7th grade Language Arts, talked passionately about the damage that Barbie’s seemingly innocent hatred of math could do in impressionable young women who already did not pursue math and science degrees or careers as much as men did. That one little phrase could easily set back the work that the AAUW and other groups had done to encourage girls to embrace math and science.
Flash forward to late last week and a friend of mine who is also a passionate dog advocate as well as a professional groomer, shared a link to the Barbie Newborn Pups & Doll Playset with the sarcastic comment, “Oh look, it’s Backyard Breeder Barbie!” I immediately clicked on the link, scrolled through the description of this Barbie and sighed in disgust as I read the words, “Barbie doll’s pet dog is going to be a mommy!”
My reaction was something along the lines of “Are you kidding me???? I will most definitely be blogging about this!!!!”
So why is a toy intended to promote love and nurturing to a dog Mom and her newborn puppies causing such a strong negative reaction to those of us who work to promote responsible dog ownership? Isn’t it a good thing for young children to see that dogs in labor often need human intervention, need someone around them in case there is a problem, and are being taught to be loving and gentle around any animal?
Well, yes and no.
Although the helping and nurturing aspect of the toy is wonderful and does teach a good message about compassion to animals, it is the idea that Barbie’s “pet” dog has been impregnated and therefore was not spayed by a responsible owner. Most people who own and breed a single dog are amateur breeders or backyard breeders. Whether the breeding was intentional or accidental, the result is a litter of puppies who will need homes.
I write about this in my book, Love, Laugh, Woof: A Guide to Being Your Dog’s Forever Owner as well as in a blog from earlier this year called Understanding the Different Types of Dog Breeders.
The term “backyard breeder” typically refers to people who breed their own dogs but do not offer the same health guarantees and health checks as Hobby/Professional/Show Breeders. Some backyard breeders will breed just one litter because they have a beloved female dog and want one of her puppies to keep for their own, or because a friend or family member wants one of her puppies. In this situation it is quite possible that the parents and puppies are well-loved, quite healthy, and receive the utmost care and socialization.
Other backyard breeders are less scrupulous and breed their dogs for profit without the same high quality care and treatment. Backyard breeders who fall into this category often neglect their dogs and simply view them as a way to bring in income, similar to puppy mill operations but on a smaller scale.
With this toy being presented as Barbie and her pet dog, it gives the impression that it is ok for your average pet dog to have a litter of puppies, and that is the reason this toy elicits such a strong response from responsible dog owners and advocates. In order to promote responsible dog ownership, parents would need to add to the dialogue with their children that in the real world you don’t let your pet dog get pregnant because of the massive dog overpopulation problem and that their beloved dog is not going to have any of her own puppies just because Barbie’s dog has them. But how many parents actually sit and play with toys with their kids? Often they do, but there are also times when you need to cook dinner, clean the house, or do something else while your kids are actively playing and using their vivid imaginations.
Barbie Newborn Pups and Mom would be better as Barbie and Her Pregnant Foster Dog with information on doing home visits and how foster based rescues work or perhaps Responsible Breeder Barbie and MBISS GCH Life in the Dreamhouse JH WC CGK with a list of health check test results that help identify breed specific genetic problems, ribbons and trophies from the events that the dog has won to earn her merit as a top female of the breed, a Breeder of Merit ribbon, a twenty page list of questions to ask potential puppy buyers, tiny little Limited AKC Registration papers for the three puppies, and a contract for the puppy buyers in which they promise to spay/neuter the puppies and never surrender them to a shelter.
So are we dog lovers exaggerating a bit on the potential impact of this toy? With approximately 1.5 million shelter animals euthanized every year and 20% of pet owners stating that they obtained their dog from friends or family, my answer to that question is that no, we are not being overly sensitive or exaggerating.
With our girls well out of the Barbie age range and me out of the loop in terms of current Barbie options, I browsed Amazon to look at some of the other Barbie toys who come with dogs. I love that some of the sets include a pooper scooper to encourage picking up after your dog, which is awesome. One Barbie dog set comes with a swimming pool, another with a grooming station, promoting exercising your dog and keeping her clean. I do not like Barbie Spin & Ride in which she rides her bike with her dogs attached but according to Amazon’s listing, it is discontinued.My reasons for not liking that one is a whole other blog topic that I will add to my list. I am a huge fan of Veterinarian Barbie, and I am sure my late mother and her AAUW peers would love her too, considering the amount of math and science involved in the pursuit of that degree.
At the end of the day, Mattel has done a good job with most of their Barbie-plus-dog toys, although Barbie Newborn Pups and Dog is a definite miss. I just hope that parents will engage in a play session now and then with their children to help educate them on why we do not allow our pets to have puppies, and then promptly get their new Momma dog over to Veterinarian Barbie’s office right away to be spayed to ensure that no more puppies come into the world without approved homes already screened and waiting for them like a responsible, professional breeder would do.