My decision to use the phrase, “Better dead than bred,” as the title of my fourth novel was not easy. At times, I still question the choice. After my breeder agreed her property could be used in the novel, and I talked about ‘the bad guys’ who wanted to import drugs via the airstrip (see previous blog), the conversation fractured into other possible nasty deeds that could camouflage the real evil of drug trafficking. For example, the bad guys might want to sponsor dog fights or turn the property into a puppy mill. The conversation turned to animal abuse and animal activism and spiralled to abusers using activism to divert attention from their brutal deeds.
One of my agility buddies, a lawyer, mentioned an incident of rogue activism in Vallejo, California in 2018. A group of PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) activists raided a dog show, releasing dogs from their crates and shooing them outdoors, where several ran across the highway and were killed by motorists. Even more horrific, this rogue team went to the parking lot where air-conditioned motorhomes were sheltering several show dogs from the sweltering heat. They unplugged the electricity and the dogs suffocated. Their rallying cry: “Better dead than bred.” Even as I now type the words into my computer, I feel the sludge in my stomach rebelling against the idea. I certainly had no thought at that time of using that slogan for my title.
I was sickened. I couldn’t listen to anymore. We were all disheartened and disgusted by the cruelty inflicted on animals by fellow human beings. We went to our cars with our well-exercised and well-loved shelties, horrified by what we had heard and shared and speculated. As another agility friend lifted his dog into his crate for safety, he turned to me and asked a question that ultimately would impact every aspect of the novel, including the title.
Sharon J. Hamilton has taught English in every grade, from one through master’s level, during her forty-year career. She earned a PhD in language and literacy at the University of London and has participated in writing seminars at Corpus Cristi College, Oxford, and the Faber Academy, London.