My Neighbors Are Illegally Breeding Dogs. Do I Report Them?

I live across the street from an apparently unregistered dog-breeding operation run by our neighbors. Our house looks out onto the yard where our neighbors let the dogs out sporadically throughout the day. The dogs don’t appear to be mistreated or malnourished, but there seem to be more than 26 total — exceeding the limit in our state for both owning and selling without a license. And they continuously breed the dogs. All of this occurs in a two-story city row home that also houses a family of six. So quarters must be tight; I would guess that the dogs spend a majority of the day in the basement, because that is the only conceivable space for them.

These neighbors are a family who don’t speak much English, and I don’t know what the job prospects would be for the two parents outside of dog breeding. I would hate for them to lose their main source of income — that’s my primary reason for not reporting them — but it does seem to come at the cost of the dogs’ welfare. We have heard that other neighbors reported this family in the past, so I’m also not sure if stopping this dog-breeding operation is a lost cause or if I’m telling myself this to justify my own inaction. What is the ethical thing to do? — Name Withheld, Pennsylvania

From the Ethicist:

You shouldn’t just assume that your neighbors can’t make a legal living, however limited their English. The fact is that an operation of the sort you’re describing probably should be registered with the U.S.D.A. and (given the statutes where you live) licensed with your State Department of Agriculture, which has an inspection program.

If your neighbors have been reported before to the appropriate authorities, there’s little point in addressing them yourselves; they’ve presumably shown they’re willing to ignore the law. All you can do is make your own report and hope for the best. Rules aimed at protecting animals deserve your support: Animals can do all sorts of things, but what they can’t do is advocate for themselves.

Thoughts? If you would like to share a response to today’s dilemma with the Ethicist and other subscribers in the next newsletter, fill out this form.

A Bonus Question

I run a local writers’ group. It’s held at our library branch and is open to anyone. Long ago, we established a no-politics rule. I work hard to run the group democratically. My problem is that we have a member whose historical fiction about the Civil War makes clear that he holds pro-Confederacy, racist and white-supremacist views. He is oblivious to the fact that his remarks are offensive to other members of our group. Because of him, both new and longtime members have stopped attending. I suspect that talking to this member will have no effect, because he believes his views are normal. What should I do? — Name Withheld

From the Ethicist:

You haven’t kicked anyone out of the group, but your Confederacy buff has driven people out himself — not a great trade-off. I would tell him that members have left because they find his views repugnant and that, if he sticks around, you’re going to encourage members to speak their minds about this. He can’t complain that you’re the one violating the no-politics rule, because his fiction clearly has its own politics. If the result is an unproductive forum, you can start a new one and tell him he’s not welcome. You’ve made it plain that the object of the group is to help one another with writing, not to deal with and debate his racism.

But here’s a question to put to the group: Was it a good idea to have a no-politics rule in the first place? I get that your writers’ group wouldn’t be well served by quarrels over public-policy proposals. Still, because writing can be political — for one thing, writers should be willing to address the political lives of their characters — discussions of writing are bound to touch on politics, too. You should be able to retain your writerly focus without trying to enforce broad zones of silence.

Readers Respond

Last week’s question was from a reader who recently had been diagnosed with a terminal cancer and very likely had only two years left to live. He wrote: “I have not told my wife, my son or any of my friends about this. I don’t want to have to endure two years of pity. I would rather enjoy life with everyone as I have always done — and then break the news only when the time comes. … Am I wrong to keep this from the people I love?”

In his response, the Ethicist noted: “The decision of whether to disclose your situation is, of course, up to you. But living with a secret can be isolating, and sharing your news with your wife and your son, at least, could help relieve that burden. And your loved ones would want to feel that they did what they could to support you during this time; they may be saddened, later, to learn that you faced your diagnosis alone. … By depriving your loved ones of the facts, you deprive them of the chance to face the future together with you. Because your diagnosis affects their lives as well, I hope you’ll let them come to terms with this important truth.” (Reread the full question and answer here.)

My sister had melanoma for four years before dying, leaving behind three children. She didn’t want to burden them with her terminal diagnosis until the very end; now they feel very betrayed. Our own mother behaved similarly with her cancer, which we have always resented. The letter writer’s family would likely want to know too. Patricia

One of the most important things often overlooked as end of life approaches is the wants and desires of the person actually approaching the end of their life. Ultimately, this is a decision for the letter writer. As harsh as it may sound, he owes nothing to anyone. Dignity looks different for everyone. Denise

If you engage in intimate relationships based on trust, then yes, you do owe it to those people to tell them about your terminal diagnosis. I have both witnessed firsthand and myself felt the sense of betrayal that occurs when something this fundamental is withheld. Inevitably those kept in the dark wonder how they fell short themselves. You are not “sparing” anyone anything. If anything, it makes grief that much more complicated. Nancy

Telling your family early will let them “learn” to do the things you have done for them. My husband is in the same predicament with a cancer diagnosis. With his help and guidance, I am learning how the bills get paid, how to do more in the yard, how to do some household repairs and eventually hope to understand our investments. Without this preparation, I’d be totally wrecked by his passing; with his help, I’ll still be devastated, but more able to carry on alone. Marie

With terminal cancer, telling loved ones gives them the opportunity to tell you how much they love you, and is a way of showing your own love for them. It may feel burdensome, but as an act of love, it can also be quite rewarding. And you can still admonish everyone that you’d prefer to not receive constant questions about how the disease is progressing. Allowing others to love us is so important in this short life. Tim

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