Marked for life
Two years ago, Lena Haugland was summonsed to appear in court by the Norwegian Society for Protection of Animals (NSPA), along with five other breeders. The experience has marked her for life.
– I’m proud of my breeding practice, proud I have dogs that give birth naturally, that are tested for breathing problems with excellent results, that overall are in excellent health, and I’m proud to have great relationships with satisfied puppy buyers.
Having devoted all her spare time to caring for animals, and having supported the NSPA for many years, she couldn’t believe what was happening.
– What can I say? When I was little I used to nurse injured birds back to health. I have helped the NSPA to trap and rescue stray cats. I have had animals all my life – yet I end up being summonsed for violating the Animal Welfare Act. The District Court ruled against me, and whatever happens in the Appeal Court, this will stay with me for the rest of my life, says Lena Haugland.
Her “crime” is to own and breed English Bulldogs
– I’ve always had dogs and grew up with them. We’ve had lots of different breeds. A few years ago I became acquainted with the English Bulldog, and realised that it was not at all the stunted, unhealthy breed it’s made out to be. I discovered they were lively, fit and fun dogs that loved going for walks and other activities. Since I’m not one for hiking up mountains, I found out that this breed suited me better than a Giant Schnauzer or a German Pointer.
The goal has always been to breed healthy dogs
– I was well aware that the breed had challenges, and my goal was therefore to make sure the dogs I bred were as healthy as possible, Lena says, explaining how she came to own English Bulldogs.
She invested in dogs that were able to give birth naturally, had a healthy build, no problems with movement, and breathed normally. She became active in the club, and has wholeheartedly supported all the projects that have been launched to document and reduce the health problems that individual English Bulldogs may suffer from. She has been pleased by the progress she has made, and has a good relationship with numerous satisfied puppy buyers.
Yet she still ended up in a lawsuit that also opened the floodgates for a smear campaign, mainly online. She has been publicly labelled such things as “perverse” and “money-grubbing”, while as a breeder she has been likened to “Mengele”.
But why were you chosen in particular, as one of the six breeders who were summonsed?
– I don’t know. The NSPA has never explained it to me. I was one of ten Bulldog breeders who got a letter from the law firm Glittertind warning us that if we continued breeding we would be summonsed. Then they obviously picked out three of us to go to the “finals”. I suppose it was because we’d been active in the club and with health work, and bred dogs ourselves. I received the summons two years ago this autumn. In early January 2021 we decided to go public with our full names, rather than letting the rumours spread. We have nothing to be ashamed of, Lena says firmly.
The victim of a smear campaign, and afraid of being attacked
There was a lot of fear and anxiety involved in going public. Lena Haugland was afraid that her home would be attacked. She immediately removed her address from the kennel’s homepage, and tried to make sure that there were always people in the house.
– I’ve seen what can happen to people when someone thinks they have mistreated animals. It can turn into a mob-style attack. And I wasn’t the only one that felt that way. All six of us breeders were very anxious, and this feeling of not being safe affected our day to day lives. Though we luckily haven’t been attacked physically, we have been made to suffer on digital platforms. There’s been a massive smear campaign, says Haugland.
The summons and the two court proceedings – first in the District Court and then in the Appeal Court – have been discussed and commented on in many different discussion forums and on social media.
– It’s incredible what sort of things people can say, when they’ve never even met me or seen my dogs. I’ve been called “money-grubbing” – despite the fact that like most breeders, I spend far more on my dogs than I make from selling a litter of puppies. I’ve been described as an “animal abuser” and been called names with associations to Nazi Germany and sick, screwed-up people. All because I own and breed healthy, functional dogs that belong to a stigmatised breed. It’s been devastating and sickening to see what people can bring themselves to write and say. Of course it affects my mood and my daily life, and it has also been a strain on the whole family, she points out.
In the past, Lena Haugland has also helped out the NSPA locally from time to time.
– For example, I’ve been involved in trapping stray cats for castration and sterilisation. I have myself adopted cats, and have spoken warmly about the NSPA to friends to get them to take in homeless cats, too. In many areas, the NSPA does a wonderful job, but I can no longer support an organisation that has taken me to court and attacked me personally. It’s a shame, but that’s how it is, says Haugland.
What do you think will happen if you lose in the Court of Appeal?
– I really don’t know, but I’m worried about what will happen to the breed. Irresponsible operators that breed Bulldog-like animals have already become established in the UK. They sell dogs with “exciting colours”, and there’s obviously a big market for them. They have also started to appear in Denmark and Sweden. These people will be given free rein if the serious, registered, health-checked part of the population disappears.
But what about you personally?
– I haven’t really thought about it. I’m simply aware that I have been used as a pawn, the victim of a meaningless lawsuit. Dogs and breeding have been my life. I’m proud of my breeding practice, proud I have dogs that give birth naturally, that are tested for breathing problems with excellent results, that are overall in excellent health, and I’m proud to have great relationships with satisfied puppy buyers. I make it a condition when people want to buy one of my puppies that they must fully inform me about the dog’s health condition throughout its life. But now the NSPA have chosen to throw me and the other breeders under the bus, just to make a point, she sighs.
But one good thing has come of it:
– At least the lawsuit has made people more aware when they are thinking of buying a dog. I notice that potential puppy buyers ask more questions about health before they order a puppy. And that’s great, because people should always research things thoroughly before they buy a dog, whatever the breed, she emphasises.
Sued for strategic reasons
It has become clear that the reason the Norwegian Society for Protection of Animals decided to sue the six named breeders was that they were unsure whether the courts would accept the case if it only involved the three organisations (the Norwegian Kennel Club, Norwegian Cavalier Club and Norwegian Bulldog Club).
Counsel for the NSPA, Emmanuel Feinberg, has apologised for the pressure that the breeders have been under.
– He really didn’t need to bother. It’s fine that they acknowledge how much stress they have caused us, but I don’t need an apology. It can’t make up for all the harm that these court cases have caused myself and the other breeders. This will stay with me for the rest of my life. If someone googles my name in ten years’ time, it will say that Oslo District Court ruled that I had violated the Animal Welfare Act. Loads of malicious, slanderous comments will appear too. It’s the price we have to pay, those of us who have been dragged into this through no fault of our own, Lena Haugland concludes.