Local rescue director Rachel Mairose (Secondhand Hounds) bravely publicized her recent heartbreak, the loss of tiny English Bulldog puppy Sweet Potato. The puppy aspirated milk while nursing and developed pneumonia. Despite significant veterinary intervention (7 days in hospital and $3000), she passed away.
Had Sweet Potato survived, she would still be plagued by respiratory difficulties, a deformed spine, and a small trachea. This puppy would have survived a difficult illness only to continue to suffer as an adult. So was her death a tragic accident? Or was her birth?
Purebred dogs are suffering from serious physical and neurological ailments in increasing numbers, all in the pursuit of a superficial aesthetic. Selective breeding (artificial selection, as opposed to natural selection), is responsible for giving us dogs that are dependable family pets, efficient livestock herders, and sports companions. It is also responsible for a terrifying list of problems: blindness, deafness, epilepsy, allergies, skin infections, eye infections, respiratory problems, lameness, and on.
And often the deformity itself—like the crippling slope of German shepherds’ hindquarters—is the desired, indeed [AKC] required, trait. (“Bred to Death”, http://m.inthesetimes.com/article/17910/bred-to-death)
The controversy around the development of many of our dog breeds is not news to many of those involved in dog showing, working*, and breeding. Yet most pet owners remain in the dark. You may have heard that most airlines won’t fly a French Bulldog, as it is difficult for them to breathe while at altitude. But did you know that they continue to have breathing problems given any slight exercise or elevated temperature? This vet even lists various spinal and respiratory surgeries that are common among French Bulldogs, including her own pets. She advocates for Frenchie owners to plan for deep pockets when it comes to vet bills – but I think she misses the boat by not calling for serious changes in the breed standard.
Our goal is not to prohibit or abolish pedigreed dog breeding. On the contrary, many of us have a favorite breed and even own a dog of this breed. Precisely for this reason we are concerned. We fear for the future of the purebred dog. (Translated from German, Stoppt Qualzucht! http://qualzucht-hund.de/)
We can only do our best to provide the highest quality of life to our dogs that have inherited painful conditions. But in their honor, and in duty to future generations, we should strive to implement responsible breeding practices. Germany, Austria, and Switzerland agree, and have led the way in legislation against this termed “torture breeding”. In Austria, for example, dog breeders now have a certain number of years in which to introduce new stock and correct the most severe physical issues.
I’m not holding out for the United States to follow legislative suit anytime soon, but we may be able to create change with capitalist answers. And that begins with education (so please reproduce and share any of this content, but give credit, especially to those to whom I have linked).
While there are serious concerns, the situation is not complete gloom and doom, and millions of delightful, stable, and healthy pet dogs are waiting for a home. Here’s a start on how to find them:
- Avoid puppy mills like the plague. They really are a plague.
- Get started with learning how to choose an ethical breeder.
- Continue learning about purebred problems. Select a puppy that is bred for health, not an exaggerated look.
- Choose a reputable rescue or shelter and adopt your dog! (Also see: How Not To Pick A Rescue Dog)
*This is a blog post for another day. Working dogs make notoriously poor pet dogs, as they suffer without their 9-to-5. Show-bred dogs have largely met a standard of “form” that has little relation anymore to function. Yet there is no reason to believe that show dogs looking for a second career will always make a great couch potato, either. The AKC does not guarantee temperaments, and even some of their breed standards, whether one agrees with them or not, do not characterize dogs that are suitable for family living.