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Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Canine Eugenics

   Okay, I only kinda sorta wanted to write this, but I was asked for my opinion and I can't resist an opportunity to hop on my soap box. There HAS to be a venue for my soap box, right? The question was: "Considering your preference for purebreds, what do you think of the whole 'situation' around the conformation ring and the breeding of purebred dogs that are potentially unhealthy?"

How's that for a loaded question! And as always, I DO have an opinion on the subject:-)

   As to the first part of the question: YES, I do prefer purebreds. I prefer them because in spite of individual character, there are consistent breed traits, so I know to a reasonable degree what I am dealing with. I also know what to look for in terms of health. If I buy a purebred puppy (from a reputable, ethical breeder) I can do so armed with the facts about that breed's health risks, and I can see verification of the appropriate health tests done on the parents. If that information isn't available, then that's not a place I would ever spend my money, regardless of how many titles a dog's parents have. If I am adopting from a breed-specific rescue, they often will do the appropriate tests as well. This is an even better option for many because the dog's adult temperament is already in evidence and it's much easier to find the right new friend for you. Either way, while there is never a guarantee where a living being is concerned, I know that if I do my homework, I can at least stack the deck in my favor.

   There is this notion that mixed-breed dogs tend to be healthier. I didn't do any research on this personally so I can't say it's true or it's not. Many folks say it is, and I do believe it. For one, mixed breeds are generally not the result of in-breeding or line-breeding. Despite what some breeders say, I will probably never think that in-breeding is okay. While it may be the quickest way to 'fix' a desirable characteristic, it is also the fastest way to emphasize health problems. Check out what happened to the Hapsburg Dynasty. I mean really; common sense should prevail here, but it doesn't. Even so, two of the unhealthiest dogs I've ever met were mixed breeds. The first has had two knee surgeries due to congenital deformities, and has severe hip displaysia that is likely to result in at least one more surgery. The knee surgeries occurred before she was four years old. The second was just sick for the better part of a year after adoption. He had a persistent parasite load, chronic kennel cough and gastrointestinal problems that just kept randomly occurring. He is the shiny picture of health now, but it takes a lot of management and took a long time and a lot of money to get him there. I don't have the resources for those kinds of surprises; I don't have the house to mortgage to pay for multiple surgeries. It colors the way I think about acquiring a new canine friend.

   It could be argued that those things could occur with a purebred. Absolutely true. Especially if all you are looking for is papers or titled parents. This is where I would like to stress my main point which is: REGISTRATION PAPERS DON'T MEAN "QUALITY". All they mean is that both parents are purebreds. All those puppies coming from puppy mills are registered purebreds. It means nothing. The other point is: TITLED PARENTS DO NOT MEAN THE PUPPIES ARE HEALTHY. There are no health requirements at all to show in the conformation ring. It sounds like they've started a health initiative in the UK for conformation dogs, but here in the U.S., the AKC has promised the breed clubs that they would never do health checks. Nice, huh?

   Having said that, it's easy to see why I much prefer the 'working' version of a breed to a 'show' dog. Having the "right" look is completely irrelevant to me, I want vigorous, healthy and able. I also get really annoyed when I watch dog shows on TV and I hear the commentator say over and over "now that dog really looks like it can do the job it was bred to perform". I'm sorry, but that doesn't mean anything if the dog can't ACTUALLY do it. There are some really terrific breeders out there with physically beautiful dogs that are health-tested and actually DO the jobs they were bred to do. In my opinion, those folks are GOLD. Unfortunately, they are also few and far between. And the exaggeration of characteristics continues to get more and more extreme to the detriment of the dogs. For more about that (and it's a really big and horrifying deal) check out this blog: Pedigree Dogs Exposed. There is also a documentary film of the same name that's a real eye-opener. Because I'm a fan of working breeds, I am particularly concerned about what's been done to the German Shepherd Dog. Their backs and hindquarters have been entirely crippled on purpose in order for them to be seen standing in a particular way.

   I know many people are pro-rescue and anti-breeder. Some think that all dogs would be better off if they were all mixed breeds. I don't think that's necessary. And in fact, ALL mixed breeds are the result of an irresponsible human being, to one degree or another. These are not the folks I want put in charge of the future of the canine species. I am pro-rescue AND pro-ETHICAL breeder, but also pro-common-sense. If we put the dogs first when we made choices for them, puppy mills would be illegal. People who bred their dogs for asinine, selfish reasons ("so the kids can see the miracle of birth" or "she's really nice I want one like her" or "my friends want puppies") would stop doing so. Show breeders would make the health of their dogs the primary concern and eliminate the extremes and the unhealthy characteristics from their breeding programs. Even better, dogs bred for a purpose would be required to attain a performance title and pass health tests before they would be allowed to set foot in a conformation ring. That would be COOL. In an ideal world, "pretty" wouldn't be good enough, and "extreme" would be unacceptable. There would be no more dogs with such poorly constructed facial characteristics that they have to gasp for breath while taking their victory laps around a conformation ring. Having a dog that can't breathe properly win for 'conformation' is absurdity in its truest form, in my opinion . I'm not alone in that assessment, either. AKC registrations are declining at an alarming rate.

   I guess in the end, money talks. Fortunately, more money than not is going toward the adoption of rescue dogs, both mixed and pure-bred. For now at least, that is the best choice when looking for a new best friend. For those with specific requirements, there are breed-rescues and ethical breeders. If we keep talking with our money, maybe the rest will eventually go extinct. It would be great to live in a world where we put the needs of the animals we bring into the world ahead of our own shallow interests.

Okay...let the onslaught begin!

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