Saturday, July 24, 2010

Bulldog blues

This week on PBS I saw a UK documentary called Pedigree Dogs Exposed. It was all about how dog breeding, most specifically in the UK since Victorian times, has created dogs that are incredibly inbred and unhealthy. I've heard of this issue before and felt guilty for liking the cute bulldogs in the 2009 movie (and in the Russian Holmes series), because I know that bulldogs have been bred to have such large heads that the females can't give birth naturally, and routinely have Caesarian sections. They and other flat-faced breeds have trouble breathing as well. In this show, it was rather chilling to see animations of how different dogs skulls have been altered by breeding.

I also learned about other dog breeds that suffer badly from genetic diseases, such as the cavalier spaniels whose skulls are too small for their brains and the boxers who are prone to brain tumors and epilepsy. Also the German shepherd show dogs are deformed and crippled compared to working German shepherds that can still use their hind legs. I was stunned also to see interviews from Kennel Club officials and from breeders who don't seem to understand what they're doing to the poor dogs. They resist forms of regulation, keep mating incestuous pairs, and they do their best to deny the evidence from scientific studies. Their blindness is akin to that of global warming deniers, and they think they ought to be in control. I couldn't believe that some breeders insist on putting to sleep dogs who are born healthy but just have an "incorrect" appearance according to the breed standard. It's just sickening.

All the more reason to get a mutt and not a purebred anything. Although there was a pet owner named Carol Fowler who had two spaniels with syringomyelia, and she was crusading to get the Kennel Club practices changed. It seems like something ought to be done for all dog breeds, but I don't know how long it will take with all the bureaucracy. Some of the interviewed scientists even suggested that the inbreeding would eventually lead to the dog breeds no longer being fertile at all. Then they'd die out I guess, unless those breeders decided to go after mutts next and try to transform them to "breed standards" too. Yeesh. It definitely puts the Best in Show parody movie in a new light.

This documentary said that the dog breeding in the UK is worse than it is in other countries, which is somewhat of a relief. I hope other dogs aren't suffering the way the English purebreds seem to. I looked up information about bulldogs, and found that the American bulldog is much more like the historical bulldog, because it wasn't so radically altered from the original working dog. The breed certainly does not look so deformed or flat-nosed as the current English bulldog. So that seems a good sign I guess. If I imagine Watson's bull-pup from now on, I'll be picturing an American bulldog, not an English one.

1 comment:

Emily Veinglory: said...

In the Victorian era very few of the egregious ectreme of breeding had occured. There ia a stuff bulldog in a taxidermy collection near London which I use a as base, I must try and find a picture of it. It is less extreme than either modern bulldogs. And the saudage dog from that era hardly looks like the same animal!