Breeders: Masters of Disaster?

I just finished reading a fascinating book called “What’s a Dog For? The Surprising History, Science, Philosophy, and Politics of Man’s Best Friend” by John Homans. Homans examines the dog’s role in human society throughout history. (It’s one of those books I had to read with a highlighter in my hand.) One of the things Homans writes about is how humans have changed dogs through the ages. And that opened up a big can of worms in my head, where the soil is fertile.

I’m already a fence-sitter about breeding, and whether or not there is such a thing as a ‘responsible breeder’ when 4 million animals are dying in U.S. shelters every year. Something about this book got me thinking about breeding in a wholly different (and harsh) light. (Dog breeders may want to click out of here about now, because you may find the following deeply offensive.)

Out of all the animals that humans have domesticated, only one has been genetically altered to produce over 600 (registered) variations. One animal, molded by human hands and whims as though it were a piece of clay.

Left to their own devices, a wild canine is a wild canine. A wolf is a wolf, is a wolf. Although size and color vary, they all look and act pretty much alike. The same goes for other wild canids, such as foxes, dingoes and coyotes.

wolvesThe domestic dog is another story altogether. How is it possible that Irish Wolfhounds, Welsh Corgis, Pugs and Poodles and 596 other registered dog breeds have all descended from wolves?  The answer is through selective breeding, or canine eugenics, if you will.

Eugenics (at least as it relates to humans) advocates the improvement of hereditary traits through the promotion of higher reproduction of more desired people and traits. I think that’s a pretty good summary of dog breeding, too. Dogs are selected by their desired traits, both physical and behavioral, and mated to produce (hopefully) superior offspring.

Through selective breeding, humans have engineered dogs for all sorts of tasks; others just for a specific appearance; others for a specific temperament.

But it’s sort of an exercise in hubris, if you think about it – the way humans have molded dogs to their desires. And in a lot of cases, it’s gone really, really, wrong.

It’s not to say that there aren’t a lot of remarkable breeds out there as a result of all that genetic monkeying. But it hasn’t been that great for the dogs. Genetic inbreeding due to lack of diversity in many purebred dogs has been an absolute disaster.

disastersWhy, for instance, is a German Shepherd’s sloped hips a desirable trait – when shaping the shepherd has caused the breed to be plagued by rampant hip dysplasia?

The Cavalier King Charles Spaniel was bred to have a small round head, to neotenize her appearance and make her more adorable. But shaping the Cavalier has caused a widespread instance of Syringomyelia. (SM) is a disorder of the brain and spinal cord, (the skull is too small for the brain) which may cause severe head and neck pain and possible paralysis for the breed.

Pugs have suffered a similar fate with their neotenized pushed in faces and bug eyes — changes which have made the breed susceptible to a myriad of eye problems and eventual blindness.

Perhaps it’s we who are blind. They say that beauty is in the eye of the beholder – and every breed has its enthusiasts. There will always be people who want purebreds, though that moniker itself is a little laughable. Each breed got their start by mixing a multitude of others, selecting for specific traits – making them perhaps the biggest mutts ever.

breed tree

Lately, I’ve been wondering what ever gave humans the idea that they could, or should, be dog shapers at all. What is our moral imperative? How can we as animal guardians, in good conscience, endorse the continued practice of breeding when the animals being born suffer imperfections as a result of our interference?

What is a dog for?  That’s easy.

dog love

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About yelodoggie

C.A.Wulff is an author, artist and animal advocate. She has been involved in pet rescue for over twenty-five years. She has written two books about her true-life adventures living with an ever-changing house full of pets: Born Without a Tail, and Circling the Waggins, and a guide to animal advocacy using the Internet as a tool: How to Change the World in 30 Seconds". Wulff also writes a pet column and book review column for the Examiner, and is a contributing editor for AnimalsVote.org. She attributes her love of animals to having been raised by Wulffs.
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5 Responses to Breeders: Masters of Disaster?

  1. Well-said, Ariel. It puts me in mind of a great line from the movie Jurasic Park: scientists were so busy trying to see if they could that they never stopped to ask if they should. Or, to paraphrase Mr. Spock: only human arrogance would assume that it’s o.k. to genetically alter another specie.

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  2. nancy5vic says:

    Very good points, indeed. But I do love my Cavapoo!!! Just curious, and not meaning to start any kind of ill will at all…seriously just curious…do you also think that’s it immoral to have kids with so many that need to be adopted? There really aren’t a lot of caucasian babies, but globally, there are many kids without a family. What are your thoughts here?

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    • yelodoggie says:

      Nancy5vic, I do not think it is immoral to have kids with so many that need to be adopted, and here’s why: [That’s not to say that I don’t think that just because people can have kids that they should. Lots of ‘parents’ are ill equipped.]
      1. Kids are not murdered if they haven’t found a foster home or adopter to take them in a week’s time. It’s not a life and death issue for an orphaned child (at least, not here in the US).
      2. There are laws against starving/neglecting/abusing/abandoning children that are strongly enforced and abusers severely punished. These are recognized as serious crimes and provide some deterrent. Any one can abandon a pet at any time at their local animal control without a penalty or punishment.

      The animal population issue is complex. While the majority of us believe that shelters should be no-kill, there isn’t even agreement in animal rescue that there IS an over population problem. There is a school of thought that says there are more than enough homes for all the shelter animals, if only people could be educated to adopt from shelters and not buy a pet from a store, an ad, or a breeder. But how do you stop more pets from being born? I don’t have a single answer, and I suspect that the solution is some combination of the following:
      1. breeders must be licensed and restricted to the number of litters they can have per year.
      2. All AC facilities/rescues/shelters adopt a mandatory spay/neuter policy and do not adopt out any animals that are not spayed or neutered.
      3. People are given incentives to spay/neuter their pets. (dare I say that maybe they are even offered cash incentives. ie: we’ll spay your dog and give you $20 if you bring the dog in. )
      4. There need to be free programs for spay/neuter for people who cannot afford it.
      5. Pet stores need to be stopped from selling pets, and limited only to supplies. The majority of puppy mill dogs are sold in pet stores. If the demand for puppy mill dogs is cut off, it is no longer profitable for backyard breeders and puppy millers to do business.

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  3. The most unfortunate breeding tactics have been done for money. This is where we as humans are abusive, messing with “survival of the fittest” creating disease, cancer, bone problems, temperament issue’s among other ailments and suffering for the dogs. I believe in breeders that love the breed and are protective of the lines. I do think they are few and far between and one must really research when looking for a pure bred dog. As far as “pure bred” term is vague. Wikipedia normally states the many different dog breeds it took to master one AKC breed.
    As humans we have manipulated many things causing harm to animals and humans…the food industry is one fine example of trying to kill ourselves off slowly with an abundance of ailments. We have even done this with our dog foods. I believe the bottom line is the ethics of people, greed is a nasty trait and in the end no one wins. Not humans, not animals!
    Annie W.

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  4. Kai says:

    The saddiest thing is that that completely f*cked up tribe of Masters of Disaster are keep feeding their creature with that shitty – “BEST DOG FOOD”, “HEALTH DOG FOOD” etc.. and they really think that this food is suitable and good for the one, whom they have created

    That really makes me smile – people, open your eyes, ears and mind
    quit using a debilic technology power to produce such an idiots, like you are

    Kai | http://www.dogica.com

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