Posts Tagged ‘pedigree dogs’


The Midwives of Hell

2008 August 21

This week the BBC aired a documentary on pedigree dog breeding. The documentary, two years in the making, looked at how breeds today were suffering. It claimed that their suffering was a direct result of breeding methods.

The problem, the documentary suggested, was that breeders selected offspring on the basis of appearance at the expense of health. It highlighted the major cause of this as inbreeding.

Before show dog breeding, dogs tended to be bred as working dogs. The artificial selection mimicked natural selection. Fit and healthy dogs make better working dogs. This means that fit and healthy offspring were also selected for breeding from. The prevalence of genetic disease was kept low, as in natural selection. But in show dog breeding it is appearance that is stressed over fitness and health. This removes the natural barrier to genetic disease. The result is that today pedigree dog owners spend over £10m in vet fees weekly.

The programme highlighted Kennel Club breed standards that included inherent health problems. It also suggested exaggerated traits bred into dogs trying to win rosettes as a causative factor. The Kennel Club continues to register dogs bred from mother-to-son and brother-to-sister matings.

Scientists an Imperial College, London, looked at the population of pugs. They found that the population of 10,000 was the same as just 50 distinct individuals. This makes the breed more genetically compromised that the giant panda.

The result of this behaviour of human beings is the suffering of individual dogs. As a result responsible owners also suffer. Here are some examples of problems found in pedigree breeds:

  • Pugs cannot breathe easily. Their faces are so flat that they are prone to eye damage from bumping into things.
  • King Charles spaniels are prone to a painful disease called syringomyelia. This happens if their skulls are too small for their brains.
  • Boxers are prone to epilepsy, heart disease and high cancer rates.

But the final cause of this scandal in dog breeding is human fashion. Dogs are selected on cosmetic grounds. The demand for show dogs that flatter their owners drives breeding. Champion show dogs continue to father puppies despite serious genetic disease. Some breeders cull perfectly healthy puppies because they are cosmetically “wrong”.

The Kennel Club far from being open to change defends its position. It insists that “the vast majority of dog breeds are healthy”. This despite scientific evidence that, for example, up to one third of King Charles spaniels suffer syringomyelia. The programme showed a disturbing video of one dog writhing in agony due to this condition.

If the dogs were human beings, we may have little difficulty describing some of them as being in Hell. The breeders, and the people who buy from them, are directly responsible for this suffering. While some continue to turn a blind eye to the problem they remain the Midwives of Hell. Many owners do not even realise they are buying dogs whose genes are compromised.

One vet said that if a human being beat a dog to cause it the pain some suffer, he would be prosecuted. Yet they can breed dogs into a life of such pain legally.

Continuing in this way is not even in the interest of those involved in the business. Steve Jones, Professor of Genetics, UCL, said, “If the dog breeders insist on going further down that road, I can say with confidence really that there is a universe of suffering waiting for many of these breeds – and many if not most of these breeds will not survive.

“They will get so inbred that they will be unable to reproduce and their genes will come to a dead end.”

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