Emma the Vet

Passionate about animal welfare

Saying Goodbye- the ultimate kindness

This is the title of an owner information leaflet I wrote about what to expect when you have to sadly say good-bye to a beloved pet. It occurred to me today that it is also totally appropriate for this homepage update.

Everyone is talking at the moment about flat-faced dogs and cats and how unhealthy they are and how much they suffer. And so we should be talking about it but the fact is that they have grabbed the headlines because they are SO appalling from a health and welfare point of view. They are the epitome of these problems but they are, in fact, just the very tip of the iceberg when it comes to breed health problems.

I am always trying to gauge how strongly people feel about things like this. In recent months when I’ve questioned some vets, owners and breeders about breed problems I sometimes get the incredulous reply, ‘But what are you going to do? BAN the whole breed?!’ It seems impossible to imagine and the concept horrifies breed enthusiasts. I was pondering this recently after a vet had contacted me who is as depressed as me about it and is, like me, feeling pretty helpless.

So today, I started doing a little bit of research. You see I am much more interested in the health and wellbeing of dogs and cats as species, not as 1000 or so distinct breeds. Let’s be clear, breeds are a completely man-made phenomenon. Every single time you introduce a new breed you have to make sure they are recognisable purely by how they look. This means that all the others have to become a little bit more like caricatures of their former selves. And so, over the 100 odd years since the major Kennel Clubs were founded (a billionth of a second at most in the natural evolution of the dog) we find ourselves somehow irrevocably attached to these man-made breeds that simply didn’t exist before.

The AKC (American Kennel Club) very helpfully lists by year when breeds were first recognised. They started in 1885 with nineteen. The end of the 1800s saw just 55 breeds. Shockingly they have recognised a staggering 43 new breeds since the year 2000 alone. I’ve written recently about the horrible demise in health of the hugely popular Cavalier King Charles Spaniel. This breed wasn’t even recognised in the UK until 1945! How on earth can we say we cannot imagine life without some breeds when they’ve only existed for a few decades anyway? Humans certainly survived millennia perfectly well without over 200 breeds of dog. I think it’s safe to assume we’d get by without some of them again.

In just over 100 years we’ve gone from 20 breeds to over 200. It has to stop.
It’s all a total nonsense. We have a moral duty to ban breeds that suffer. People say to me that you can’t ban a whole breed if, for example, only half of them suffer. These people need to listen to their comments. How can it be acceptable to play genetic roulette with FIFTY percent of a group of animals? The first veterinary paper published about the health problems of brachycephalic animals was over 100 years ago, clearly that body shape should have been summarily stopped but it wasn’t. To make extremes of body shape we have to select for deformities almost in every body system. I put it to you that this is morally indefensible.

Every person who breeds a bulldog, pug, Peke, basset, Clumber spaniel, mastiff, dachshund, Persian, sphinx, Chinese crested, shar-pei, teacup dog, Munchkin cat, and the list goes on and on, has caused some degree of suffering by selecting for an unnatural deformity. They should be prosecuted. And yes, the breeds should be banned. Why is it that politicians are willing to ban breeds based on a spurious, unfounded generalisation about temperament but will not act when it comes to unprecedented levels of unnecessary suffering in breeds because man has tried to play Mother Nature and has royally cocked it up?

All over the world, often in poor areas, there are beautiful, robust types of mongrels and moggies. It is the fashion-obsessed, rich, ‘civilised’ world that is to blame for breed problems. We must introduce laws against the deliberate creation of extremes of body shape and inherited disease. We maybe didn’t understand the impact in the 1800s but we certainly do now and we have to act. Saying good-bye to the diseased breeds we’ve made and aiming once again for the beautiful, natural dogs we’ve destroyed truly is the ultimate kindness.

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