Friday, June 29, 2012

adopt pets, more. breed pets, less.

Someone sent me this website of Carli Davidson's disabled dog photography, and my heart melted. The photographer was inspired to do the series after seeing a dog in a wheelchair play fetch with it's owner, perfectly happy. The dogs in her photos have many different kinds of "disabilities" from losing limbs in traumatic accidents to being born without eyes. The photographer says of her project:
"I wanted to create a project showcasing differently abled pets, telling their stories in order to show the world that they are happy, thriving companions. They are not sad, they are not in pain, and the owners and animals continue to be of great value to one another."
When people see dogs wheelchairs, or dogs that are missing limbs, it seems like the reaction is pretty standard: "AWWWWWWWW." Those dogs are super cute and we love them for their pluckiness, their happiness despite their limitations, and for being 'survivors'.

I really, really like Carli Davidon's project but it highlighted something that has always been a big issue for me: we love these funny little dogs but we still live in a society that values "pure breeds" even though that means dogs are subjected to pain, mental difficulties, and behavioural problems - all to create a perfect dog. And what happens when the dogs aren't perfect?  Puppies that are born imperfect are sometimes destroyed or abandoned, so that the breeders good "stock" isn't compromised publicly.

How is it humane to keep dogs solely for the purpose of breeding? To condemn a female dog to a life of carrying and birthing litter after litter? Most breeders treat their best breeders better than many humans can hope to be treated, but it still raises the question of controlling the life of another creature solely for the purpose of aesthetics and vanity.

Not only is it an ethical issue, but a lot of pure bred dogs are overbred which means that the characteristics we value in the dog have become prominent, resulting in a defect. German Shepherd's that are bred for show have been bred with heavily sloped backs, which causes the dogs to have difficulty walking and exacerbates hind leg diseases. French bulldogs and pugs have adorable little squish faces but they also have compacted airways, which makes it difficult for them to breath. This doesn't just make it hard for them to get exercise, but makes it almost impossible for them to regulate their temperature through panting. Because of their "adorable" large, square heads almost 80% of French Bulldogs are birthed through caesarian section because the puppy heads don't fit in the females' birth canal. The males are often not able to mount females to breed because of their prized "slim hips" so the females are artificially inseminated often. The impregnation and birth of these animals are completely engineered by their breeders.

Dogs who are prized for their teeny, tiny little heads (Like Cavalier King Charles Spaniels) often experience pain because their skulls aren't big enough to accomodate their brains, which can result in syringomyelia.

Rhodesian Ridgebacks are famous for the"ridges" that ripple down their backs. The Chairman of the Rhodesian Ridgeback Club has stated that puppies born without ridges were defects, and a section of the code of ethics of the Rhodesian Ridgeback Club states that "ridgeless puppies shall be culled."

Culling puppies that aren't perfect is not rare. Our family dog was a rescue from a Shih-Tzu breeder who was getting ready to destroy her because she was missing an eye. Little did they know, they would have been culling a Chess champion:

People who want pure bred puppies pay huge amounts of money for a dog that is "perfect", in a world where there are hundreds of thousands of dogs and puppies that need homes. Dogs, originally bred to do work, are now just an accessory and people are willing to sacrifice the health of their dog to ensure they'll get something aesthetically pleasing.

This isn't to say that every dog breeder is a cruel, greedy  monster. I know, and understand,that people who breed dogs love their dogs and "love" the breed. But humans have a tendency to be short-sighted and selfish in their love,and we have to acknowledge the fact that intentional breeding is not a natural state for dogs and traits we think are adorable are often harmful to the dogs. It's eugenics,and we decry eugenics in human breeding, so why should we force dogs to breed to produce perfect specimens? It's weird. Do people really think that only a specific kind of dog can have the personality traits they value?

For all of our love of dogs, we let a lot of them suffer. There are so many organizations that deal only in pure-bred rescue because once people realize all of their medical or mental issues, or they simply don't need them anymore, they abandon them. Greyhounds, for example, are bred for racing but are abandoned when they stop winning races( or, "retired" from racing). Dogs are abused and abandoned, and then spend the rest of their lives in shelters because people don't want them.

So yes, Ramen the dog missing its two front legs, is incredibly adorable but let's try not to forget that behind a lot of animal disability is human interference, that animals are hideously abused in large numbers and treated like garbage, and let's try to understand why we'll feel sad abused/abandoned/or disabled dogs and then pay $2000.00 for a dog that is "pure bred."

Humans are the worst.

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