Recently, a man in Georgia was arrested for participation in a puppy mill, described by police as “out of control and inhumane.” More than 700 miniature poodles and teacup Yorkshire terriers were seized from the licensed breeder, many of which had never been held or walked.
Each of these dogs was being sold at $600 each because of the demand for miniature breeds, while there are many dogs in shelters just waiting to be euthanized who can be adopted for around $100. With an ‘adopt, don’t shop’ mentality gaining traction around the country, it’s a wonder we continue to participate in a cycle of breeding that leaves so many animals displaced and unhealthy for the sake of aesthetic.
“Give me a one-eyed, three-legged mangy mutt any day of the week,” said Jessica Safani-Franko, the office manager for Agoura Animal Clinic. She said she believes it’s a better decision to take care of the pets that are already in the world than create a market for breeding.
Her own dog, Bernie, was rescued a day before he was scheduled to be euthanized. She adopted him from the rescue and has found him to be the perfect family dog with no health problems and a sweet temperament.
“I wouldn’t ever purchase a dog, but I can see why someone would want to,” Safani-Franko said. Breed trends come in waves, which leads to high demand for certain types of dogs, resulting in more breeding for the traditional aesthetic of what the breed “should” look like.
Dog shows like the Westminster or American Kennel Club annual shows also popularize certain breeds based on who wins a blue ribbon. When a dog wins, they are generally used as a breeding dog in order to continue the award-winning bloodline. Sometimes this is done without regard for health issues they may pass along.
Dawn Zeilinger, an associate veterinarian at Agoura Animal Clinic, said the AKC breed standards change to reflect modern aesthetics for dogs, which resulted in genetic issues for German shepherds and dental problems for small breeds. She said ear cropping for dogs like Rottweilers used to be popular but has fallen out of favor, leading to a change in breed standard.
The same cannot yet be said for brachycephalic breeds like Boston terriers and Pekingese. The way these dogs are bred for their short faces, Zeilinger said, gives them both their signature smooshed face and a predisposition to many health problems.
Breeding to make a dog’s face more squished may also cause an elongated soft palate or narrowed nostrils, which causes these dogs to be more susceptible to heat stroke than those with longer snouts because it impacts their breathing.
Proptosis, a genetic disorder where the eyes sit too far forward in the head and causes the eyes to bulge, sometimes out of the socket entirely, is extremely common in pugs and other brachycephalic breeds such as bulldogs.
“People just tend to take it for granted that bulldogs always breathe like that,” Zeilinger said.
In reality, the heavy panting bulldog owners are familiar with is typically caused by excess tissue toward the back of the throat, called everted laryngeal saccules, a result of breeding for aesthetic. This greatly reduces lifespans and increases their need for medical intervention and surgeries to correct issues associated with this kind of breeding.
“I don’t think it’s ethical to breed dogs for the sake of aesthetic, especially at the expense of their health,” Safani-Franko said. “But, unfortunately, there will always be a surplus of pets in need due to irresponsible breeding.”
As the next generation of dog owners, it’s up to us to disrupt the cycle of breeding and mistreatment of dogs for the sake of how they look. No matter how cute French bulldogs are, I could not, in good conscience, purchase a dog from a breeder knowing they’ve been bred to the detriment of their health. Besides, with so many other animals in need that will never get the opportunity to experience a loving home because they aren’t purebred, it simply wouldn’t be right.