Best of Breed? Pedigree Dogs Face Disease

Such so-called puppy mills, or high-volume breeders, produce up to 400,000 pedigree dogs every year, according to the ASPCA. In some, the conditions are terrible and dogs aren't screened for disease.

"Some of these dogs are only 8-months when they're first bred," Bob Baker of the ASPCA's Anti-Cruelty Unit said as he walked among dozens of dogs he says were rescued from a puppy mill and are waiting to be adopted at the society's headquarters in New York City. "And many of them, by the time they're 5 years of age, they're burnt out. And the breeders take them out and shoot them."

Baker, who often goes undercover to investigate conditions in puppy mills, said that the dogs are often treated like livestock. "Greed takes over," he said.

According to the ASPCA, around 25 percent of pedigree dogs bought in the United States every year come from puppy mills or unscrupulous backyard breeders. The ASPCA claims that every single dog bought from a pet store, not direct from a breeder, comes from a breeder they would deem "irresponsible."

ASPCA president Sayres said, "A responsible breeder would no more sell their puppies through a pet shop than a responsible parent would sell their children on eBay."

The ASPCA and the Kennel Club do carry out inspections on breeders, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture is the ultimate authority over large-scale puppy breeders.

Putting Health Before History

But health problems are not confined to the puppy mill dogs. In Philadelphia, Dougie the French Bulldog, bought from an apparently reputable breeder, cost his owner $4,500 for an operation to correct a severe breathing problem.

"I tried to look for the best of the litter," owner Lauren Brown said. "But, obviously, with him we couldn't predict."

The ASPCA said its main concern is abandoned dogs. According to its figures, up to 4 million are destroyed every year because they can't find a home. For the ASPCA, dog shows and pure bred health issues are a low priority, but still a concern.

"Yes, some of the dog show stuff is silly and some of it is definitely detrimental to the health and welfare of dogs," Sayres said. But Sayres does not want to see a vitriolic battle, such as the one now being waged in Britain. "I'm much more solution oriented," he said. "And I think that has to come from a dialogue."

Dr. Lisa Esposito, a volunteer from the Veterinary Medical Association of New York City who was on duty at Westminster agreed. "I think [there should be] some dialogue concerning the standard," she said. "For example, the tight tails, the tight nostrils."

Serpell at the University of Pennsylvania advocates cross breeding: Sacrificing purity for health. Why not cross a Boston with another terrier, he says, give it a slightly longer snout, let it breathe more easily?

"It would still have the basic features of the Boston Terrier," he said. "It wouldn't have such a squashed face."

Burns, aka "Terrierman," said, "Let their faces come out a little bit. They don't have to have a lot of muzzle to be able to breathe. But they have to have some. That's all it is. Give the dog a little bit of face."

And, in Philadelphia, Brown, the French Bulldog owner and vet student, has had similar thoughts. "I think that would be met with a lot of resistance," she said. "But, overall, I think, in time, the health issue would win over history. I think it would be better for the breed. I would like to see that happen."

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