Yesterday afternoon, I watched a few episodes from the Dogtown Marathon on National Geographic Canada. We’d never gotten this show on Canadian television before, so I was excited to get a chance to see what all the fuss was about.
First off, let me say that I think Best Friends does phenomenal work. I haave no doubt of their commitment to animals, and to no kill, and their dedication to Pit Bulls is fantastic.
That said, I hold animal care professionals to a higher level of accuracy than I do the general public – and that’s especially true of animal care professionals who get to air their views on a television show being broadcast internationally. For that reason, when I heard veterinarian Michael Dix say that stray dog Wiggles was likely crippled ‘because of inbreeding’, I wanted to reach through the screen and smack him upside the head.
Wiggles was featured in Season One, Episode Three (The Outsiders). Found wandering as a stray, Wiggles was clearly and obviously a French Bulldog mix – so much so that even my non doggy boyfriend exclaimed “Hey, check out the Frenchie cross!” when he saw Wiggles on the screen. I wasn’t sure what he was mixed with, until I saw them open Wiggles mouth for an examination – that mottled blue tongue is common to only two breeds, the Chow or the Sharpei, and with that bristly coat and square head, I’d lay bets that Wiggles is a Chow/French Bulldog mix.
Wiggles arrived at Best Friends with a neurological disorder which causes rear end weakness and fecal incontinence. To me, it sounded exactly like spinal degenerative disease, and I was curious to see if the veterinarians would agree. Instead, I got to hear Dr. Dix mention that, because Wiggles was found “near a Bulldog breeder”, they assumed he was like this because of “inbreeding”.
Now, correct me if I’m wrong, here – after all, I am merely a lowly French Bulldog breeder, and no veterinarian – but isn’t the very definition of ‘in breeding’ the concentration of close relatives within a gene pool? At its most simple it is “the act of mating closely related individuals”. Wiggles is the most patently obvious out cross (that’s a really nice term for ‘mixed breed’) I have ever seen – how many relatives do you think a Chow and French Bulldog can possibly have in common? Like Edmund, he seems made of bits and pieces of the component dogs that went into him – Chow coat and tongue, French Bulldog ears and a grossly over done shoved out under jaw that’s a caricature of proper bite.
And you know, I get it. I get that part of Best Friends schtick is to expound on the evils of breeding. Later, in another episode involving a group of puppy mill rescues, it seems like every third person is decrying the horrors of how these dogs were all ‘bred against their will‘.
I hate puppy mills just as much as the next guy – maybe more – but let’s get real here. Bitches in heat are the universal symbol for slutty behaviour for a reason, and that reason is that bitches in heat are relentless about getting what they want (and what they want is someone, anyone, to get them knocked up). This, of course, is putting aside the fact that mother nature has imbued both dogs and bitches with an impeccable sense of timing. Rare is the dog that will even bother to attempt mounting a girl who’s not ready for insemination, and even more rare is the bitch who won’t teach him what a lowly and unworthy piece of scum he is if he even thinks about trying it. What I’m saying here is that bitches just cannot be ‘bred against their will’ – it just doesn’t happen, and even if it did, the bitch wouldn’t be ovulating, so she wouldn’t get pregnant.
But, like I said – I get it. Breeders are evil, and inbreeding is why every stray dog is crippled. As a friend said “saying things like that ‘humanizes’ the dogs”, and I suppose she’s right – but dogs are not humans, and animal husbandry is a science, not some kind of voodoo you get to use to scare the citizens about just what’s going on to create all those stray dogs. “They’re forcing brothers and sisters to have sex!“.
I expect the people who work with dogs every day to know solid, scientific facts – facts that they then use to educate the general viewing public. Accuracy, I believe, matters. The general public is not, in my opinion, entirely composed of morons.
You could easily say “Puppy mill dogs are allowed to breed far too often, in poor environments”, instead of alluding their ‘rape’, and get the same emotional response from viewers. As a veterinarian, you could tell people “When you mix two (or more) breeds of dogs, you can possibly get the worst from each one – including a tendency to spinal degenerative disease from the French Bulldog in Wiggles’ family tree”, and maybe one more person would think twice before allowing their intact dog to produce more mixed breed puppies.
All of this matters, because the reality of each of these situations is dire enough, without ladling inaccurate hyperbole on top of it – hyperbole that lets people dismiss what you’re saying more easily. Me, I’m not dismissing Best Friends, or their work, or their commitment – but I am saying that I expect better of them.
By the way, here’s a short clip of Wiggles, from an episode promo.