I have just received a letter from some dog lovers in Silchar, which says that they have formed a kennel club, and hope to have its first dog show. This, the letter says, is in response to my articles on understanding dogs.
In case they have missed the point, that I have been striving to drive home for many years now, let me repeat it again. I am dead set against "pedigreed or purebred" dogs and completely against dog shows.
Let me explain. What is a pedigreed dog? It is an invented species — take a perfectly natural dog, what the uninitiated would call a "jungli", and then work on it for 20 years of selective breeding to make the end product into a bizarre shape, size and colour and there you have a pedigreed dog. Pedigreed because you know the names of its grandparents. The Indian contribution to the pedigreed field is the Rampur Hound, the ultimate joke played by the Nawab of Rampur on dog breeders. He took strays and kept mating them till he achieved a uniform size, and then entered them as breeds in dog shows where they won awards due to his status rather than theirs, and voila! The Rampur Hound was born.
Cruelty in the name of breeding
Breeding "pure" dogs is the ultimate cruelty inflicted on the canine species. Their size, structure, and self-defence systems are tampered with to suit bizarre human tastes. And then, when their appearance doesn’t suit you, you can go for further mutilation like the clipping of ears in a Doberman to make sure that its inside ears are no longer protected and insects can enter freely; or cutting its tail to an absurd stub so that the anus is open to maggots.
What can you expect when you buy a purebred? Hyper behaviour due to the exaggeration of one trait after decades of artificial breeding, and hundreds of expensive visits to the vet. Inherited diseases in such animals are rampant. Dalmatians are prone to deafness, Poodles to epilepsy, Lhasa Apsos to fatal kidney failure and cataracts, Alsatians to hip dysplasia and Boxers and Bulldogs to malignant tumours.
Congenital heart disease is also a frequent complaint in pure breeds, and so are cataracts, glaucoma and retinal degeneration. As a result of inbreeding, to create and maintain their appearance, each breed harbours over a dozen genetic defects. There are over 300 genetic disorders recorded in India, and documented in various breeds. These defects undermine psychological as well as physical health. Toy dogs are frequently high-strung and overactive. Mastiffs, German Shepherds and Doberman Pinschers are overly fearful and submissive. A growing number of Chow Chows, Cocker Spaniels and Golden Retrievers are vicious. A cousin of mine had a pair of Dachshunds which she had to give away (another disgusting practice) because they were completely violent.
Man-made selection has made them disease-prone
The pure bred has to have a prescribed look — and this is the source of numerous health problems. For example, the "perfect" Basset Hound should have short and thickened forelegs. Too frequently, the legs bow that causes chronic elbow dislocation in them. A specification that the "feet turn a trifle outward" endorses a splaying that often results in lameness. A standard that calls for eyes to be "soft, sad and slightly sunken" creates a large gap between the lower eyelid and the eye, and this becomes an ashtray ready to catch dust and debris.
A breed completely crippled by man’s quest for "perfection" is the Dachshund. The emphasis is on short legs and an elongated body. These truncated legs offer inadequate support for the dog’s long straight back. Consequently, back problems are common. One fifth of Dachshunds suffer ruptured vertebral disks which cause excruciating compression of the spinal cord. No engineer would design a bridge with so much roadway between its support legs and expect it to stand.
Another crippled breed is the Bulldog with wrinkles and huge skin folds that are sites of skin infections. The standard requires "a nose set back deeply between the eyes". The result is pathologically short and twisted air passages. An overlong soft palate and a narrowed trachea further obstruct breathing. The Bulldog’s life is a short one, marked by a ceaseless struggle against suffocation. According to the standard, the Bulldog should have a low front and high rear, with a massive head and widespread shoulders with narrow loins. This makes mating extremely difficult, and whelping by natural means almost impossible. Many Bulldogs are forced to have Caesarean section when giving birth!
All pedigrees have major problems. Deep chested breeds are more prone to bloat and to gastric torsion — a potentially fatal distension and twisting of the stomach. Bull Mastiffs get mysterious gangrenous protuberances on their legs. The list goes on and on.
A request from a dog lover
Look at the beautiful sleek Indian dog. Neither too small nor too tall, wiry, with an elegant alert head, gentle expressive eyes, a well-developed bone structure, no tendency towards obesity, well-formed running legs and ballerina paws. No health problems, no tick problems because of the short hair, no excessive skin folds that attract disease. Talk to any family that has kept an Indian dog. What are their veterinary bills like? What is their stress level like? I have 12 dogs. Eleven Indian, and one pedigreed — all given to me. None of my Indian dogs has needed a vet. My pedigreed dog has had several major operations, goes to a vet twice a week, and has cost me an enormous amount in medical bills. I have cried more over her problems in these five years than I have over losing elections.
Don’t keep pedigreed dogs. Be Indian, keep Indian. Would you wear western artificial fabrics in this climate? Would you build western artificial homes in this climate? Would you eat western, greasy, adulterated food in this climate? Then why western artificial dogs? Surely, your pride and practicability must come from being an Indian — or does it come from being a secondhand westerner?
When I repeatedly write about not adopting "pedigreed" dogs, it is not because I have a "thing" about expensive foreign status symbols. It is because the pedigreed dog is an artificial animal, created by man in his arrogance to see whether he can better nature. He can’t.
Each pedigreed dog has had its genes altered and with each alteration a new problem has crept in. Most pedigreed dogs spend half their lives at the vets. Several vets have built multi-storeyed houses on the illnesses of these pedigreed animals. Breed standards — which force dog breeders to conform to a certain physical pattern of dogs — if they are to be regarded as "pure" — have caused untold hardship to dogs. What we have done to produce 400 plus designer "breeds" that look different has resulted in extreme cruelty to dogs: mutilated spines, blindness, deafness, eczema, bone displacements, etc. Less than five per cent of those dogs that are shown to vets with skin diseases are mixed breeds or mongrels. This suggests, according to specialists, that dogs that are being bred are more likely to develop skin disease. Also, the breeding stock is not selected on the basis of freedom from disease, but for show-ring appearances. Most skin diseases have a hereditary basis, but irresponsible breeders disregard advice that such animals should not be bred, and therefore, long lines of pedigreed dogs develop skin problems.
Even temperaments have been radically altered by breeding and this has produced needlessly aggressive or overly shy animals. Thousand of pedigreed dogs are killed by their owners every year before they reach the age of one year. A survey shows that the main reason is that the "temperament has gone awry". Was it their fault or the fault of those that have turned beautifully made living creatures into toys?