Saturday, March 24, 2012

When Breeds Collide

This is the Animal Junkie's second post for Week 5 of the I <3 Dogs Tour. This week's theme: The gorgeous, the active, and the unique. Tell us your favorite dog breed. 

Visit Tour Host Small Town Rescue for links to other blogs participating this week and to see how you can win prizes! And remember, if you'd like a copy of Vet Tech Tales: Vol 1, just let me know in the comments or by email. I'll be happy to send you a FREE e-copy in the format of your choice.


Way back in my early 20s I was involved with dog shows. My best friend and fellow vet tech at the time was big into shelties. (Why is it I seem to collect sheltie people?). For a while I volunteered at the local breed shows and spent weekends watching shelties parade around an arena or compete in obedience trials.

Wonderful as they are, I never fell heart over heels for shelties.

I thought chows could be “my breed.” I certainly liked them and I hit several breed shows to be around them. I realized soon enough, though, that a high-maintenance dog such as a chow, or even a sheltie, wasn’t for me. My lifestyle demanded tough, solid, short-haired and medical-problem-free dogs.

I chose the Doberman. My first pup was a red: Lady Robin Hood. Light on her feet and graceful, she reminded me of a deer. She wasn’t a conformation dog, though. By the time I settled on “my breed,” I had decided breeding to a standard was a ritual I didn't want to participate in. It wasn't so much the ones that made it to the arena that bothered me as what happened to the many, many throw-aways that weren’t born the breed ideal.

 And while I’ve done my share of tail docking and ear cropping – oh yes, I’ve wielded the scissors myself and kept dozens of puppies in ear forms and bandages to produce those never naturally pointed and erect ears – my dogs would never go through that. Since “natural” was an unfavorable look, even had my deer-like Robin met the standards otherwise, my droop-eared pup would never have been invited into the conformation ring.

Not My Dobie Pup
We went the obedience route instead. At breed shows it was evident who, people-wise, were there for the conformation side. First Robin, then my second Doberman girl – the black-and-tan Morgan le Fey – was snubbed by the “true” Doberman lovers. How dare I bring an uncropped dog to a breed show! When one woman in particular patted my hand and said in the most condescending voice possible, “It’s OK, I know not everyone can afford to have their dog’s ears properly done,” I realized I actually enjoyed having my dogs there even more. We were making a statement in an in-your-face-passive-aggressive way. Kind of my trademark.

It was with great delight that I raised my voice to be sure she – and maybe a few others – heard as I explained that, being a vet tech, I not only could do the cropping myself but could point to a handful of dogs there whose ears I’d cut and sewn and for whom I’d hand-rolled the forms then stuffed into the pups’ ears for weeks to train them to stand. “Why,” I finished, “would I ever choose to put my own lovely dogs through all that pain and discomfort?”

Breeders, breed shows and I parted ways soon enough. Later I acquired, by choice again, two more dobies – littermates – when I moved out by myself to a rough, rural area. Dobies attracted me with their tough, lean looks; their reputations, which make most people automatically leery of them; and their fierce, fierce loyalty.

Phoenix (the original) and Lance
 Sadly, it’s the very act of dog breeding that leads in part to millions of dogs being killed yearly. We have dozens of puppy mills in our area churning out purebreds by the thousands. Even “responsible breeders” produce more puppies than is sustainable in our world.

Which is all a very round-about way of saying that my thinking has changed about dog breeds over the years from being a supporter of maintaining the breeds we have today and developing new ones for tomorrow to being anti-breeding programs. I’m no means a vigilante. My days of activism are behind me. The most anti-establishment I get these days is refusing to help my neighbor – who breeds Golden Retrievers and, in some ways, treats her dogs better than I treat mine – to artificially inseminate her bitches when they either won’t, or can’t, breed naturally.    

My vote, then, for favorite dog type, not breed, goes to any dog that’s been spayed or neutered. Until our animal populations are under control and every homeless dog is homed, we have a responsibility to the species above any individual breeds. Breed-specific rescue groups are, of course, an excellent way to celebrate breeds while staying true to the good of the species.

One of my current favorite types - my boy, Loki


Jo-Ann said...

Oh, Phoenix - congratulations on your restraint at the dog show. I would have been tempted to offer to cut and crop Condescending Lady's own ears so they were "properly" done.

Soap-box warning:
Personally, I wince at the thought of any "pure bred" pet, because it inevitably involves some form of in-breeding. Many of the offspring dont realise they're meant to conform to a particular standard, and that's sad, but at least they have a chance at finding a home. It's the individuals who inherit the "unfortunate" genes I feel most sorry for.

Pure breds sadly are also prone to a variety of deformities or illnesses because of the restricted choice from the gene pool. At worse, they dont live past infancy, at best, it limits the lifespan.

Years ago I ended up with a Siamese kitten who had "split paw", a deformity in one front paw (it was split to the wrist with an abnormally large pad on either side, and claws that could not be retracted).
It would have otherwise been put down, but I was at the right place at the right time and took him home.
We called him Spock because it looked like the "live long and prosper" signal that Vulcans use. He limped on that side, and climbing was a challenge due to the claws being removed. But he lived a happy life for a few years with his deformed paw before succumbing to cancer. He was as feisty and vocal as any other Siamese.
Personally, I think the mongrels are the luckiest. Hybrid vigour, they call it. Healthier with fewer expectations placed on them. Whatever the species, the 'bitzas' get my vote as faves.

vkw said...

Excellent post and story.

I have three favorite breeds:

Rescued, Adopted and Loved.

I have three that are a mixture of all three.


Phoenix Sullivan said...

Have I mentioned lately how much I love you guys?

And Jo-Ann, split paw is not something I've seen before. That sounds more like a deformity from incomplete differentiation in the womb rather than a genetic complication, but I could be wrong. In any case, your comments regarding hybrid vigor are spot on! Especially when they're hybrids of the vkw kind ;o)