Dogs. Man’s best friend. Arguably the best animals in the world (an argument that I am happy to make). Kind and loyal. Loving and generous.
When I think about dogs, I think about golden retrievers and German shepherds. Glorious black labradors running toward me, tails wagging like they’ve been injected with speed, clean tennis balls held tightly in their mouths (and then they want you to throw it, but they’re not willing to give it up. What’s up with that? I mean, it’s adorable, but what’s up with that?).
But we’re not here to talk about those majestic creatures. No, we’re here to talk about pugs.
That’s right. Pugs. Maybe you think they’re cute. Maybe you just think they’re ugly. Maybe you think they’re so ugly that they’re cute. Maybe you don’t really think about pugs at all. But what generally comes to mind is the characteristic smushed-in face. As Nathan Shankman ’20 said, “They’re cute. They’re like little marshmallows. They’re just tiny, wonderful…. ”
Over hundreds of years, we’ve bred them for that adorable mug and eyes that bug out of their heads. We think it’s endearing and, because of it, they’re suffering.
Before researching pugs to write this article, I was fairly neutral toward them. Although I strongly identify as a dog lover, I wouldn’t consider myself an animal rights’ activist, just a big fan of their work. However, after reading about how much we’ve screwed with their bodies just to make them into a more “ideal” shape, I am strongly tempted to go find dog breeders and swiftly and mercilessly punch them in the face.
Due to both inbreeding and breeding for particular traits, the pugs’ genetic pool has become severely limited. Furthermore, a majority of the pug population suffers from severe respiratory problems, spinal problems, and vulnerability to eye damage. The respiratory problems are partially due to their recognizable faces, which have excess skin over the nose and hide a severely compromised respiratory tract. Their curly tails are actually due to abnormalities in the spinal column, which commonly exist in multiple places in any given pug. Their eyes, due to their tendency to bug out, are extremely susceptible to a range of injuries that most other breeds are protected from.
In the past decade or so, awareness of our excessive artificial selection has skyrocketed. Like pugs, many other breeds of small dogs are struggling. Nowadays, 80 percent of French bulldogs have to be artificially inseminated, and then the puppies must be removed by C-section because their heads are simply too big. Without human help, a pregnant French bulldog has a very low chance of being able to successfully give birth.
Some may argue that this isn’t so important. As we all know, dogs are a domesticated species. As long as humans are looking out for them, there is no reason to worry. But we’re not always taking care of them. Approximately 3.9 million dogs enter shelters in the U.S. every year, often being given up by people who can’t take care of them anymore. Not everyone takes such a humane approach. It’s impossible to estimate how many stray dogs there are in the country, but it’s well-documented that some pet owners who find themselves unable to care for their animals choose to just abandon them. There’s no guarantee that these dogs are being cared for, and we have to start considering their health because, right now, they quite literally can’t live without us.
Back in 2012, a renowned veterinarian, Dr. Gerhard Oechtering, called for us to stop having these types of dogs as pets. He says: “The whole veterinary profession is faced more and more with the situation that we are becoming the repair troop for small animal breeders. We should totally stop breeding brachycephalic breeds. Breeders have shown they are not able to breed healthy animals.”
I think that it may be harsh to entirely eliminate a breed of dog, for even if we created them, that doesn’t afford us the right to later eradicate them. Instead, I suggest an alternative solution: crossbreeding. If we breed pugs with various species, the genes that have previously led to so many health problems will become less and less common. We won’t entirely be giving up the classic pug look, and many of their features will still be visible. Our inhumane actions of the past will be rectified, and we will go forth in life knowing that those adorably wrinkly faces are still out there.
Help pugs and bulldogs and support the initiative to let their breed’s medical problems be purposefully and carefully limited. Dogs have been loyal to us, and it’s time for us to be loyal to them.
Hannah Reale is a member of the class of 2020.