Dogs descend from wolves. As wolves have an average lifespan (in captivity) of 13 years it's no surprise that large breed dogs' average lifespan is 13 years. I would argue that anyone creating or perpetuating a breed which is significantly below this average is being extremely selfish. The decision to do so requires a human thinking, "My desire for a dog with a particular look or nature is more important than the dog's right to its full share of years on Earth." Consider some of the dog breeds with the shortest average life spans: Irish Wolf Hound 6.2 years, Bull Dog 6.7 years, Bernese Mountain Dog 7.0 years. These breeds have half the normal lifespan of the dogs (and wolves) from whom they are descended. That seems to me like a monstrously horrible thing to do, to gradually over many decades craft an animal with a shorter and shorter lifespan just so it can possess certain qualities that nature is doing its best to insist (through manifested defects) should not be possessed by a single breed.
In my view, breeding dogs with unnaturally short life spans can only be immoral. Perpetuating the market for such dogs by buying them from professional or hobby breeders can only be immoral. How can it be right to perpetuate this cruelty? If you love these breeds rescue one from a shelter or a rescue group, do not buy them. I accept that people have strong appearance and temperament preferences, but too many people fail to realize there are many pure bred dogs to be had at shelters (25% of shelter dogs are pure of breed) and countless others to be had rescue groups, including breed specific rescue groups.
For those who don't see this as a moral issue I'll share an analogy... Lets say you and your spouse want to have children and discover in a routine health screening that you possess a gene that virtually guarantees any child you might conceive in the future would have a lifespan half normal, only 38 years. Would this not cause you to seriously reconsider intentionally bringing a child into the world knowing the result (when you could adopt or use a donor sperm/egg)? If you love dogs and feel a connection to them, how can you not respond similarly? You can't adopt a dog and fix its lifespan, but your adopting one will remove the financial incentive from those breeding dogs and reduce the number of dogs dying prematurely for breed-specific reasons.
I'll be the first to admit that my argument may not sway a single life-long pedigreed bulldog fancier, but hopefully it might cause some more open-minded people to rethink some the questionable decisions we make on behalf of dogs.
P.S. - Gaddy wrote in to raise the extremely valid point that, "beyond just longevity, there is the issue of quality of life. ... Some dog breeds are so far removed from their wolf ancestors, that they become prone to infections, or can no longer move or breathe normally." I couldn’t agree more and just wanted to explain that the only reason I focused exclusively on longevity in this post was because I sometimes like to try and reduce a more complex topic down to what feel to me like less arguable fundamentals. While some people might argue whether a particular bred-in feature is bad/unhealthy/painful/etc. few can argue the evil of a halved lifespan. And if they do argue it then the argument goes in a direction which I think is more easily countered (as well as being philosophically more interesting).
How can one justify a Bulldog living only half the lifespan of its wolf relative?
1) They can say that animals don’t know how long they are supposed to live so therefore it doesn’t matter if they live shorter lives, they don’t feel robbed of anything or suffer more. But if that were true and valid then would these people be in favor of engineering dogs which lived conveniently short lives? What about a dog that lived for exactly one year, dying just after it’s puppy-ness began to wane, just in time to buy another limited-lifespan puppy? How could this be wrong and half-lived Bulldogs not be wrong?
2) They can argue that a Bulldog has a different perception of time which makes its 6 years *feel* like the norm of 13 and so they are not cheated out of anything. The argument would presumably fall out of the observation that animals have radically different lifespans and we don’t feel like any of them are cheated out of longer ones. But of course the flaw here is that most animals lifespans and presumably their perceptions of them seem to relate to the fundamental rate at which their life is lived. Humans have a 77 year lifespan, great sea tortoises have a 250 year lifespan, and humming birds have a 3-4 year lifespan, and a casual observation of each shows that there’s clearly some connection between their perception of time and their lifespan. Hummingbirds clearly process and react to information far faster than humans can, their movements and reaction times prove the point. Sea tortoises clearly process and react to information far slower than humans do, their movements and reaction times prove the point. So, it seems likely that one’s sense of time and perception is tied to heart rate and some sort of rhythm of the brain. So for this argument about a Bulldog’s altered perception of time to work you’d really need to show that Bulldogs are radically different medically from wolves (in heart rate, brain rhythm, or the external manifestations of cognition/reaction time) and I don’t think there’s any evidence of that.
And I’m sure there are other arguments they could make as well, but those are the first two I could imagine.
I recently began a campaign of de-cluttering my life by scanning all my bulky paper documents into an e-filing system (Rack2-Filer via the Fujitsu ScanSnap S1500). During yesterday's scanning foray I hit my cache of veterinary bills, covering the five years I've had Osita, my Chow-Shar Pei mix and briefly Lupa, my very old stray coy dog. Out of an abundance of curiosity I wanted to see just what owning dogs actually cost me, so I added up my bills and here's the somewhat shocking information conclusion I came to:
Cost of Five Years of Dog Ownership
Veterinary services (exams, surgery, x-rays, blood work, treatments, etc. but excluding medication): $20,832
Food and medicine (estimated): $8,550
Rent increase related to dog (landlord was charging $100 extra/month): $5,400
My medical bills related to breaking up a minor dog fight where my nose got cut (not reflecting 70% coverage by insurance): $5,000
Boarding for 6 or 7 trips I had to take: $2,890
Total: $42,672 or approximately $8,500 / year
Dogs have medical needs, just like people do. Every dog I've owned has at some point required significant medical tests and/or intervention. A seizure disorder here, a torn ligament there, kidney problems, eye problems, cancer, you name it. All have issues at some point in their lives, and the costs of diagnosing and treating those issues is astronomical. I have treated my pets with the only ethical standard I understand, extending to them the same support I would any loved one, human or canine. If they have a medical need I will meet it, as best as I can, as best as modern medical science can, and their enjoyment of life allows. The bills above include no radical treatments, no experimental procedures, and only one surgery (to treat entropion, where a dogs lower eyelid is turned inward and the lashes rub against the eye). The bulk of the cost was for diagnostic testing (to test for Addison's disease, to investigate a seizure), for three brief hospital stays (following a seizure and to get fluids related to kidney disease), and the rest for routine blood work, x-rays, urine/fecal cultures, etc.
Let me make clear that I don't regret any of it, but as I am not wealthy and have few assets to speak of (no house, no IRA, no savings, no stocks/bonds), the absence of this money is certainly very palpable. So the question I can't help but think about is, could I have done anything differently to lower the costs, and related to that, is it morally right to spend so much on one or two dogs when a) so many other dogs are being killed in shelters for lack of resources, and b) I ultimately would like to have a family and resources saved today could be used for them on some tomorrow.
The question of lowering the costs is fairly easy to answer. I could not have ethically made different medical choices for them. If my dog has a grand mal seizure and there is no known epilepsy history the dog needs emergency medical attention to investigate the cause and ensure that if the cause is heart/blood clot related that the proper treatment is given. To do otherwise would simply be unthinkable to me. If altering treatment isn't possible the only option to lower costs is securing cheaper (but equivalent) services. I ultimately have done just that, moving to the country where veterinarians charge half as much (an office visit that used to cost me $75 in Los Angeles now costs me $35, a hospital stay that would cost $3,000 now costs $1,500).
The morality question is a harder one to answer and in fact I think no answer is truly possible. I do believe it is arguably immoral to divert resources to pets that ultimately could be saved and used to meaningfully benefit your children. It may be I will always have resources enough to care for my future children, and that any money saved now would not matter, but I cannot know this now, and my resources and savings are so extremely limited that I truly can't morally make that bet. And, I cannot argue that the resources I've tied up in significantly improving the life of two dogs wouldn't be better spent saving the lives of ten, twenty, thirty, or more dogs who otherwise have died in shelters. My only answer to the question then is, yes, my actions in medically supporting my dogs in the way I am is immoral. That said, having begun it, I am comfortable with and plan to continue this immorality for I see no other acceptable alternative; I owe a duty to those humans and animals I form bonds with, and I must on no account break those. And as we are all in varying degrees immoral creatures, I am not uncomfortable with the recognition of some of my wrongs.
If you're a dog lover, like I am, consider a little thought for my little dog, Lupa. She suddenly suffered a major seizure yesterday and then another at the emergency room last night. She's undergoing tests as I write this. No word as yet what the cause is yet, but horrible things are serious possibilities. She could use all the positive thoughts and prayers she can get. I'm not a believer in god, per se, but I believe in the celebration of great people and great animals, and I suspect that positive thought encourages positive outcome, whether on a metaphysical level or merely in the realm of feel and how we remember the world.
I found her on the street back in October, half starved to death and barely able to walk. She'd been through hell, her jaw had clearly been broken at some point, and most of her teeth are missing, the few that remain badly broken. She rebounded beautifully, regaining her ability to stand, to run, to bark, and to wag her tail in joy. She loves people like few dogs I've ever seen, and they love her. She is sweetness incarnate. She reminds me how great we humans could be, and encourages me to toward that.
UPDATE 4/19/2011: Thanks for all the good wishes for Lupa! I really appreciate them Lupa is doing well, she's on the anti-seizure medicine and has thankfully not had another seizure. No idea what the cause might have been, or whether something worse is in the offing. But I am grateful to have her here for the days, weeks, months, and hopefully years I will.
With over four million dogs killed in American shelters every year, the bill of sale that comes with a kennel bought dog serves dual purpose as another dog's death warrant. There is an adequate supply of dogs, why then do consumers keep demanding more? Dogs are not a commodity, or at least they shouldn't be treated as one. A surplus of dogs cannot be stored, repurposed, or recycled; and they should not be thrown away, but they all too often are. Until and unless the senseless euthanization of homeless dogs is ended, we have no right to "produce" more than is needed.
Convincing the American public to participate in this reduction of supply has proven no easy task. People still buy dogs from breeders (and though it's beyond the scope of this article, they continue to choose not to neuter and spay their dogs). And so the question must be asked, why do people buy dogs from breeders when there are so many in need of adoption? The reasons appear to boil down to purchasers wanting a:
- Dog of a specific breed
- Kennel club registered dog of a specific breed
- Puppy of a specific breed
- Puppy (of any breed)
- Dog whose interaction history is known (for safety reasons)
- Dog whose genetic lineage is known (for health reasons)
And beyond people with these motivations there are no doubt many who are willfully ignorant of the scope of this horror, and have simply never considered adoption; they purchase their new warrantied TV from Best Buy, why wouldn't they purchase their new warrantied dog from a pet store.
Let's examine these issues in some slight detail, because many of them are in fact non-issues, merely an ignorance about what's available and meaningful. The remaining issues may not be satisfiable with a shelter dog, but neither can they justify the monstrous toll their satisfaction requires.
First let's eliminate the non-issues. About 25% of shelter dogs are pure breds, and if someone is looking for a rare breed not commonly found in a shelter there are dedicated breed specific rescue organizations eager to adopt out their clan. If someone wants a puppy of a specific (especially uncommon) breed (registered or not) then admittedly there can be serious supply problems. Shelters have no end of beautiful puppies available for adoption, many of them pure bred, but a pure bred puppy of a less common breed may be very hard or impossible to find. The fact is most dogs are abandoned as adults and thus there will always be a glut of adult dogs needing adoption. Insisting on a puppy of a pure line (registered or not), especially insisting on an acquisition time line of "now", forces a potential dog owner down the path of buying from a breeder. How many times I've heard this lousy excuse proffered along the lines of, "I wanted to get my boxer from a rescue group, but none of them had the pure bred puppy I was looking for in time for Christmas." Unwilling to wait for one to possibly become available, unwilling to bend on the puppy requirement, they give their many hundreds of dollars to a breeder and ensure that the professional or hobby breeder will go on satisfying the sick demand, quietly demanding the destruction of the mixed race and mixed age excess left in the shelters. Health and safety issues unrelated to breed preference are rendered moot by the facts that blank slate puppies of pure or mixed race are readily available; if health is a primary concern one would likely be better steering clear of the overly narrowed genes of pure lines and stick to mutts.
The only desires on this list which can't be reliably or adequately satisfied with adoptable dogs are the desires for a puppy of a rare breed or a puppy with a particular registered pedigree. And to those who insist upon these things I would simply say, "Tough." Life is about choices, and accepting limitations which are in our collective best interest. One may want a pure bred registered puppy. That's a fine thing to want. We humans want so many things, and there's nothing wrong with the wanting. But I am terribly sorry, the vast majority of you cannot see that particular desire satisfied. We humans continue to learn over the course of our long evolution that we cannot satisfy certain desires. Our freedoms end where others' freedoms begin. And we have been very successful in pulling ourselves up from our baser bootstraps; despite our desires we have learned to largely stop enslaving other people, raping our women folk, and stealing other people's land and property. Surely we can afford to recognize that animals deserve more than senseless euthanization. And the few who refuse to recognize that animals deserve something better can probably at least recognize there must be better ways to see their tax dollars spent than funding a potentially largely superfluous shelter system.
Our humanity requires us to do better than we are doing, requires us to curb our selfish belief that we have an inalienable right to have exactly what we want despite the monstrous cost. We must adopt our dogs rather than buy them from breeders or proxy pet stores. We must spay and neuter our pets to ensure we don't negligently help them contribute to their own problem. In the time it took you to read this article 46 dogs in America were euthanized because we have thus far failed to do enough.
I decorated my motorcycle's sidecar, helmets, and dogs in a Christmas motif and Francine, Osita, Lupa, and I piled on and went for a ride around Venice today to spread glad tidings on this merry Christmas. We brought along a Christmas sack full of candy canes and handed them to people we met along the way.
Merry Christmas everyone!
Finally had a chance to finish up and paint the sidecar cage. I'm very pleased with how it came out. I learned a lot of lessons which would lead me to do some things differently were I to do it again, but I doubt I would do it again because most of those lessons related to my cutting lots of corners knowing my attention span was limited and I just needed to push through and get it done as quickly as possible. And fortunately nobody else will know what I know about the corners I cut, so it hardly matters. I think the entire project took me about 35 hours, from idea to completion.
The dogs have yet to ride in the completed version. On what was to be the first test ride, with dogs all loaded up and in their goggles, the spark advance cable snapped as I tried to start the engine. I replaced that part within a day or two only to have the December rains descend on Southern California. Hopefully by Wednesday they clouds will part and the dogs and I can show it off.
And here's the link to all the pictures of it.
I've been performing sea trials of the custom dog cage I built for my sidecar rig. Below are the photos and video of Osita and Lupa in their new three wheeled conveyance. Fortunately the dogs seems to love it, despite the tight quarters.
Everything seems to be working well, so all I need to do is reinforce, redo, and temper a few welds and then give it a paint job (black). I will also make a removable dog bowl holder so they can travel in style with a bowl of water and food. You can see some earlier photos of the cage.
The Griffith Park Sidecar Rally was this past Sunday and the day before I got the bright idea of making a custom fit cage / crate to fit in the sidecar bucket for the easy and safe transportation of pets. I had the idea about 4 years ago but never got beyond a few sketches. Eventually Osita just started joining me without a cage (instead held in with a padded harness). That system worked brilliantly, but Osita has recently begun palling around with another smaller dog and I'd like to occasionally take them both in the sidecar and the harness system just wouldn't cut it. Sadly, as so often happens, I discovered I was overly ambitious and started way too late, so there was no way I was going to finish it in time for the rally... but that's ok, it was the impetus I needed to get started, and it's now about 85% done. The only tricky part which still remains will be the door, and that will only be tricky because it'll take a bit of planning, measuring, cutting, etc. The rest of the cage I made on the fly without any drawings, rulers, notes, or anything; I just added every new piece of metal where I thought I wanted it (I knew if I started by planning I'd never actually make it). Hopefully I'll be done by next weekend, painting (black) and all. (It's been nice to get back to oxy-acetylene welding... though my hands are killing from all the many burns.)
The scooter group I'm in took great these photos of this year's rally; I didn't make their ride, sadly, I was still working on building this when they left. Among those photos are two of sidecars for dogs, apparently my idea wasn't so unique:
Still, I like my design better.
Follow Up: A few weeks later I finished the job! You can check out the final pictures and the photos of the dogs in it.
I'm not a big fan of anthropomorphizing pets. Dogs is dogs, they ain't people. Treating a dog like a person is unhealthy for the dog and crazy-making for the human.
That said, a few years ago after I got my dog from the pound I guesstimated a birthday for her, and every year my computer reminds me that it's her birthday. I don't do anything wildly special for her, but it's a nice excuse to remember to do something nice for her, in a life busy or draining enough that sometimes I forget to play with her enough or take her for enough walks. Yesterday I happened to be at a pet store buying her the dog food she'd run out of and right next to the register there was a little doggie cupcake, so I bought one for her. And in the evening we went for a sidecar ride down to her favorite cafe. As we sit there, her watching the people and my writing on my laptop, people come up constantly to pet her. I tried an experiment and told every person who came up that it was her birthday. It was amusing and heartwarming to see their reactions, people were extra nice to her extra excited to see her, and seven people bought her dog treats (they sell them at the cafe). I think that was a new record for her, in terms of people buying treats per hour. Her previous record was 13 people in one evening buying her treats, but that was over about 5 hours (and this time it was in just 2).
Ah, the life of a loved dog... If the Buddhists are right and I'm good enough this go 'round I hope my next reincarnation is as kind to me and as furry.
This week I fixed up my Chang Jiang motorcycle (and sidecar) and got it back on the road. And I got Osita, my dog, all set up to ride with me. I customized some open cockpit aviation goggles with new straps to fit a dog, and reworked a genuine Soviet-era tank commander's helmet to fit securely on her head. To ensure her safety she wears a harness which I clip to a mount attached to the inside of the sidcar bucket (she can sit or lie but otherwise stays put).
Tonight we went for a ride all around Venice, got chai by the beach, then went to Swinger's in Santa Monica for dinner. Everywhere we went people were highly amused.