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.
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.