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.
A thought occurred to me today, at the intersection of my thoughts about the justice system and the parallel universe theory.
We accept certain "excuses" for crimes. The situations are relatively rare, but they exist. If you are in an area devastated by a hurricane, with normal food sources cut off, you are effectively allowed to steal food from an abandoned store. If someone has carjacked your car with you in it and is demanding that you drive at 100 mph you are not criminally responsible for your speeding. If your life is in danger you may kill in defense of your life. If you are clinically insane or seriously mentally retarded you will not be held criminally responsible for your actions, whatever they may be. The point is not so much the specific excuses that are acceptable as the concept that the legal system does not hold people criminally responsible for crimes they did not have the capacity to avoid committing, whatever they may be.
And now we come to the theory of parallel universes. For those that don't know, a beautiful conceptual way out of quite a few sticky quantum mechanical problems is to imagine that for every situation where multiple events could happen, we avoid the question of why did this or that happen by saying that there exists a parallel universe in which every possible outcome exists. To bring it to a macroscopic level, imagine you flip a coin. It lands tails side up. There exists an inaccessible parallel universe exactly like the one in which you got tails, with the slight change that in that one an identical you got heads. And in fact there are an infinite number of variations on the theme, tracing out every possible combination of ways your brain could tell your thumb to move, the weather systems could cause the air to gust, etc. If we imagine that scientists might be correct in this theory then on a macroscopic level there must exist parallel universes in which otherwise "good" people do "evil". You may be a kind person in this universe but in another you are a homicidal murderer. This must be, if parallel universes exist. And so, too, the evil people in this universe manifest themselves in saintly ways in parallel universes unknown to us. So the quantum philosophical question then becomes, how responsible can any individual be for any actions, when there exists a version of themselves in another universe doing something completely different?
Why couldn't the homicidal murderer invoke the Evil Parallel Universe Defense at his trial, saying in essence, "I am not responsible. The laws of physics dictate that there must exist some universes in which I am evil, and this happens to be one of them. In others universes, you, Mr. Prosecutor, you, your Honor, and you, the Jury, are all murderers, just like me. We are all guilty, somewhere. I'm no guiltier than all of your collective parallel selves."
Of course, this argument is rendered moot by the fact that every outcome of the trial will exist in parallel universes; and so this excuse must work in some universes, but not in others. The criminal would just have to hope that his was a universe which not only made him evil but also made his excuse acceptable. I suspect there's a smaller infinity of those particular universes.
(One final note, I was reminded of a more practical moral dilemma nations face, a situation in which people are "excused" for something because they are in a "fated" situation. The government, for the good of the people, attempts to control the economy by taking actions to control inflation and unemployment: varying lending rates, controlling the money supply, etc. Contrary to what you might expect, the "optimal" rate of unemployment is not 0% but something in the nature of 5%. The government will modify policy to target that number, creating more unemployment if the number is too low, and trying to create jobs if the number is too high. It's my belief that this artificial manipulation of the unemployment rate, this requirement that citizens be unemployed, morally obligates the government to support those who have been "artificially" made unemployed. Of course identifying those who are "artificially" unemployed and those who are "naturally" unemployed is tricky, and in a sense meaningless. It is, therefore, better to support all who are unemployed for a period long enough to mean their continued unemployment is squarely the fault of the individual and not the economy. And that's pretty much what we do, as a nation, with the unemployment benefits we provide, though I would guess few (if any) would explain its necessity as the fulfillment of a moral obligation created by forced unemployment; but I like this argument because far from it suggesting some sort of creeping socialism, it is merely doing what is morally obligated by the government's own actions.)
As part of my year of mischief, perhaps soon to become an age of mischievousness, I've adopted a policy of engaging in quasi-statistical serial murder.
If second hand smoking kills, then the first hand smoker must be the killer. To be fair it'd be more accurate to say the smoker is an attempted murderer. It's entirely possible their smoke has killed someone, but proving it was their particular puff that pushed another specific person into cancer or heart failure would be nigh impossible. One could extend the argument to say that since smokers indulge around more than one person on more than one occasion, and they are aware of the risk they are pushing onto others, smokers qualify as serial killers, albeit again of an attempted variety. A mortality statistician might be able to accurately guesstimate a lifetime average death toll, perhaps it'd be on the order of 0.04 victims per smoker, with any individual smoker perhaps being responsible for no deaths or dozens.
It has widely been suggested that cell phones may be the hidden health crisis looming in the future, the equivalent crisis for the next generation as cigarettes were for the last. The as yet unconfirmed but suspected carcinogenic nature of radio waves we all routinely ignore because the benefits they bring are just too delicious to deny. Smokers believed the doctors and the cigarette companies well through the first half of the last century, perhaps we'll do the same through this one with cell phones.
I don't smoke. But I like to play god with the best of them. I've decided that I will seek to expose others to second hand cell phone radiation, and the murdering that may or may not statistically follow. I won't do so freakishly, needlessly creating signals just to expose people, but if I'm tethering my computer to my cell phone or making a call, maybe I'll choose to be 3 feet away rather than 10 feet away from my potential victims. And come what may, I am apparently free to do it.
Now obviously I'm kidding, mostly, but I think it makes an important point. We all impact each other in potentially grave ways, ways we don't even completely understand. So as horribly odd as it might sound to intentionally gravitate towards others in an effort to expose them to greater levels of arguably statistically significant electromagnetic radiation, and therein attempt their murder, we're all doing the same thing in some form or other. It may be you driving a hybrid car which requires lithium dragged from the earth by inadequately protected miners under the boot of a corrupt government. It may be you tossing out coffee cups that leach chemicals into the Earth that end up in people's drinking water. We're all killing some part of somebody, and collectively it adds up to a grand conspiracy of serial murder. As long as we're doing it, we should at least be honest about it. I am.
So that was my attempt to convince her... either to be less in favor of banning guns, or less in favor of drug legalization/used, doesn't matter to me. I'm sure my argument won't work, but it was a nice try.
Taste is not a sufficient reason to kill an animal. We humans can live full, rich, happy, healthy lives without killing animals, and thus I cannot justify taking one of their lives because of my brain's perception of the difference between the taste of a veggie burger and a real burger.
I would not declare that eating meat is immoral, however (not for other people) . I think anyone who tries to argue that has a very difficult task ahead of him/her. Something that animals do naturally, something that evolution allowed and encouraged, is a tough sell as an immoral act. But it's not an impossible argument to make, and I personally believe in the argument (just not enough yet to impose it on others). We humans are funny creatures, our morality has evolved. We once obeyed evolution's commands and "took" our women, forcefully; we now (sensibly) recognize this arguably "natural" action (observed everywhere in nature) and call it rape. Where once men "needed" to rape women to grow the species, selecting for the physically strongest of the species, now we run a society where we achieve the same population growth goals, selecting for different measures of strength, while acknowledging the equal rights of women. Raping became immoral, despite genetics. We may have once needed to kill animals to get the high quality protein we needed to survive and thrive, but we no longer do. I would argue that the needless killing of animals has thus become immoral. But, I won't argue the point too long, or with people who don't enjoy the freethinking exploration of ideas. Life is too short to get into arguments with people who are unable to alter their views or uninterested in listening to other people's views.
It should be noted, that I am aware that the above logic carried forward means I should be a vegan. How do I justify the suffering of any animals for the "taste" of eggs, milk, etc.? While I always buy from "humane" sources when I go grocery shopping, and tend to stay away from dairy/etc., I do eat socially where the dairy, etc. was no doubt sourced on the basis of cost, and funds inhumanity. I recognize this inconsistency, and am trying to address it. Being vegan can represent quite a daily difficulty, social complications, and poses for me some specific health issues. Nonetheless, my not being vegan is one of my many "immoralities". :) We are all immoral, to varying degrees; and we are all (hopefully) striving to be better. Hopefully, one day soon, I will find a way to be vegan.