Wednesday, August 20, 2008

dogs and druids

Last night’s tv gave lots to think about: an exciting Channel 5 documentary basically corroborating Julius Caesar’s assertion that the druids were human-sacrificing cannibals (although the academics were trying desperately to find excuses for them: on the lines of “Poor things! They couldn’t help it! They were being stressed out by the Romans”). The Victorians felt the druids were quite bloodthirsty; the 20th–century remade them as gentle eco pacifists; now the pendulum swings back again.

On to the BBC, where Aunty blew the pedigree dog business to smithereens. Geek. Pedigree dogs are now going to join fur coats, intensive battery hens and veal farming at the apex of animal welfare concern. It really was pretty shocking, and made great TV in that Kennel Club officials and pedigree breeders in general are so far in denial they’re oblivious to how they come across, which makes brilliant TV. Poor doggies. Over-breeding has created a situation where about a third of Cavalier King Charles spaniels have a congenital condition where their brains are too large for their skulls. The programme also featured a Pug which was bred from a champion and had ‘perfect’ pedigree features but whose back legs dislocated when it tried to walk; had breathing troubles, stomach troubles, in-grown eyelids and a backbone twisted like a corkscrew. Great.

The Crufts 2003 Champion, a Pekinese called Danny, apparently had had surgery to correct a congenital deformity to its nasal passages and even then had to be sat on an ice pack after winning to prevent it overheating during the press photoshoot.

It pretty much stands to reason, when you think about it. The breeds developed quite happily without the Kennel Club’s interference. For the last century, breeders have been trying to conform to artificial and frankly arbitrary written breed specifications – based on appearance only. BUT judges judge based on a subjective understanding of those rules; if the rules say a flat nose is required, the flattest nose wins. That animal goes on to breed more; the next generation will have flatter noses than their forebears, but the flattest nose out of the new generation will win the prizes, and the process continues. Eventually you end up with the bizarre mutations we get today.

My parents had a pedigree boxer but thank heavens he didn’t have epilepsy. I can remember a friend who was a boxer enthusiast being very excited to see a white one. Now I know why these are so rare – white boxers are verboten according to the breed rules; those unfortunate enough to be born white are ‘culled’.

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