Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Puppy love: Rufus, the dog show, and everything

Who loves doggies? Who loves the puppies, huh? Are we a little doggy-obsessed? Yes, we are! Yes, we are! We're a widdle dog wubber! Yes, we are!

OK, I didn't watch the Westminster Kennel Club show, mainly because I don't have cable and, if memory serves, the show airs on ESPN for some reason, but I saw a picture of Rufus, the bull terrier who won best in show, and he is adorable. Yes, he is! Yes, he is!

There's something about the the coloration of his face and his perfectly egg-shaped head that makes him look almost cartoonish. The white patch that widens from his crown to his nose make his eyes look very close together, yet very distant from the end of his snout, like a pair of skiers poised on either side of the starting point of a ski jump, no? And his little dark eyebrows hover like single quotation marks: Chuck Jones would draw them hovering a couple inches off his face.

Rufus is so cute that I was able to briefly forget the troubling fact that his cuteness is, in part, a product of humanity's on-going experiment in dog engineering. In an Op-ed piece in Monday's NYT, Ted Kerasote reminds us that this experiment hasn't always been good for the dogs:
Unfortunately, in some breeds, form has trumped function. The Pekingese and the bulldog, whose flattened faces make breathing difficult, are two examples. Such design flaws — often perpetuated by breeders trying to produce a dog with a unique look — have enduring consequences for individual dogs, their progeny and the people who love them.

Of the 180 breeds listed on one popular Web site for choosing purebred puppies, 42 percent have chronic health problems: skin diseases, stomach disorders, a high incidence of cancers, the inability to bear young without Caesareans, shortened life spans. The list is as disturbing as it is long, and poses a question: dazzled by the uniqueness of many of the breeds we've created, have we — the dog-owning public — turned a blind eye to the development of a host of dysfunctional animals?

I often think about how my own dogs--lacking the ability to kill their supper, to let themselves out when they need to pee, to drive themselves to the dog park when they feel frisky, to change the channel when American Idol comes on after the Simpsons--are helpless. I think about it when I take my Yellow Lab to the vet: when the dog feels pain, he communicates with the vet by whining, licking, trying to escape. When I go to visit the neurologist at the pain clinic, I communicate about pain in exquisit, florid detail: I illustrate the location and nature of my pain using a diagram and six different colored markers, I quantify it on a scale of 1 to 10, I talk about burning, stabbing, throbbing, aching.

My dog has so little control over what happens to him, and I feel obliged to try to ensure that what happens to him is what I would want to happen to me, were I a furry creature without opposable thumbs. I hope that Rufus and the gazillion other dogs bred to please fickle human sensibilities are similarly looked after.


mdmhvonpa said...

Ahh, a fellow Yellow Lab lover! As for the disposition of many dogs, they do well in the western world, for the most part. Some are abused and used in dog fights. Disappointing humans.

camille said...

i watched bits of the show i think it aired on the animal planet (channel) i am a animal lover! i have 2 dogs and 3 cats and all recently been to the vet for their yearly shots.