As though we are dealing with plants or theoretical problems, we play god with the animals. We control gene pools and elevate or lessen physical characteristics as our desire dictates, prioritising aesthetics over the well-being of the animals themselves.
Just as we select, cross-breed and manipulate plants for increased yield and utility as a natural resource, we also treat our fellow animals in the same manner. Unlike plants however, we are dealing with highly intelligent, conscious, feeling beings that are bred with inherent health problems and physical disabilities. It is one thing, when by chance, animals are born with physical or mental disabilities, however, to willingly inflict these disabilities onto living, thinking, conscious beings is unethical and shameful.
Sadly, the tradition of breeding is socially acceptable to the point that, as a society, we struggle to see it for what it really is. The love we feel for our companion animals makes accepting the reality of breeding very difficult; people think that condemning the practice of breeding is condemning the animals themselves, or the people that care for them.
Reducing Living Beings to Commodities
Take a glance at the American Kennel Club website – one of the most influential dog-breeding organisations in the world. The presentation, language and general appearance is achingly similar to a car company or sports equipment manufacturer.
As an example, the Dalmation breed has the following title:
The Dalmation: Outgoing, Dignified, Smart. Non-sporting group.
Note it is the dalmation, not a dalmation. There is a subtle implication here that contributes to the objectification of animals – that they are not individuals and thus should not be respected as such, rather they are mere items.
For each breed on the site, there are very detailed notes on exactly what they should look like, with an entry for each area of the body. Have a read below of the description for (just) the head of a dalmation:
“The head is in balance with the overall dog. It is of fair length and is free of loose skin. The Dalmatian’s expression is alert and intelligent, indicating a stable and outgoing temperament. The eyes are set moderately well apart, are medium sized and somewhat rounded in appearance, and are set well into the skull. Eye color is brown or blue, or any combination thereof; the darker the better and usually darker in black-spotted than in liver-spotted dogs. Abnormal position of the eyelids or eyelashes (ectropion, entropion, trichiasis) is a major fault. Incomplete pigmentation of the eye rims is a major fault. The ears are of moderate size, proportionately wide at the base and gradually tapering to a rounded tip. They are set rather high, and are carried close to the head, and are thin and fine in texture. When the Dalmatian is alert, the top of the ear is level with the top of the skull and the tip of the ear reaches to the bottom line of the cheek. The nose is completely pigmented on the leather, black in black-spotted dogs and brown in liver-spotted dogs. Incomplete nose pigmentation is a major fault. The lips are clean and close fitting.” AKC description of the Dalmation
You would be forgiven for thinking this was the description of a product. It is actually a description of an entire population of individuals that have been manipulated – with grave consequences – into fitting a precise physical description and temperament.
This is the pinnacle of domination. Aside from the objectifying language used here, the obvious implication is that any individual dog born with “major faults” is relegated as being less important and less valuable. This is simple eugenics and superficiality. As a society, are these the values we wish to promote?
It is the glamourous commodification of individual life. Beneath the veil of prestige and respectability lies grossly unethical, disgusting practices and shameful underlying values.
Dogs As Toys
Dogs such as Shih Tzus, Pugs and Chihuahuas are in the “toy group.”
Oxford dictionary defines a toy as: “an object, especially a gadget or machine, regarded as providing amusement for an adult.” To reduce an animal being to a toy is a sickening violation of that individual’s rights. Every animal person has the right to not be regarded as an object and abused for another’s aesthetic fancy.
Hereditary Defects and Gene Pools
Inevitably, smaller gene pools mean less stable and less healthy animals. According to Imperial College, London, it is estimated that the 10,000 pugs in the UK are so inbred that their gene pool includes the equivalent of only 50 individuals.
Spare a thought for the countless numbers of individual beings that, due to our manipulation and aesthetic fancy, are likely to develop limiting and painful health problems that greatly affect their quality of life. To highlight five examples out of countless more:
- Cavalier King Charles Spaniels are highly prone to developing syringomyelia, a painful condition caused by their skulls being too small to accommodate their brains. It is estimated up to 50% of the breed will develop this condition.
- Rhodesian Ridgebacks, aside from often being culled if they are born ridgeless, are also prone to developing degenerative myelopathy, a debilitating spinal disease, at a rate of “only” 0.75%.
- Bulldogs often experience various skin, cardiovascular and respiratory problems, as well as having a very difficult birth process (due to the size of their heads).
- Persian cats are prone to a range of health problems due to their flattened faces, including an over-production of fluid from the tear ducts. Their eyelids can fold inwards and rub on their eyes and the combination of their thick fur and shortened nasal passages can cause them difficulty regulating their body temperature.
- Bubble eye goldfish have impaired swimming ability, are prone to infection and have other problems as well – they pay the price so that we can have a bizarre-looking toy.
To alter the physical appearance of a breed to knowingly bring about self-limiting and unhealthy conditions, while knowing full well the consequences is the height of cruelty and abuse. Just because it is socially accepted, this doesn’t change the ethics of the practice.
To ignorantly reduce the quality of life of millions of living beings is morally shameful. Just as when a crime is being judged, the level of premeditation and planning makes for more responsibility and thus, a more serious offence; the cold-hearted dominion and controlled breeding of animals for our own benefit and pleasure – at the expense of the individual animal – will one day be regarded as the sickening act that it is.
What does animal breeding reveal about our society?
That we are morally short-sighted and have great difficulty is assessing the ethics of traditionally accepted practices.