Better by design?

The Age; Gary Tippet August 15, 2010

Kia, with Meyer Bram, is a shelter resident. <i>Picture: Ken Irwin</i>

RITA Bram knows who to blame – the ditzy ”blonde from America” – for the steady procession of pups that pass through her chihuahua rescue centre in Frankston. ”Paris Hilton has done the world of chihuahas no end of damage,” she says.

It was Hilton and her shivering chihuahua Tinkerbell peeping from her handbag who started the celebrity craze of ultra-miniature dogs as fashion accessories. Soon Britney had three Chihs and Jessica Simpson had her malti-poo – and around the world those who follow fashion were quick to, well, follow.

Sales soared. And, just as quickly, Rita and her husband Mayer saw an increase in the number of so-called Tea Cup chihuahuas being abandoned.

Hilby, another resident of the shelter, located in Frankston. Picture: Ken Irwin

Some owners discovered an unpleasant reality – that dogs that travel in bags tend to go to the toilet there. But often they were finding that in more ways than one they’d been sold a pup.

”They buy them as weenie little puppies and they grow into standard chihuahuas, which are two to three kilos, when they want a little handful of a few grams,” says Rita. ”And in many cases they’re not chihuahuas at all, but some sort of cross-bred, part-Jack Russell or Pomeranian or who knows what.”

Fads for certain breeds – and, more recently, so-called designer dogs – have fuelled a rise in puppy factories, experts say. ”Whenever a particular breed or type becomes extremely popular – as we saw after the film 101 Dalmatians – you get people seeing dollar signs and the ability to churn out large numbers as a pure money-making exercise,” says animal behaviourist Dr Debbie Calnon.

”There are some puppy mills and factories that have tapped into that market of the cute, fluffy designer puppy that has become so popular.”

Cross-breeds – once known as bitzers or, less kindly, mongrels – have been cleverly marketed as designer dogs, says Peter Foster, president of DOGS Victoria. ”Unfortunately what’s happening is they’re now just putting names together – anything with an oodle at the end is good.”

Wally Conron, who bred the first labradoodle – crossing a labrador with a poodle – in the 1980s to create a non-allergenic guide dog, has since said he regrets opening ”a Pandora’s box … groodles, spoodles, caboodles and snoodles”.

”Were breeders bothering to check their sires and bitches for heredity faults, or were they simply caught up in delivering … the next status symbol?” he said in a 2007 interview. ”I wonder, in my retirement, whether we bred a designer dog – or a disaster!”

Some in the competitive canine industry claim types of designer dogs have had health, behavioural or maintenance faults bred into them. Labrador breeder and chairwoman of DOGS Victoria’s canine health committee, Sylvia Powers, says crossing poodles with woolly coats with labradors or golden retrievers that have double-coat fur can mean the cross-breeds’ coats ”sometimes just turn to carpet”.

”If people don’t maintain it at least twice a week, but preferably daily grooming, it ties up and mats back to the skin. It becomes terribly painful for the dog.”

RSPCA NSW scientific officer Jade Norris says ”hard data” on faults in pure and cross-breeds is ”seriously lacking”. But the factory-farming nature of intensive breeding often means there are no checks on the dogs. Faults known in certain pedigrees are not screened: ”These people are not driven by wanting to produce healthy or happy puppies, they just want the money.”

Sydney veterinarian Dr Rob Zammit says conditions in some puppy factories can cause behavioural problems. ”We’re seeing that all the time … they become fear-biters. Because they’re not socialised, they’re very quick to back into a corner and bite.”

Katrina Webb, supervisor at the RSPCA’s shelter in Burwood, says the number of ”designer dogs” being relinquished has exploded, particularly in the past three years.

A big reason is that many, likely bred on farms and sold in pet shops, suffer severe separation anxiety or can’t be toilet trained. Many cannot be re-homed and are euthanased.

”There would be no way the sheer numbers (of designer dogs) we’ve been seeing, nor from the volume of these dogs in pet shops, have been bred in back yards.

”To think you are saving that puppy in the pet shop window is naive.

”What you are in fact doing is supporting the puppy factory industry … If you want a groodle, spoodle or labradoodle, come see us, unfortunately we get them all the time,” she says.

To see original article, click here…

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2 Comments

Filed under Pet shops, Puppy Mills

2 responses to “Better by design?

  1. Lisa J Ryan

    A good article however Jade Norris from the RSPCA NSW needs to do some serious homework. All species including humans have a significant about of genetic baggage and genetic overload including faults. This is well documented by “hard data” as it is with canines and this is ongoing. Those concerned with the findings of the Pedigees Exposed program should be doubly concerned with the breeding of X bred dogs.

    There is a considerable amount of “hard data” on faults with purebred dogs. Much of this “hard data” has been built into Codes of Practice followed by registered (ANKC) breeders to include mandatory health screening. As more and more conclusive tests become available, more testing is required which will eliminate the faults through responsible and selective breeding which otherwise in many cases results in serious and impact the quality or length of life on dogs, and cause considerable financial and emotional heartache for the purchasers of such dogs. In Victoria in late 2007 the Hereditary Disease legislation was also introduced. If ANKC registered breeders do not abide by this, it will impact their bloodlines, their reputation and their respective state kennel control council will not register their litters.

    The problems arise when other breeders (Purebred) who may not be aware or deliberately ignore this know “hard data” and breed anyway. Worse is when these other breeders deliberately ignore this know “hard data” and breed anyway and it involves two breeds of dog. They do not have to comply with any codes and in the main the public have no idea what the genetic baggage or faults are and often do not research the breed or X breed they are buying – it can be an impulse buy, or buying into a fad. As noted by Dr Rob Zammit adds – it is not just the physical issues with the ‘unkown packages, it is the emotional and bevioural ones.

    The fads in colour or size or “oodles” in general, and this new tea-cup craze is sick and those in the public who buy into this also need to do their homework and not purchase animals as we do a new car or TV. This will improve with most but not all through education and awareness. The same applies to registered ANKC breeders who breed to extremes and against breed standards because they “prefer the look”. It is form and function before looks and it must be passion and hobby not a business.

    Fot those who bleat – we lose money or can’t break even – that is how it should be. Plan ahead, do it for the right reasons or don’t do it at all.
    Good responsible dog breeding is a passion where there is knowledge, dedication and commitment. It is not, and should never be about money. It is not baking a cake and then adding different coloured or flavoued icing to suit the consumer !

  2. Jan Baker

    Nice one Lisa….yes I agree even some registered breeders see money before they consider the standards of their breeds…it is more important to improve their breeds as that is what a good breeder does, tries to bring out the best in their dogs, they should be breeding for temperment & healthy dogs that will go onto breeding more healthy dogs……shut down puppy mills!!they are a money making racket….more public awareness of what is going on in the doggy world…also educating people to where these puppys come from & how they get into pet shops, so the public will not buy from these shops…..educating the public I think is one of the most important things, to make people more aware & to teach them to be responsible owners, not just to have a dog because it is the lastest trend….more information on TV & the web…..show the public where they can buy a dog….rescues, RSPCA, pounds….awaken the public to the crys for help from these animals…..

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