AFP, published on Tuesday, February 22, 2022 at 08:10
One has a skull that is too small, the other a muzzle that is too flat… Because the traits that make them so endearing are also the cause of their torment, Norway has taken the unprecedented decision to ban the breeding of two dog breeds.
In a resounding judgment, the Oslo court banned the breeding of the English bulldog and the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, on the grounds that the practice inflicts on them suffering incompatible with animal protection law.
Hailed by animal rights activists and criticized by breeders, the verdict is against the backdrop of a growing debate on the planet: is the quest for “cuteness” for pets at the expense of their well-being? ?
“Many of our farm breeds are very inbred and carry a heavy burden of disease,” Åshild Roaldset, president of the Norwegian Humane Society, who initiated the lawsuit, told AFP. against canine societies and individual breeders.
“We need to change the way we raise dogs. The way we did it might have been okay 50 years ago, but it’s not now,” she says.
By dint of consanguinity, the two breeds have developed hereditary diseases affecting most individuals, if not all. The list is long.
Patibular dog — but gentle — notably popularized in the cartoon Tweety and Sylvester and associated with the spirit of English resistance during the Second World War, the bulldog accumulates breathing difficulties due to its flattened muzzle, but also dermatological problems , reproductive and orthopedic.
More than half of these mastiffs born in the last ten years in Norway have been delivered by caesarean section. “The breed’s genetic inability to give birth naturally is itself a reason the bulldog is no longer used in breeding,” the judges said.
As for the Cavalier King Charles –who have conquered the hearts of many personalities in history such as Louis XIV, Ronald Reagan and Sylvester Stallone–, their constitution means that they are often subject to headaches because of a skull too small, heart failure or eye problems.
For Ms. Roaldset, the lack of genetic diversity on a global scale is driving these breeds straight to extinction. “And it’s going to be painful for them because they’re going to have more and more illnesses,” she says.
– ‘Undocumented dogs’ –
Having been the subject of an appeal, the judgment handed down on January 31 has not yet had the force of law but it has sown astonishment among professionals.
“It says dogs are born with headaches. I can’t believe it,” says Lise Gran-Henriksen, a breeder for 25 years, watching half a dozen of her Cavalier King Charles Spaniels frolic on the ice in front of his home in Oslo.
“If that were the case, they wouldn’t be so happy. They’re happy dogs that run around and look healthy — because they are,” she says.
As a whole, professionals do not question the “challenges” encountered by the two breeds, but believe they can overcome them by practicing selective breeding with animals screened through several tests.
And then, they point out, the judgment does not prohibit the possession, sale or import of bulldogs and Cavaliers, only their breeding.
Walking her bulldog Oscar in a park in Oslo, Anne Grethe Holen therefore fears the influx of “undocumented dogs” from “puppy mills” located abroad.
“The demand will not dry up but the dogs sold will be much sicker,” she predicts. “They will not be subject to any veterinary requirements and nothing will be known of their lineage.”
For the Humane Society, the salvation of the two breeds depends on their crossing with other species to erase their genetic weaknesses.
“If the Cavalier ends up having a little more spacious skull to house his brain, he will remain the cutest dog in the world,” says Ms Roaldset.
“And if the bulldog becomes less wrinkled, with a slightly longer muzzle and a more robust skeleton, it won’t make it a horrible dog and it will still be a bulldog”.