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 breeds of dog. 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: 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.
major health problems
“We need to change the way we breed dogs. The way we did it might have been acceptable 50 years ago, but it’s not today,” she says. By dint of consanguinity, the two breeds have developed hereditary diseases affecting most individuals, if not all.
Patibular, but sweet dog, especially popularized in the cartoon Titi and grosminet and associated with the spirit of English resistance during the Second World War, the bulldog accumulates respiratory difficulties due to its flattened muzzle, but also dermatological, reproductive and orthopedic problems. 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 in history have won the hearts of many personalities such as Louis XIV, Ronald Reagan and Sylvester Stallone, their constitution means that they are often subject to headaches because of a cranial box too small, heart failure or eye problems. For Åshild Roaldset, the lack of genetic diversity on a global scale is driving these breeds straight to extinction. “And it will be painful for them because they will have more and more illnesses,” she says.
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 outside her Oslo home. “If that was the case, they wouldn’t be so happy. They are happy dogs that roam around and look healthy, because they are,” she says.
Overall, 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. Some therefore fear the influx of “undocumented dogs” from “puppy mills” located abroad.
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 Åshild 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”.