Beta Culture: The Healthy Dog Registry

COE 235Pug dogs are an abomination. There, I said it. Someone had to.

But seriously …

A few years back, I was taking pictures of people’s dogs for the fun (and sometimes money) of it, and a lady called me asking if I would take pics of her little black pug. We met to discuss the project, exactly what she wanted and expected, and I got to meet her little dog.

The entire time we talked, the dog in her arms made a growling noise. I baby-talked to him “Yes, you’re scaring me! You’re scaring me bad, you dangerous animal!” The lady said “Oh, he’s not growling. That’s just how he breathes.”

Whoa. Here’s this dog that’s been bred to have a face that’s so compressed, with nasal passages so deviated, that the poor little guy has to struggle for every breath! I’m instantly both disgusted and horrified at that, but I keep it to myself and, a few days later, take the pictures.

With vivid memories in my head of seeing my own big healthy dogs run, play, swim, dig, chase rabbits, fetch tennis balls, roll in the grass, trot happily along mountain trails, I compare this pudgy little cripple and I feel distinctly sorry for him, for the entire breed.

I’m also angry at the people who create them. Nowhere along the way can you find anyone (breeders? owners? dog clubs?) to really BLAME for bringing about this physical form that tragically limits the individual animal and sometimes even promotes suffering, but in my view it is nevertheless a moral crime.

I’ve expressed this opinion more than once in public, and the typical response is “Oh, but they’re really happy little dogs! There’s nothing wrong with them!” I can never seem to get across to those people that breeding a perfectly healthy creature down to where it is defenseless and even debilitated — for reasons of human amusement or style — is wrong.

The kicker of the story is that the lady called me only a month or so later, asking if I’d take pictures of her new dog. The first one had died mysteriously in its sleep. (Yeah, wonder why?)

I went to meet her. She’d gotten another black pug.


All of this is an intro to a single idea — the Healthy Dog Registry.

Because I’ve seen too much of that same sort of thing. Dogs with bad hips, eye conditions, cancer, so, so much more. All of it the result of DELIBERATE human action, actions — and results — which the breed registries and show dog supporters fiercely defend.

I wish there was such a thing as the HDR (and I wish it had started in 1820), an organization that followed dog lineages for many generations, with the aim of building health, longevity and intelligence into the dogs, FOR THE DOGS, but also to guarantee lasting companionship for the dog owners. Rather than breeding for, say, “cuteness” or good looks for dog shows. If it resulted in a single muttsky-looking breed called the Big Healthy Dog, I could certainly live with that.

A group of people who had the will to carry out such a project over generations — oh, call them Beta Culture — a project of reason and compassion to fix a problem that results from short-term focus on features profitable but unhealthy for the beautiful victims, I’d definitely want to be a part of that.