Tuesday, July 15, 2008

What have we done to our breed?

From bulldogsworld.com:

How many times have we heard this? Anywhere from breeders of other breeds who don't quite understand some of the issues we go through, to the media who question our "true motives" for perpetuating the suffering inflicted by our stubborn adherence to the Standard, to a few enterprising breeders here and abroad who have strived to "make this breed better" or to bring it "back to its former glory" by crossing existing bulldogs with breeds such as Mastiffs, bullmastiff, American Bulldogs, Olde English, you name it.

Scariest of all is the Weiss Kennel Club's backing of a scheme of a former Bulldog breeder to make the breed "as it was meant to be" by cross breeding pure Bulldogs with Old English and/or American Bulldogs (not sure which one, either way, it is appalling to me and should be to everyone who loves this breed as it is now). Strangely enough, these people are not at all recreating the Rose and Crib style dog of old, but have merely created nothing more than a generic bull-breed mix. (If they read their history, they would know that in order to get back to the Bulldogs of the pre-1860's they would have to downsize quite a bit, but that probably wouldn't appeal to those interested as much as the dogs advertised as weighing well over 100 pounds.)

In these days of "cock-apoos, peke-a-poos, "Labradoodles" and even Miniature Bulldogs, what's another man made breed? That's really all these new bull-breeds are. It's another way to profit off a public hungry for something "new," or to benefit from our breed's wild popularity. Many of these breeders advertise their dogs as "healthier versions of the broken down modern English Bulldog."

So, back to the above question. The answer is quite simple. "What have we done to our breed?" Not much. Oh, we have improved it quite a bit, but we certainly have done nothing to this breed maintenance of a breed that has remained virtually unchanged since the type we see today was "stamped" in the late 1800's.

Certainly, we can look at things such as modern nutrition and techniques for better conditioning and 100 more years of breeding selection to make up for the subtle difference in style and substance between then and now, but when we look back over the last century, we see dogs that were first visualized and then realized by a very dedicated group of fanciers.

The bottom line: The dogs we all love today are pretty much what the early club members had in mind. (I'm sure those fanciers would have something to say about the over all lack of some absolute necessitates for type such as true top line, front ends, tail set and the troubling lack of any massive jaw size, length and sweep which is rampant these days in America and the general over all lack of truly grand head type, but they dealt with these issue back then, too, and I am referencing show dogs. Pet quality has and always will run the gambit between truly poor to very good.)

The biggest complaint of the "anti-bulldog" movement is that we (modern breeders) have created a breed of dog which is on the edge of extinction, either by the breeding/whelping difficulties, the exaggerated conformation, the breathing difficulties, the aggravating immune-related disorders, and so on and so on....

A brief history of our breed is that it was once a fierce little fighting dog that almost went extinct after the 1835 "Act" which banned the dog-baiting sports until a group of men gathered together to save it. The Bulldog Club was formed in good part to preserve the type as they knew it, to maintain purity from that point forward. The Pug crosses of a decade or so prior had been quietly swept under the rug and some early ardent fanciers denied it all together. While some strains remained pure, the strains with the cross ultimately influenced the final product, the "Missing Link" as it were between the Crib/Rosa types and the modern type. Likely the most important goal was to prevent the importation and cross-breeding of Spanish-breed bulldogs that weighed well over 100 pounds. This was a breed that was totally English and they were bound and determined to keep the breed pure.

From Farman's "Monograph" of 1899: "It was in the fitness of things, therefore, that The Bulldog Club should have come into existence in a public house, the Blue Post, Newman Street, Oxford Street, London. At this place, it was that one night in 1874 a few very hardened admirers of the breed met together, earnest in their intention to save the "pot-house dog" from gradual extinction, as well as the threatened invasion of the Spanish Bulldog under the generalship of Mr. Frank Adcock. It is interesting to note that the very fact of the dog's association saved the breed from becoming a basatard race and preserved it from the impending introduction into its veins of blood of the Spanish Milk-cart dogs.

"The present club was started on the 13th of April, 1975, at a time when a determined attempt was being made by the gentleman already named (Adcock) and Mr. Dawes to "enlarge" the Bulldog from its average size to one of a weight of 100-120 lbs. Although the dog was mainly in the hands of certain class, still its patrons were true fanciers and as jealous of the preservation of the purity of its blood as the patrons of any more fashionable breed. As to the suggested crossbreeding, they would have none of it, it was a case of English for England, and sheer self-defiance the few ardent fanciers banded themselves together and reconstituted the old Bulldog Club, which existed some years earlier, but for a very short time only.

And from an earlier book, the Cynographia Britannia of 1800: "The Bulldog is in height about 18 inches and weighs about thirty-six pounds...."

The old Bulldog of England was not a large dog an it is important to remember that in discussing the purity of "our" Bulldogs compared to the newer created bull breeds, or even the older American Bulldog whose breeders claim it to be purely descended from the old English Bulldogs.

The Standards were written, with Philo Kuon's coming in 1865, Jacob Lamphier's "Properties and Points" coming out in Vero show's Book of the Dog in 1879 and The Bulldog Club's (England) official version in 1875.

That is a condensed history, but it is important to know it as a Bulldog lover of any type.

So, back to the old questions at the beginning of this article. Well, what is interesting to me and is the point of this article in the first place, is that the health woes we experience today were just as common 100+ years ago.

It really flies in the face of those who claim we are going to destroy the breed if we don't crossbreed them and fast!

I found the following passages in some of my favorite old books and thought them to be of interest.

"....Recently (for the last 2 or 3 years) in the Manchester District, fanciers have collectively found that a practical and skillful Veterinary Surgeon has amazingly reduced the mortality in whelping by the Caesarian operation. the percentage of loss, both of puppies and their dams, is exceedingly small, and I feel, that in the interests of the breed, I should put it on record."

Sam book has another passage under "Blister on Feet":

"Those red bulging between the toes of many Bulldogs are extremely painful to the dog and very often the cause of bitter disappointment to the owner."

From Bulldogs and ALL About Them by Henry St. John Cooper (around 1910):

"For follicular mange I can offer no suggestions for treatment, except the foregoing, which may or may not be effective, but at any rate is well worth the trial" (he had previously described treatment for sarcoptic mange). "Eczema if often mistaken by the novice for mange."

"I remember at a certain show, a lady gave a special prize to the Bulldog with clean ears. The prize was not awarded, for out of the twelve dogs exhibited not one had clean ears. Canker is very often caused in the first place by neglect. The wax and dirt are apt to stop the hearing and make the dog appear deaf."

There are many more excepts in the old dog books to the Bulldog health concerns. Even the tail issue was a hot topic at the turn of the century. Funny how the breed had the same conditions it has now and is surprisingly still around and thriving in numbers (which in reality is not at all a good thing).

For the anti-Bulldog movement, this should be food for thought. The breed is still around after all this time. And we didn't have to crossbreed them to do it. Our breed (like so many others) has its own particular health issues. Some are quite unique to them alone, some are common among similar bracecephalic breeds and some are just going to happen, regardless of the type of dog it is. And, most important, not every Bulldog suffers these issues. That should always be remembered.

We should be on guard, however. There already seems to be one Kennel Club in the world out to change the breed. And the sponsor claims to be making the breed healthier by crossbreeding it. We need to be aware of the health problems in our breed and we really need to correct them. It's very possible.

And thanks to the efforts of the BCA and others involved in the breed, ignorance is no longer an excuse (not that is ever should have been). There are many Bulldogs that enjoy healthy, normal and lengthy lives, by any breed's standards, and many of them are the finest show dogs.
It must be the goal of every breeder to add health to their overall breeding goals. After all, the mix bull-breed breeders are catering to those who want a Bulldog, but don't want the health problems. It has been going on for too long that people accept the preventable problems as "normal for the breed." There is nothing NORMAL about a dog that struggles to breath through tight nostrils and narrow trachea.

In this day of anti-dog legislation and anti-dog breeder in general, it would behoove us all, not to mention the dogs themselves, to make a very aggressive stand against the Bulldog heal issues that seem shadow our breed at every turn.

Elizabeth Hugo