One has a very small skull, the other a very flat muzzle… Because the characteristics 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 dogs.
“A heavy baggage in terms of illness”
In a scathing judgment, the Oslo court banned the breeding of the English Bulldog and Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, claiming 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: does the pursuit of pet “cuteness” at the expense of their well-being? “Many of our herding breeds are highly inbred and carry a heavy burden in terms of disease.“, explains to AFP Åshild Roaldset, president of the Norwegian Society for the Humanization of Animals, behind the legal action against canine societies and individual breeders.”We need to change the way we raise dogs. The way we did it might have been good 50 years ago, but it’s not now“, she says.
Many English bulldogs born by cesarean section in Norway
By inbreeding, the two races have developed hereditary diseases that affect most, if not all, individuals. The list is long. Patibular – but gentle – dog notably popularized in the cartoon Tweety and Wild and associated with the spirit of English resistance during World War II, the English bulldog accumulates breathing 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 were born by caesarean section. “The breed’s genetic inability to give birth naturally is itself a reason why the Bulldog is no longer used in breeding.“, estimated the judges.
An English Bulldog. Credit: SEBASTIAN WILLNOW / dpa-Zentralbild / dpa Picture-Alliance via AFP
As for the Cavalier King Charles – who has won the hearts of many personalities in history such as Louis XIV, Ronald Reagan and Sylvester Stallone – his constitution makes them often subject to headaches because of a very small braincase, heart failure or even eye problems. For Roaldset, the lack of genetic diversity on a global scale is driving these breeds directly to extinction. “And it will be painful for them because they will have more and more diseases“, she says.
The fear of unsupervised purchases abroad
Having been the subject of an appeal, the sentence handed down on January 31 does not yet have the force of law, but it sowed astonishment among professionals. “It says dogs are born with headaches. I do not believe“said Lise Gran-Henriksen, a breeder for 25 years, watching half a dozen of her Cavalier King Charles Spaniels playing on the ice outside her home in Oslo.”If so, they wouldn’t be so happy. They are happy dogs that roam and look healthy – because they are.“, she assures.
As a whole, professionals do not question the “challenges“that the two breeds meet, but they believe they can overcome them by practicing selective breeding with animals screened through various tests. And then, they emphasize, the judgment does not prohibit the possession, sale or even import of Bulldogs and Cavaliers , just her Walking her bulldog Oscar in a park in Oslo, Anne Grethe Holen therefore fears the influx of “undocumented dogs“come from”puppy factories“located abroad.”Demand won’t dry up, but the dogs sold will get much sicker.“, she predicted.”They will not be subject to any veterinary requirements and nothing will be known about their lineage.“.
For the Humane Society, the salvation of the two breeds depends on interbreeding with other dogs to erase their genetic weaknesses. “If the Cavalier ends up with a slightly more spacious skull to house his brain, he will remain the cutest dog in the world.“, believes Mrs. Roaldset.”And if the bulldog becomes less wrinkled, with a slightly longer snout and a more robust skeleton, it won’t make him a horrible dog and will still be a bulldog.“.