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 very pure and carry heavy baggage in terms of disease”explains to AFP Åshild Roaldset, president of the Norwegian Humane Society, at the origin of 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 acceptable 50 years ago, but it’s not now.”she says.
By inbreeding, the two races have developed hereditary diseases that affect most, if not all, individuals. The list is long.
A gibbous – but gentle – dog, notably popularized in the cartoon Tweety and Silvestre and associated with the spirit of English resistance during World War II, the bulldog accumulates respiratory difficulties due to the flattened snout, 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 genetic inability of the breed to give birth naturally is itself a reason why the bulldog is no longer used in breeding”said the judges.
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 Åshild 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.
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 that dogs are born with headaches. I don’t believe it”says 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 they did, they wouldn’t be so happy. They’re happy dogs that run and look healthy – because they are”she guarantees.
As a whole, professionals do not question the “challenges” found by both breeds, but believe they can overcome them by practicing selective breeding with animals that have been selected through various tests.
And then, they point out, the sentence does not prohibit the possession, sale or importation of Bulldogs and Cavaliers, only their breeding.
Strolling her bulldog Oscar in a park in Oslo, Anne Grethe Holen fears the influx of “undocumented dogs” came from“dog mills” located abroad.
“Demand won’t dry up, but the dogs sold will get a lot 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 races depends on their interbreeding with other species to erase their genetic weaknesses.
“If the Cavalier ends up with a slightly more spacious skull to house his brain, he will still be the cutest dog in the world.”believes Åshild Roaldset.
“And if the bulldog is less wrinkled, with a slightly longer snout and a more robust skeleton, it won’t make him a horrible dog and he will still be a bulldog.”