The Norwegian justice decided to ban the breeding of two dog breeds, the English Bulldog and the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, to prevent inbreeding and hereditary defects.
One has a very small skull, the other a very flat snout… 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 dog. 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 comes in the context of a growing debate on the planet: is the pursuit of pet “cuteness” at the expense of their well-being?
“Many of our farm breeds are very pure and carry a heavy burden of disease,” Åshild Roaldset, president of the Norwegian Humane Society, which initiated the lawsuit, told AFP 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 today,” she says.
Through inbreeding, both 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 Tweety and Silvestre cartoon and associated with the English resistance spirit during World War II, the bulldog accumulates breathing difficulties due to its 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,” the judges said.
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 build means they are often subject to headaches because of a very small skull, heart failure or eye problems.
Appeal against sentence
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 can’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 that were the case, they wouldn’t be so happy. They are happy dogs that run and look healthy – because they are,” she says.
Erase genetic weaknesses
In general, professionals do not question the “challenges” that the two breeds face, but believe that they can be overcome by practicing selective breeding with animals that have undergone several tests. And then, they point out, the sentence does not prohibit the possession, sale or importation of Bulldogs and Cavaliers, only their breeding.
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,” says Åshild Roaldset. “And if the bulldog gets less wrinkled, with a little longer snout and a more robust skeleton, it won’t make him a horrible dog and he’ll still be a bulldog.”