The Suffering Inbred Pug
The Ethics of Creating the Purebred American Pug
The American pug has a very specific and ideal appearance. Pugs which successfully exhibit this appearance are the result of intensive inbreeding and selection over many generations, and eventually are themselves inbred with the purpose of perpetuating these characteristics into the next generation. This goal ensures a nice profit for breeders and an aesthetically pleasing animal for buyers. However, the joy these perfect pugs bring to breeders and owners alike is overshadowed by the pain and the suffering of a majority of the dogs created through the process. Many of the offspring of inbreeding die or are killed, and many that survive undergo severe health complications that jeopardize their quality of life. The fact that these animals suffer severely, both directly and indirectly, renders the process of inbreeding ethically unacceptable.
The domestic dog is our creation, and as such relies upon us for protection as our dependent and our companion. We are under a moral obligation as hierarchically superior humans to protect that which would not exist but for our interference with nature. Because humans have deemed it necessary to create organisms which cannot survive naturally or properly defend themselves, it is our duty to protect them from their weaknesses which we have indirectly created. This prohibits the culling of helpless puppies and disallows the exploitation of pugs in a process that has been scientifically proven to cause prevalent disease and diminished quality of life in the pugs. It is wrong to cause pain and suffering for the objective of creating a dog companion with a specific purebred look when there are humane ways of creating dog companions.
The American standard for the pug describes conformational and phenotypical characteristics considered ideal for the breed. Such characteristics include a symmetrical overall appearance with a square frame, a compact and proportional body with defined muscle, and a wide chest and strong straight legs. Ideal weight varies from 14 to 18 pounds. (Thomas 139-40). The feet of the animal should be of the correct length with black nails, the muzzle should be short and square, and the head should be large and round with no skull indentations. Eyes should be large and dark, and ears should be small and thin and either rose or button shaped. Markings should be clear—the mask, the ears, the moles, the diamond on the Pug's forehead, and the black-trace extending from the occiput to the tail, should all be black. Wrinkles should be large and deep and tails should be curled tightly at the tip and preferably double curled. The coat should be glossy and short and of a silver or apricot-fawn coloration (139-40).
Animals viewed as perfect specimens of the pug species have these characteristics in common, characteristics which breeders work hard to attain in their animals and to pass on to the next generation. In order to maintain these preferred characteristics in their animals, breeders inbreed their pugs. Inbreeding consists of mating pugs which are closely related, anywhere from parent to offspring to sibling to sibling. The goals of inbreeding are to concentrate the ideal characteristics of the two parents—the stud and the bred bitch—in their offspring. However, although "all the good points are doubled through such matings, [...] all the bad points may be so strongly established in a line that it may make it impossible to breed them out" (199). Despite the fact that breeders run the risk of attaining permanent and undesirable characteristics in their lines, they inbreed their pugs to achieve the "genetic purity" that people demand in purebred pugs. This purity is readily achieved since "pugs, being so inbred to begin with, all go back to essentially the same dogs in every pedigree" (219). What breeders and buyers consider pure and ideal, and a means to create a breeding stock of dogs that will breed true for most desirable characteristics of their breed in five or six generations of sibling inbreeding, is detrimental to a vast majority of the resulting offspring, and is therefore unethical.
During those five or six generations of inbreeding, all resulting puppies that are considered inferior to their siblings or parents are culled. The success of the line is also jeopardized by surviving puppies maturing into infertile animals as a result of this inbreeding, and "close breeding such as this may be responsible for infertility, monorchidism and crytorchidism, and you can expect a decrease in the size and vigor of the offspring" (199). Therefore, working towards a goal of pure and characteristically flawless animals puts breeders in a situation of eliminating a lot of their stock based on imperfections and an ultimate termination in the line if enough animals become infertile. When these potentially costly symptoms begin to occur in their animals, breeders then mate the dogs to outcrosses, or animals not closely related to them, to re-introduce "hybrid vigor" into the genes of their lines of purebreds (199). The purpose of breeding to outcrosses is to diversify genetics and prevent too high a concentration of undesirable characteristics in the dogs. It is again only the threat of monetary loss which prevents the dogs from the most unethical form of hybrid vigor--the breeding of two separate lines of pugs each created through five or six generations of sibling interbreeding. This process would temporarily eliminate genetic disease in the next generation, but only at the cost of exposing countless animals to death and health complications to create those two genetically pure pugs.
This situation of mating two sibling inbred lines has occurred in different animals and created successful genetic diversification, but is not used for pugs because breeders consider the process to be too expensive: "the time and money required to keep two or more lines progressing by direct brother-and-sister inbreeding, to cull and destroy pugs and keep only the best pair as breeding partners to accomplish such a program of inbreeding is much too costly" (200). The program would also be destined to fail, as it is acknowledged that inbred lines of pugs result in deformities of a physical and a mental nature, often fatal or crippling to the animals (200). Another process of inbreeding, called backcrossing, produces similar harmful results in pugs. The process involves finding a superior parent dog and breeding it to its offspring, and to the offspring of each subsequent generation produced down the line, back to the original parent dog (200). Animals become crippled, and only for the purpose of determining the genes of the original parent dog. Faults of the parent dog can them be identified as they become more and more concentrated with each passing generation, as "inbreeding does not correct faults. It only makes them recognizable so they can be eliminated" (200). The inbreeding of countless animals and predisposing them to bodily and mental harms so as to determine the genetics of a single dog, and determine if that dog can be used to make the most profit, is unethical on many levels.
Firstly, breeders are taking ignorant and defenseless animals completely at their mercy and forcing them into situations that the breeders know will be harmful. It is known that puppies will be born displaying genetic mutations, which the breeders are directly responsible for creating, and for which the breeders then cull them. The breeders in fact want such genetic disorders to occur so that they can select against them by selecting parents to breed which have the correct alleles for those traits. To know the genetics of the parents, it must be determined through backcrossing which concentrates the unwanted alleles in every subsequent generation, to the detriment of each litter produced. In each litter undesirable puppies are killed and those who live on have a great chance of developing health complications later on in life. An example of a defect common in pugs that develops later on is the crippling disorder of hip dysplasia, inherited from parents to offspring. In this affliction the hip joint does not properly fit into the hip socket creating lameness, stiffness, an unwillingness to exercise, and wasting away of the hip muscles (Robinson 223). This disorder can develop after as much as a year and a half of age, and creates severe crippling effects (223-34). The only benefit from inbreeding animals and predisposing them to such health complications is an increased profit for breeders and an unnatural "ideal" specimen of what Americans believe a pug should look like.
The strongest argument against the use of inbreeding, other than that by doing so we further the damage we have already done to the purebred dogs, is the data collected detailing the health complications it creates in the animals. Pugs have many health problems inherited through the generations. These afflictions include cleft lip and palate, canine intersexuality, patella luxation, canine hip dysplasia, legg-perthes, pug dog encephalitis, progressive retinal atrophy, trichiasis, entropion, elongated palate, and collapsed trachea (Thomas 219-226). Entropion is related to the ideal diamond-shaped eye and eyelid of the pug, as well as the looseness of the skin around the face which cause irritation of the eye and can cause serious damage if left untreated (Robinson 214). The traits which are idealized in the American standard for pugs—large dark eyes and skin with deep and large wrinkles—are in fact health complications to the living animal. Both characteristics contribute to eye inflammation and can develop into serious afflictions if not treated. Therefore, the intense and inhumane selection of animals for these characteristics is completely detached from any concern over the animals' welfare. Healthier animals—animals which do not fit the standards but have a more natural and healthy phenotype—are killed and only those with unnatural and potentially harmful characteristics, but characteristics pleasing to the eye, are kept alive and inbred as to pass on these afflictions to subsequent generations and to predispose them to complications such as entropion.
Another disease, believed to occur through recessive heredity is progressive retinal atrophy. Similar to hip dysplasia this ailment does not occur until later on in life-from a year to nine years of age depending on breeds as well as individual animals (Robinson 217). Like entropion, progressive retinal atrophy (PRA) is an affliction of the eye; however, it is a more severe case. The retina of both eyes degenerate, eyes dilate, and cataracts may form, ultimately leading to blindness in the animal (217). In efforts to control PRA it is suggested that animals undergo electroretionograms which can identify the ailment before actual symptoms appear. However, the result of these tests are not simply healthier animals, by disallowing diagnosed animals to breed, but the death of many more individual dogs. Although it is ideal in detecting "homozygous PRA animals before any breeding is undertaken, much earlier detection of heterozygotes by more rapid assessment of their young, and possibly allow test-matings to be performed which would otherwise be impractical because of the time involved" (Robinson 218), the afflicted dogs are culled-the affected parents and all affected offspring of such matings. The testing procedure may prevent diseased animals from being produced by identifying homozygous animals for the trait, but it allows for more intense and extensive inbreeding of heterozygotes which would not be practical if such a test were not available. Again, improvements to the symptoms of inbreeding are not for the benefit of the animals, but only to save costs for the breeders and to eliminate genetically afflicted animals yet more quickly. The improvement made here has been to save time, and hence money, due to test results-not to facilitate methods of disease prevention with the knowledge gained but just to more quickly select against it through multiple earlier cullings.
In addition to hip dysplasia and retinal atrophy, Legg-Calve-Perthes Disease is also a heritable ailment that is passed through recessive alleles. It is a case of femoral head disintegration which is then improperly repaired-leading to lameness in the rear legs (Robinson 225). Furthermore, "there is evidence of pain felt by the dog" (225). Clearly there can be no counter-argument that the animals created through intensive inbreeding do not suffer, as evidence proves otherwise. Not only are pugs forced to suffer through crippling hip dysplasia, infection and degradation of their eyes and loss of eyesight, and lameness in their rear legs due to genetic predisposition, which cannot be argued to be minute or irrelevant afflictions, but they do so with severe discomfort and pain. Except for rapidly treated eye infections, all of these painful afflictions are chronic and the pugs are forced to live through them. That is, unless symptoms occur early enough in their lives so that breeders cull them for the defects which the breeders bred into them.
Pugs are totally dependent upon humans for their welfare, and as creators of pugs, humans are responsible for providing that welfare. It is morally unacceptable to cause unjust and intentional harm to an animal so dependent and defenseless because of human interference with nature. Humans have no right to flatter their vanity and create the "ideal" animal through intensive inbreeding while simultaneously subjecting pugs to extreme forms of cruelty. The characteristics of pugs that are so valued should be seen as potentially harmful to the pug's wellbeing and consequently abandoned as unethical to perpetuate, and the animal's welfare should not be ignored and exploited for the sole goal of making a profit or owning a "pure" animal. It has been proven that inbreeding concentrates undesirable as well as desirable traits, and some of those undesirable traits have been proven to subject animals to intense suffering and pain. The practice of eliminating these undesirable traits is harmful in itself, by producing so many afflicted animals born only to be culled and other animals that often show symptoms of genetic disease later in life due to their genetically mutated inbred genetics. Therefore, it is mankind's responsibility to cease such exploitation and inhumane action and to stop abusing an animal that has no means to defend itself against such torture.
Robinson, Roy. Genetics for Dog Breeders.
Elmsford, New York, 1982.
Thomas, Shirley. The New Pug .
New York, NY, 1990.