By Terry Spencer, DVM
Visiting the very pet-friendly town of Carmel, California is a treat for dog lovers like me. Many of the restaurants have items on the menu just for your dog. Most of the inns allow pets. Dogs are welcome to romp on the beach. Boutiques sell trendy pet supplies. And you can play “Name That Breed” as you stroll the sidewalks downtown people-pet watching.
When I lived near Carmel, I used to like to play with people by walking one of my dogs along the Carmel streets. “Lucy” was small, perky, white, and full of spunk on her leash. To me, she looked like a cross between a Jack Russell Terrier and a Chihuahua. Her paperwork from the Monterey County Animal Shelter from where I adopted her merely said she was impounded as a stray from the town of Greenfield in a more inland part of Monterey County. Whenever asked by curious Carmel pet admirers, “What breed is your dog?” I typically responded, “She is a Greenfield Terrier,” and just kept walking. That answer was probably a bit mean. I imagined those curious people rushing home to their breed identification books searching for more details about “Greenfield Terriers.” Since there are so many different types of Terriers, the “Greenfield Terrier” certainly sounded plausible. However, “Lucy” was just a “Custom Bred” mutt, not a purebred dog.
If I could have cloned “Lucy” the Greenfield Terrier” I bet I could have sold her clones very easily–even if she wasn’t a breed actually recognized by the American Kennel Club. Currently, designer-breeds of dogs are very popular. Each week, I examine new puppies that clients have purchased with breed names such as: Morkie (a cross between a Maltese and a Yorki), or Schnoodle ( a Schnauzer crossed with a Poodle), or Bug ( a Boston Terrier crossed with a Pug), or a Cavashon ( a Cavalier King Charles crossed with a Bichon Frise). The list of possibilities is endless. All of these puppies are adorable. But surely people who pay hefty purchase prices for these custom-bred dogs recognize they are paying for mutts, don’t they?
A purebred dog will be able to reproduce with another dog of the same breed and produce offspring that look like the parents or the grandparents. While not clones, the puppies should all breed true to conformation. Thus two Beagles will produce puppies that look like more Beagles. But two Bugs that mate will produce puppies that look only like second-generation mutts. If you cross a Bug mutt with a Bug mutt, the next generation will not necessarily resemble the earlier generation of Boston or Pug. Designer dogs are not true breeds of dogs, no matter what the selling price. They are just “Custom Bred” for looks and profit.
Irresponsible breeding of dogs for looks and profit can result in heartache for purchasers and suffering for the dogs. Over the past few months I have examined multiple designer puppies with serious health issues. Some of the puppies had treatable problems, such as intestinal infections or tooth problems . But others had serious orthopedic issues, for which the new pet owners were not financially prepared. One puppy had a birth defect in its shoulder joint that resulted in a lame front leg that needed expensive orthopedic surgery. Another puppy became paralyzed at five months of age because its cervical spine was malformed. I was able to temporarily stabilize its neck by fashioning a brace out of a paper cup. But a consultation with a neurologist gave no hope of any long-term recovery, and so the puppy was euthanized. The pet-owner was devastated.
Bottom line: if you want a healthy puppy, adopt from a shelter or buy from a responsible breeder of purebred dogs. Good shelters and good breeders will give you some limited health guarantees and want you to see their facilities. Responsible breeders and shelters do want to make a profit, but they are also interested in maintaining good reputations for quality animals. Irresponsible breeders focus on your money and don’t stand behind the health of the puppies. Such breeders probably won’t let you see their breeding facility or meet the parents. Such lack of transparency should make you question whether the seller is running a puppy-mill that doesn’t humanely care for the dogs.
For more tips on how to select a healthy puppy, visit these links:
Dr. Spencer practices at Bayonet Point Animal Clinic in Port Richey