Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Our very own show dog

A German Shepherd arrived at Toronto Animal Services last week with what appears to be some kind of back end problem. Whenever he stands still, it looks like his legs are kind of buckling under his weight. When he walks, it much less noticeable. It's difficult to tell if it's in the hips or in the knees.

TAS has a policy of not putting dogs who are not healthy up for general adoption. Other avenues are sought out to find homes for these dogs but still, their chances for finding owners in a decent time frame are more limited.

This GSD, now named Riley, is a very amiable fellow, and so we all waited anxiously for the vet to finish Riley's health check and give us the diagnosis. The vet was undecided but then finally, with some "consultation" from one of the staff, decided that Riley was well enough for general adoption ... but just.

The first time I took Riley out for a walk, he got several compliments because he is, after all, a very handsome dog. One was from a woman who seemed to be pretty familiar with the breed. She talked about his coat (needed a brushing but otherwise healthy and thick) and his size (a little underweight but with a proper diet ...) and about his stature which was tall at the shoulders and slanting down to his hips. I mentioned that he had problems with weakness in his hind end which was why his back sloped like that when he stood still but she took no notice of that and said that I was very lucky to have such a great dog. I thought she was just being generous.

A week later, I saw this documentary, Pedigree Dogs Exposed, on CBC and then it hit me that the woman wasn't being generous, she was being honest. She really did think Riley was a great dog and apparently, if I enter Riley into a dog show under the auspices of the British Kennel Club, they would find him to be a great dog as well.

If you've watched the doc (it's essential information, really), you'll have noticed that in the segment focusing on GSDs, all the champion dogs in the ring have walking disabilities. It's so fucked up but that's what the show breeders breed for now. Half dog, half frog as the narrator says.

Now I always thought I was pretty well informed about the dog world. After watching Pedigree Dogs Exposed, I realized how wrong I was. There's a whole sick world out there of show breeders, creating their horrible abberations, inflicting their artificial breed standards on generations of long suffering dogs, all in the name of vanity.

Riley's hind end weakness isn't nearly as bad as what the GSD's in the documentary are suffering, but still, it is a minor handicap he'll have to live with. And live with he does with no complaints. That's why Riley really is a great dog. He's uncomplaining, friendly, smart, focused. He's a champion for the same reason every other dog, pedigree or not, is a champion: because he'll make a great best friend.


Anonymous said...

Riley is AWSOME!!! German Shephards are quickly becoming one of my top favorite breeds. Who didn't love the Littlest Hobo Growing up? They certainly come with some special needs but I love how focussed they are and how responsive they are to the person walking them. A truly special breed of dog. My thought are with all the German shephards working on the front lines in Afghanastan right now searching out IED Bombs. Impressive!!


Caveat said...

Good post. There are some comments at my place you might find interesting.

Riley may be a purebred dog. If so, he will have a microchip or a tattoo or both.

Tattoos are usually on the belly now, they used to do the ear but the thieves would just cut the ears off. If he's a purebred, you'll be able to find out who bred him and who has owned him.

Breeders will often take their dogs back.

Fred said...

Yup, Riley's a purebred but I think he's from Montreal so who knows what his background is (likely puppy mill). TAS generally checks for microchips or tats first thing but I don't think they found anything on this guy.

The comments on Caveat's site(, submitted by the breeder in response to the documentary, provide some added insight and an alternate view of the breeding world. Check them out, everyone, if you get a chance.

Anonymous said...

No matter the rationale, breeding animals for painful or crippling traits is just wrong.

Remember Bak, the labradour pup with hip dysplasia at six months? If we had not got him to Canada, he would have spent his shortened life as a lump of flab because he could barely move.

Gus-gus, my flame-point Himalayan (Persian) has 'such a big nose!' -- to quote another flame-point owner, next to me at the vet because her cat has no nose and chronic breathing problems. But that did not prevent him from being blinded by the effect of the flattened face on his eyes. The shelter staff thought no one would want to spend the money it would take to restore his sight.

I bless my long-suffering husband every time I see Gus-gus doing his patented ballet moves across the floor. Now he has a little buddy -- a 'pure' Aby kitten rescued from a pet seller who looks like he's going to be a candidate for progressive retinal atrophy. There is no cure, and, if it does express, he will spend most of his life blind.

I've known show animals and their owners. Without exception, the owners claim to love their pets. After listening to them for sometimes a very short while, I can hear it is usually the status or the control that the animal brings that they love.

I have nothing against pure breeds, per se: there are a lot of responsible breeders who try to raise healthy, happy animals. You can usually tell who they are because they advertise animals 'raised underfoot'.

But, if I ever do become Queen of the World, watch for People Shows, competitions between former breeders, with ears cropped, legs shortened and noses flat, trotting around rings or being stretched overhead to display conformation.

Inhumane? Well....?

Lynda said...

I have two white great danes and they're deaf - luckily they're not blind too, or have a host of other genetic problems. Their breeder purposely breeds (to this day) harlequin to harlequin, which results in a 25% chance of whites in a litter. Most breeders cull the whites at birth. It boggles the mind that any breeder would purposely breed like this knowing the odds, just for some ribbons or trophies.

I also happen to know that their sire's breeder uses whites in his breeding program. I have no idea the rhyme or reason behind this, I just wish they would stop intentionally breeding this way.

Anonymous said...

I was wondering about Riley as there was a nice cop that stopped by to see him the other day with his wife(it was his second visit) I prayed he would take him. The cop seemed quite interested and Riley tried to climb up into his van to go, It kinda made me sad for Riley as you could tell he was like "yay the're here to get me, Im going to climb right into this car and get outa here" Riley was quite wobbly that day and they noticed and mentioned hip dispalysia. They mentioned it in an understanding way, so I was hopeful. As a cop who is familiar with the breed he must know what special needs these dogs have. I left the cop and his wife to play with Riley in the room and they were plaing ball with him, It was touching, to say the least. Any news about them Fred?? I guess I'll find out more tommorow.