Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Designer Dogs: Big Price tags and Big Health Problems Down the Road: The Reason, Human Vanity

I won’t go too deeply into the obvious problem with going after designer dogs while thousands are killed daily in pounds. Quite simply, it’s pure human vanity and idiocy to do such a selfish act.


Designer dogs: Fashionable hybrids may face problems later


Published 06/27/2006

By JESSICA FISCHER -Kingsport Times-News
Years ago, puppies resulting from a romantic encounter between a cocker spaniel and the handsome poodle down the street were called mutts, Heinz 57s. You couldn't give them away, much less sell them.
Today, these "designer" dogs sport price tags as highfalutin' as their names; cockapoos, Labradoodles (Labrador retriever and poodle mixes), shorkies (a cross between a schnauzer and a poodle) and puggles (a pug and beagle blend) can fetch upwards of $1,000 - more than what many of their pure-bred parents cost.
Yet there are plenty of people waiting in line to open their wallets for one of these mixed-breed pups, the season's trendiest accessory.
Singer Jessica Simpson carries her maltipoo (a cross between a Maltese and a miniature poodle) around in a Louis Vuitton bag, while actor Jake Gyllenhaal couldn't leave the set of "The Ellen DeGeneres Show" without gushing about his pride and joy, a cute little puggle named Boo Radley.
But designer dogs aren't just the playthings of the rich and famous. They're hot among the non-celebrity set, too.
Kingsport's Steve and Stephanie Bellner fell in love with Macy, their 8-month-old, eight-pound maltipoo with soulful brown eyes and long, wavy black locks, when they spotted a photo of her on the Eastman classifieds Web site last fall.
A few weeks after their beloved Chihuahua Oscar died, the Bellners began entertaining the thought of getting another dog, and after meeting their daughter's coach's maltipoo, they were sold on the breed's appearance, intelligence and warm personality. The fact that maltipoos and other poodle hybrids shed very little was also a plus for Stephanie, who is allergic to some dogs.
"My daughter says that I dote more on Macy than I do on her," Stephanie said, laughing. "But her personality is just so sweet, so playful. She cracks me up. She's brought life to the house."
The Bellners aren't alone in their love for designer dogs.
The American Canine Hybrid Club, the designer dog world's version of the American Kennel Club, is registering about 500 litters of hybrid pups a month, double what it was a year ago. The company offers $20 certificates of authenticity to people who can demonstrate they own the offspring of two different purebred dogs.
There's even a concerted effort under way to have hybrids recognized by the AKC.
But not everyone is jumping on the designer dog bandwagon.
Stephanie Shain, director of outreach for companion animals at the Humane Society of the United States, urges potential puppy owners to exercise caution when dealing with breeders who claim that their hybrids are free from the kinds of genetic afflictions and character flaws that sometimes plague pure-bred breeds - one of the qualities that has vaulted many designer dogs to stardom.
"We want consumers to understand that so-called ‘hybrid' puppies are not protected from genetic diseases," Shain said. "They are just as likely to have the same problems that other puppies have who come from large-scale, high-volume breeding, especially since the demand is massive, and puppy mills are responding by pumping out the hybrid-du-jour as quickly as possible. Factory breeding like this increases the chances of a puppy having genetic, physical and emotional problems, which may not be apparent at first."
Claims that these dogs are healthier than their pure-bred counterparts can be misleading, agrees Dr. Karen Tobias, a veterinarian at the University of Tennessee's School of Veterinary Medicine and co-host of the show "Barkitecture" on the DIY Network.
"Certainly a pug has more risk of having airway problems than beagles because of its short face, so a puggle might have less airway problems - if it has more of the beagle gene for facial development," Tobias said. "On the other hand, Labradoodles are not truly hypoallergenic, as claimed by many Web sites. All dogs shed skin cells, which are the true cause of allergies in people, so reaction to these dogs is really related to how much skin cells are getting in the environment.
"Bottom line is, by breeding two healthy dogs with no structural, functional or genetic problems that could lead to health issues, you are likely to get healthy pups. This occurs with purebreds as well as mixed breed dogs. By raising those dogs in a healthy environment with appropriate training, you are likely to get a healthy happy dog, whether they are mixed breed or pure-bred."
There's also concern that the popularity of designer dogs is encouraging "backyard breeders" who lack credentials and genetics expertise to take a stab at producing the novelty puppies, leading to poorly bred pups and animal cruelty.
Crossing a pug with a Pekingese, for example, can produce disastrous consequences. Both breeds have eyes that easily pop out of the socket to rest on the cheek. Surgery is required to fix the injury, often at the cost of the dogs' sight. Breeding the two could yield a dog that literally has its eyes falling out. A Newfoundland and a St. Bernard could generate a crippled giant, since both of these breeds are plagued with hip dysplasia, a genetic disorder that often requires hip replacement before the dog is a year old.
Labrador retrievers should be OFA certified for hip dysplasia at 2 years of age. Breeding of Labradors with hip dysplasia to standard poodles is more likely to result in development of hip dysplasia in these offspring. Since standard poodles rarely have hip dysplasia, the trait could be carelessly introduced into the offspring gene pool."
There are also those who decry popularizing these specially bred dogs - mutts with marketing, they call them - when thousands of puppies are languishing in shelters. And because many people are in such a rush to get their hands on one of these designer dogs that they don't take the time to learn about the needs and personalities of the breed, some designer dogs end up in shelters.
"We are concerned that people are caught up in the trend and not doing research on the needs and personalities of the breed," Shain said. "History is proof that when people purchase dogs based on looks alone, the animal ultimately ends up being given away to a shelter, adding to the over 4 million homeless dogs already in shelters. If you have done your research and have your heart set on a particular breed, one of four dogs in shelters is a purebred - some even hybrids."
Proponents of hybrids, however, argue that the dogs' lineage can be easily traced and that their characteristics and appearance are much more predictable than those of pound puppies.
"From a veterinarian's standpoint, the major reasons dogs are brought to animal shelters are because they have gotten too big, because the owners didn't realize how much work a puppy or young adult dog would take and because of behavioral issues," Tobias said. "If folks want to guarantee what type, size and personality of dog they want to get, their best option is to adopt an adult dog from a rescue agency or animal shelter that knows the animals and can match it with the potential owner."

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