HBO Segment on Dogs: Pure Bred to Death

Editor’s note: Crystal Miller-Spiegel has a Master of Science degree from the Tufts University Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine. She is a policy analyst for the American Anti-Vivisection Society and is the author of numerous papers, articles and reports on animal welfare issues. The opinion expressed here is her own.

Real Sports With Bryant Gumbel: Soledad O'Brien and a vet with a Bulldog
Real Sports With Bryant Gumbel correspondent Soledad O'Brien and a veterinarian examine a Bulldog during a segment about unsafe breeding practices.

An April segment of HBO’s Real Sports, aptly titled “ Unnatural Selection,” focused on the inhumanity of show dog breeding. The widely discussed segment was initially available only to subscribers, but clips have been popping up on dog-related sites across the Internet since it aired.

The HBO segment highlighted one breed in particular, the Bulldog, and described the various physical features that have been altered by selective breeding to fit the American Kennel Club’s “breed standard.” In essence, some Bulldogs struggle to breathe and exercise because of artificial selection through breeding to meet the standard. The “desired” traits of an enlarged, foreshortened skull and an undershot jaw are so unnatural that they can become lethal. In fact, Real Sports reported that Bulldogs are not usually capable of natural reproduction. Females are often artificially inseminated because the dogs might overexert themselves when mating, and puppies are usually removed via cesarean section for improved survival and because the size of their heads often makes natural delivery impossible.

Below is a short clip that HBO posted. More coverage of the show is available here.

Real Sports highlighted the debilitating effects of selective breeding on other AKC breeds as well, such as the German Shepherd, which suffers from more than 50 inherited diseases, including hip dysplasia. The most saddening footage featured a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel screaming in agony because of syringomyelia, a condition in which affected dogs do not have enough space in their small skulls for their brains. In some dogs, this can result in tremendous pain, and the only cure is surgery to remove portions of the skull and first vertebra. While not all dogs affected by the condition suffer as much as the dog in the HBO clip, it is a serious genetic disease prevalent within the breed. Extreme inbreeding among purebred dogs is also common and is not prohibited by the AKC. In fact, Banana Joe, the Affenpinscher who won Best in Show at the 2013 Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, is the offspring of a father-daughter mating.

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